This week two of my three Third Culture Kids re-entered the United States. My third TCK is coming in a few days. This isn’t long-term re-entry so maybe a more appropriate term would be re-visiting? I don’t know what to call it but I do know there are emotions involved. Not the same emotions as are part of an actual move back to the passport country, but still.
Here are a few of the things we have already discussed, in the three short days since arriving.
1. Who do I want to see during this quick trip back?
2. Who will be able and willing to understand my current life experiences?
3. How will I handle the cold?
4. I’m nervous about calling so-and-so. Is it worth the risk?
5. How much snow needs to fall before you can build a snowman?
6. It is stressful to learn how to navigate a new city.
7. What if I don’t remember someone’s name?
8. What will I wear?
9. I’m just so tired.
My older kids have been through major transitions since last being in the US. They became teenagers. They started boarding school. The family moved to a new house. Some of their closest Djiboutian friends moved to Europe.
Their friends in the US have gone through major transitions as well.
All of this means that my kids have changed, their friends in Minnesota have changed. Who will I be able to relate to, who will be able to enter into my story of boarding school, who will graciously handle my cultural ignorance so that I can be vulnerable, myself, comfortable with them? These seemed to be some of the underlying questions, along with their inverses.
Here are a few things I already noticed that help ease the transition.
1. Grandparents who greeted us at the airport with signs, flowers, candy, and winter coats. As well as a few stylish, current outfits for the kids. This helped the kids feel physically warm but even more importantly, loved and welcomed.
2. Friends at church who initiated conversations, offered hugs, asked questions, and even opened conversations with their names. “So good to see you, I’m Susan.” Of course we remembered these friends but in the culture shocked and jet lagged fog, names were a blur and the offering of a name was a quick, easy gesture that stripped away so much of our worry.
3. Board games and a movie, slippers and thick blankets, the same beds the kids slept in a couple of years ago. Familiarity and low pressure.
4. Old school friends who jumped right into life, made clear effort and sacrifice to come to where my kids were, who squealed with delight on the phone and erased that nervous: is it worth the risk to call?
5. People who not only asked about boarding school, but knew this particular one. Had been there, had worked there, could ask about specific people and places. This erased the question: will anyone understand me?
6. Long conversations between the kids and I about friendships, life changes, transitions. This helped me know where they are at, how they are responding, and allowed me to share my own experiences, to show that they aren’t going through the transition alone.
Of course not every conversation will be as smooth and of course not every friendship will be renewed, but these gestures are like balm to an anxious heart.
What are some questions your TCKs face as they re-enter? Any tips on how people in that home country can help smooth the transition?
Here are two other resources on re-entry: