The trouble with third culture kids

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Due to a great deal of interest we are re-running this Morning Zen post by Nina Sichel, who is co-editor of the collections "Writing Out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids (2011)."

3rd cultureYou may not notice her.  At first glance, she may appear perfectly comfortable -- these kids are chameleons, adept at taking on the colors of each new environment they are plunged into.  She looks and sounds like the other kids in her class; she wears the same kind of clothes, has the same gadgetry, carries the same backpack.

Perhaps she comes to your attention because she is having adjustment problems, like any other new kid on the block.  She isn’t making friends easily, doesn’t join group activities.  She is withdrawn, uncooperative, angry or disruptive.  Or maybe she’s been diagnosed and labeled, but it doesn’t seem to explain everything.

She doesn’t want to talk about it.  She doesn’t know where to begin.

What you don’t know and can’t see is that she is a Third Culture Kid (TCK) -- a child who has moved in and out of foreign countries as her parents have transferred around the world.  Born into one culture, raised among others, her identity is most closely aligned with others raised like her, moving internationally.  She is not “from” anywhere.  Although she was born here, for her this country is another foreign assignment.   Feeling out of place is only the tip of the iceberg.  She is struggling through yet another adaptation, another culture shock, another freefall.

kid2TCKs are the children of international business people, global educators, diplomats, missionaries, the military  -- anyone whose family has relocated overseas because of a job placement.  The children attend international or host-country schools, or are sent to boarding schools, or are home-schooled.  They are supposed to be coming home -- even if they’ve never lived here, even if they’ve only been back on furlough.  Often, this is their most difficult relocation.  There are nearly a million in international schools around the world; others in Department of Defense schools on international military bases; countless numbers returned to their passport countries of origin.

Rebecca Grappo, an educational consultant who specializes in the placement of these children, says there are three basic things all children need:  belonging, recognition and connection.  For TCKs, these basic needs are ripped away with each move.  Powerless in the decision to relocate, their many losses are often not acknowledged even by their own parents, and the main problem is unspoken, unrecognized, shunted aside.

It looks like depression, but it’s not.  This is the face of TCK grief.

And, according to Ruth Van Reken, unresolved grief is the most urgent mental health issue facing TCKs -- the children as well as the adults they will become.

Herself a TCK, Ruth Van Reken has spent a lifetime writing and advocating and teaching about the psychological impact of an internationally mobile childhood.  Along with the many benefits come challenges that must be faced with each move the child makes.  She states, “The issue is that transition always involves loss, no matter how good the next phase will be. Loss always engenders grief and the greater you have loved a situation or place or people, the greater the grief.”

The layers of loss run deep:  Friends, community, pets.  Family, toys, language.  Weather, food, culture.  Loss of identity.  Loss of a place of comfort, stability, a safe and predictable world.  Home.

These children are losing the worlds they love, over and over.  They cycle through the stages of grief each time they move -- or they don’t, and push it down, submerge it, only to have it bubble up later in life, unexplained.

The grief of children is often invisible.  They are told they will adapt, they are resilient.  They are told they’ll get over missing that friend, they’ll get another pet, they’ll have a nicer room in the new house.  Their family is rushed; they don’t have time to mourn their losses.

And they are children, and don’t know how to express what they are feeling.

Some mental health professionals call it trauma.

Kathleen Gilbert has researched grief among TCKs, and writes, “Losses that are not successfully resolved in childhood have an increased likelihood of recurring in adulthood... For TCKs, questions about who they are, what they are, where they are from, what and who they can trust are examples of existential losses with which they must cope.  And the way in which they process these losses will change, or may even wait until long after their childhood.”

So when she comes to you, don’t ask her where she’s from, or what’s troubling her.  Ask her where she’s lived.  Ask her what she’s left behind.  Open doors.  And just listen.  Give her the time and space and permission she needs to remember and to mourn.  She has a story -- many stories.  And she needs and deserves to be heard, and to be healed, and to be whole.

---

Morning Zen Guest Blogger Nina Sichel 

© Nina Sichel

Nina Sichel is co-editor of the collections Writing Out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids (2011) and Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Global (2004). She leads memoir-writing workshops in the Washington, DC area and continues to collect stories and research about international and cross-cultural childhoods. She can be reached at nsichel@yahoo.com.

Ruth Van Reken is quoted from an email exchange; Kathleen Gilbert’s essay “Echoes of Loss: Long-term Grief and Adaptation among Third Culture Kids” appears in Writing Out of Limbo.

Comments

Ellen Angel's avatar

Ellen Angel

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I don't think of myself as a third culture kid, tho I fit the profile. I was born in Venezuela to American parents and lived there until I went to college in the US. I attended Venz. Schools for 3 years and then two different American schools in Caracas. I always felt very American and yearned for all things American, but clearly was living in a Venezuelan culture. Spoke Spanish before English, am fluent in reading and writing as well. I had Venz., Amer. and International friends, and did lose friends from among those who left after 2-4 years of duty in Venz. Most of my close friends were like me, their parents worked either for themselves or Amer. companies and were in Venz. For many years.
My loss was a very palpable one. My mother died when I was ten years old. She died in NYC where my dad had taken her for better medical care. My dad returned to Venz. Without her. We had no family support to see us thru this tragedy, and my dads work took him out of Caracas for days at a time for over a year. He separated my brother and me and placed us with good family friends for 6 months. It was a good arrangement, except for the fact that I could not see my brother frequently. International kids like us are close with our siblings due to the fact that we didn't have the freedom to wander about on our own as kids in the States did in the 50 and 60s.
I will certainly get this book to read about the experiences of others like me.
Ellen Angel. Aka. Mary Ellen Mattox
Drieculturen's avatar

Drieculturen

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Thanks for this great post. I have a concern because there are still professionals working in the mental health field that do not know about third culture kids and their problems. The (adult)third culture kids do not get the proper diagnosis and worse still they do not get the proper help. Even just psychoeducation can really help them. There's still work to be done.
Rebecca (Becky) Grappo's avatar

Rebecca (Becky) Grappo

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Thank you for writing this wonderful blog, Nina, and thank you for mentioning me. "Drieculturen", I think that you are absolutely right in mentioning that most therapists do not know what a "Third Culture Kid" is, so if they don't know what it is, then how can they work through some of the issues that are unique to TCKs? I actually have many students I work with who are in therapeutic schools and programs, and it is a real joy to work with these therapists as they try to understand this subset of the population. My wish would be to see more professionals in the field of mental health become aware of TCKs so that they can more effectively work with them.

Rebecca Grappo
RNG International Educational Consultants, LLC
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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Thank you for these comments.

I'd like to add that many, many TCKs don't self-identify; the concept is a new one to them, even though it's been around for some time, and when they do hear about this "tribe" of outsiders, there is often a very intense aha! moment as things begin to fall into place. That sort of awakening can be a great comfort and also a challenge in terms of the work that then needs to be done to understand the new perspective.

I am not sure how long we will be able to access this post for comments and would like to ask readers to also direct their comments to the facebook page where we may continue the conversation once this post is no longer visible:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Writing-Out-of-Limbo/170502939716542

With thanks to CMHN for including my blog on your platform and with best wishes as you begin to reach an even larger audience.

Nina Sichel
Spencer Williams's avatar

Spencer Williams

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I had a touch of this, within U.S. Skipped a half grade, i.e. moved directly from 4H to 5H, in J.E.B. Stuart Elem School in Richmond VA. 7L at Chandler Jr High. While on farm with relatives for summer, learned that we'd move across town in Richmond, 7H and 8L at Bainbridge Jr High. Next summer learned that we'd move out of state. 9th grade at McMinn County H.S. in TN [where I was well qualified academically but a year younger than everybody else, thus a social misfit]. After graduation, working trying to sell books, learned that we'd move to Putnam Co TN so that I'd start college at TN Tech instead of at TN Wesleyan (a junior college then). Separation from friends even though no strong relationships. Sunday school at low-church Protestant provided minimal support. Big sense of lack of belonging. But I survived & functioned well academically for 4 years of college 1 year of university. Attended university 3 more years, with adequate course work, but fell badly short partly because of lack of knowledge of need for mentoring relationship with faculty advisor.
Alice "Elaine" Slaton's avatar

Alice "Elaine" Slaton

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Spencer Williams makes an important point. I believe there are many children who never leave the US borders, but experience this phenomenon. In addition to physical moves, our children often have to live and learn daily in disparate cultures. Many are raised walking in two worlds: mainstream culture by day and their own ethnic world by night. Or those with invisible losses, such as the young lesbian or gay youth who have no place to seek solace in the midst of adolescent heartbreaks.

Thank you, Nina Sichel and all who have commented, for this great blog and raising these issues for our youth.
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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Spencer, thank you for responding to this post. Your history is one of relocating over and over -- and not even being told in advance, so there was no chance to say goodbye and no choice over what to take with you. I am probably not far off-base when I guess you also had no-one to talk to about it and no opportunity to mourn. I am hopeful that, with the passing years, you have been able to find the sense of belonging and social support you say you missed in childhood, and have been able to move forward into strong and loving relationships.

