painting pictures2Today’s Painting Pictures post is brought to you by Joy L. Salmon. Joy is in the middle of a busy week, called up to work in Colorado helping flood victims. This is a beautiful, sad, brave thing for her to enter into and I’m grateful she was still willing and able to share her story. Not only is Joy a TCK herself but she wrote her PhD dissertation focused on Third Culture Kids. Her perspective is a unique one of research and personal experience combined. Her final question is deeply important and challenging.

An Orchid Or a Dandelion?

I have often wished I were a dandelion – hardy and adaptable, able to plant myself anywhere and thrive.  But, in truth, I’m more like an orchid – sensitive to the world around me, blooming only when properly planted and nourished.


Lately, I’ve been thinking about how we frame our TCK experiences and what we expect from them.

It led to thoughts of the placebo and nocebo effects:  How our experiences are often based on what we expect.  We’re all familiar with placebos – where positive expectations influence our experiences in positive ways.   Nocebos are the flipside of placebos – where negative expectations create negative outcomes.

The medical field is beginning to view placebos as a legitimate form of treatment, and beginning to question practices that create the nocebo effect.  For example, what impact does it have when our doctors tell us all the possible negative consequences of a particular treatment, what we call “informed consent?”  Research suggests that it can create a nocebo response.  As a result, medical ethicists are debating whether doctors should instead create a positive expectancy by describing the percentage of people who benefitted in particular ways from a particular treatment.

I think it’s very important for people to know that words can powerfully affect their brains in ways that are beneficial or harmful.  ~Howard Fields

Take a minute, if you would, to watch the following video:

As you watched this video, you may have experienced first-hand how expectations influence what we discover.  Often, what we expect to see is all we see, despite what else is present.  It’s easy to be blind to the totality of an experience.

This tendency to see only what we expect to see is also found in science.  Recent research suggests that those of us who have genes that lend to our being emotionally vulnerable, i.e. those of us who are “orchids,” also have greater potential when nurtured appropriately – even surpassing the potential of those of us who are born to be hardy “dandelions.”  Prior to this, studies focused only on the developmental risks posed by emotional vulnerability.  When the data from these risk studies were re-examined within a risk and potential frame, it was found that the “old” data supported the “new” frame of risk-and-potential.  Yet the original researchers were blind to this because they were not looking for it.

How does this apply to TCKs?  Our expectations of our TCK experience will influence our lives.  As TCKs, we lose our bearings and feel the ache of missing family and friends.  We also value our travels and revel in the diversity of cultures.  How might we create an expectancy frame from which a positive outcome can emerge despite moments of distress?  How can we heighten our awareness to see the totality of our world?


The orchid vs. dandelion study did this for me.  It expanded my frame of reference and gave me hope.  While some of us are lucky enough to be dandelions and adapt more easily, others of us – I among them – are orchids.  I am in need of a nurturing environment to flourish.  Despite my vulnerabilities – whether from nature or nurture, I am reminded that I am not destined to live a humdrum life, even when devoid of international connections.  Nor a life filled with suffering, even when difficult events come my way.  I can, with the right supports, be elevated by my TCK experiences, and create something valuable from them.

The conclusion that we can alter experience by what we believe about it is a hopeful one.  Because, indeed, it is empowering.  Because it means that we’re not at the whim of forces outside of ourselves as much as we might have thought we were.  ~Irving Kirsh

Borrowing from David Dobbs, as a young adult, I wish I had expected my TCK experience to be “less like a trapdoor through which I might fall than a springboard, slippery and somewhat fragile, perhaps, but a springboard all the same.”

How do you frame your TCK experiences?  What do you expect from them?


image credit Dandelions

image credit Orchids


Joy L. Salmon is a former TCK who lived in Pakistan for most of her youth. Her dissertation research was on the early-adult experiences of third-culture kids (TCKs) who returned to the USA upon graduation from high school overseas. She is a licensed psychologist, with a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology & Human Systems, and the founder of