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A TCK's Struggle with Depression- Guest Post


  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 

10 Questions to Routinely Ask Your TCKs


  It is important for parents raising children anywhere to be continually engaging and checking in with their kids. When you are raising TCKs, this is even more important.  TCKs are privy to struggles that mono-cultural children don't often have to face, so being aware of that and taking time to routinely ask questions such as these can strengthen your relationship and show your kids how much you love and value them.  Set aside time routinely to talk with your TCK. Ensure that this time is not tainted by distractions and that you are not attempting to multitask, but instead be fully engaged and interested in their answers. If these types of conversations are not something you have had with your TCKs in the past, it may take a few times before they truly trust that you care about their answers and that they are safe to answer honestly. For this reason, it is critical to create a safe space for them to speak openly. Listen and encourage them to explain their answers or elaborate, but be careful to not be too pushy or to respond in a way that invalidates their answer. Remember that the purpose of asking these questions is not to provide a solution, but to open up the communication between you and your child. You might ask your TCK all of these questions, or just have them on hand to ask one or two when you're spending time with your child.

1. How are you doing?

It seems simple, but asking this question is one of the best ways to show your kids that you care. Make is clear that there isn't a right answer and that it is ok if they really aren't doing "just fine."

2. What are some things that you enjoy about living here?

Their "favorites" may be different than you expect!

3. Do you ever wish that we lived a different life? 

It's important to help your TCKs process the life that they are living. It is unique and it wasn't of their choosing. It's healthy for them to think through this question and for you to hear their answer as it may reveal some deeper struggles that need to be worked through.

4. What is something that you're looking forward to?

This gives your TCK the opportunity to share their excitement about an upcoming event. Perhaps you didn't know about this event or didn't realize how important it is to your child. Now that you know, you can share in their excitement!

5. What is something that you're not looking forward to?

This question often provides the opportunity to dig deeper and discover why a certain event, place, task, etc. is unenjoyable or uncomfortable for your child. Avoid a positive comeback such as, "But that will be so fun!" and instead explore the question further by saying something like, "Wow, I didn't realize that place made you nervous. What is it about it that is uncomfortable to you?"

6. Do you feel like we spend enough time together? 

TCKs can often feel like they are second to their parent's work or ministry. This question allows them the opportunity to say so if that is the case. If their answer is "no," be vigilant about finding ways to spend more time with this child.

7. Where do you feel most at home? 

The question "Where is home?" is a common, confusing question for TCKs. Working through this idea at a young age prevents it from becoming a surprising realization when they are older and feel that no places feels completely like "home."

8. Is there anyone or anything that you miss right now? 

It is important to give TCKs the permission to reminisce and grieve their losses. Bringing these up for them can help them to do this in a healthy way.

9. Do you feel like people understand you? 

Being a TCK has many challenges and one of them is a constant feeling of being misunderstood. While you may not have a solution to their perceived uniqueness, it can be insightful for you to hear your child's answer.

10. What's your favorite thing about yourself? 

Again, identity issues are common for TCKs so asking them to think through things that they like about themselves is a good way to promote self confidence. This is also a good time to tell them a few of your favorite things about them!


Do you have any questions to add to the list? I'd love to hear them in the comments below!


Please, Don't Try to "Keep Your Children American" (Response to an Expat Podcast)


  I was listening to an expat podcast the other day about raising children overseas. The host was answering questions that had been sent in to her by parents living abroad. A mom wrote in and asked, "What can I do to make sure that my kids stay American while we're living in Europe?" She went on to say that she and her husband wanted their children to not feel "different" when they move back to the USA in a couple of years and thus, want to be sure to keep them from adapting to European culture.

The host provided a myriad of ways that they could "keep their children American." The ideas included making sure to celebrate all American holidays, spending time only with American friends, and not allowing them to learn the local language.

It's a good thing that this was a pre-recorded podcast because if not, I probably would have called in very emphatically to offer a quite different perspective. My response would go something like this:

1. You cannot prevent your children from becoming TCKs. By choosing to live overseas, you have chosen for them to no longer be solely American. No matter how hard you try to "keep" them American, they will still soak up parts of the culture that you are now living in. Because you are living overseas during their developmental years, this is not preventable. Trying to counteract this natural process will only create problems.

2. Trying to keep your children from becoming a part of the culture they are living in is unhealthy. By trying to keep them American, you are teaching them that there is only one right way to do things; that the American way is the best way and any other way of living life is wrong. This leads to a very ethnocentric mindset and definitely doesn't promote a love and appreciation for diversity.

3. Why would you want to? Living overseas is an incredible experience with a multitude of benefits for children. By trying to keep your children from adapting to the culture, learning the language, and spending time with the locals you are limiting those benefits. Yes, absolutely teach them about their American roots. Celebrate American holidays and follow the news. But, also give them permission to grow new roots in this new country. Yes, they will be different than their peers in America. They will have a unique perspective, a keen ability to adapt to new cultures, and an expanded worldview. They may even have challenges to work through because of their overseas upbringing, but attempting to keep them American while living overseas will not eliminate those challenges nor will it offer them the amazing benefits that can come with being a TCK.

So please, don't deprive your children of the immense benefits of being a Third Culture Kid. Please, don't try to "keep your children American."

Are you raising children overseas? If so, what would your response be to this parent?

If Change Were a Person


  The word "change" used to make me cringe. In counseling when I was 14 years old, I remember completing a form and that word filled in nearly every blank.

What is your biggest fear? Change. 

What do you dislike the most? Change. 

What has been the hardest experience in your life thus far? Change. 

