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Painting Pictures: The Adopted Third Culture Kid

By |September 17th, 2013|Categories: Third Culture Kids|Tags: , , |

painting picturesThis week’s Painting Pictures post is by Galia Rautenberg. Galia is Israeli, married to a German, adopted a Chinese daughter, and the family lives in China. This post is a look at the unique challenges and special joys of raising an adopted child in her birth nation, which is not the birth nation of either of her parents. I love how Galia embraces all parts of their diverse family heritage and sees the beauty and the strength in that.

On Third Culture Kids and Adoption

Our family was completed three years ago by the adoption of our beloved girl in China. Until then we were just another couple, from two different countries with different cultures, different religions, with a cloud of complicated historical background above us, speaking different languages having different hobbies and both living outside of our passport country for many years. These are just too many reasons for a relationship to fail, but we overcame the obstacles by acknowledging the differences, respecting and embracing them.  We had been moving internally in China every few years due to my husband’s job. In this vast country even an internal move feels like going abroad to a new land, with various dialects spoken by locals, diverse delicacies and habits.

My husband is German, I am Israeli and our daughter is from China. We have been living in China for almost 14 years now and I am not sure yet how many years more we will stay. We are so used to the life here in a certain way but on the other hand we occasionally experience what every expat in this country knows well as “China days,” some very frustrating days when everything goes wrong, mostly due to miscommunication and dissimilar logic. We are living in a city with a very small expat community and limited social contacts.

Our daughter is five now and often asked by peers and adults whether she is Chinese or a “foreigner.” Well, it is the right question to ask as she is ethnically Chinese but her parents are not and she speaks some languages which they can’t understand. So is the fact she was born in China makes her Chinese? Is she Israeli/German born Chinese? She is living with western culture at home and with another one while outside. It would be helpful for the future to be part of a community where she is not the only adopted child and we hope to live in such place in the future, maybe in larger cities of China.

Our daughter attends a local kindergarten, where she is the only child with Caucasian parents. She is in her original culture, among her people, she looks like everybody else and yet is so different and draws so much attention mostly due to her parents who do not look the same as anybody else. She seems to enjoy the attention now but we are not sure if it will always be enjoyable.

Questions of relevance naturally don’t bother her much right now but we very often ponder what the future holds in this context. Despite the challenges of living in China we are so happy she gets the chance to grow up here. Even when we travel abroad, either for traveling or visiting our families she always expresses the desire to return to China, to her long-term friends, her room and comfort zone. However, on the day of her adoption and for the time being, she has crossed an unseen line from being a local, to somewhere between two parallel sets of races and cultures.

Mia speaks three languages; she is fluent in English and Chinese and able to speak (but mostly understand) Hebrew. This is another advantage of living in China. It is very important for us that she be fluent in Chinese, as we see it as a part of her identity but also will extend her possibilities, in case she would like to return to live in China or even in the business arena. One of the repeating questions that locals ask us is whether she can speak Chinese and they are thrilled to find out she does. Language is important and speaking the Chinese language can connect her, we hope, easily to her roots and origin, enhancing her feeling of belongingness. Our daughter is Israeli/German by passport but will she ever feel connected to her passport countries or will she see China as her primal and eternal home? We just hope she will find the balance of identity in a way that will comfort her and allow her inner peace, following her dreams and aspirations.

galia3One thing is certain, she is very cosmopolitan and looks very much at ease switching between languages and environments. She will surely grow to be a multi-cultural polyglot and will visit many more places than her friends.

Adoption is precious and we feel so blessed every single day. Inter-racial  adoption, just like every other adoption, is fraught with challenges, and yet wonderful. Being an adopted TCK child can complicate things but can also make it easier sometimes. We feel that our daughter’s unique TCK situation will teach her so much for the future and help her cope with some of the hardships she might face along the way, adoption related issues and others.

Galia has lived and worked in China for almost 14 years. She works as a freelance Chinese translator and online purchasing specialist. She is passionate about charity and volunteering in orphanages in China. She grew up in Israel until arriving in China at the age of 26 to continue her Chinese studies. Though she doesn’t have a blog of her own yet, she writes about life in China and hopes to publish a book one day as she surely has many stories to tell. 

Painting Pictures: The Strength of the Melting Pot

By |September 10th, 2013|Categories: Third Culture Kids|Tags: , , , |

painting picturesToday’s Painting Pictures post is by Pari Ali and I am so excited to share her words with you. Pari also wrote Hijab: The Universal Struggle for the Let’s Talk About Hijab series. Pari was born in India and is raising children in the Middle East. As you read you’ll learn about the history of a family and the history of two cities. See how cultures weave together to make beautiful tapestries, and how she and her children fit within that as Pari looks at the cultures that formed her family.

The Strength of a Melting Pot

I do not know when the story begins; perhaps it begins even before what I consider the beginning, the migration of my maternal ancestors from Iran to India, a couple of centuries ago, to settle in Hyderabad, then ruled by the fabulously rich Nizam. They were not the only ones; Hyderabad attracted the educated elite and ordinary people from all over the Muslim world. Persians, Afghans, Arabs, Turks came. They settled and intermarried, they also married into the Indian Dakhani (of the Deccan) families.

Cultures merged and mixed and so did languages. Though Persian was the language of the court, Dakhani—a dialect of Urdu spoken in the Deccan—containing words borrowed liberally from the local languages, grew richer as it absorbed words from all the languages spoken there.  The people adopted courtly and refined manners, bowing slightly and greeting each other with adaab instead of the salaam, the cuisines mingled adding Indian spices to the to the cuisines of the new settlers and at the end of the day Hyderabad had developed a unique identity; its food, language, dress, greetings, lifestyle, jewellery, architecture unique, not found anywhere else in India. It was a land of sweetness and grace and in this land my ancestors settled, perhaps never travelling back and over time the Persian language they spoke was replaced by the Dakhani Urdu spoken in the typical Hyderabadi accent. Despite the variety of cultures there was a respect among people and everyone found their own place in the framework of things. I do not know if the children of the earliest settlers considered themselves Third Culture Kids, but they certainly belonged to a distinct culture.

kutch embroidery

A few decades after my maternal ancestors moved to India, my paternal ancestors moved to Bombay from Kutch, which lies in Western India at the beginning of the Indian Peninsula. Bombay, with its beautiful natural harbour and seven islands joined by causeways to make one complete city that stretched from South to North. Bombay a bay so beautiful it was considered fit for a king, and was part of the dowry given to King Charles II on his marriage to Catherine of Braganza. It was because of its natural harbour that Bombay became the business capital of India, people came from all over the country in search of fame and fortune. Many achieved their goals and among them was my great, great grandfather who made both name and fortune. A new culture emerged here as well, while the rich educated Indians adopted the clothes, language and lifestyle of the British, the others who came from all over the country and spoke a number of languages and dialects developed a kind of pidgin Hindi. It is a dialect spoken only in Bombay (now Mumbai) and often ridiculed by Indians who speak pure Urdu or Hindi.

