5 Things for TCKs to Consider When Choosing a University


  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. 

5 Common and Fun TCK Quirks


  Whether we like it or not, growing up overseas has left many of us adult TCKs with some quirks. I spent my teenage and college years trying to hide these quirks, but I have since accepted that they are here to stay and that I kind of like them. In talking with other adult TCKs, I have had many, "Really!? You do that too!?" moments, and so have they. Here are 5 quirks that seem to be widespread in the TCK world.

1. We rearrange the furniture. TCKs have a need for change and one way that many of us have found to combat that need in a healthy way is rearranging furniture, repainting rooms, redecorating, etc. Basically, finding any way to change up our environment as an alternative to moving across the world...again.

2. We add words from other languages in our daily conversations. Sometimes there just isn't the perfect word to describe what you're trying to say in your native language, but there is in one of the other languages that you speak! We pull words from our language bank to more fully describe what we're talking about, and often don't even realize that we're doing it because they have become a normal part of our daily vocabulary. My two-year old used a Swahili word to describe something the other day and I realized how neat it is that this "quirk" is being passed down to the next generation!

3. We change our accent depending on who we're talking to. Our accent may change depending on who we're talking to, where we are, whether we're trying to fit in or stand out. We know how to annunciate so that people from other countries can understand us, and we are fantastic at adopting an accent to go undercover just about anywhere. Some of us have accents that are a conglomeration of several different accents, or we have certain words that happen to be accented differently. Our accents are just about as diverse as we are!

4. We love airplane food, especially on international flights. I have eaten some of the very best lamb curry at 51,000 feet. I think Airplane Food might be my favorite cuisine and I have heard similar sentiments from other TCKs.

5. We treat our passport like a photo album. There are a million stories represented by every stamp and sticker on every page. We get excited about showing people our passports, especially the old, completely full ones.


Can you relate to any of these TCK quirks? Or, do you notice them in your TCKs? Have any others to add to the list? Post them in the comments below!

5 Tips for Leaving Well With Teenagers


  Moving overseas with teenagers can be daunting for both the teen and their parents. Having personally moved overseas as a young teen, I can speak to the challenges of uprooting and rerooting during that season of life. One of the most significant factors to making that transition as healthy and smooth as possible, is being intentional about leaving well. Unlike small children, teens will vividly remember the leaving process and I believe that, for this reason, doing so in a healthy way is critical for them to grow into healthy Adult TCKs.

1. Say Goodbye Well. Help your teenagers to say goodbye well. I have noticed that this doesn't often happen with teenagers because the assumption is that they will return to their passport country before long. It is important to keep in mind that while your teenager may only live overseas with you for short time, in that short time, a lot is happening both for them and their peers back home. They will not return to the way that life was and that is a significant loss. Their friends will likely be starting at different colleges in different places, they will likely not be returning to the home that they left, they will be returning as an adult, and their peers will also have recently "launched". They are leaving during one of the most change-filled seasons of life so while it may be a short time-period, it is an incredibly significant time-period. Saying goodbye to their current life well will help them to start a healthy life when they return as an adult. 

The RAFT concept, written about by Dave Pollock and Ruth Van Reken in their book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds is a great tool for leaving well. Marilyn Gardner presents it beautifully here.

2. Make it a Family Conversation. If possible, talk with your teenagers about the move overseas and ask for and listen to their input. While you, the parents, will make the final decision, it is important to let your teenagers know that you care about their opinion on this significant life-changing decision.

3. Don't Blame Hormones. While it can be easy to think of teenage hormones as the culprit for their moodiness or extra-emotional state, remember that while hormones may accentuate the grief of leaving, they do not make that grief any less real. Teenagers are experiencing an extreme loss when they move overseas and often aren't simply "acting like a teenager" when that grief  comes out in seemingly exaggerated ways.

4. Take them Seriously. Along with not blaming hormones, it is important to take your teens seriously when they express points of grief or concern to you. While missing Junior Prom might not seem like a big deal to you, it very well may for your teen. Be careful to not downplay their sources of grief or worse, make fun of them for it.

5. Provide Options for Goodbyes. I worked with a teenage girl who was about to move to Asia. She wanted to do something special to say goodbye to her best friend and after talking through some options, she decided that she wanted to make her a scrapbook. We printed pictures of the two of them, shopped for scrapbook paper and stickers, and she made a beautiful keepsake for her friend. Other teens might want to have a pizza night with their close friends before they leave, go to the movies with a group of friends, have a sleepover, etc. Encourage them to think of a way to say "goodbye" to their friends and help them to make it happen. It is incredibly important.

Teens are not only moving overseas and becoming TCKs, but they are doing so at a complex time in life. The success of their transition has a direct effect on their health as Adult TCKs when they are no longer living under your roof. By being intentional about leaving well, you will strengthen your relationship with your teen and ease the transition overseas for your entire family.

TCKs, Friendship, & Social Media


  Technology has enhanced the ability for this generation of TCKs to maintain long-term relationships with others no matter where in the world they are. This can be both a huge asset and also a potential pitfall. Third Culture Kids live a mobile lifestyle and live in a world where others around them are also constantly coming and going. This continuous exchange of people makes it difficult for TCKs to develop deep friendships both logistically (because either they or their new friend may leave before the relationship deepens) and emotionally (they begin to fear attempting a deep relationship because there is a high chance that they or their friend will leave).

Social media seems to be a good solution to this problem.