Elaine is correct in noting that there are many kinds of cultures other than the mainstream, and that we need to recognize the losses ALL children endure as they cross cultures and transition through childhood and adolescence and into adulthood. TCKs and those who work with them have much to teach about handling these transitions.

The inner lives of children are still hidden to many adults, and they are rich and fabulous places for us to visit -- and to remember.
lindaajanssen's avatar

lindaajanssen

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Wonderful post Nina, hopeful and helpful. Thanks to DrieCulturen for alerting me to it. Great that you cited Becky Grappo as well!
Davey G's avatar

Davey G

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I wasn't paying too much attention to the comments posted below the main article, other than Spencer Williams. Hers (his?) struck me as a situation that was completely alarming--this poor soul has moved too much. Or, was it there particularly pathetic delivery that made me think so? Look, that person needs help, but not all of us TCK do. I was born in DC (Andrews AFB) and subsequently moved to Izmir, Turkey, Anderson AFB, Guam, Kadena AFB, Okinawa, then to Bedford Massachusetts, along side "Southern" parents. Imagine the difficulties involved in those adaptations. Yes, I am crying out for help, but not really. "It was what it was." Remember that. Boston taught me the absolute "no bullshit" attitude involved in partaking in this magnificent mystery called life. Have some accountability and stop griping and groaning. You had a magnificent experience abroad. Now put the pieces together and find your place here in the United States. I currently reside in Los Angeles, Ca and am finding issues with the place, but I know deep down it is better than the racist, cold and polarized (South v. North) constraints that exist there. I KNOW it. It is much more like the diversity I am used to. Let life come to you. Home is where you CHOOSE to live out your days, faithfully and with care. You are an adult now. Listen to your heart and figure out where you belong.
Ankit Nair's avatar

Ankit Nair

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I can relate so well to this article. Being the son of an Indian diplomat, I was born in Zambia. I moved to France when I was 4 years old and endured bullying and did not make any close friends. Though I did become fluent in French. I then moved to Azerbaijan, where I met my first best friend. After 3 years, I had to leave Azerbaijan with a heavy heart. Leaving my best friend was hard. By that time, I had forgotten French and had picked up Russian. I then moved to Bahrain, where my parents decided to put me an Indian school, in an attempt to get me back in touch with my culture and language (I couldn't speak Hindi (Indian)). I was termed a foreigner and barely made any close friends. I made one best friend but after I left Bahrain, I have been unsuccesful in getting back in touch with him. I then moved to India for 2 years, which had to be the worst experience of my life. I hated everyone in India. They didn't accept me and I couldn't accept them. I moved to Sri Lanka for the last bit of my schooling and had the best 4 years of my life then.. I had managed to fit in amongst my grade. Unfortunately, My parents decided to bring me back to India for University, where 'til this day, I struggle to cope up with the Indian academic system, having studied under the American system for the majority of my schooling. I have alienated myself from most Indians and only interact with the minority of International students at my University (on the bright side, I picked up Korean and Mandarin).

Life's been difficult but I wouldn't trade a single memory in return for a more stable childhood. There were many cons related to moving around the world, but the memories I made, the cultures I learned about, the languages I spoke and the people I met made it worthwhile. :)
Shary Hauber's avatar

Shary Hauber

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Thanks for this article. Explaining the problems of TCK does not imply nothing is good. Knowing what is going on has help me understand why I don't fit. Growing up in Africa, going to boarding school, are part of who I am. The pain of day after day knowing that all my childhood is understood by no one around me. Yes I am happy with my friends and family all American but there is always a longing for those who understand my story. In the last ten years I have been able to reconnect with fellow students it is like a breath of fresh air.

The boarding school experience was terrible with a lot of abuse of all kinds. I now work with an organization, MK Safety Net, helping TCK who have been abused in a foreign country. Many who went to boarding schools were abused. We are holding a conference in the Chicago area in April to help just such TCKs. Any interested check out the web site. http://www.mksafetynet.net/conference/
Gigs's avatar

Gigs

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I heard about TCKs several years ago because of the book written by Ruth E. Van Reken and David C. Pollack. The book helped me realize that I wasn't as weird as I had always thought I was! I grew up in Hong Kong as a Southern Baptist Missionary Kid. Luckily, we had a large mission group and there was an American school, but coming back to the States was such a strange experience. I remember thinking when I went to college that everybody would be new, so it wouldn't be as weird. But guess what? All of THOSE new kids at least had a shared experience of growing up in the US! Reading that book had such an impact on my life that I made sure my therapist read the book so she could get a better understanding of me. She told me that it made SUCH a difference, not just in my therapy, but in the way she works with other patients also.

Also, I live in Washington, DC and I see the TCK characteristics of many people who have never left the US. I think it's important to remember that "different culture" does not always mean "foreign land" -- for example, people from Iowa have a very different culture from people in NYC, who have a very different culture from people in Texas! And in DC, we have all of those people AND the international crowd! It can get very confusing...

Thanks for the great article!
Lua L's avatar

Lua L

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This is a very interesting subject. Most people have a hard time understanding the challenges face by TCK and how difficult it can be to adjust.
I don't know if anyone else has had this problem but I find that even though I'm no longer 'forced' to keep moving, it's hard to stay in one place. It's almost like if I stay in one place too long then I feel as though I'm supposed to suddenly fit in and am expected to by everyone around me but I know I never truly will. If I move then I have an excuse, so to speak, to be continue being an 'outsider'. Not sure I explained that very clearly but I just wanted to throw that out there and see if anyone else gets that feeling.
Steve G's avatar

Steve G

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Thanks for this article. I plan on showing it to my therapist.

It is important to bear in mind what a TCK is. A TCK is someone who has experienced two significantly different cultures, sometimes called a home culture and a host culture, and has taken bits and pieces from each to form a personal culture that is distinct from those two cultures, a third culture.

A TCK is not just someone who moves into a new culture and experiences culture shock. To be shocked by a culture is not to have incorporated it. Tho many TCKs feel culture shock frequently because something they have incorporated from one culture may clash with another culture that the TCK finds her or himself in. The TCK may even have internal culture shock because the TCK has incorporated an element from one culture that clashes with an element that the TCK incorporated from a different culture.

A TCK is not just someone is alienated. Even within a single culture people can still find reasons to alienate each other. For instance, while there certainly are distinctive LGBT cultures in places, sexual orientation and alienation because of it is not the result of contact with another culture. But many TCK's are alienated or feel alien because they are culturally different, a unique or lone patchwork of cultural traits. TCK's may share the feeling of ill-fit with outcasts even if the cause of the feeling is different.

A TCK is not just someone who experiences grief. There are many reason within a single culture to experience grief (family passing on is a universal). Tho many TCK's experience grief because they are separated by distance from things that are part of them. The "K" in TCK matters here. I still grieve the loss of childhood friendships that I have no more memory of. At times I grow angry with myself for being so affected by something that happened so long ago and that has so little bearing on where I am now. I feel guilty that this grief prevents me from enjoying all the benefits and advantages I've experienced as a TCK - traveling, learning languages, all these things that other people long for the chance to do.

A TCK is not just someone who speaks more than one language. There are cultures where more than language is spoken, for example Miami Cubans, so you could be a polyglot without being a TCK. There are also distinct cultures that speak the same language, for example New Englanders and Southerners, so you could be a TCK who only speaks one language. However, TCK's who do speak more than one language may feel an extra layer of alienation and grief. When I speak Dutch, memories come to me that don't come to me when I speak English. It's like opening an old box in your attic and finding things that you had forgotten how much you missed.

The TCK experience does not have to result culture shock, alienation, and grief. Many TCK's use their experiences and cross-cultural understanding to become vital bridge figures. I want to be one of these TCK's. I want to call the whole world my home. I want to feel I could put down roots anywhere, and still find wings wherever I please, without grieving roots torn out and wings lost in wind. How do you cope, fellow TCK's? How do you move beyond grief.