Like other communities the Kucchi community too settled here. They held on to their language and dress for one more generation, their food for a few more. Most of them did not go back home. The generations that followed had no links to Kutch; they studied in convent schools, spoke English with friends and at home, dressed in western clothes, watched as many English movies as they watched Hindi, holidayed on the hill stations the British had settled. They were as different from the Hyderabadis as the proverbial chalk from cheese. Hyderabad and Bombay, separated by just 700 kilometres might well have been the most easterly part of East and the most westerly part of the West. They were different not just in culture but also time, for one was almost frozen in time, moving slowly like the wheels of a rusty cycle rickshaw and the other was an unstoppable juggernaut moving  full steam ahead.

I am the child of this unlikely union, a Third Culture Child born with this strange legacy, two places so diverse they could never be reconciled, a legacy that made me search for my own identity and my heritage for a great part of my life. There were elements that attracted and enthralled me in my Hyderabadi heritage, yet my strong streak of independence resulting from being brought up in Bombay could never accept the old fashioned rules of Hyderabad. My sisters and I were not even allowed to talk to our male cousins for God’s sake! My father was pretty conservative but to us this was beyond ridiculous.

We were bold, independent, stubborn and outspoken, especially me. We fought for our rights and fought against what we considered to be totally stupid customs. I remember speaking at length to a cousin, a really nice guy, much much shorter than me. The next day a great uncle insisted that I should marry him. “Marry him or carry him?” I asked. Yes, quite rude I agree. That was me then, rude and headstrong. I grew tall early in life and was on the receiving end of proposals from doting mamas till I finally fell in love and got married. It was one of the great banes of my existence.

There were other things that rankled, through our childhood and youth we spoke mainly in English. We did speak Hindi but the Dakhani Urdu was such a mix that it was like a foreign language and sometimes we stared completely flummoxed when asked to fetch and carry or do simple tasks. What on earth were taabdaan, tashtari, rikabi, etc, etc. Our clothes were another factor that sent everyone into culture shock. It was the norm to wear jeans and tops in Bombay and that is what we wore on our visits to Hyderabad. So it was that even though we loved the city and went there often, and even lived there once for two years out of choice, it left us exasperated too.

It is quite ironic that I fell in love with and married a Hyderabadi, what is even stranger is that I settled down with him in a Middle-Eastern country. A lot of my life has been spent in resolving the resulting conflicts. For instance we used to go out quite often with my husband’s friends, the women and men walking in two separate groups. Not being able to be with my husband, who I had left home, family and favourite city to be with, used to upset me no end.

Once more the Third Culture heritage has passed on, this time to my children. They though, unlike me, have managed it much better. They are more level-headed and aware of who they are. There might be a slight conflict in identifying with the number of races they have descended from but there is little cultural conflict. They know what parts of their culture they want to accept and what they do not wish to be associated with. They move on ahead in life with confidence doing their own thing, embracing good things from all cultures they come across. They have a deep faith in God and all their actions are ruled by principles and morality, which I find very reassuring. I think they will do much better than I did.

There is just one thing I would like to add, that cultures are a good thing but they should not be rigid and they should not be intolerant and judgemental. If someone is doing something differently or making choices you would not make, it doesn’t make them evil or bad, unless of course what they are doing is going to be harmful in anyway.  It is important to give people the benefit of the doubt, to at least try to understand, to give acceptance and respect instead of censure. Moreover cultures over time have proved to be growth and change oriented, adaptable instead of inflexible. Protecting your culture, your way of life might seem to be the right thing to do but give other things a chance; who knows, it might be for the better.

Follow Pari’s blog: Weaving Tapestries

Painting Pictures: Embrace Race

By |September 3rd, 2013|Categories: Third Culture Kids|Tags: , , |

painting picturesToday’s Painting Pictures post comes from Angie Washington. Last year I received an email that changed my writing and online relationships. The email was from Angie and Laura Parker, the  brains and vision behind the beautiful, uplifting, unique, and challenging website A Life Overseas. Through this site and other writing, Angie is serving and helping people around the globe. Here, she shares her life with wisdom and her colorful family brings an important perspective to the topic of race and racism, every day realities for families of mixed race and for people living in countries where their skin color draws extra attention. I am thrilled to host her voice today. Plus, she and her husband run a bowling alley. That’s cool.

Embrace Race

Upon my shelf sits an extensive collection of Oz books. L. Frank Baum, the Royal Historian of Oz, takes you to worlds full of wonder, adversity, and fantasy. He worked closely with his illustrators in the creation of his stories. In the adventure called “Road to Oz” even the pages are different colors depending on which part of Oz Dorothy is wandering through.  Her companion Polychrome – the Rainbow’s Daughter – goes with her to the green pages of the Emerald City, the blue pages of the land of the Munchkins, the purple pages of the North Country of the Gillikins, and the yellow pages of the Country of the Winkies, to name a few.

The fictitious worlds in literature and cinema tell the truth of cultural connections. They teach us to attend to, and thereby value, what makes us so very different yet, all the more, the same as one another. Music matters. Art matters. Food matters. Language matters. Race matters.

I am the Royal Historian of The Washington Family. As such, I keep alive the stories we live together as a family. My first three kids were 3, 2, and 10 weeks when we moved from the U.S.A. to Bolivia, South America. That was over 10 years ago and we have added two Bolivian born children to our family since. As the title Third Culture Kids implies they are growing up as multi-cultural humans. We knew that even if our dream to become missionaries never materialized that our children would be raised multi-culturally.

My husband is black. I am white. I have heard our children call themselves:  white, black, pink, and brown. They compare skin color after a day in the sun. Then they add to the descriptive list: red, freckly, tan, and super dark.


We talk about race and racism quite often.  Even in the tiny country of Bolivia racism has a hold. One taxi driver saw my chubby, light-skinned boy on my lap and told me I was “improving the Bolivian race” by allowing a white child to be born as a Bolivian. My kids notice it, too.

“Mama, they were talking bad about a kid at school.”

“Oh? Tell me what happened.”

“They were saying mean things to her because her skin is dark.”

“Yes. That happens. What do you think about that?”

“I am a different color than they are. I wouldn’t like it if someone treated me different because of my skin color.”

This was spoken by a little person who has only a textbook knowledge of their racial roots. They can watch youtube videos of the speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.; but they have yet to feel the pain of racial slurs. Concepts like slavery and prejudice have a unique skew in their minds because they are also mixed with the Bolivian history of conquistadores and colonialism.

Chronicled in the annals of mankind, lay side by side the embarrassing behaviors of racism next to the celebration of individuality. We mustn’t try to cover up one by exalting the other. Nor must we adopt the victim mentality of one and deny the redeeming power of the other. The stories need to be told.

