Re-Entry

10 Ways to Entertain Kids on Long Flights

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My daughter just turned 2 and has already been on 18 flights. Though we have yet to fly internationally with her, we have become quite skilled at on-flight entertainment. To my surprise, "Have any tips for keeping them entertained on the plane!?" is a question that I am asked very frequently by families with little kids who are embarking on their first overseas flight. Here are my 10 go-tos!

  1. Window clings. There's a reason this is #1. They are seriously amazing. The Dollar Store is where I usually buy them. They peel on and off the windows and provide hours of entertainment.

  2. "What Could This Be?" Game. Choose any object and take turns acting out all of the things that the object could be. For example, a cup could be a hat, a musical instrument, a giant nose, a goatee, etc. This was my mom's brilliant idea and I have great memories of playing this game with her and my brother on the long flights to and from Africa.

  3. Sticker books. Again, Dollar Store for the win. Books with lots of stickers and pages with scenes to put them on are great entertainment.

  4. Make up stories. Use the stickers or window clings to make up and act out stories with your kiddos. This can also work with action figures or just your imagination!

    This can also be a great way to begin conversations with your children about how they are feeling now that you are really on your way to the new place. Have the characters in your imaginary story fly to a new place and ask your child how the characters are feeling. They may give you an indication of what is going on in their own mind!

  5. Water painting. Paint-with-water books are great for planes because they are not too messy and only require water.

  6. Language-Learning Games. If you are planning to learn a new language when you move overseas, the airplane ride can be a great place to start that process. Dinolingo is my absolute favorite language-learning program for kids and a subscription includes many games that kids can play on a smartphone, computer, or iPad. With most airlines offering Wifi on international flights, this can be a great way to keep kids busy and working on language at the same time.

  7. Talk about the new place. Build up the anticipation for the new place. Talk about the first things you'll do when you get there. Talk about the things they're most excited or nervous about. Look at photos or watch videos from the place where you'll be living. Talk about what they can expect to happen after you land and what your expectations are of them.

  8. Travel games. Amazon has some great magnetic games like these that are fabulous for plane rides.

  9. "Tell Me About a Time When..." Game. Take turns asking the question, "Tell me about a time when... (you felt angry, you felt scared,  you were really excited, you were embarrassed)." Take turns letting your kids ask you and visa versa. Keep the stories short and to the point, and enjoy sharing them with one another! Kids love hearing stories about when their parents were kids, so consider sharing some of your childhood stories.

  10. Journal. For older children, give them a special journal when you get on the airplane for them to write all of their thoughts in as they process through their feelings about moving to a new place. This is a healthy way for them to think through their feelings, and it also helps to pass the time!

The time on the airplane can be a great opportunity to talk through some of the emotions of moving to a new place. Use the above ideas as ways to enhance your "talk-time" and to bond with your kiddos. They will need your love and attention during this transition and playing with them on the airplane-ride there is a great way to start that! I hope some of these ideas help to keep you and your kids entertained on your international flights!

5 Things for TCKs to Consider When Choosing a University

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  Last week, my husband, myself, and our two kids traveled to the Midwest to visit family and attend the wedding of a good college-friend of ours. The wedding took place near where my husband and I both went to university and this was my first time back to that place since our college days several years ago.  

There is something about going back to a place that makes you see it in a new light - through new eyes. If I'm being honest, my memories of our college town are stormy and dark. The thoughts of my time there have always been accompanied by an anxious, sick to my stomach, thank-goodness-I'm-not-there-anymore feeling. If I'm being honest, I was really dreading going back to that place. I was excited for the wedding and elated to see old friends but was not thrilled with the geographical location.  

But, Indiana surprised me. As we spent the weekend exploring Indianapolis with our kids, I kept saying to my husband, "Wow! Indiana isn't as horrible as I remembered!"  

So why did I remember it that way? Why did I picture a dark, dreary, lifeless place when I would think back on my time in Indiana?  

While I do believe that I was exactly where I was supposed to be for university and wouldn't trade the great friendships and amazing husband that I found there, I realized that there were some things that made my college experience very difficult. Things that I never would have considered before arriving at college. Things that I think are likely relevant to most TCKs.  