What makes you feel angry? Change. 

What makes you feel sad? Change. 

If Change were a person, I'd almost feel bad for it. Poor thing took the blame for all of my struggles.  But, when you frequently change continents, schools, friends, houses, and just about everything else, it becomes almost essential to find something to blame for the gut-wrenching achiness that seems to always be looming. Change seemed to be a reasonable thing to pin it on. Better than blaming my parents, their work, or God.

I remember my teenage-self telling someone that my ideal life would be one that stayed the same forever. One house, one city, kids who attend one school their whole lives. Maybe if change were absent, life would hurt less. 

Turns out, that's not really how it works.

Turns out, many TCKs grow to need change, to crave change, to even subconsciously yearn for change. I never, ever thought that would be me. Turns out, I was wrong.

In adulthood, my greatest enemy became my friend. My comfort zone. Now, my answers on that form would look more like this:

What is your biggest fear? Being stuck in one place for forever.  

What do you dislike the most? Going months without traveling.

What has been the hardest experience in your life thus far? Learning to settle into one place. 

Funny how life works.

It is because of Change that I grew into the person that I am; that I had so many incredible experiences. It is because of Change that I desire for my kids to experience the abundant, hard, wonderful, challenging, confusing, incredible life of being a TCK. It is because of Change that I am learning the art of being able to move and adapt and also to settle in one place for a while. 

So, if Change were a person, we would shake hands and exchange a small, knowing smile- one mixed with apology and gratefulness. Mine silently saying, "I'm sorry I blamed you for everything. You really are one of the best things that ever happened to me" and Change's saying, "I'm sorry it had to hurt so bad. I'm glad you see now the good that I knew would come from it."

Change did not make my life easy. In fact, I was certain it was bound and determined to ruin my life. Turns out, God used Change to direct my life, to give me an abundant life, to shape and mold my life, and now to influence my family's life. Turns out, Change, you aren't so bad after all. I'm glad we're friends.

My Deepest TCK Fear


  I first heard the term Third Culture Kid or "TCK" in high school, and simultaneously found out that I was one. While many reject being labeled, I personally found much solace in finally feeling like something explained the rootlessness and lack of belonging that I felt. I have always worn the TCK label proudly and have, for better or for worse, lived up to the typical TCK expectations- moving often, having difficulty developing deep friendships, feeling restless, not wanting to settle down. However, three years ago, my husband and I moved to Portland, Oregon. This three year stretch has been the longest period of time that I have lived in one place since elementary school, and the scariest part? We have no intention of leaving anytime soon.

I write a lot about TCKs and settling. I have said that, "The healthy TCK realizes that they have a need for change and knows that they are more comfortable with the adapting process than with the settled life. However, they have learned how to control the need for change instead of letting it control them. They are willing to be somewhat uncomfortable so that they can live a settled life in the necessary areas. "

In the past three years, I have learned to "settle in the necessary areas." I believe that this has made me a healthier and happier individual, but, it has also brought a deep, unknown fear to light- the fear of becoming less of a TCK. 

This fear surfaced when we bought our house about a year ago. While I knew it was the best decision for us, in the back of my mind I kept thinking, "But TCKs don't do this!" I would remind myself that we were calling it a "5 year house" and could go anywhere in the world after that (even though 5 years still seemed like a ridiculously long time). Part of me felt like the purchase of our house signaled the death of part of my TCK identity.

Shortly after buying our house, my husband and I were at a craft fair and found this little wooden sign that said "Home" with the "O" in the shape of Oregon. Something inside me said, "You need to buy this. You are learning to settle." So we purchased the sign and it now sits on a shelf in our living room. Every time I look at it, I feel a slight pang of guilt. "TCKs don't have a home. Especially not one in America. I am loosing my TCK-self."

I recently came across a quote from David Pollock and Ruth Van Rekken that says, "While parents may change careers and become former international business people, former missionaries, former military personnel, or former foreign service, no one is ever a former Third Culture Kid. TCKs simply grow into being adult Third Culture Kids because their roots grow out of the lives planted in and watered by the third culture experience."

I think that perhaps, for many adult TCKs, the fear of settling doesn't just stem from the uncomfortableness of wading into that uncharted water, but also from the fear of loosing part of their TCK identity. We subconsciously think, "If I can see myself happily staying in one place (especially in my passport country) for a long period of time, I must not be a TCK anymore." Thankfully, I have found that this is not entirely true.

My life overseas shaped me in countless ways, many of which are similar to the tendencies of other TCKs. Those experiences will always impact my life, but as I am learning to settle, I am learning that I need to let go of some of my TCK identity. The part that says, "You will always be rootless", "You will never have a home", "You will never have deep friendships with non-TCKs." In the past three years, those beliefs have begun to be chiseled away at bit by bit. Allowing myself to settle here in Oregon is not betraying my TCK-self, nor does it make me less of a TCK. In fact, as I look around my house, I can see fingerprints of my overseas upbringing in so many places- my world map on the wall, my cupboards full of African foods and Indian spices, my African-themed guest room, the shuka (Masaai fabric) that I take as a play-mat/picnic blanket/towel/blanket for nearly every outdoor activity, African carvings and books in Swahili all around my living room. My third culture experience has played a role in shaping the way that I think, the things that I enjoy, the areas that I am passionate about, and what want to spend my life pursuing.

Settling and adapting does not undo my TCK identity, it just allows it to show up in different ways. In many ways, it surfaces in healthier, less destructive patterns. I am learning to let go of my fear of being less TCK, and learning to let the ways that my TCK-self comes out change and shift as I grow and learn to adapt and to settle.