My kids were born in a nation still figuring out what to do with their race. Now they have been removed from that tension. We have a new tension to manage. I am grateful for the third culture of “The Washington Family” so we have a platform to discuss things like race, pride, and nationalism. We can’t ignore it. We embrace it.

Parents, how do you experience, and talk about, issues of race with your Third Culture Kids? TCKs, how have you experienced and discussed race? What has been helpful/not helpful?


Angie Washington and her husband, DaRonn, have five children. Adoption is very close to her heart. One of their kids is adopted, but they also run an orphanage called The House of Dreams, located in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where they live. For over a decade she has been serving alongside her husband to establish and administrate: a church, the orphanage, a K-12 school, and a network to aid pastors and church leaders. Her passion for words takes form in writing, blogging, and teaching (all bilingually). 

You can find Angie on:
Twitter , Facebook, and her blog: “the @”

Painting Pictures: Saudade

By |August 27th, 2013|Categories: Third Culture Kids, Uncategorized|Tags: , , |

painting picturesToday’s Painting Pictures post comes from Ute Limacher, someone I have been delighted to connect with in multiple places online. She brings a new word to the Third Culture Kid discussion, at least a new word for me. Saudade. As soon as I saw the definition, I knew this series needed a post about it. It rings in my heart, yes, yes, yes, this word makes sense. Not just for TCKs, but for expats too. It gives me a word to describe the happy-sad place in which I live. And not only a new word, but Ute helps me understand part of the Painting Pictures of Egypt song that I never understood: ‘If it comes too quick, I may not recognize it’…I couldn’t quite grasp what that meant but now I can. Read on to see what I mean.

Saudade: the love that remains, the joy of grief

TCK’s and all those who live a nomadic life have to say many good-byes and leave many places they called their own. When leaving and restarting over and over, they go through a so called “entering phase” during which they constantly feel the ambivalence of their nomadic life. They feel how different they are in the new place and may wish to go back where they did fit in or simply felt more comfortable. The feeling of longing or pining for something in the past overcomes us generally at a turning point.

When we think about the past, an experience, a friend or a situation that makes us want to go back for a moment and re-live it, or when we think about what we would like our future to look like in a sort of daydream, we all experience saudade.

What is saudade?

There are many different definitions of saudade, but the Dicionário Houaiss da língua portuguesa fits my purpose best:

“A somewhat melancholic feeling of incompleteness. It is related to thinking back on situations of privation due to the absence of someone or something, to move away from a place or thing, or to the absence of a set of particular and desirable experiences and pleasures once lived.”

We feel saudade when someone (e.g. children, parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, pets) or something (e.g. places, things one used to do in childhood) is missing but should be there in a particular moment, and we feel its absence.

It usually mixes sad and happy feelings all together, sadness for missing and happiness for having experienced the feeling. – It is, like Alexandre Silva says “a joy of grief” in A Saudade PortuguesaCarolina Michaëlis de Vasconcellos.

Saudade towards people

Saudade is also “the love that remains” after someone is gone, like when we think of a person we love but who is out of reach.


When we experience the loss of friends or family members, we all feel grief. As TCK’s we often don’t have the chance to say good-bye or don’t make it on time because of the geographical distance to our loved ones. Saudade describes the sad feeling about this lost chance and the certainty that they’re gone forever. But in the meantime we also have happy feelings about the beautiful and memorable moments we spent together; and we feel grateful that we had the unique chance to have met these people.

Every time we have to say good-bye to good friends, we know that for a few of them the good-bye will probably be forever. It makes us happy and sad at the same time and we enter a  grief phase when we recall all the happy moments we spent together.

Sometimes it happens that friends have to leave and we don’t get the time to really catch up during the last weeks, or to say a proper good-bye. Quick farewells can be very painful. We recall all the precious moments spent together and realize that our life together has come to an end. It will never be the same. It’s the end of an era.

If it comes too quick
I may not appreciate it
Is that the reason behind all this time and sand?
(Sara Grove, Painting pictures of Egypt)

There are also all those friends we had to leave behind because of us moving, with whom we share precious memories and with whom we even thought we would spend the rest of our lives.The lost opportunity to pursue our life path together make us feel longing for the life we had.

Saudade toward places

We also long for places we lived, that enchanted us as children or where we have felt most inspired or happy. These can also be places we visited briefly but with which we had a special bond.

ute1 The places I long for the most

The places I long for the most
Are the places where I’ve been
They are calling after me like a long lost friend

It’s all about comfortable
When you move so much
The place I was wasn’t perfect
But I had found a way to live
It wasn’t milk or honey
But then neither is this
(Sara Grove, Painting pictures of Egypt)

When we move frequently, we probably don’t get back often to the place or places where we grew up. Some still call it “home”. because they have family and friends there. But sometimes these places are only pictures in our memories.

Since a few years ago, me and my family spend several weeks each year near the place I grew up in Northern Italy, because my sister and her family live close by and we want our children to spend as much time as possible with their cousins, aunt and uncle. During the past 20 years, for some reason or another, I didn’t manage to go back and visit the place I grew up, but this year we finally did and I had a nice trip down on memory lane.

Some things looked the same, like a little church where I met friends, the house I lived in with my parents (my parents left Italy almost 30 years ago) and the streets where I did “le vasche” (take a stroll) with my friends as a teenager. It’s comforting that some things just don’t change. It’s a bit like meeting a good friend after a long period and feeling like we never were separated. – Unfortunately, my childhood friends had all moved abroad and those places don’t feel exactly the same anymore. But we still have memories.

Showing my children the places I’ve lived in will never give them the same feeling I have when visiting them, but it gives them at least some pictures to relate to when I tell them stories about my past.

I’ve lived in many places but I don’t feel saudade for all of them. Some are more important because they left indelible memories I can only share with people who were there with me.

We can also feel saudade towards the future. The famous saudade of the Portuguese is described as:

“a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably can not exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness”.

The past is so tangible
I know it by heart
Familiar things are never easy to discard
I was dying for some freedom
But now I hesitate to go
I am caught between the promise
And the things I know
(Sara Groves “Painting pictures of Egypt”)

We think about the new places we will live and picture ourselves in a hypothetical life, a promise that we hope will come true.


Sometimes I feel this saudade towards the imagination of my future that I had in the past. As a child I pictured myself in a future very different from how my life is now. Sometimes, realizing this difference makes me want to go back and try out another path. What if I would have stayed in Italy? What if I hadn’t said good-bye to certain friends or left some places? Our life is a concotion of chances, good-byes, movings, and crossroads that require decisions, sometimes quick decisions.

Saudade towards moments

The places and people we recall are always connected to special moments. We remember happy moments shared with friends or family or places we cherished.