This got long and surprisingly deep. If anyone wants to publish it, contact me - servideus at gmail dot com.
Shirley Pu Wills's avatar

Shirley Pu Wills

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I was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1951, in post-war Japan of Chinese Parents from Shanghai, pre revolutionary China. I slept and was coddold by Japanese nurse maids who taught me to speak Japanese fluently by age 4,5 and 6. At 6 I was in a japanese kindergarden and thought that I was no different than the other japanese kids. I felt safe for we are asians and I did not stand out looking alien and no one would say that I was Chinese for I spoke fluent Japanese. Then at the age of seven my father, an accountant was transferred to New York City, U.S.A. and at first grade, I found myself facing culture shock as I stood out so differently from rest of the white children, I didn't speak a word of English, nor understood English and sought out other Japanese children in my class whose parents were ex-patriots from Japan. That entire first year, I was happy as I found these Japanese children as playmates and friends, however in second grade these asian children were separated so we would learn English. In second grade I was bulled so I remained silent and friendless. Then by Third grade we had moved to College Point, Queens and went into a Catholic School. I remember we had a neighbor Tina who was the same age I was, whose parents came from Hong Kong and spoke Cantonese. She had large eyes and when she had her birthday party she excluded me and only invited her white classmates. Her blonde girlfriend had bullied me and both scratched my hands and arms digging their nails into my flesh. For the rest of my childhood was displacement from one place to another as by 6th grade we moved into white suburbia in Boonton, N.J., High School I was the only Chinese girl, quiet and withdrawn and depressed which made it worse for me to develop social skills necessary for normal adulthood. Anyhow, I used my appearance to advantage by studying Chinese Brush Painting, and became a famous Chinese Brush Painting East West style painting Artist. I had most highly regarded reputation in Northern N.J. and N.Y.C. and also in wealthier parts of the Big Island of Hawaii. For ten years I've lived in Capt. Cook, HI and was persecuted mostly by Japanese Nationals who are idolized by local Japanese who are descendants of 7 generations of sugar field plantation workers who speak Pidgin English which is a combination of broken Japanese, Chinese, Portugese, English and Hawaiian language. If I was greeted by another asian...Japanese national from Japan, not one would really accept or relate to me. If I was greeted by a local Chinese or Japanese, they'd smile at me first, however as soon as I open my mouth of fluent English, their smiles would drop and know that I'm not of their kind. I had a white husband of high status however he divorced me after 27 yrs. and I had been protected by him with the white expats here on the
Island, however now, I have a hired worker, my driver, my cook, my dishwasher, my bodyguard and buddy who was homeless whom I've taken in. He is white, of working class and 3rd generation Italian ex Catholic who like me is sane and insane. I have taken in my 98 yr.old elderly father who lives with me, and I am afraid to have sex with any males at this age of 61.
SAA's avatar

SAA

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I remember my parents being called by my teacher in 5th grade when I came to the US for the first time. She told them I had an "attitude" and that I wasn't "sharing" with other students. My parents looked dumbfounded as I'd always been a stellar student. Well, my dads from England, mom from India, I was born in Saudi Arabia, lived in a variety of countries and visited even more. Then at the age of 11, I was told we were moving to the US---FOR GOOD! I nearly died of shock as a kid. I didn't know anything about being "American." Well, here I am, in Texas of all states, trying to fit in each day. I remember coming here as a kid and I was just upset over having to leave everything behind. My teacher didn't know what was going through my mind and she didn't care to by her actions. I'm 25 now and the same feelings still occur but I try not to let it effect me greatly. I don't feel I'm American or Texan. The only remedy seems to be planning another international trip! No matter how hard it's been to fit in every time I moved, I would NEVER trade my childhood for anything else. At work I'm the go-to person for international questions, cultures etc... and my office is basically a collection of artifacts from around the globe! It was very hard to date-but I ended up finding a guy who's background was similar to mine. We lasted 5 years! Not bad, eh? All in all, either strangers see me one of two ways: Snobby or Highly Interesting. :D Go TCKS!
Carrie's avatar

Carrie

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I was born in the Netherlands to fully Dutch parents. When I was four we moved to Manila. I attended the American school there. How I learned to speak English, I don't remember, but I did. So well in fact that if you met me on the street you would not know it was not my first language. After 4 years there we moved to Pakistan, then Indonesia, and then Israel, where I graduated high school.
I am pretty sure there were Dutch schools every place we went, and I am eternally grateful that my parents decided on the American/International schools. I have learned so much. The life I had as a child/teen is so precious to me, I would not trade it for anything. It was difficult being Dutch attending an American school in an Asian country, believe me. Maybe I was just socially awkward, or maybe it was my non American roots, but often times I did not really fit in (even though everything about me was "American"), and that hurt. I never fit in with the crowds I identified with, and maybe that was my fault for trying too hard, but I had great friends every place we moved, and many of us are now back in touch with each other, after 30 years, thanks to FB, and it is awesome. Yes, I grieved for a while after each move, but who doesn't. Even if one never leaves the US, but moves around every few years, there will be grief over the loss of a home, the neighborhood you know so well, the friends, etc. I think kids who never leave their hometown are the ones who are cheated. The things I have experienced in my life, I could write books about. Now, I think it is a miracle I survived all those moves, not because of grief, rather, due to the careless and stupid teenage things I did in a strange country, different world. At the time though, it was my home and I did not think anything of it. I grieve now because my husband and I (and our kids)have lived in the same place for 17 years. That's too many years for me, and I long to move, to wander, to explore...
Erika's avatar

Erika

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In addition to several other places, my family lived in Egypt for 6 years. We had the advantage of being there longer than most, but it also resulted in having friends leave every year. That was another "loss" to endure over and over again.

One of the most wonderful things about Facebook has been the ability to finaly reconnect with many of those friends.
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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Please forgive my delay in responding to the new posts. I have been away from my computer, tending to family business -- elsewhere, of course!

Thank you so much for your many interesting comments -- you share more facets of the TCK experience, and I am so grateful to hear your reflections.

In survey after survey, when TCKs are asked what they would change about their childhood, the majority invariably looks back and says, nothing -- despite their trials, they wouldn't have it any other way. This is interesting given the depth of pain that many -- certainly not all -- endure, sometimes well into adulthood.

One of the challenges of frequent mobility is incorporating the joy and the pain of such varied experience and creating or coming to terms with an identity that isn't based on geographic determinants -- finding one's place in the Third Culture.

What I hope to do with my books and articles is to open people up to new knowledge about a growing population. Perhaps with increased understanding, some of the challenges and pain associated with frequent childhood mobility -- so often unspoken, unrecognized or misunderstood -- can be mitigated and the incredible richness and diversity of experience and knowledge can be celebrated.
MK Gilbert's avatar

MK Gilbert

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How can I ever be whole again? after being born and raised in taiwan 'til the age of 15, getting married in my later 20's~moving all around~never staying in one place for more than a few years, I am so full of grief, I feel I will never recover. I'm 57 now, with severe depression/chronic fatigue/fibromyalgia...I just want to go HOME so badly! This last move going on 2 yrs ago was the very worst for me~we lived in one town/one house for 7 yrs and I started grieving a year ahead of time, and still haven't recovered~We're living in an old apt building we manage for my husband's family~it's very stressful for me~he's self-employed, we have no insurance, I can't manage even a PT job except subst teaching, which I love, but don't get any work here to speak of~before we moved i could get all the days I could handle in a bigger city...I miss it so much! Have lived in over 25 places in my life~2 countries/6 states...don't feel I belong anywhere. I have one sister near-by, but no one else. This apt business and my extreme irritibility/worrying/complaining has ruined my relationship with my husband's family not to mention pretty much destroyed our marriage...I just feel I have no where to turn, no hope for recovery, no joy or peace. I hate living this way.
Scott Bryant-Comstock's avatar

Scott Bryant-Comstock

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This note is to all TCK's who were touched by Nina's writing and have shared so deeply their personal stories. A special heartfelt appreciation for MK - I will contact you offline to share resources that may be helpful to you in your journey.
Petra's avatar

Petra

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I am 31 years old, born in Hungary to Hungarian parents. My parents moved to Argentina when I was 3 months old, due to my father's sales career.4 years later, we moved back to Hungary and apparently I only spoke Spanish. Another 4 years later we moved back to Argentina again, I was not even able to finish the 1st grade in primary school in Hungary. 1 year into Argentina, when I just ha re learned Spanish to a fluent level, we moved again - to Uruguay. We spent 1 year there. New school, new kids who bullied me due to my accent and the fact they didn't know "what" Hungary was. I stared to learn my 3rd language at the age of 9 - English, since I was sent to a bi lingual school where the Uruguay kids learned English from the 1st grade on. 1 year later ... Germany. We spent 6 1/2 years there. I finished primary school, started high school and spoke German on a native level, better than Hungarian. I felt German. I loved my friends. I loved Heidelberg, the city where we lived. And when I turned 15, my father died of a heart attack.
Without him, we had to g back to Hungary. Moving, packing - I was not allowed to mourn. Not only did I mourn my dad, but a big chunk of me has been left there. Since then, I haven't had the guts to return there and I am having dreams of me going back to Germany. I have these dreams very often. I spent 9 years in Hungary, finishing off high school (German language) and spending some years in Uni. I have never really thought about Hungary as my home. I do not know what my home is.
Now I live in the UK with my English husband whom I met online. Sometimes I smile when I think about my mother and sister who still live in Budapest and I go see them. Sometimes it's good to see them and I miss some stuff.
But there is something I cannot describe. It is painful, yet sweet, inside me. My husband sometimes tells me that he hoped I would feel now at home, after 6 years in England with him. I haven't answered this question to him, yet. I don't know if I ever will. And sometimes I feel the urge to move. Again.
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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Once again, many thanks to all who are posting.