TCKs can make friends and even when they (or their friend) leave, keep up with them on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or a plethora of other social media platforms. This, in some ways, eliminates the reasons TCKs find to not pursue friendships because a long-distance friendship is now easy. However, it also increases, the common TCK problem of forgoing deep friendships.

Social media becomes a great way to have 1,000 surface-level friendships with people all across the globe without the risk of being emotionally hurt by someone leaving yet again. 

To the TCK who has been hurt, this may sound like a great option. They may even do this subconsciously. TCKs are notoriously great at the beginning stages of relationships. Thus, they are prone to making friends easily, "friending" them on Facebook, and never allowing those friendships to become real, deep relationships. Social media makes friendship safe for TCKs because they don't have to go deep in order to be "friends" and to keep up with each other's lives from the other side of the globe.  Social media can be a huge asset to 21st century TCKs, but it is so important that it doesn't also become a tool for keeping friendships at a safe, surface level. This does not mean that TCKs need to be, or should be, "deep" friends with everyone or that they need to have a significant number of deep friendships, but, it is critical to their well-being that they have at least a handful of people who truly know and love them.

If you are raising TCKs, encourage them to be intentional about developing deep friendships with people locally. Once they have those deep friendships, those relationships can be fostered and continued on through the use of social media if they or their friend move away. Because it can be easy (and often feels safer) for TCKs to spend their time on social media with acquaintances and simply add more people to their "friends" list instead of working to develop deep friendships, it is critical that, as parents, you actively encourage them to step out of their comfort zone and let people really get to know them. While there is always a risk of your child or your child's friend moving away, there is a bigger risk to never developing real, deep friendships. Thankfully, social media is available to allow those friendships to continue even if it, one day, has to be long-distance.

The Challenge of Subconscious Expectations (Part 2: Conversations to Have with Your TCKs)


Read Part 1 here We have identified that subconscious expectations are the root cause of many issues that adult TCKs deal with, so how can we proactively address those hidden expectations in young TCKs?

Overseas living is not "better than" 

It is easy for children who grow up overseas to develop a "better than" mentality. This may present as a quiet (or obvious) arrogance and thus, fostering humility in your young TCKs is incredibly important. The other, more hidden side of this, is an instilled belief that their lifestyle- living overseas- is superior to any other way of life. TCKs are often told their whole lives how lucky, blessed, unique they are because of their global upbringing. They are constantly reminded of the incredible opportunity that they have to live in different places around the world and not be "normal" like someone who has been raised in only one country. While overseas living is absolutely a unique and wonderful experience for TCKs, what happens when they grow up and are expected (either by themselves or by parents) to flawlessly settle into a life lived in a single country? Or they expect to recreate their overseas upbringing and find that it is not what they had expected?

There are Pros and Cons

Have conversations with your children about the benefits of different lifestyles. Emphasize that while your family is living overseas and is enjoying many aspects of that lifestyle, that does not mean that it is "better than" any other. There are absolutely challenges that come with it as well. Your goal with these conversations is to simply level out the expectations by talking about the pros and cons of different ways of life.

"Yes, it is wonderful that we live overseas! What are some of your favorite parts about living here? What are some hard things about living here?" "What would it be like if we lived back in our passport country and had never lived overseas? What would be some good things about that? What things might be hard?"

Talking about the positives and negatives of different lifestyles helps your TCKs to not settle into a belief that if they eventually live one lifestyle and not another they are missing out. They are simply trading one pros and cons list for another. Many adult TCKs, after realizing that they are unsatisfied with how their life is playing out, think, "If I just moved there, everything would be better." But, then they move there and realize that there are still challenges. Or, they realize that they do not have the ability to move "there" and resort to the fact that they will just never be happy. Subconscious expectations about the "ideal" lifestyle will ultimately zap the joy out of any lifestyle. TCKs stuck in that rut will always be searching for the "better than" way of life that they felt they had growing up and will ultimately find that they cannot recreate it. They have to create their own and accept (and expect!) that there truly both positives and negatives to any.

Growing Up

It is also important to talk with your TCKs about what life might look like for them when they grow up. What are they interested in pursuing as a career? Does that career lend itself to living overseas again? If not, is that truly a door they want to close? Do they want to live in one place long-term? What happens when their mental alarm clock goes off after 3 years in the same place and they have the itch to move and start over? What happens if they marry someone who never wants to move? Children and teenagers can be fickle and short-sided and that will likely affect their answers to these questions. That is ok! Your goal is not to help them create the perfect trajectory for their life, but simply to get them thinking about how career choices, college choices, relationship choices, etc. will have a direct impact on the lifestyle that they end up living. These conversations are meant to bring these subconscious expectations out of hiding so that they are easier for your TCK (and you) to identify when they start to creep up in adulthood. If they have thought through these questions at different points throughout their life, it will be less of a shock and less of an identity crisis when they have to answer them in adulthood.

Subconscious expectations, because they often go unnoticed, can wreak havoc on the life of an adult TCK. It is, therefore, most important to bring these expectations into the light so that they can be considered and managed well. As you raise up your TCKs or work with TCKs, having conversations about lifestyle expectations can be hugely beneficial to helping them mentally connect the dots when they, one day as adults, realize that they really do have expectations about how their life "should" go. It is incredibly freeing for many adult TCKs to realize that there isn't one perfect lifestyle that they have to find in order to live a fulfilled life. Instead, they learn that any lifestyle has both its benefits and challenges and that their life just might end up looking different than what they had subconsciously expected.