Then we try to remind them, “do you remember when…?” and go back down memory lane, hoping the other person shares the same memory. But it is rare that others recall exactly the same aspect about an event and we end up feeling even sadder – as if this memorable moment is important only for us, not for those we shared it with in the first place.

The future seems so hard
And I want to go back
But the places that used to fit me
Cannot hold the things I’ve learned
And those roads closed off to me
While my back was turned
(Sara Groves “Painting pictures of Egypt”)

Often we feel that the past is more comforting, that the places, the people we knew were better than the uncertain – but exciting – future. But the places that used to “fit us can not hold the things we’ve learned”, because we grew out of them. And we keep growing.

Fernando Pessoa:

Saudades, só portugueses
Conseguem senti-las bem.
Porque têm essa palavra
para dizer que as têm.

Related articles about saudade:


Ute is an European expat-since-birth. Born in Switzerland, she grew up in Northern Italy, studied and worked in Switzerland and Italy (Florence) before moving to the Netherlands in 2005 where she lives with her Swiss husband and three children. She is a former researcher in French and Italian Languages and Literature who reinvented herself and became a passionate language teacher, expert in multilingualism, writer, blogger and translator. – In her blog she writes about raising multilingual children in a multicultural environment, TCK’s, multilingualism in general and life as an expat. 

Blog: Expat Since Birth

Facebook: Expatsincebirth

Twitter: @expatsincebirth


Painting Pictures: When an ATCK Does Not Choose a Life Overseas

By |August 20th, 2013|Categories: Third Culture Kids|Tags: , |

risingToday’s Painting Pictures post is by Clara Wiggins, a Third Culture Kid who has made the choice, for now, of staying put. I love the way this parallels last week’s post by Jenni Gate: When an ATCK Chooses a Life Overseas. Clara somehow manages to write with an appreciation for both choices with wisdom, grace, and perspective. And honest, which is beautiful. She is working on a book about trailing spouses, see the bio at the end of the post for how to contact her and how to contribute.

When an Adult Third Culture Kid Does Not Choose a Life Overseas

A few months ago, we were faced with a choice. A very difficult choice. A choice that many people reading this will have faced themselves, often multiple times. A choice that I really, really didn’t want to make. And a choice that, once made, I knew that I would regret – whichever way we chose to go.

Following a couple of overseas postings, both terminated early for very different reasons, we had decided to settle back in the UK. My eldest daughter had reached Reception age and we got her a much-sought after place at our local primary. So local, you can see it from our house.  Our other daughter started at the local pre-school. Both integrated immediately into their new lives, making friends quickly and being obviously much happier than they had been when we were abroad.  My husband got an interesting job in a nearby city and I started training to be an antenatal teacher. It was a good life.

But just when we thought we were settled, my husband came home from work with the news that there were several family-friendly postings going begging at work. Places that as a single working woman I probably would have turned my nose up at, but that now sounded like the perfect place to move with school aged children in tow. However, trying to decide whether to leave our newly discovered settled lives behind and set off once more was not going to be an easy decision.

I myself am a Third Culture Kid. I grew up on pretty well every continent in the world – the Americas, Africa, Asia, Europe – my father’s diplomatic postings took us almost as far and wide as it’s possible to go.  It was (mostly) a happy childhood. I have particularly rosy memories of our time in the Philippines – a wonderful place for a (rich, privileged) child to grow up in the 1970’s, full of weekends at the beach and afternoons at the swimming club. I spent the parts of my teen years that I wasn’t at boarding school in Venezuela, a wild and beautiful country where we swam in the Caribbean, climbed the (foothills of) the Andes and explored the spectacular Llanos.


I have never lived anywhere longer than four years and by the time I was 13 I was at boarding school in the UK, happily negotiating long haul flights back and forth for the holidays. After leaving school, I did try and settle into a normal life. But late in my twenties my itchy feet got the better of me and I took off round the world with just a back-pack for company. A year later I returned to the UK, realised I couldn’t live in just one country for the rest of my life, and joined the Foreign Office. I was posted to Jamaica, met my husband, got pregnant with my first child and left the Office to become the accompanying spouse to my husband’s postings in Islamabad and St Lucia.

So why the problem with deciding to go abroad again? Well the problem wasn’t me, I would’ve gone in a heartbeat, as long as it was somewhere that this time I could work.  My husband is coming to a natural end of the job he’s in and needs something new. He’s always loved living overseas. No, the reason we didn’t immediately jump at the chance of moving to the Hague or Lisbon or Warsaw was the children.

I realise that having outlined above how much I loved my childhood, it sounds odd to now say I don’t want my children to have what I had. I still believe deeply that travel doesn’t just broaden the mind, it explodes it. I think I am a better person for having had that chance to explore the world at a young age.

No, the problem isn’t that I don’t want my children to have what I had – it’s that I do want them to have what I didn’t.

Growing up, I was always different. It didn’t matter where I lived, I never fit in. In Manila, we were the minority Brits in a mostly American school. Back in the UK, I was the slightly weird one who kept leaving to live in exotic places no-one had ever heard of, and then come back and expect to fit in exactly where I left off. At school there were, luckily, other expat brats like myself. But there were more rich, spoiled kids who ruled the school. Even as an adult, I’ve always found my background and experiences have made me feel a little different from everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made some amazing friends along the way and even living as I do now in a town in Middle England, I’ve still found people I can relate to on more than one level.

But what I didn’t have was a base. A home. Somewhere I could always come back to and feel safe. A group of mates I grew up with, who would be there every Christmas eve, to get together with no matter where we had been for the rest of the year. I want my children to feel they belong. To be settled and to not have this need to up and move on every few years. I want them to go right through school with the same friends. To understand British culture properly, to watch all the same TV programmes as the other people they meet as adults, to be able to recall the same moments of history – not to wonder why no-one else remembers the ‘thriller in Manila’ or can still sing the theme tune to Sesame Street when everyone else is discussing some random multi-coloured Saturday morning show.

I realise these things are not the be-all and end-all and possibly I am depriving them more than they will ultimately benefit. But you have to go with a gut instinct and for now, this is mine. It’s been helped by the fact that my eldest daughter, who didn’t settle well in either of our two postings, is adamant that she doesn’t want to move abroad again. But it’s not been an easy choice and things might still change. For now, though, that’s our choice. I was a TCK. My children have been TCK’s. But I have decided that – for now – they will be FCK’s (First Culture Kids). Or whatever a child who stays put is called!