Sometimes in our far-flung world we can feel very much alone... and it is helpful to be reminded that we are not. Much work is being done to learn about and understand the lives of mobile children, and there is a new focus on developing resiliency. I am hoping the research will be made public soon, and that the findings will be helpful to all children, as well as to the adults they have become.

With thanks to all who have shared their thoughts and experience here,

Nina Sichel
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Writing-Out-of-Limbo/170502939716542?ref=hl
Olga @The EuropeanMama's avatar

Olga @The EuropeanMama

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I have recently discover that I was a TCK as well. I was born in Poland, but I followed my parents to Germany as a child, and we lived there for 2 years. But I don't seem to fit the profile of a typical TCK- while I feel Polish, I also feel international- all at the same time. Never had it occured to me that I could have problems because of my experiences as a TCK...I have always considered it a benefit. I always thought that identity si not so much about the "where" but about the "with whom" I am now married to a German man and we have two children.We live in the Netherlands- and I moved there from Germany.I think that we tend to contruct identity as something stable and solid, when it is fluid- and we actually construct our own identity...maybe that would help?to help the children realize that they are what they think they are. But yes, I agree that their prooblems should be more noticed and if they have problems, they should get help- and appropriate help at that!
Margaret Frame's avatar

Margaret Frame

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Many years ago when Ruth Van Reken was writing her first book about being a TCK, Letters never sent, we talked for many hours about our similar experiences as MK, going to boarding school, and separation from families and friends. I came back to the US permanently when my parents retired to finish HS in California after attending an International School for most of school years. I could understand my fellow students not knowing about Iran or what it was like to live abroad, but I had trouble with their lack of interest in learning anything about it. As others have written, I didn't feel as though I fit in. I found myself not talking about my past as it made me obviously different. After 55 years of moving around to different states: California, New York, Hawaii, Arizona, Idaho, and New Jersey I retired last year and moved to Panama. I have met other expats here who have had similar experiences and who can relate to my choices. One thing I have learned is that home is where you are. You can take your roots with you and find inner peace with your life if you don't expect everyone around you to 'understand you'. The work that the writers about TCK's have done is great in helping us understand 'why' we feel this way and how we can help those around us to gain an understanding of our world.

I am in the process of compiling a book about my mother's 30 years as a medical missionary in Iran. Reading over her reports and letters has brought back many memories, both good and difficult, but which have helped me enjoy reliving the past and be proud of the 'different' life that I led. To me it wasn't different, but normal.

What hasn't been discussed much is the emotional problems of adults, such as missionaries who have spent 30 to 40 years of their adult life living and working in another culture. Bonding with that culture, then having to leave at 65 or 70 at retirement and return 'home'. But where is home? How difficult is it to readjust to their home culture which they haven't lived in for most of their adult life?
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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There has been some research into the concept of constructing an identity as Olga suggests, and there are many ways in which this happens. Liliana Meneses looks at the role of language and memory in identity-formation in her essay in Writing Out of Limbo. Most of the memoirs in both of my books have to do with coming to an understanding of self even when the worlds around you keep changing. I welcome more insight into this matter, as it is a subject that continually fascinates me.

To Margaret, who wrote about missionary kids and their missionary parents -- you may be particularly interested in the MK memoirs in Unrooted Childhoods and Writing Out of Limbo. Feel free to write to me directly and I will send you some titles about medical missionaries.

The urge to move, the bittersweet memories of what has been gained and lost as TCKs and expats -- these things stay with us -- the hope is that we come to a place of comfort being an outsider, knowing that there is a community of others like us spread all around the world. My wish is that therapists, counselors, teachers and others who work with TCKs and expats learn more about how constant mobility affects these children, and can help with appropriate interventions when difficulties arise.
Nick B's avatar

Nick B

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As a 73 year old TCK (Hungary, Germany, Venezuela, UK, USA) and polyglot, I am thankful for the muliple paths of my life. I feel like a true citizen of the world.
Perhaps we, the citizens of many culures, are the last hope for this wretched planet.
The first two stanzas of Jorge Luis Borges poem should warm all TCK's heart:
Si pudiera vivir nuevamente mi vida
en la proxima trataria de cometer mas errores,
no intentaria ser tan perfecto, me relajaria mas.
Seria mas tonto de lo que he sido, de hecho,
tomaria muy pocas cosas con seriedad.

Seria menos higienico.
Correria mas riesgos, haria mas viajes,
contemplaria mas atardeceres,
subiria mas montanas, nadaria mas rios.
Iria a mas lugares a donde nunca he ido,
comeria mas helados y menos habas,
tendria mas problemas reales y menos imaginarios.
etc
JM's avatar

JM

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I'm brazilian and my husband is from Sweden. Both of us moved out from home to live in different countries at age 16, without our parents. We've lived in different countries until we met in Gemany during college. After that we've lived in 2 other countries in Europe and went back to Germany, where our son was born. When our son was 2 years old we moved to Arizona, USA. Our daughter was born here in the US. Now we are planing on moving back to Germany, even when we know we won't be there forever. Now I'm not concerning about us, as we know how to deal with our grief, it's nice to share it with my husband, he knows exactly how I feel. We know the perfect place for us will never exist, but we take the best part of it for our lifes like the excitement about a new culture, new people, new enviroment, new rules, etc. The thing is that we were alredy "old" with 16 when we started moving arround and we have our routes very deep in our home countries Brazil and Sweden. What worry us is how it will be for our kids. I'm reading now all this books related to TCK to give them the best support, our son is now 5 and he gets very sad when we talk about moving out from here. I talk to him a lot about it, try to listen and understand what makes him feel sad and so. But anyone here that can give us more advices how to avoid him carring the consequences while he grew up?
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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I cannot tell you how rewarding it is to continue to receive responses to this blog post. So many do not realize what or who TCKs are -- this includes many, many TCKs themselves -- and to know that word is reaching them, and that perhaps some changes can come in the mental health field, and especially in prevention, fills me with hope.

To Nick -- gracias por la notita y gracias por el poema!
(Translation:: thank you for the note and thank you for the poem)
I am so happy that the many "multiple paths" of your life continue to enrich and inform you, and that you can celebrate being "a true citizen of the world." This is the best possible outcome for a TCK.

To JM, and to all who I know relate to her post -- what a gift you are offering your son, through your own experiences and perspectives, and especially through your sensitivity and understanding of what transition may mean to him! The fact that you are aware of his sadness, that you accept it and let him express it, is probably the healthiest thing you can do for him, as long as he doesn't dwell on sadness. As Ruth Van Reken and others have stated, children need the time to grieve their losses.

I am not a therapist or mental health counselor, but I have collected and heard many TCK stories, and can share with you what some have said helped them. One suggestion is to allow your child to bring with him to his next location objects that symbolize/remind him of the last one. They do not have to be big; one young woman brought with her a matchbox filled with dirt from Africa, and when she was homesick, she would take it out and smell it. Others bring dolls, or photographs. With the availability of internet and skype and facetime, we are able to stay in touch much better with those left behind.

As I am not sure which books you are reading, I also don't know what to recommend. If you would like, feel free to post this note on the Writing Out of Limbo website, where others might respond directly.

Thank you all --

Nina Sichel
nsichel@yahoo.com
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Writing-Out-of-Limbo/170502939716542?ref=hl
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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p.s. So sorry, the Writing Out of Limbo page is a Facebook page, not a website.
E's avatar

E

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I always feel a sense of loss when I moved, but I could never put my finger on it quite as well as you have here. What you described is so accurate. I lived in 15 different houses in my 19 years of life thus far and have lived in 4 different countries. Growing up, I hated moving because I was always leaving behind a friend, or place or a memory. When I lived in Canada, we owned a beautiful big house that we rented out to people when we moved to Europe. After my brother and I were going to head off to university, my parents were supposed to return from Europe and live in that house to eventually retire together. That didn't happen. My dad died in Europe, far too young. He died in the house that I lived in for three years in Europe. When we moved back to Canada I felt such a loss because I knew I would never return to that house in Europe that he died in. But I was comforted in knowing that I still had that beautiful house in Canada to return to, full of memories of my dad and my family. But my mother decided the house was understandably too big to live in alone, so she is selling it. She is selling it this summer and it is likely the most profound loss out of all of them, because I will no longer have a home to come back to, at least one that I shared with my father. Thanks for this post, I look forward to reading the book.
Andrew's avatar

Andrew

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I'd like to apologize to all the commenters for not reading your comments -- your stories all look interesting and might reflect viewpoints like my own.
Anyways, as far as the post itself goes, I'd like to respond with some findings I myself have found in living on four continents, visiting another, and spending all of my life overseas.

http://aj.mosaic.ws/at-home-in-uganda/
To spare you the entire post (above), in brief, my vision of home expands when I travel: and each place that I go to, becomes home for me. Rather than looking at my movement in a negative light, as loss -- I try to look at it in a positive light as a strength.