So now, when I talk with parents and their TCKs who are starting to think about and apply for universities, these are the things that I recommend that they explore.

1. A school with a TCK program or group. Because I went straight from Africa to school in Indiana, I was considered an international student. I quickly realized that, in that group, I was the odd one out. The international students were those who came from different parts of the world, but were not American and had, for the most part, never lived in the United States. I, on the other hand, was very familiar with the United States and knew how to grocery shop, open a bank account, dial 911, et cetera, so it was hard to be required to attend these "American Life" classes. While there were great people in that international student group, I didn't feel like I really fit, and it seemed like they didn't think I fit with them in either. Likewise, I found it hard to connect with the majority population of the university who were mostly from the midwestern states and hadn't traveled outside the country. These were the main two groups and I didn't feel like I really belonged in either one of them. Though I did end up making some great friends, it was a difficult process trying to figure out who I was and where I fit. I later found out that there were a few other missionary kids at the university who had similar experiences, but we never crossed paths during our college years because we were all TCKs trying to blend in. I think that things could have been so different for all of us, had we had a TCK group to associate with.  

2. A diverse population. Having lived in international communities overseas, I missed being surrounded by people from all over the world. The university had some international students, but there were not very many, and the American student population was not very ethnically diverse. I would also have loved to have had professors from different parts of the world who could offer a more globally-influenced perspective on the topics they were teaching. 

3. A multiethnic location. Along with the previous point, the Midwest is not incredibly diverse. Location wasn't something I had ever considered when deciding on a university, but I wish I had. I think that I would have felt more comfortable and less of an outsider had I been in a city that was more culturally diverse. The fact that I had to drive an hour to find an international grocery store and that ethnic restaurants were few and far between, was painful. 

4. An option that minimizes debt. Most TCKs end up going into a helping profession, according to David C. Pullock and Ruth Van Reken, (Third Culture Kids 3rd Edition, 2017). Unfortunately, many helping professions are not the most financially lucrative. This works fine for TCKs (who are generally not interested in wealth), but it does create a problem when they graduate from university with an average of $60,000 in student loans and a career path that can't pay those off in fewer than 25 years.  

The bigger issue with this, and something that I wish I would have considered when choosing a university, is the fact that student loan debt ties your feet. Tied feet is many TCK's worst nightmare. No longer are you free to travel, because you have lead ball of student loan bills chained to your foot. Paying bills requires a job, and maintaining a job requires sticking around long enough to avoid looking flakey on a resume. I ended up switching to a community college and finishing up at an online school to reduce the amount of student loan debt I accrued, but if I would have thought to do that from the beginning, I could have significantly reduced the debt that I graduated with and thus would be more financially free to travel. 

5. A school and major that allows for travel. I didn't consider, as a young college student, the fact that my TCK-self would have a need for change and travel. If I had, I would have chosen a school and major that required some sort of overseas study program, or an overseas university entirely. I would have also made sure that my degree was one that would yield a career that allows for travel. I ended up changing my major and now am in my dream career that does involve travel and cross-cultural work, but, if I was to go back, I would have started with that trajectory from the beginning- considering that I would want to travel.  

 

 Third Culture Kids experience an intense and challenging transition when they leave their globally-mobile lifestyle and head to university. Considering these few things could have eased that transition for me and allowed for a university experience that catered more to my TCK nature. If you are a TCK or parent of TCKs starting to think about university, keep things things in mind as you sift through your university options. While they may not be essentials for all TCKs, I do believe that they are worth considering, exploring, and having conversations about. 

A TCK's Struggle with Depression- Guest Post

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  By Aneurin Howorth

I grew up in East Africa to British parents. Despite how much I loved being a TCK, not everyone was so fortunate. A significant portion of my international school, comprised of  mostly TCK’s, were struggling with mental illnesses. As a result, every year we sat through seminars on mental illness. These covered the basics of what depression was, how it is a physical illness, how to get help etc. There was more to it, but bad memory is one of the symptoms I struggle with, so that is all I can remember.