Clara’s background is in journalism and diplomacy – she worked on regional newspapers overseas and in the UK before chucking it all in, traveling round the world and then joining the Foreign Office. The daughter of a diplomat herself, she has seen the “expat” experience from all sides, including during her own posting to Jamaica and more recently as a trailing spouse in Pakistan and St Lucia. She is now settled back in the UK and divides her increasingly busy schedule between looking after her two young daughters, working as both an antenatal teacher and in a part-time office role, and working on her next project – a “rough guide” to being a trailing spouse”. She loves writing and just wishes there were more hours in the day. She is looking for contributions for her trailing spouse book and if you would like to help her, she can be contacted at or on twitter @strandedatsea

Painting Pictures: When an ATCK Chooses a Life Overseas

By |August 13th, 2013|Categories: Third Culture Kids|Tags: , , |

painting pictures1Today’s Painting Pictures post is by Laura Campbell. I love the way she is able to share her story honestly, including the pride that sometimes comes with being a TCK and how surprised she was to experience culture shock as an adult. Her words highlight an important issue for TCKs who choose to live overseas – the experience as an adult is not the same as it was as a child. And I am thrilled because (spoiler alert) next week’s post is about an ATCK who chooses not to live overseas. A beautiful and unplanned pairing of pieces. I’m especially interested in hearing your responses to Laura’s final questions.

When an ATCK Chooses a Life Overseas

I was born in the Nairobi Hospital in 1977 and spent my entire childhood in Kenya, with the exception of brief trips back to the United States. I always knew I was a “missionary kid,” a term that did little more than describe what my parents did. What I didn’t know was that I was also a “TCK,” a term that better explains who I am as a result of my overseas upbringing.

I graduated from Rosslyn Academy in Nairobi in 1995. At the time, Dave Pollack was coming to Rosslyn every year to do a weekend Reentry Seminar for the graduating seniors. This is where I first heard the term TCK, where I first learned why I am the way I am, and why there will never be an easy answer to “Where are you from?” The unique advantages that TCK’s have and the unique challenges they face were broken down, and my classmates and I were given many useful coping tips as we prepared to embark on our journeys back to our passport countries. I learned about the process of reentry and how to say goodbye in a healthy way. I still go back to Dave’s concept of building a RAFT (introduced to me at the seminar and explained further in his book, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds) when I am facing a big transition.

I had an easy reentry experience, which I attribute in part to the preparation I received at the Reentry Seminar. Of course, there were other factors: I went to a small college where I was a face, not just a number; I plugged into a church right away; I had grandparents living in the area who were my home away from home. But I adjusted well, and fairly easily… so easily, in fact, that I began to wonder if culture shock and reentry shock were just way overrated. I assumed that they were basically the same thing. I was wrong, and I was about to find out just how wrong I was!

I was a senior in college and planning my wedding when my fiancé brought up the idea of going to work in Japan as English teachers for a few years. I blithely agreed, thinking “I’ve got this living overseas thing down. After all, I grew up abroad. I’ve gone through reentry and it wasn’t that bad. This will be a piece of cake.” Looking back now, I can see the absolute arrogance in my assumption that I wouldn’t experience culture shock, or that if I did, it would be mild or similar to what I had already gone through with reentry.

Two months after our wedding, we moved to Japan. My first six months there were not pretty. I hated it; I was miserable; my poor husband didn’t know what to do with me or how to help me cope. I cried on the phone to my mom one day, and after listening to me whine for awhile, she gently pointed out that I was experiencing culture shock. I was mad. “I am not!” I said vehemently. But I instantly realized, deep down, that she was right. And that was the beginning of my awakening to some very important truths about myself as a TCK now living the globally nomadic lifestyle as an adult.

Enjoying the plum blossoms with Oka-san, my “Japanese mother”

Enjoying the plum blossoms with Oka-san, my “Japanese mother”

  1. Growing up overseas is a different experience than choosing to live and work overseas as an adult. I had a pretty idyllic childhood – I played with my friends, I swam, I rode my bike, I went to school and church, we visited game parks and vacationed on the beautiful white sands of the Kenyan coast. I was sheltered from things like team conflicts, headaches with official paperwork, and political unrest, all things you have to deal with when you are an adult living overseas. My parents don’t remember Kenya through the same rose-colored glasses. Listening to them tell stories now, I begin to realize how different our realities were.
  2. Growing up overseas does not insulate one against culture shock. One of the oft-touted characteristics of TCK’s is their adaptability; however, adaptability does not necessari mean instantaneous adjustment. Since Japan, we have lived in Portugal, the U.S., and now Ecuador, and each time we move to a new country, I find myself struggling to learn and adapt during those first few months. It’s an uncomfortable period. I don’t know that it has gotten easier with practice, but I do know what to expect now, as opposed to those first few months in Japan.
  3. Growing up overseas does not mean you will instantly love every new country. Every country is different! Japan was nothing like what I knew of either Kenya or the U.S. The culture was unlike anything I had been exposed to before. English was not widely spoken, and as I spoke almost no Japanese when we first arrived, I was, for the first time in my life, unable to communicate, and also basically illiterate. Because I loved growing up in Kenya, I assumed I would fall in love with Japan right away, and when I didn’t, when I actually found myself hating it, I wondered what was wrong with me. (I eventually came to love Japan, and it is a part of my heart now, just as all the other places we have lived through the years, but it took time.) I have learned to be patient with myself, to give myself time to attach to a new place, and also the permission to dislike certain things about it.

I am an ATCK who chose a life overseas, and in the beginning, it was difficult. More difficult than I expected or imagined. My experience is by no means universal. I know many TCK’s who had very rocky reentry experiences. And many of them couldn’t wait to get back overseas and adapted well and quickly to the adult expat life. I remember reading once that expats who adjust easily to their foreign culture have a more difficult time coming home. I wonder if the same could be said for TCK’s? I wonder if the TCK’s who adjust easily to their “passport country” have a more difficult time when moving back overseas? And vice versa?

If you are an ATCK who chose a life overseas, what has been your experience? Do you think there is a connection between your reentry experience and your adjustment to life as an adult expat?

Laura Campbell is a missionary-kid turned missionary. She was born and grew up in Kenya and as an adult has lived in the United States, Japan, Portugal, and now calls Ecuador home. She is married to Rusty and is raising three TCK’s of her own, each one born on a different continent! Follow Laura via her family blog, The Campbell Chronicles or her Writing Project 365 blog

Painting Pictures: When Third Culture Kids Reunite

By |August 6th, 2013|Categories: Expat Thoughts, Third Culture Kids|Tags: , , |

painting pictures1Today’s Painting Pictures post comes from Jenni Gates, a USAID kid who has lived all over the world. Her post is a moving picture of what happens at a TCK reunion and by the end of it, I was yet again reaching for my kleenex. Her words are beautifully chosen and tender and honest and I am so happy to share this piece with you. And can I just add that I love, love the first photo she shares, so apt for this series. If you are an ATCK, have you had reunions with old friends? What are the reunions like?

When Third Culture Kids Reunite

Upon arrival in Athens, tears sprung to my eyes at the sight of my friends. The last time I had seen many of them was at our high school graduation in Pakistan. I rushed to hug them, words tumbling out in a jumble. We laughed at the initial awkwardness we all felt, and then it was as if we had never been apart. We talked about our lives in our “home” countries, about our families and jobs. Someone brought up some of the ridiculous situations we got into in high school: the time baby cobras hatched out of the potted plants, the school lunches seasoned with the occasional cockroach, the teachers who made our lives miserable or inspired us to achieve our dreams. Memories bubbled to the surface.