Andrew
Robin Reed's avatar

Robin Reed

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This has never been written before! I am a classic case of a third culture kid. At 54 now, it is hard to classify myself as a kid, when I try to explain to people why I feel so unsettled and depressed in the world we live in and I need to share this story with people who might understand.

I was born in Pensecola, Florida where my father was a Navy pilot. The first 5 years of my life, I barely knew who he was. We moved to Tennessee, Corpus Christy Texas, San Diego, California and then when I was 6 years old to Peoria, Illinois, where I started kindergarten and my father left the Navy and took a job with Caterpillar.

With Caterpillar we moved to the overseas headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland where I attended first grade at the International School there. The next year we were transferred to Copenhagen, Denmark and we were located there for one and half years. I attended a British Catholic school where we were taught by nuns. By 3rd grade we were transferred to Stockholm, Sweden and by then I had learned to speak some Danish, playing with kids in the neighborhood. In Stockholm I attended the American School with many kids from famous families, the Papendreou's were one them.

My family returned to the United States back to Peoria, Illinois when I was 10 years old and I attended 5th grade at a local middle school, where teachers described me as hopelessly behind in reading and math. That year I made lot's of friends and had special help to catch up on all the missing pieces in my education. I began to thrive, made significant improvements and started winning at swim meets. But that did not last long, the following year we were transferred to London. I remember being very upset about moving and not able to take my dog and loosing my neighborhood friends.

I attended the American School in London and made the transition quite easily, although my name, Robin, was a burden and I was often teased by local British kids because it was a boy's name. I fell in love with London, and became an expert on the city, getting around on the tube was a wonderful experience. I adored British history and the Tudor homes and palaces. I attended Wimbledon, had my first boyfriend and became an accomplished gymnast and swimmer. I was happy there....then we moved again and I was 14 years old.

Our travels took us back to Geneva, Switzerland with Caterpillar and my parents finally told the company, no more moves until I had finished high school at the International School in Geneva. My high school years were wonderful and I am in touch with many of my friends from there to this day. It is true that the mobile community do have some sort of bond, that at the time was difficult to describe.

I attended college in the United States like so many kids in my class from Switzerland. We all continued to stay in touch dealing with many of the same culture shock issues, that is now being identified as Third Culture Kid issues. I remember the feeling that I just could not fit into my college community. I did not know the TV programs or the jokes on Saturday Night Live, I did not drive, I did not want to binge drink and I was really focused on school. After a year or so, I began to assimilate and realized it was better not to say where I was from. It sounded so glamorous and I just wanted to be real. I told people I was from NJ, where my grandmother lived but ultimately I was known as the Swiss girl - kind of cool to bring home and introduce to your parents!

After two years I took charge of my own life and goals and decided to study graphic design and photography, so I transferred to Rochester Institute of Technology. I befriended many other international students and tried hard to understand the American kids and professors there. I received and excellent education but had difficulty with Rochester, the city and no car.

Where do I go once I graduate? I could not go back to Switzerland because I did not have a valid work permit and was no longer on my parent's permit status because I was over 21. I went back to Switzerland and tried to find a job but work permits were hard to come by for a young college graduate with no experience. So after a wonderful summer back in Europe, I returned to my grandmother's house in NJ, where I lived and took temporary work, while looking for a graphic design position. I pounded the pavements in NYC and after 7 months landed a terrific job with Gregory Fossella Associates in Boston.

I fell in love with Boston. I felt at home there had family in the area, made some good friends and began to establish my own roots and then cam the recession in the early 80's! Our company began to lay people off and the youngest designers were let go. After job hunting in my beloved city of Boston, collecting unemployment for 9 months, sending out over 100 resumes I decided to head back to Switzerland and teach skiing for a few months. I needed a change or a break!

A long standing relationship with a wonderful man was rekindled in the mountains of Switzerland and we were married in 1983. My husband was British naturalized Swiss and I became a Swiss citizen, raising two beautiful girls in an ideal setting in a small village outside Geneva. My parents were still in Switzerland and for 16 years I felt like I finally found where I belonged. But it did not remain that way.

In 1995 my parents left Switzerland and retired back in the United States. We visited when we could and I had a wonderful career, working in the development sector. As happens, my marriage ended in divorce and for a number of years I continued to work and started my own design consultancy. The challenge of raising two girls on my own became a major concern. They were bilingual and did not quite fit into the Swiss public school system, so with family support we placed them in the International School International, bilingual Baccalaureate program. They began to thrive and I began dating an old high school friend from Geneva, who lived in the United States and came frequently visit.

I felt comfortable with this man in my life, he knew where I was coming from and he asked me to marry him and return to the United States. I did and moved to Circleville, OH! I can adapt, I said to myself and it will be nice to be closer to my family and daughter attending college in Connecticut. I had worked in developing countries and had lived all over the world. I thought his would just be just one more move. He promised me that we would not stay in Ohio, and would could easily move back to Wilmington, DE, which was an area I knew and liked.

Then the recession hit. Knowone was moving anywhere, so I found myself looking for work in Columbus, OH. Now 6 years later, after completing my master's degree and teaching at The Ohio State University I wonder what is next. Divorce for the second time, a deep rooted feeling that I do not belong, do not fit in am not understood or appreciated anywhere has left me depressed and wondering.

Everyone say's you are resilient and strong. You can go anywhere. Where? With a daughter in Shanghai working, another in Switzerland, parents in Rhode Island, family in Colorado, yes I suppose many are right. However, I depleted my financial resources as a single mother paying for private schools in the US for my girls, unable to collect unemployment during the recession. Now I need a job in a place that would welcome and appreciate me. With all the connectivity available there is no sense of belonging and I wonder where life's path will take me.

I am a great study in this third culture world and wish that in some way I could help others to make transitions easier, and educate those who do not understand what it is like to be an international nomad! I'd love to hear your suggestions.
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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Thank you all for your replies -- so varied in tone, in substance, in personality! TCKs are an incredibly diverse group, and so are their experiences, and I am always grateful to those of you who choose to share them with the rest of us. We can all learn so much from each other.

Fortunately, many children are able to hold onto the various forms of enrichment they encounter along the way -- the people, places, topographies of their many homes -- and grow into happy, healthy, positive adults. But for some, the constant uprooting is painful, if not damaging.

I am still trying to figure out just why this is. Children within the same family often will have very different recollections of their childhoods, even though they grew up in the same places and under similar circumstances. I remember a passage written by a child psychologist who claims each child is actually born into a different family, because the parents change with time and there are siblings who also affect the dynamic.

There are also circumstances that change with moves. There are outside issues that will influence children differently, political or social issues in countries where they are relocated, peer group issues, educational ones, and so on, that will affect some children more than others. And some people handle change better than others.

I tend to think, with no factual proof, that much has to do with character, and the ability of the individual to adapt to changing circumstances. I'm looking forward to discovering information that confirms this for me -- if anyone has a reference, please share it with other readers here and on the Limbo Facebook page.

I have begun posting referrals to other sites on that page -- writing contests, researchers looking for subjects, topics of interest to TCKs in general. Please feel free to "like" the page and take part in the conversation:
:https://www.facebook.com/pages/Writing-Out-of-Limbo/170502939716542

All best,
Nina Sichel
ahae's avatar

ahae

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I found this page with absolute delight. I have been struggling a little lately. I am happy with myself, but being asked where I am from upsets the balance at the moment. I am not confused, I am a mix of many things. But having to explain to people that my parents are nationalities X and Y and that I grew up in A, B, C and D and as an adult have now lived in X and M, is confusing to them, and that confusion pushes my buttons!
May I ask, has anyone else had difficulty with dating or having relationships (as a result)? How do you find other adult TKCs? It's easy to find expats but it's not always the same.
The comments about family dynamics are interesting. We are still incredibly close with all the positive attributes, but there were negative ones, too.
Heather's avatar

Heather

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I cannot believe how accurate this is. We moved the US 3 years ago and our friends and family were so excited we were finally home. But to my kids that spent the last 9 years in Asia this was not home. Asia felt like home and they are still struggling with them move. Can't wait to share your article with the school counselor.
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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Thank you for your comments.

The question of relationships has no easy answer, but I would encourage you to read about how other TCKs have handled the issue. Some people become wary of commitment, feeling relationships may not last; others grab on and hold tight. With internet, Skype, and other social media, maintaining connection has become much, much easier.

You can find TCKs everywhere -- they just don't know who they are, and don't self-identify! Global Nomads has chapters in many universities in the US, and international student centers tend to draw people who've grown up internationally. There are also meet-up groups that announce get-togethers online.

