Third Culture Kids

A Third Culture Kid or TCK for short is a young person who has lived for a significant amount of time outside of their parents home country. Sometimes called Transnational Kids or Cross Cultural Kids, their personal identity will be different from both that of their parents and the cultures in which they live. They become a hybrid of the two; hence the term “third culture”.

There are approximately 600 million people worldwide who live outside of their birth country for various reasons; some families only live in countries for a set period of time (e.g. diplomatic staff, military families, those who work for some international corporations), others move out of necessity (displacement due to war etc) and others permanently migrate to another country.

The diagram above can help people understand how they are different and similar to both their parents and the wider culture. They can use the structure to figure out what aspects of their identity come from where, and what they also find difficult. For example some young people lose the ability to speak their parents home language so can find it difficult to converse with grandparents.

How about you? Are you a TCK? What have you found to be the difficulties and the strengths you’ve gained from living away from your parents passport country?

Grief & Living Away

Grief is a funny old beast, usually reserved for loved ones who die, but can also sneak up on you for people who have left, for an incarnation of who you once were, or for a place or time when things were good; different. Living away from home can sometimes seem to be a never ending cycle of grief, renewal, loss & hope.

In many ways we are really privileged. There are reasons many of us came to where we are – usually the employment opportunities and pay is better than in our home countries, for one or both of us. Our Instagram feeds are filled with photographs of far off destinations that we are blessed to be able to travel to because of proximity, low cost and said better pay. Even when we’re not on holiday, we often live in countries where the sun always shines, looking like we’re having a fabulous time. According to our Instagram feeds. And it feels somewhat spoilt to talk about the other side of living away. Because living away is a choice that we make. We are not fleeing war or persecution. We’re looking for jobs, opportunities, adventures… no one forced us here. Even those of us whose employers told them they had to move had the choice to look for alternative employment. Granted the alternative could be unemployment in our home countries, but it’s still a choice and one that lots of people left behind may also make if afforded the opportunities we had.

But yet still. Despite how shiny our lives look there is an undercurrent. An undercurrent of not quite fitting in. Of finding people we connect with, who we love, who become family, who move on. People who inevitably leave. It’s like falling in love then losing that person year after year. When you stay in your home country, your family & your friends (for the most part) remain the same. Abroad we try desperately to make a connection to then find it’s ripped away. We find someone we want to hang out with, then discover they are leaving 6 months from now.

Some of us grieve for who we once were. We might have been someone in a previous life. We may have had a career, aspirations, achievements that other people knew us for. People knew our story. Yet when we move we are a story that hasn’t been read yet. A book maybe people aren’t too interested in. A book that has been placed on a shelf way at the back, that perhaps can’t be bothered anymore to try and be read.

With every move there are gains. And with every move there are losses. Unresolved grief can strangle us into depression and unsurprisingly many people who have moved multiple times can find themselves suddenly and unexpectedly mentally unwell. On top of this can come guilt for being ungrateful for the life you have. How can I be unhappy when I have all this? Why am I constantly angry even though I have all this? Which can send you spiralling further…

It’s okay to grieve and not feel okay. Talk it out with someone if you can. Find a therapist who understands transition and unresolved grief. Make a list of everything and everyone you’ve lost along the way – acknowledge what they meant to you & say your goodbyes again. Give yourself time to heal.

A Letter to the Stayers

It’s that time of year again. Students with signatures all over crisp white school shirts. One day they are here; the next there’s an empty seat where your friend used to be. And this happens over and over again, until one day you may decide that what’s the point in making new friends – it’s only emotional investment to be ripped away. And it can be hard, so, so hard to see your group, once so close scattered across the globe. Instagram photos of new friends, of new adventures, of new lives, while you wander lost around the school, trying to figure out now where you fit amongst the cliques left behind. How do you approach those acquaintances, that person in your English class, or the others left here in limbo? Maybe you won’t bother. Maybe you will decide that hiding out in classrooms to ‘finish your coursework’ is a better choice. Maybe head down, headphones on in the ELC is a better bet. At least your grades will go up you think to yourself. But you are lonely.

So here it is. We don’t really talk about the emotional hardship, of the loss felt by those who stay. We know it is hard for those who leave. But for those who stay some of you will have lost 4, 5, 6, 7… countless people who were close to you. The school is the same but it’s not really the same. Pretending you don’t care is a coping strategy – creating arguments before they leave so it is easier to say goodbye only makes the pain worse. Tell them you love them. Tell them what they mean to you.

Remember there are others in school who feel the same; others that have had friends leave and may also need a connection. Think about the type of friendship you need (big group? 1 close friend?) Join a random CCA that you’re interested in (rather than what would “look good”). Say hello to the other people hiding out in the studyhall, the classrooms, the library. Think about what makes you happy and do more of that. Ask if you can sit in the canteen with friendly faces. Talk about school work if you don’t know what to say. Allow yourself to feel sad. If you feel overwhelmed speak to someone, a teacher, a tutor a counsellor.

Look out for each other out there– if you are lucky enough to have your friends stay – look out for those who don’t.  Invite them to sit with you. Say hello in the corridors. Ask them if they are okay. Our words are powerful and you should never underestimate the impact of a small gesture.

This post was originally written for and posted on The Wallflower Project

See you soon.

Peter Pan Homesickness

Its that time of year again. People are selling up their belongings. Students are leaving to go on study leave. Both saying goodbye to friends and looking on post July to new postings, new jobs, university, new friends, new lives…

And us? The stayers are left in limbo watching the chaos around us. The frantic selling of toasters, of cars, of the remnants of lives. My house is populated with clothing that will never fit, a sewing machine I will never use, lettered ice cube trays, half bottles of cleaning sprays, jewellrey, bags, reclining chairs, kitchen appliances, books, towels, a lamp… items that didn’t make the transition with their owners. Owners, friends, who are scattered across the globe. Owners who used to fill my home with noise and laughter now leave inanimate objects in their place.

And we say “see you soon, yeah?” And we mean we look forward to seeing your posts on Facebook. Seeing the sanitised version of your messy new life. Cue photos of new friends in new places; laughing and smiling to ease the transition. To ease the homesickness for a place that no longer exists.

Leaving sucks but staying without you is harder.