Transition

Are We Really Signing Up for This?

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  My dear friend and her husband have recently become global workers and are heading overseas next year with their 18 month-old boy in tow. This past summer they attended a training where they spent two weeks with a great group of people from their organization, which included families with other little kids around the age of their son. They developed close friendships in this short time.

As they left their training, my friend called me and said, "It was so hard to leave people that we just spent two weeks befriending, knowing that we might not ever see them again. And then I realized, this is the life that we're signing up for. And not just us— this is the life we are signing our son up for as well."

Around the same time, we (CultureBound)  finished up our summer culture and language training for families. One of the little girls in my class, a 4-year-old, was having a difficult time during the first couple of days and didn't want to make friends. She had moved overseas and back to the US before, and though she is only 4, she knows what it feels like to make friends and then have to leave them. I think that she sensed this coming. But, sure enough, by the end of the week she was best buddies with the other girls in the class.

As she finally began to make friends, I felt the tension along with her. I was silently cheering her on, but also dreading the goodbyes I knew she would have to say in a few days. Her subconscious fears that kept her from making friends at first were not incorrect. In fact, they were incredibly accurate. 

This tension is very real. By choosing the TCK life for your children, you really are signing up for a life of goodbyes. There is no sugar-coating it. It is hard.

So how can I endorse this?  

This is something that I wrestle through regularly. Why do I think that this is a good idea? Why do I encourage parents who are signing their family up for this life?

In some ways, the TCK-life isn't something that I want to promote. Having been that child myself, I know how hard those goodbyes are. BUT, I also know that so many of the good things in my life can be traced directly to my time overseas.

I have experienced the most profound growth, the deepest relationships, the most incredible experiences, and the best opportunities because of my life as a TCK and nearly every TCK who I have met expresses a similar sentiment.

By signing up for a life overseas, and consequently signing your children up for the life of a TCK, you are not choosing the easy route for you or for them. BUT, you are choosing a life that will give your children a love for the world, for diversity, and for justice. It will give them a unique perspective, cultural savvy, great communication skills, and multi-cultural friends all over the world. Yes, signing up for a life of goodbyes is terribly hard, but if I had to go back and choose my own life trajectory, I would sign myself up for the TCK-life again. This gives me the strength and joy to encourage parents to do so also. 

 

Are You Meeting Your TCK's Emotional Needs?

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  Babies communicate their needs with their first cry and continue to do so in different ways as they grow and develop more complex methods of communicating. When these needs are met by loving parents, children feel safe, secure, and are likely to thrive developmentally. When these needs aren't met, a breeding ground is created for behavior problems, relational problems, mental health disorders, and many other issues. It can seem like these "needs" are purely physical, but that is only a part of it. The other equally important part, is the more ambiguous realm of emotional needs.

The challenge that I often run into when discussing the topic of "unmet needs" with parents of TCKs is that they, most often, are wonderful parents who have done a fantastic job of meeting their children's emotional and physical needs and therefore, they don't think that this will be an issue. Unfortunately, I believe that this contributes to why the issue of  "unmet needs" is so prevalent among TCKs. During high-stress seasons (such as transitions to and from living overseas), the children's need for emotional support goes up while their parent's mental and physical capacity to meet their children's needs (and even their own!) goes down. This often results in stressed-out parents who have children with unmet emotional needs. Even the most fabulous, attentive parents can run into this challenge if it is not consciously combatted.

When entering a new culture, the parents themselves are in "survival mode" for a while; attempting to find their footing in an entirely new culture. The children are simultaneously relying on these culture-stressed parents for assurance of safety, security, and emotional stability as they also attempt to find a new normal. Unfortunately, this combination can often result in the children subconsciously feeling as if their emotional needs are not met.  Not only is meeting the emotional needs of children critical in the child's own health and development, but if a child's emotional needs go routinely unmet throughout their childhood, it is likely to affect their own parenting one day, thus creating a vicious generational cycle. (This is a common issue that we are seeing in Adult TCKs as they become parents themselves.) By looking at ways to address emotional needs during the child's life spent overseas and particularly during the transition to and from living overseas, parents can prevent this cycle from occurring and strengthen their relationship with their TCK.

So, how can you be intentional about identifying and meeting the emotional needs of your TCK? 

1. Be Sensitive. You know your children and can sense when they are "off," but sometimes the stress of moving can cause parents to forget to pay attention to their children's emotions. Be sensitive and mindful to what they may be feeling and be willing to take the necessary actions to respond well to those feelings.

2. Know your children. Are they introverted? Extroverted? Independent? Anxiety-prone? How might these things play into their emotions during a move? Has your introvert had too much people-time? Does your independent child feel like they're expected to be strong and independent so they don't burden you? Does your anxious child feel stressed about the upcoming plane ride? Only by knowing your children can you really identify what their emotional needs are.

3. Them-Care. This is the best phrase that I can come up with for doing self-care for your children. Young children are not in tune with their emotions enough to know what they need in order to recharge, and older children may need to be coached through self-care. Figure out what your children need to recharge themselves and then help them to do that. This is particularly important during transitions. Does your introvert need some alone time? Is your other child recharged by quality time with you? Does another need some extra snuggles? Time exploring the outdoors? Do you all need a restful pajama day?

4. Listen for the needs. It can be easy when you are under stress, to hear what your children say, but not realize the underlying meaning to their words. Often, emotional needs are communicated very indirectly. So, when your child says, "Will you play with me?" Perhaps what they really mean is, "I need quality time with you." Or, when your other, introverted child has an outburst because they don't want to go to another event in the new place, maybe they are saying, "I've met so many new people and that makes me so tired! I just need some alone time to recharge!" Listen for the needs and then find ways to help them with their own self-care.

5. Don't forget yourself. In order to meet your children's emotional needs, it is important that you are also in-tune with your own emotions and needs. Your children need to see self-care modeled in order to understand the importance and process of meeting their own emotional needs. I've written more in-depth about this here. 

It takes extra time and energy to tune in and be sensitive to your children's needs, especially when you yourself are struggling to find your footing in the midst of transition. But, it is so important that you are meeting their emotional needs. Not only does it help to foster your relationship with your children, but it sets them up to be people who can identify their own needs, and eventually the needs of their own children. So, what do you need? What do they need? How can you be intentional about meeting your children's emotional needs during transition?

Read more about working through emotions with your TCKs:

http://www.tcktraining.com/blog/narrating-your-childs-feelings/

http://www.tcktraining.com/blog/the-balancing-act-of-dealing-with-anger-and-grief/

http://www.tcktraining.com/blog/using-art-and-play-to-help-your-tcks-express-themselves/

http://www.alifeoverseas.com/7-ways-to-teach-your-tcks-process-grief/

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 

5 Tips for Leaving Well With Teenagers

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  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.