Feel free to comment on the LIMBO facebook page and perhaps you will find a community right where you live that you were not previously aware of. I have found students in my memoir classes, who didn't know they were TCKs, suddenly become aware of this new identity and seek out others like them.

I do hope the children who are struggling with a move made three years ago find the kind of support and help and understanding they need to deal with this change... and that Heather shares not only the blog post but also the comments from others who have written in with their thoughts, as we do learn so much from each other!

Nina Sichel
Mary's avatar

Mary

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Am I TCA? Born in Indonesia to Indonesian parents, we all migrated to New Zealand when I was 8 and successfully assimilated, but am now in my 20s and moved to the UK.
kunle's avatar

kunle

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This is awsome. Im glad that experiences like mine are shared and acknowledged. Sparing the details im a tck; and finding a belonging is hard. Ill never completely fit in to where I live and even if I go back "home" I wont have much in common with most of my people. Does this make me sad; yeah but at the same time I look at the opportunity to effect change and educate the less experinced. I usualy joke when people ask me where I'm from amd respond im a child of the world. Hopefully this discussion can help educate parents on what to do with their kids and how to help them help the kids learn to adapt and appricate the experiences so few of us get to live.
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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I'm sorry, my response seems to have been lost...

There is much overlap with first-generation immigrant kids and TCKs in terms of experience and cultural identity... Ruth Van Reken has written about a new way of understanding what she calls Cross Cultural Kids, and her essay can be found in Writing Out of Limbo. Additionally, one can visit her website: www.crossculturalkid.org.

"Child of the world" -- I like that!

I'd encourage respondents here to visit the Limbo facebook page and engage in conversation with other TCKs and CCKs: www.facebook.com/pages/Writing-Out-of-Limbo
Barbara's avatar

Barbara

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My sister and I are TCKs. I was born in Ontario, Canada (1948) left to live in Quetta, Pakistan before I turned 3, for almost three years, returned to Ontario, Canada - a different place - for a year or two, then went to Colombo, Sri Lanka for about 2 years, back to Ontario, then on to Quebec, Canada, which is a French-speaking/cultural province, for 3 years and then on to Pittsford, NY, USA for another three years. At the end of that posting, we returned to Ontario where I have lived ever since, albeit in different locations.
We lived where my father's firm posted us. My sister and I did not go to International schools nor did we live in separate communities in Asia. Our school mates and our caregivers, teachers, doctors/nurses, etc. were predominantly (but not exclusively) local. Each place was "home" until it wasn't. I never have an answer for "what is your hometown". Which one, I ask. We loved each place and felt we belonged there when we were children. As adults that's harder to identify.
Gabri's avatar

Gabri

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I am the mother of a TCK and I am now desperate. My son is 16 and we are Italian, but we worked abroad. My son grew up in Nigeria, then Angola, Nigeria again, United States, France and Ghana. For many years I have seen only the positive side of all this. I read the book of Ruth Van Reken and I paid attention to the grief every time we were moving and he was doing well, socialising, learning languages...we were very enthusiastic about all the new experiences, and he says he is very proud of the life he has done, but in the last two three years something started to go wrong in his attitude and we had to struggle with some principals and counsellors...he seems to have put a big shield to protect himself, to prevent any pain and he is acting like a bad boy who have seen everything in his life. He doesn't like to have rules and when he performs in any subject he can excel but most of the time he doesn't want to do things until it is really necessary. My heart is bleeding...he agreed to go to a wilderness therapeutic camp to be helped to find some answers, but after few weeks I am afraid that he is seen as a troubled boy without an eye to the fact that he is a TCK and he has identity doubts to solve, very different from boys who never left their home, plus he is Italian , European and the cultural background and the life view and philosophy can be a bit different from United States.
I would love to find someone or some place where the TCK could find a concrete help without being labelled just as difficult and troubled teens. Any information that can help is welcome.
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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Thank you, Barbara, for your comment. It seems the transitions for you were smoother than they have been for many others, at least in childhood, and I am curious about how, and why, that might have changed in adulthood.

Gabri, the issue of mobility and its impact on mental health issues is something I raised in a second post on this site, and I have still received few responses -- I think discussing mobility with those professionals who work with TCKs is of utmost importance, given that it is not a factor that is usually considered, though one that has lifelong consequences. If you would contact me separately and let me know where you are located, I will try to contact others in my network to see if there might be someone nearby you can talk with. My heart goes out to you, and I hope your son has found some peace, and you as well.

Nina Sichel
Nina Frei's avatar

Nina Frei

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Hi, my name is Josefina, or as some of my friend call me,Jo, and to others, Nina. I was born in 1997 in the beautiful country of Chile, South America, to two very Chilean parents.We were reolcated to Switzerland when I was 9, being immersed into a radically different culture, and faced being educated in an international schol where no kid studied at for more than two years because of the expat nature. The language barriers were doubled for me, for i was to learn English and French simultaneously from scratch, and i did not make any non-hispanic friends until my 3rd year there, where they had all left and i was left alone. Anyway, I am currently living in Puerto Rico, a Caribbean Island that happens to be US territory, and i find myself in a very difficult situation. until recently, i had accepted my life as an expat and had easily made friends until i reached 10th grade, where i realized that i am to graduate soon, too soon. You see, i was primarily educated in the IB system but i am now prepping for the SAT since i switched to an American School, and seeing as i am now going into 11th grade, I do not know where I will be living next year. The problem is that my parents want me to finish high school in Chile and go to college there, but they have no certainty as to whether that will be possible. Anyhow, that is still so terrifying because i do not feel chilean and do not remember what it was like to go to school there. Regardless, i don't know where i might even study or what school system i might have to switch to, again. I want to study in the States, and this freaks my parents out!I have great anxiety and i cannot controll it, and this is making iy worse. I really do not know how to cope with this lifestyle, especially since the future is SO uncertain.This pretty much consumes so much of my time because i really have a hard time enjoying my relationships and friend because i never know how much time we have left in a place.
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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What a very brave note you submitted, Josefina -- how insightful you are, and how clearly you are able to articulate the very issues that so many TCKs struggle with! Thank you for sending this note.

Sometimes, the parents of TCKs assume that their home is their children's home -- that because they are so familiar with it, it will be familiar to their children -- in your case, you left Chile early, and, though it may be home for your parents, it is no longer home for you... I wonder if you have spoken to your parents and school counselor about this? Going to Chile, for you, may feel like going to a foreign country now, and your parents may be better able to support you in your transition if they hear and understand your feelings. Your school counselor may be able to help you find either an American school or an IB program in your next posting so that there will be some familiarity at least in your educational program.

It is often worthwhile to provide others with some reading material to help them understand TCKs, especially if this was not the way they were brought up. There are several books that are available and may be helpful -- in addition to my own, I am thinking of Ruth Van Reken's THIRD CULTURE KIDS and some of Robin Pascoe's.

I do hope you find time to enjoy your current relationships, even though their length may be uncertain. To live in anticipation of leaving is to deny yourself many of the pleasures you might find in your current situation. And, with the internet, Skype, and so much more moving around, you never know when you will see your friends again... I have recently connected with someone I had not seen since 1971, after a few years of facebook communication, and I can't tell you how wonderful that was!

I wish you all the best,

Nina Sichel
Laurie's avatar

Laurie

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Hi, my name is Laurie and I'm 15 and a tck. My parents are from Haiti and I've lived there as well as Botswana, South


Africa, Rwanda, and the US.

When I finished reading this article I was extremely upset. To me it painted the life of a tck as one of hardship and depression. Yes there are hardships but what it failed to mention was the joys of being a tck: the new and diverse kinds of people we meet, visiting different countries and integrating ourselves in different cultures; things not many people have the opportunity to do.

Each tck story is different but failing to see past the sacrifices we make to the joy we later have, THAT is really what is dissapointing.

Yes we are tck's, but we are proud, not a charity/mental case.

Sincerely,
Laurie
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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Thank you, Laurie, for writing in response to this blog.

You bring up some very important points in your note -- especially the recognition that most TCKs, when looking back at their childhoods, would not choose to have it any other way.

It sounds like your experience has been, for the most part, a positive one, filled with the joy and enrichment one finds in living among diverse cultures. It is good that you have been able to take in so much, and that you are able to balance the losses against so many gains.

Unfortunately, that is not the case for many others. And this blog was written to raise awareness among mental health counselors and others working with children who are showing signs of depression that there may be a larger story here, and one that few people know to ask about.

Thank you for posting your response -- may your travels continue to be rich and rewarding.

Nina Sichel
Andrew Gregory's avatar

Andrew Gregory

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I grew up in the Czech Republic, lived in europe since I was born, but hold an american passport, I'm all czech but in blood or paper. I just moved to the states about a year and a half ago to attend university. People think of me as depressed, angry or just distant. I've been a wallflower since I got here. You said that it isn't regular depression or trauma. Would you suggest finding a therapist anyway? I live with me brother, but him and I, as close as we are, don't talk very much about our life. Mostly because we are both rather withdrawn and are more interested in helping others than ourselves. So we don't ever talk very much about anything. Would you suggest finding a therapist either way even though it isn't clinical depression or trauma?