These seminars really helped me get through my first brush with mental illness. I had had a concussion playing rugby and one of the symptoms was depression. In the space of a second I had gone from naively optimistic to someone who couldn’t stop feeling the weight of misery. All I wanted to do was cry. I felt so lonely. This ended abruptly after two weeks, but was a valuable experience before going to the UK for university.

17-year-old me had never appreciated the stress that transition causes. I moved to a country where I didn’t know anything about the culture. I didn’t know how to make friends or even how to greet people. Should I shake their hands? Everyone else had grown up knowing these things and so took them for granted, they were just ‘natural.’ One of my friends hugged people when she first met them. This totally freaked me out because it would not have been culturally appropriate in some of the places where I had lived. Despite the challenge, things went fairly well. I knew transition wouldn’t be easy, and I had been prepared.

However, my second year in university was filled with torment and anguish. After about four weeks into my second year, I realized that I was constantly sad, tired, had no appetite, and was feeling hopeless. Thanks to those depression seminars at school I picked up on what was going on, but that didn’t stop the pain.

I felt trapped. All of my emotions revolved around anger and hatred. This wasn’t what I was like before and it was a horrible change. I was constantly angry with others. I wanted to be free of it, but didn’t know how. Happiness became a distant dream which had been exchanged for a torrid nightmare.

As a TCK moving into a new environment, it can be difficult to make deep, meaningful relationships. It can seem pointless because we might just move again. It can be easy to look forward to the next move in life which means we forget those in our current place. We can close off as defensive mechanism. Whilst we might have great social skills, like I did, we can still struggle to be satisfied in our relationships. All of this becomes even more challenging if we are heading to a country, usually our parents, where we are hidden immigrants. Where we look the part, but don’t actually belong.

Depression seemed to pick up on each of these challenges and make them far worse. I started to hate the people around me and grew frustrated with them daily. I longed for the next move when I could be finished with the UK and see my friends from school again. The relationships I had at university paled in comparison to the ones with my TCK school friends, so why bother with them? I was probably going to move anyway. I kept trying to make friends with people, but it seemed futile. I felt that they would never understand me, which only added to my despair.

I resented that I was British. My depression latched on to this and made it far worse. I slipped into hours of sitting there pondering all the ways in which I hated British culture. I could no longer see the positives of a culture like I had done for years- only the broken, evil parts seemed visible.

Being ill with depression gave me an excuse to be isolated. I grew incredibly bitter towards all of my friends at university who didn’t understand me. These negative thought patterns usually led me to think lies about how narrow-minded and arrogant everyone was in the UK. As you can imagine, this didn’t help me make friends, but pushed them away.

I knew I was different as a TCK. But until I had depression I had seen that as a blessing. When mental illness struck, my mind twisted my difference into a bad thing. Either I was arrogantly dismissing everyone else’s’ experience, or I was looking at myself as a monster for the pervasive indifference that now characterized my life. I felt overwhelmed and scared. I couldn’t articulate emotions or understand what was happening in my life.

I was lucky to have good friends who were worried that I was ill all the time. They kept bugging me to go to the doctor, even when I hated them. After a year of this, I managed to start doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which helped stop the negative thought patterns. Medical and professional care is crucial when it comes to mental illnesses.

One of the most significant points in my life, both in terms of understanding being a TCK and suffering from mental illnesses, was being put in touch with a 50 year-old surgeon and TCK called John. I learned from him that suffering from mental illnesses is ok. It is normal and not just for weak people. In a caring and gentle fashion, he articulated some of my torment whilst acknowledging the depths of its challenge. He shared his own story which was tough but encouraging. He helped me understand how trying transition is. I had been trying to dismiss it, but he helped me face up to it. He was the first person I had met in the UK who could understand me as a TCK struggling with mental illness. After years of isolation this was immensely encouraging.

I now know that mental illnesses are common like a cold. I also know that TCK’s are more prone than monocultural people to suffer from them. These illnesses are often our body’s response to traumatic events. The curse of our international lifestyle is that it is almost always filled with trauma. Every move cuts us off from relationships, languages, culture, places, potential etc. Any of these on its own is difficult enough and leaves lasting damage, but all of them together is brutal. And this is just the trauma caused by transition, not including any trauma we have individually experienced.