TCK reunions overflow with emotion. We have said so many goodbyes in our lives to friends we never knew whether we would see again. We returned to our passport cultures without knowing who we were or where we belonged. We lost contact in our childhoods with more people than most people ever even meet in a lifetime. Our journey beyond the high school years has been complicated, often lonely, and full of awkward moments. For many TCKs, the trip “home” has meant having to learn the language of their passport culture. For all TCKs, it means learning the culture everyone assumes they should already know. For the most part, we maneuver and learn our “home” culture on our own.

Many houses-street art Athens -artist unknown

Many Houses – street art Athens, artist unknown

Today, because of the internet, it is possible for TCKs to stay in contact after re-entry to their home culture. For those of us from older generations, this was not possible. Still, today a TCK may find the interactions with other TCKs becoming superficial as they grow distant and move on separately with their lives. The close bonds formed, sometimes under fire, but always while being the outsider together in a host country are difficult to recreate in our passport countries. Connections begin to unravel with time and distance. Nostalgia for the worlds we have lost becomes our outlook.

When we have the opportunity to meet with old friends, we jump at it. It means more than your average stateside high school reunion. It means seeing people we never thought we would see again, recapturing unique shared experiences, the times we spent in the host culture that people in our home cultures could never understand. The things that were once normal to us are foreign in our home cultures, and though we may try to carry those experiences with us, we slowly lose the essence over time. A reunion is like sniffing the rosebud of memory.

Our reunions tend to take place in various corners of the globe. We met in Athens because a few of our friends were Greek and settled there after high school. We have met in the Washington DC area many times. A reunion last year took place in Istanbul. I’ve had mini-reunions in central England, Norway, and other parts of Europe. Some of my TCK friends from the high school in Pakistan meet yearly now to cross the US by motorcycle. The friendships started in our youth are close, unique, and unmatched in our adult lives. The ability to reconnect reminds us of who we are and what we shared. Our reunion conversations are all over the boards. Politics and religion, poverty and wealth; we speak of riots and wars as other people speak of climbing trees and playing with dolls. 

In Athens at dinner most nights, we ordered massive quantities of food and shared it: cheese-stuffed peppers, tzatziki, lamb sausages, squid, octopus, sardines, mussels, meatballs, dolmades, feta cheese and olives, Greek salads with every meal – all delicious. At reunions in Washington DC, we gravitate to Indian or Thai restaurants or pot lucks at someone’s home with shamiana tents shading our meals and mirrored pillows decorating our seats. Without fail, stories abound. Everyone tries to imitate the Pakistani and Indian accents we remember so well. We see the sights. We take endless photographs. We cruise the Bosporous or tour the Smithsonian. We create new memories to carry us into the future.

One evening on the way home from dinner in Athens, our Greek host made a comment that he didn’t really feel like he “fits” anywhere. It may have been because he did not know how to read and write in Greek when he went home, but he felt he would never fit into his home culture. At work, and even at family events, he felt like he was on the outside looking in. He missed social cues, references to the home culture of things that happened while he was in Pakistan. This resonated for all of us. We agreed that we have all returned “home,” without ever feeling at home in our passport countries. The place we belong the most is with each other – with our international and Pakistani friends and other people who grew up the way we did. I feel at home with other TCKs in a way that is not possible in a non-TCK setting.

Reuniting with other TCKs after many years is overwhelming. Reflecting on it now, it seems while in Athens each of us had at least one day of complete emotional meltdown. When we left Pakistan after high school, we scattered across the globe, not knowing whether we would ever see one another again. Our time at the school in Pakistan was unusual, to say the least. We had a small student body, and the international community was close-knit. Together, we had faced history classes and Model UN; cultural conventions and proms at the Intercon Hotel; we had encountered spiders, snakes, and angry mobs; we had been through riots, military coups, and armed conflict. Each year, we made new friends and said too many goodbyes to our best friends.

After reuniting, the time comes to say goodbye. It is impossible to put into words how complicated and painful it can be to separate again. Parting is fulfilling and devastating at the same time. After a week in Athens of sightseeing, sun, fun and reliving old memories, we began to leave. I hugged my friends and told them I loved them. I choked back a sob as I turned away. I wandered aimlessly through the airport, dejected. It felt as if I were leaving my family behind forever. I had ample time to reflect on my flight home, about travel, life, friendship. For the TCK child who grows up outside the passport country, a reunion with others who grew up the same way is grounding. It helps us put down roots where none may have existed.

Jenni Gate is an accomplished wanderer and aspiring writer raised in a USAID family. Born in Libya and raised throughout Africa and Asia, Jenni’s upbringing as a global nomad provided a unique perspective on life. As a child, she lived in Libya, Nigeria, the Congo, Pakistan, the Philippines, and the Washington DC area. As an adult, she has lived in Alaska, England, and throughout the Pacific Northwest. Much of her work draws on her extensive experience in the legal field. Her published work includes several articles for a monthly business magazine in Alaska and a local interest magazine in Idaho. She has written several award-winning memoir pieces for writing contests. Jenni currently writes non-fiction, memoir, and fiction, drawing upon her global experiences.

Jenni is a member of the Romance Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime.

To read more about Jenni’s adventures around the world, visit her blog at Nomad Trails and Tales, like her page on Facebook, and follow her on Pinterest.


Painting Pictures: Tribute to a Pioneer

By |July 30th, 2013|Categories: Third Culture Kids|Tags: , , , |

painting pictures risingA few week’s ago a Painting Picture post came from an MK, a military kid. Today’s post comes from another MK, a missionary kid. I am raising DWKs (I guess?), development worker kids. And in the future we’ll hear from business kids and diplomat kids and more. I adore this about the series, the way it brings diverse people together and gets us talking, one of my major blogging goals. Ruth’s post today is a moving tribute to one of the pioneers in the TCK conversation. Through working together we discovered a common friend, on a third continent. And there also, is something I love about the series and TCKs and being an expat. Sometimes we feel alone and then between Haiti, Uzbekistan, and Djibouti there comes a link and we aren’t alone anymore.

 Tribute to a Pioneer

We almost didn’t go to the session. I don’t remember what the alternative was, but I know we hesitated, my newlywed husband and I, dazed by all the options at Urbana 90.  We had come to find the world and hadn’t been disappointed.  There were speakers from several continents and every international Christian organization you could name was there, recruiting.  Ever since we’d started dating after getting to know each other at an MK Fellowship event at Asbury College, we’d known that we wouldn’t spend our lives in the United States.  We wanted to go somewhere else.  There was a whole world out there.  We knew that from experience; he’d grown up in Japan and I in Kenya.