Andrew Gregory
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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Thank you for writing in response to this post, Andrew.

I am not a therapist and so I cannot say what is troubling you or even whether you are troubled -- you say that others see you in a certain way, but I think it more important for you to think about how you feel, and whether or not you are unhappy in your current situation.

Transition takes time, and can be smoother for some than for others. You should expect to have mixed emotions about having left a familiar place and people, and having to find your way in new circumstances. But that does not mean you are depressed! If you are feeling isolated or sad and find you are not functioning the way you would like, I am sure there are counselors you can speak to at your university who might be able to provide some guidance.

I do think we need to give ourselves plenty of time to adjust to change, time to celebrate the excitement of the new and time to mourn the loss of the old, and space in which to do so. I wish you best of luck in your transition!

Nina Sichel
Karen's avatar

Karen

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I have honed my childhood to the concise statement: I am the oldest daughter of an American father and a Norwegian mother who grew up in Bahrain and Dubai, going to an English school.

I loved my childhood, and can relate to many of the posts here, especially the ones that speak about being in one place so long that all of their friends left. Being the one left behind was already hard, and because of the situation, when my family finally left the Middle East, I wasn't told until we were on the plane to return to the U.S. 'for good'

Furthermore, as the oldest, I had the job of comforting my sisters, and I remember singing 'Breakfast in America" to them on the plane. I was 13. I have lots of funny stories about arriving in a small town in Wisconsin with an English accent, my favourite being when a classmate asked where I had lived, and I said the Middle East, I received a puzzled look and the query, "...Pennsylvania?"

It wasn't until I was in my 40s that I read anything about TCKs, and I did research on them (us) concerning cross-cultural adaptation.

I think that what sets us apart is the ability to function with multiple frames of reference: i.e. being able to say, 'If I answer that question with my American self, I would say...," or my Norwegian, or Arabic, or which ever culture we have been part of.

Though each of us have our own story, which may separate us, we have the ability to remain outsiders. This is not seen as an advantage to those who can't step out of their own culture, but it is. Being the perpetual outsider leads to an objectivity that is not coldness, as is often perceived. We have the capability for considered open mindedness. I have learned to see this as an advantage as a moderator, and teacher. If life is what we make it, we have the advantage of more options, should we choose them.

Thanks, Nina. I still weep when I read things that actually capture my life, because it is rare that I find a group of us.
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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Karen, many thanks for your post, which brings up so many important points. As I've said before, despite what are sometimes conflicting emotions, most TCKs are grateful for the experience of their international childhoods.

Your post recognizes a very basic and essential consequence of living in and among different cultures: "What sets us apart is the ability to function with multiple frames of reference." And you have been able to turn the outsider perspective into a real gift, as you describe its many advantages.

I hope your note reaches many of our readers, and that they are able to absorb your own optimistic perspective.

Nina Sichel
lydia breckon's avatar

lydia breckon

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There is a piece by a Chinese poet, Xue Di, that I think captures the energy of this loss/adaptation/TCK-ness we are sharing on this thread. Hope it is interesting, even if a bit shattering!

EARTH
Dry-eyed, we gaze down the road
at parents and children returning: scattered
bones abandoned on the waste land of memory
Each and every night the dead come back
carrying bouquets, wearing laundry-marked shirts
recognizing the sleepers. They guard us
When they leave, they leave their bouquets
next to our pillows. We wake, see the sunlight
Maybe we hear birds. Awake, we've
first of all the palpable recollection
of having been somewhere, having felt some
cold, having done something. Wide
awake: to wake is to forget
what shines is only the morning sun
and its light is not from life

Our eyes dry, an earth remote from us
eats, drinks, sickens us
bewitches and crazes us. Still
deeply in love, we
left our lovers. Leaving our
childhood there, we left our roots
Only in sleep do we rejoin our relations. Each night
returning, quietly to feel
all old familiar faces, before
dawn, before we wake
Since then, living between two realities
we age at double speed
sunk in a confusio of everyday and inner worlds
We live and move along widening fissures
of fatigue, despair, dream, forgetfulness

Childhood remains on that earth
of no return. Sleeping
we make love to old lovers
loving again in sleep, kissing and
drinking that earth in on our lover's body
weeping for past love, writing for
love past, waking, wanting
to sleep again. Sitting in the sun, I
watch myself age towards that distant earth
aching to life the light and the fruit that
loom in the loneliness, lifting them high
in the old love, here among untold strangers.
Katrina's avatar

Katrina

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A little part of me resents the idea that TCKs are somehow different from those who live in a pluralistic society. I do realize they have more dramatic language and geographical changes, when they travel culture-to-culture. But when you live in a dry town with people who are absolutely loving, and suddenly you have to go to the big public high school in a neighboring town where everybody drinks and makes fun of your parents, clergy, and culture, it's hard to believe you're a part of either place. Do you identify with the bully? Or do you identify with the loving people back home who are scorned for their admirable morality and pleasant community?

I created my own third culture within myself, with my own beliefs, or I would have split into two personalities. I went off to university trying desperately to fit in with people who scorned my home, while all the time feeling wounded by the loneliness of knowing I could never really connect on an intimate level with other students when they couldn't respect my cultural upbringing.

Then I'd come home and try to pretend I loved my home even while resenting what felt like a scarlet letter on my life, a conservative fundamentalist scarlet letter.

Eventually I learned to accept that my friends at university would never be truly close to me, because they would continue to wound me by their cynicism and scorn and superiority. And joining in their ways didn't help me or feel good. To be healthy I had to find other domestic TCKs who understood bridging that gap to be my true friends instead.

Maybe it's possible to establish friendships across a pluralistic society, but it's sure a lot harder than most cross-cultural TCKs give credit. I don't think they can lay claim to owning the experience of feeling "on the outside" when there are lots of people who go through this every single day at school or at work and never in their lives experience the comfort of settling for a while into one homogenous society anywhere.
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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Thank you, Lydia and Katrina, for your December posts, and the emphasis you place on the split consciousness within so many of us. Crossing cultural boundaries can be difficult as well as enriching, regardless of the cultures crossed.

What I have heard from so many TCKs, however, is this difference: that they are raised to believe they belong to a home culture OTHER than the one(s) they inhabit, and find, on entering that culture, that they don't. Like the characters in the poem, the past inhabits them. Like Katrina, they question who in their various worlds really understands them. And they often find that their home culture is not a geographical location, but a place of comfort among others raised in similar, unrooted ways.
Edite's avatar

Edite

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Thank you for all the comments. I can relate to so many. I grew up living as a global nomad, moving many times from country to country. As well, my Mother is from another country, so we also visited family in another country. As a result of the many moves, my brother and I are very close. We were best friends and support for each other growing up and still are today. I feel extremely grateful for all languages, cultures and experiences I was exposed to. I loved living overseas but had a very hard time when we moved back to the USA. We moved back here to finish high school but I encountered prejudice and bullying. I graduated early and went immediately back overseas. I came back only for the college semesters and would leave back to South America or Europe as soon as I could to be with my grandparents and friends. Finally, I ended up living and working in Washington, D.C. It is now home in the US. There are many global nomads here. Like me(us), there are people who grew up bilingual, bi-cultural, bi-religious, it is a fantastic city for global nomads or TCKs. I am a single mother with three beautiful young adult children and tried to expose them to different cultures, languages, the arts, literature and everything I could while they grew up. We would go to France, rent a car and travel all over. Now, one of them will follow in his Grandfather's line of work with the State Dept., working and living overseas for his professional life. I grew up in Europe during a very special time. It was the early 60's and into 70's."Europe on $5 a Day" I wish I could relive those years, but I am very grateful for my international life here with family and friends from all over the world. It was not always easy, but it was worth it for me.
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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Edite, I wonder if you have ever attended some of the TCK meet-ups here in Washington, DC? I know there are many people who are newly becoming aware of their TCK identity and could benefit from the wisdom of one who has come to understand hers.