I think being a TCK is amazing, but it needs to be done well. There are many challenges that need to be navigated, things like the challenges of transition or unresolved grief. We are a remarkably resilient people group, but we always need to get help from others, particularly when it comes to mental illnesses.

Aneurin blogs regularly at noggybloggy.com 

I am the Ugly Duckling (Part 2: Avoiding Terminal Uniqueness)

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  Read part 1 here 

Third Culture Kids often come to a place in life when they return to their passport country only to find that they don't belong. They can't seem to fit in with those who have only lived in the passport country and thus begin to feel like an "other." It feels as if everyone around them is a "duck" and no matter how hard they try to think like a duck and act like a duck there is just something that doesn't feel natural and right. Like the story of the Ugly Duckling, they realize that they are actually not a duck at all, but a swan. A different breed entirely. A Third Culture Kid. No wonder they didn't fit in with the other ducks!

But then what?

Being a Third Culture Kid is a wonderful identity, but it can become a very isolating identity. The TCK realizes that they are different and unique, but at some point, most are still required to live in a "duck world." How can they thrive and avoid the serious issue of terminal uniqueness? How can parents set their TCKs up for success in this area?

Here are some thoughts and ideas to get you thinking...

1. Unique is not better. TCKs have a sigma of being arrogant. This is an unfortunate, but true reality and it most often comes into play when the TCK moves back to their passport culture. They realize they are different and have had significantly different life experiences than others their age who are not TCKs. It is easy for them to conclude that their upbringing was superior. Be intentional about fostering humility in your TCKs from a young age and reinforcing that there are benefits and challenges of any lifestyle (living in one place, moving around, living overseas, etc.)

2. TCKs are individuals. TCKs so often get pigeonholed into a category that they begin to forget that they are individuals outside of the TCK label. While it is important to address and focus on TCK challenges (especially during the high school and college years), it is equally as important to continue to remind your TCKs (and yourself!) that they are unique individuals who have talents, skills, likes and dislikes, and personal opinions and struggles that may be (or not be!) related to their overseas upbringing. Being a TCK absolutely has an impact on who they are, but it is not all of who they are. If your TCK feels so tied to their TCK identity, this can be a recipe for terminal uniqueness because they forget that they are simply a person like everyone else.

3. TCKs are human. Going back to the duck analogy, the ugly duckling was really a swan, not a duck, which is why he didn't completely fit in with the ducks. However, they are still all waterfowl and still all birds. TCKs, while having distinct differences from those who have not lived outside their passport country, are still human. TCKs who feel terminally unique often also feel sub-human. They forget, or decide not to believe, that there are similarities between themselves and others who have lived a different lifestyle. They have a strong "us vs. them" mentality and unfortunately often miss out on making what could be amazing friendships because they believe that they are so fundamentally different from "them" that they could never truly be friends.

4. Give it time. TCKs are inherently good at adapting to new cultures and situations, but seem to have a more difficult time using this skill when returning to their passport country. I have found that those who feel terminally unique are often subconsciously surprised when they didn't adapt to their passport country as easily and quickly as they have to the other cultures they lived in. Because of this, they conclude that they never will fit in and they give up on trying. They isolate, stop trying to make friends, and sadly often resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with their loneliness. Address your TCK's subconscious expectation that they will quickly jump into life and relationships in their passport culture and continually remind them: it takes time, stick it out, keep spending time with that potential friend, don't give up! 

 

Making the decision to live overseas does mean that your children will likely feel like a misfit in their passport culture, but this challenge doesn't have to be debilitating. In fact, this challenge can be an incredible growing experience. TCKs who have learned to successfully live in their passport culture have a deep understanding of who they are as a person, have learned to take a stance of humility, and have learned to patiently invest in relationships with people who are not TCKs. While they may never feel that they completely fit in, this uniqueness becomes an asset to their relationships, career, and other areas of life instead of a terminal "disease" that causes deep loneliness and a wealth of other heartbreaking issues. Whether you are raising TCKs, working with TCKs, or are a TCK yourself, take heart that there is hope. There is a way to be a TCK and avoid or overcome the feeling of terminal uniqueness.