We couldn’t resist this particular session, billed as an MK Meetup, and turned aside from whatever enticing international smorgasbord offering was taking place at the same time, and entered a lecture hall full of people.  A white-bearded man introduced himself as Dave Pollock and asked people to come to write the name of their school on a white board.  Before long the board filled with names of schools from every country you’ve ever heard of and some you probably haven’t.

I don’t remember what Dave said that day, mostly because it was so exciting to be in a room with so many TCKs, some of whom, it turned out, we knew.  (That tends to happen when TCKs get together – you always have a person or place in common, even if you don’t know each other.)  I do know that I learned that term that day: TCK.  That’s what we were, Dave told us, Third Culture Kids.  I have Dave’s book in front of me as I write, and I’m sure what he said was something similar to what he wrote in the introduction: “It is my conviction that being a TCK is not a disease, something from which to recover.  It is also not simply okay – it is more than okay.  It is a life healthily enriched by this very TCK experience and blessed with significant opportunities for further enrichment.”  He always presented himself as a “wannabe TCK,” and even though he recognized the challenges we faced, it was obvious he loved being around TCKs.

Four years later we met Dave again.  We had finished graduate school and moved overseas; spent a year teaching at an international school in Haiti and returned to the States for the summer. We did temp jobs and waited to see what would happen with Haiti’s political situation and whether we’d be able to return.  A friend of ours worked with international students at a nearby college.  She called one day to tell us she thought we’d enjoy a Re-entry Seminar the college was hosting, led by a guy called Dave Pollock.  We were working during the day, but drove over that evening.

Our friend was right – the session was life-changing for both of us.  Dave quite simply told us who we were.  He explained the challenges and the benefits of being TCKs, and in his trademark way, illustrated every point with wonderful stories, collected over the years from hundreds of TCKs.  (In time we got into his presentation, too, as he told people about Steve taking me out for sushi to vet me while we were dating.)

When we got back to Haiti, we told our administrators about Dave and his seminar, and eventually he visited Haiti three times and had dinner with us in three different houses.  It’s hard to believe I spent as little time with Dave as I did because he became such an important part of our lives.  Some examples of his effect on us:

A Haitian-American kid living with us said, “That guy is the first person in my life that ever understood me.” 

I was listening to Dave speak in our school chapel when a friend called and said, “Go home and turn on the TV.”  I did, in time to see the second plane hit the World Trade Center.  Dave was there for our students, helping them process the news.

Dave prayed with us as we grieved a miscarriage.  I remember he told God about “the heaviness” we feel, we human beings.

Dave often preached from 2 Peter, saying it was the epistle to TCKs, because it’s written to exiles.  I can’t read those five chapters, ever, without thinking of him.

Dave and his wife Betty-Lou sat in our living room as I nursed our second child and they talked about the loss of their own son.

And then on Easter Sunday, 2004, we lost Dave too.  He’d been doing a seminar in Vienna, Austria.  It was somehow fitting that he was a long way from home.

Even though Dave has been gone a long time now, I still find myself thinking of him in moments of crisis, and wondering what wise words he would have had.  After the earthquake in Haiti, when I was evacuated with our two TCKs to the US, while my husband stayed behind, I thought of Dave again and again.

It’s hard to narrow down what Dave did for those of us TCKs who grew up before all the variety of help there is now, the understanding, the seminars.  Dave was the pioneer.  For so many of us, he was the first one who helped us find our name. We could accept being TCKs as a rich gift, while at the same time acknowledging the losses it had brought us.  Dave used to say the Great Commission went hand in hand with the Great Commandment.  God wanted us to go into all the world, but He also wanted us to love one another, to care for one another.  Dave cared for us TCKs.  I loved him and I won’t ever forget him.


Third Culture Kids, the book, by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken

Educated in four countries (Kenya, England, the United States, and France), Ruth Bowen Hersey is a TCK married to a TCK (from Japan) and raising two TCKs.  She teaches 7th and 8th graders at Quisqueya Christian School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where she has lived for 17 years.  She blogs, mostly about books and poetry, at

Painting Pictures: Transitioning Globally to University

By |July 23rd, 2013|Categories: africa, Third Culture Kids|Tags: , , |

painting pictures1Today’s Painting Pictures is brought to you by Janneke Jellema, one of my favorite twitter peeps. Come to think of it, we met on Twitter, I think(?). I read this and wanted to post it right away, found myself impatiently waiting for Tuesday when I could hit the ‘publish’ button and share it with you. She is full of wisdom, great links, and a supportive and encouraging spirit. This piece is filled with practical advice as well as the ups and downs of being a TCK. I know you will find it as helpful as I do.

Transitioning Globally to University

My life changed drastically when I took an aeroplane from Harare, Zimbabwe to Schiphol international airport, Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I left my parents, brothers and sister behind. All that was familiar: my friends, my bicycle, my youth in Africa and lots more. The destination was known. My whole life while I grew up as blond girl with blue eyes in Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe, being “different” was the name of the game. On my ID card in Zimbabwe it said “alien”. That’s really great when you are a teenager! We were taught that we were Dutch, it’s the language we spoke at home, the Netherlands was the country we went to on leave. I was proud of my clogs and I loved the Dutch tulips. So I thought I knew the country I was to go to university in. I thought I knew the country of destination.

I was totally unprepared for the (reverse) culture shock that I would have. Totally unprepared for the loneliness, feeling out of place, not knowing the rules and norms, and the depression that set in. Did my fellow students or my lecturers notice the above? Did they see the loneliness? No they did not. Many times they did not understand my stories about my African youth so I stopped telling these stories. I just did not talk about it anymore.

I silenced the “African” part of me. Even now when I talk to my Dutch friends who knew me at university they say we did not know that you were depressed and that you felt so lonely. Did I cover it up? Did I keep it a secret? I do not know. It was just a time of survival. Now “survival” was the name of the game. When I transitioned to university, there were actually serveral transitions all at once:

  • a different school system: Zimbabwean system changed into the Dutch school system
  • a transition from secondary school to university
  • culture change: moving from Zimbabwe to the Netherlands
  • language change: moving from predominately English speaking environment to a predominately Dutch speaking environment.
  • from living at home to living on my own. A major step in independence.