Your reflections on the closeness of your family, which you attribute to your many moves, are shared by many other TCKs, and I know what you mean about the infinite diversity to be found in Washington DC. It looks like you've found your home after all. And I'm happy to hear that the line continues into the next generation. Bravo!
Kukusprite's avatar

Kukusprite

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I am a TCK, having moved around a lot with a father in the air force. I have very few memories of most of the places and of some places nothing at all. However, when I left school, I was not intimidated to move to a new country (and language) for a job.
Like others above, I found I could not settle in places and had a sort of Wanderlust. From Europe I moved down to Southern Africa.
Over the following years, I survived on short term permits in different countries - which added to an insecurity, as I never knew if they were going to be renewed. I had no 'home' to go back to so kept moving on.
18 years ago I had the joy of getting married. Due to visa problems, I could not stay in his country so we emigrated to another one. After the birth of our children we got citizenship there and, although we have spent the past 8 years living in yet another country, knowing I have a citizenship country to go back to helps a lot to give me peace here.
Our children are TCKs. They have lived in 3 towns in their birth country and 4 homes (2 towns) in this country. We have sought to keep their moves to a minimum and go back to their birth town every 3 years for 6 months to keep it fresh in their minds etc. We are 'home' there and 'home' here.
Yes, there is sadness at leaving friends and pets and ... but very few people die in the town in which they were born. Moving is part of life. My children (teenagers) acknowledge the pain of parting but also the richness of their lives. They have friends in many countries and are not afraid to hop on a plane or train and visit them. My daughter is thinking about which country she would like to go and work in once she finishes school. The world is a much smaller and less scarier place for TCKS, generally speaking.
I do find the packing and moving each time tiring - but it is tempered with the knowledge that there are new experiences, new friends, new memories waiting to be made.
I can see how the parents' attitude towards moving and towards their children when in transition plays a huge role in how the children adapt. Also, the personality of the children themselves. When we are together as a family, we are 'home' - regardless of where we happen to be.
I became a Christian a number of years ago, and the knowledge that we are all 'pilgrims', all just passing through this life, showed me the futility of looking to people, places and possessions for my security.
From my own problems when growing up - finding it hard to fit in because of my lack of local knowledge, I was not part of people's history so got left out of conversations, or simply knowing I was only there for e.g. 2 years, etc - I can imagine many people would struggle for an identity. I don't root for any team or have an accent that sounds like anywhere. At least, with the global village, the number of TCKs is growing so maybe we will soon be a majority and it will become the norm!
Thank you for making us all aware of pitfalls, for ourselves and our children. Thank you that people can at last put a handle on what they are feeling, be assured it is normal, and begin to deal with it in an informed way.
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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And thank YOU, "Kukusprite," for the long response and sharing of your own views on this site. Your children are members of a vanguard: the new normal! How exciting this must feel for you!
Kukusprite's avatar

Kukusprite

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I am kuksprites daughter and I am in grade 7. I think that being a TCK can also be enriching. Our world gets bigger and we become more aware. There have been tough times to say goodbye but then u make friends in other places.
... And I (Kukusprite) also want to thank you, Nina, for your reply and to point out that, like post-traumatic stress syndrome, this 'cultural hiatus stress syndrome' was unknown 40 years' ago and parents often had no idea of the stress they were inflicting on the children. Forgiveness is also part of the healing.
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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How wonderful to receive a note from parent and child -- and to know that the sensitivity of the parent has helped pave a path of positivity for the child. Many thanks! And may others share your outlook.
Mari L'Esperance's avatar

Mari L'Esperance

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Hello, Nina and everyone—

I very much appreciate Nina's post, having reread it a second time tonight since it was first published here, and the many comments in response. Without a doubt, we are a diverse group.

I'm a multiracial TCK who was born in Japan and raised in California, Micronesia, and Japan. It wasn't until midlife that I learned (from another TCK) of the term Third Culture Kid and experienced an "a ha!" moment. As many others have expressed above, for much of my life I had no language with which to describe my feelings of otherness, dislocation, and grief. Now, as a psychotherapist who specializes in working with adult TCKs, Global Nomads, and cross-cultural adults in my Los Angeles-area practice, I find myself educating my clinical colleagues about TCKs and our unique experiences.

I'm truly grateful to finally be able to connect with others who understand how I feel and to help my clients, who are working hard to process, understand, and integrate their own particular histories and experiences so they can live full and meaningful lives.

Warmly,

Mari L'Esperance, MA, LMFT
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
www.thirdculturecounseling.com
Roxy Lamar's avatar

Roxy Lamar

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My father was in the Air Force and we moved frequently. By the time I was 8 years old I had lived in 5 different states, in different regions of the U.S. My most difficult experience was attending 3 junior high schools - it was also what I count as one of my most important life lessons - I realized I was the same person no matter how other people treated me. The frequent moves did not effect me as badly as some of the other kids I knew growing up. I have tried to figure out why. I think one factor has to be that we were always surrounded by a familiar military culture. My parents were also excited about each move and that was infectious. However, I think the most important factor was my brother. He was younger than me and I felt responsible to help him meet new people everywhere we moved. Looking back, he was my rock.
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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Thank you so much for your posts. I am thrilled that, two year laters, this short piece continues to generate interest and response.

Best of luck, Marie, with your practice. I know your work, both with your clients and your colleagues, will do much to raise awareness about TCKs and their struggles and needs.

Roxy, you've brought up a couple of interesting points: the fact that the military culture was the one steady factor, fairly unchanging, as you moved from place to place -- and the closeness of family that is often noted among TCKs.

Thank you both for your comments.
Claryssa's avatar

Claryssa

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I am now considered an ATCK and agree with what was said in your article. I have experienced all those feelings and now I teach chilfdren who experience the same losses as well as gains of being a TCK.
And the most important thing I would like to say is that the only true healing for the loss of identity found in TCKs.is finding our identity only in Jesus Christ. I can say that has been true for myself, my TCK friends, as well as my students who learn this truth at a very young age.
I hope and pray that those who are trying to help TCKs can not only experience this truth but use it as the beginning of true healing.
I want to thank you and others like you who are sharing about us TCKs and helping us be heard.
Carol Jean Stephens's avatar

Carol Jean Stephens

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I am 52 years old. I was a Navy brat, then a sailor, then a Navy wife. I spent the first 40 years of my life moving from place to place; I lived everywhere fom Bermuda to Japan. If you ask me where I am from I make a joke. When I read your article I cried because that little girl with no way to express what she feels was me. Thank you for giving me an explanation of what I never knew how to express.
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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Thank you, Clarissa and Carol, for your responses to this blog.

I am happy that this piece continues to reach readers, and that my words have helped others articulate what perhaps has remained deeply hidden for many years. Each of us finds/creates a unique identity, woven of many threads of influence and experience, and I am grateful for your feedback.
Zina's avatar

Zina

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I know this was a few years ago, but this is a pretty great article. A lot of us cope by making a micro-home in adulthood. Where after much mistrust, we chose a mate and "build" them up to be a tck if they aren't one like we are, but overall we carry our home with us. In a sense we make our "home" life to be a sort of micro-culture which encompasses many cultures, things we left behind, and over the course of years we build on that, adding bits and pieces to it. We don't let many into our lives though, even as adults. Sometimes I think the most successful TCKs are the ones which have sociopathatic tenancies. Not in the serial sense but in the can-seriously-compartmentalize sense. Military brats also exhibit this same as us. Trust is hard for us because no one ever bothered to really get us, other than our own kind, but once we do find someone to trust, I dare say our loyalty is a fierce thing. Most of us do in fact have internal trauma which you often see in kids from war zones, things you Do Not Talk About, and things which makes you flinch just because a smell or sound triggers us. The only way to stay anything *like* happy is to have a daredevil attitude for every move, not unlike leaping off a cliff and trusting you won't smash into the ground. Our wings however are made of our ability to adapt, to lie, to conform, to never ever look out of place or scared. Scared gets you eaten. All TCKs are both introverts and extroverts. Extrovert to survive, and introverts because at least books don't leave you.

Thanks for a great article. I now use it for residents who are confused by their TCK kid's behavior.
Nina Sichel's avatar

Nina Sichel

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Thank you, Zina, for pointing out the issue of trust, something that indeed plagues many TCKs.

Because of frequent childhood mobility, long-term relationships outside the immediate family are often not something a TCK has much experience with. The twists and turns and challenges that are dealt with in long-term relationships -- for instance, trust that the other person will remain loyal, despite differences -- may be something the TCK does not learn how to really manage.

And so the TCK learns to adapt and start over, and over, and over. And he learns that these important relationships are as temporary as his new "home." As Pat Conroy famously wrote, "I can walk away from best friends and rarely think of them again. I can close a door and not look back." *

Yet TCKs do look back. And, in looking back, they confront the losses inherent in their unrooted childhoods. And this is the grief I tried to give voice to, so that others, in a position to help, can more clearly identify what that "confused behavior" might be about.

* You may find Conroy's essay in my first collection, Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Global.
Leili's avatar

Leili

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That is beautiful! Thanks
Sophia's avatar

Sophia

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I appreciate this article, but I disagree. I am a TCK myself and instead of being angry or anti-social, I have learned to adapt and also make friends easily. No matter where I go (I am in highschool), I make friends. The one difference I have from other people who can make friends easily is that I can also let go easily: saying good bye when it is time to leave is something I have had to get used to and though I miss them to some extent, I knew all along the time to leave would come and I am prepared. I am a very happy person and never come across as depressed or angry. It is true I don't have a "home country" but I am happy that way. My home is where my family is.

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