I am  glad  I survived all these transitions. It was very challenging and stressful at the time. My desire is that other teenagers making these international transitions have more knowledge, preparation and help than I did years ago. I had never even heard of the term third culture kid. It was only when I read the book Third Culture Kids Growing Up Among Worlds by D.Pollock and R.van Reken years later that I discovered it. What a relief that there was nothing wrong with me, that I was not wierd but that I had all these feelings because of my global childhood. I was not the only one with these feelings but there were more people with the same experiences. Amazing!
Recently I found an interesting article online: “Identity, mobility and marginality: counseling third culture kids in college” (2012) by Dana Leigh Downey, University of Texas at Austin. The article mentions that it is estimated that over 4 million Americans live abroad, with over 37,000 matriculating into U.S. universities each year. Our societies are becoming more and more global. Third culture kids “experience a collision of cultures and form hybrid identities in the course of their development”.
Gaw* (2007) says that re-entry is often more challenging and unsettling than initial culture shock, affecting academic, social and psychological functioning. As with other non majority groups TCKs are less likely to seek support services on campus. “The non-linear background of the TCK does not fit the mold of the average intake form.” There’s a good idea here: Downey suggests that counseling centres may consider adding questions to their surveys or intake forms: before the age of 18 I lived in more than one country/culture. A question like this would help identify third culture kids. It is only worth identifying TCKs if there are people who are equipped to help them. According to Downey, in order to assist third culture kids experiencing re-entry culture shock, counselors must extend:
  • support
  • validation
  • encouragement
  • along with cultural compentence
  • and intercultural understanding
That sounds too good to be true.

Soon colleges and universities will start their academic year and over 37,000 TCKs will return to America to further their education. An unknown number of TCKs will re-enter the Netherlands and many other countries. What will their experience be like? Will it be different to mine years ago? Will they be identified? Will they be helped by well-equipped counselors, and mental health practitioners that have experience working with third culture kids?

What was your experience when you went to college or university? Do you have advice?

*Gaw, K.F. (2007) Mobility, Multiculturalism and Marginality: Counseling Third Culture Students. Special Populations in College Counseling: A Handbook for Mental Health Practitioners(63-76).


My 10 Tips for transitioning well to university (for parents and TCKs):

  1. Choose a college or university that is internationally minded, with international programs or international students. The international character will help you feel more “at home”, you will fit in more easily.
  2. If possible visit the college or university before hand, to see what it is like and to be able to compare it to other colleges or universities.
  3. Parents: prepare your TCK before they leave. Talk about the practical stuff: where can they spend the weekend? Where will they spend Christmas? When will you see each other again? How often will you skype?
  4. Parents: teach your kids and teenagers about what a TCK is. Even if they are not interested in it at this moment, it will help them in the future.
  5. Read the posts on DenizenMag: A TCK’s Guide to College. There’s great advice there.
  6. Read and give your TCK a copy of Tina Quick’s book The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition. It is a very useful and practical book.
  7. Consider using the online mentoring services by Sea Change Mentoring, they help the teenagers handle the international transitions succesfully.
  8. If possible have the TCK do a re-enty course at the moment of transition, with a follow up a couple of months later.
  9. Stay in contact with other TCKs, they can support you during all the changes. You can join to meet other TCKs online. Or start a TCK group at your university.
  10. Ask for help, seek professional help or counselling if needed (preferably with a professional who has experience working with international students or TCKs).
Janneke Jellema is an adult TCK who grew up in Africa. She writes about “kids growing up in other cultures” on her DrieCulturen blog. You can follow her on twitter @DrieCulturen.

Painting Pictures: Passport to the World

By |July 17th, 2013|Categories: Expat Thoughts, Third Culture Kids|Tags: , , |

painting pictures1Today’s Painting Pictures post comes to you from Bonnie Rose, a woman of incredible and beautiful talent. Photographer, hair stylist, beauty therapist, and world traveler as a TCK and now as an adult expat. I am excited to share her words with you today about the third culture kid experience as a military child. Her fabulous graphic says it all. Be sure to visit her blog to see and read more from Bonnie.




 Passport to the World

tckdiagram_thecompassrose (2)Third Culture Kid.  Just three words that are so easy to understand on their own. String them together and things get a bit complicated.  I can explain it in a couple of minutes or in greater detail but that does not mean the person listening will fully understand.  Which is often the case when you have not walked in someone else’s shoes.  I became a third culture kid because I was a military child who was born overseas and grew up hopping around military bases in Europe until I was seventeen. I have tried explaining my military upbringing and the culture of military families to my in-laws during a conversation about our differences.  It was met with a response similar to ‘I know a military family and they are not like that’.  When trying to connect with people who have not ‘walked in your shoes’ it is like hitting a brick wall.  Growing up as a third culture kid, living a nomadic life, I have learned that life is not simply black and white. People dress differently, eat differently, parent differently, and basically live differently.  Just because something is different, does not make it wrong.

Bonnie Rose Photography © 2012 All Rights Reserved

I bring up TCKs frequently when it comes to conflicts where my life or choices are judged negatively.  It boils down to the lack of understanding and seeing the world only from a small perspective.  I do not claim to understand the the full spectrum of every culture in the world but I do accept the fact that we are all different. Different can be scary but different is also beautiful.  There is no cookie cutter mold for how life should be lived and I have seen the negative outcomes when one forces a mold onto a different culture then it was intended for.  As a TCK I can not fit in any one mold as I claim ownership over every country I have lived in and in every culture where I have spent a significant amount of time.  I never know what the future will bring but I get excited by the possibilities, the lands I have yet to explore, and the people I have yet to know.  All the while I cling to my past.  For Third Culture Kids our past does not hold us back.  It defines our character and who we are in life.  

One of the biggest misconceptions about third culture kids revolves around our unintentional name dropping.  I commented to someone about their trip to Italy with how I had lived in Italy twice and went on to recommend a great place for pizza.  A third party chimed in with ‘no one cares where you have been’.  Which was easy for me to dismiss as I know they are not a TCK and therefore do not understand what places mean to us. There is no home I can go back to, no house to return to for the holidays, and no one street that will contain years of memories and stories.  My lifetime of memories is scattered across the globe and are as changing as we are as third culture kids. It has even molded the way I travel.  I cannot go to a new country and not experience it organically as someone who grew up in that location.  I do not want to stick out as a tourist in another land. As a TCK we mention places, not because we had the opportunity to be there, but because we left a part of our heart and our soul in the footsteps we left behind. 

These past two years I have lived in England, my world as a Third Culture Kid has been met with a sense of normalcy.  Something I had not experienced in the last ten years living in the USA.  In my parent’s home country I was constantly a hidden immigrant. I looked and sounded American but was always an outsider.  Here in England I am constantly running into other expats and other brits who have lived abroad. Even those people who have never lived outside of England have vacationed throughout mainland Europe. As a TCK I carry that nomadic free spirit and will always have an intangible sense of ‘home’.  It will make my bonds with other like minded individuals attract more quickly as we share the same passport to the world.

aboutbroseBio: Bonnie Rose is the author behind the blog A Compass Rose.  She writes about her childhood as a military brat, her life as a Third Culture Kid (TCK), her travels around the world and the expat life her family now lives in Europe. She currently lives in Bath, England with her husband and are raising two sons who are also TCKs.  She works as a Photographer and Hair & Make up Artist.  As of this post she has yet to ever live in one place for longer than three years at at time.

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Twitter: @the_bonnierose
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