Painting Pictures: Wrapping Up the Third Culture Kid Series

painting picturesEvery Tuesday since June Djibouti Jones has hosted a post and discussion on Third Culture Kids.

I had a few goals with the series. First, I hoped to hear from a wide variety of TCK experiences – adult TCKs, younger TCKs, people married to or raising TCKs. I hoped to hear from people who are TCKs for a variety of reasons – faith, business, military, education. And from people who were living a TCK experience in all parts of the world (we heard from people in Asia, Africa, South America, Europe, and North America). And, I hoped to promote community, to stir up conversations, to learn, to be encouraged, to be a blessing.

I think this happened.

Brave, honest, inspiring words moved me to tears and laughter. I learned some things about parenting Third Culture Kids, had the opportunity to express my own fears and questions and ideas. I met amazing people and felt both challenged and uplifted, surrounded by a community of people who understand this life either through personal experience or through an empathetic spirit.

third culture kid

I plan to continue writing about Third Culture Kids and our expatriate experience, I don’t think I could stop. And I’m also willing to continue hosting blog posts about Third Culture Kids, just drop me an email in the future if you’re looking for a place to share your voice and experience.

I am grateful to everyone who contributed. I feel like these pages bear your hearts. I won’t mention all the writers here but please visit the Painting Pictures page under the Quick Links tab to find their excellent pieces.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by during this series and to everyone who wrote, every aspect of it exceeded my expectations.

Third Culture Kids. I’m not one. I’m raising three and I love many.

Painting Pictures: Third Culture Kids and Re-Entry Questions

painting pictures

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.

djiboutians in minnesota

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.

eating snow

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:

Seven Stages of Re-Entry Grief

9 Ways to Help Your Children Re-Enter America

Painting Pictures: The Third Way

risingToday’s Painting Pictures post is by Idelette McVicker. One year ago this month I wrote a post for SheLoves Magazine and then I received an email inviting me to join a community of stunning writers I knew almost nothing about. But when Idelette writes and invites you to something, you say yes because she is inviting you to joy and community and deep waters. My writing and thinking have been challenged, strengthened, and grown less isolating since that email exchange and all I can think of is ‘gift.’ SheLoves and Idelette have been gifts. I am thankful and honored to host her words, always brave and strong, here.


Glimpses of a Third Way

I have a favorite laundry detergent on three different continents.

Growing up in South Africa, my mom used Skip. She stood in the laundry room and mended and ironed and listened to SABC radio on both warm and winter evenings. I learned to buy Tide in Taiwan from the Wellcome supermarket (with two l’s) and now I shop for earth-friendly Ecos at the Costco on King George Highway.

When I lived in Taipei, I stocked up on my favorite toothpaste (Mentadent P), my favorite roll-on and Freshpak rooibos tea whenever I visited Cape Town.

I’ve had bank accounts in Africa, Asia and N. America.

I learned to eat pancakes for breakfast at Jake’s Country Kitchen on Chung Shan North Rd. in Taipei and learned there. in that city to shop for tealights at Ikea. It’s where I had my first American Thanksgiving, celebrated Diwali and spent Christmas eating vegetarian food with Ananda Marga monks, while on assignment.

I’ve celebrated the national days of Turkey, Jordan, Honduras, Guatemala, Indonesia, Thailand, South Africa, Haiti and more at elaborate banquets, while my scooter was parked on the sidewalk outside the hotel.

I wore Chinese silk for my wedding dress, created by a kind tailor in Taipei, on a freezing November day in Vancouver.

When I first learned about Third Culture Kids, so much of it resonated. This concept—of somehow being part of a third and unique culture outside of the dominant culture we live in–helped give me understanding for my way of seeing the world. I may not have grown up in a third culture, but I’ve spent half my life finding my way on the other side of getting off that plane at Chiang Kai-shek International Airport in 1995.

I can never go back. Nor do I want to.

I am a Third Culture Adult, an immigrant, a global citizen, an outsider.

Now, not only am I a proponent of a global way of embracing the world, I also think those of us who have done so, get to see glimpses of a Third Way.

This Third Way—a Way where power shifts to the margins and becomes Love and understanding—come to us through different experiences, I believe. Mine just happened to come by walking through the door of a global life.

I also believe it can come through experiences like deep pain, or loss, or struggle or grief.

Scott, my hubby, lost his mother as a young teenager. She’d filled his life—had been the wind beneath his wings—and when he lost her, he wandered out to the wilderness to grieve and mourn and find himself in a different way towards the future.

His life was broken open by this grief and loss and he tasted this other way, so when I came from worlds away, we could meet each other here.

That’s why, even though he’s lived all his life in a 50-kilometer radius, our home is a home for many. This is why our door is open, to let the sunshine in, the sounds of neighbourhood and friends and virtual strangers from around the world.

Maybe this is why the Sermon on the Mount calls us blessed when we are mourning; blessed when we are humble.

Blessed when we eat last; blessed when we understand our shortcomings.

We come to this Third Way by being broken open and it becomes blessing.

We come to this Third Way whenever our story shifts and we suddenly find it doesn’t quite run according to our expectations.

This Third Way comes when we find ourselves on the outside of the dominant story.

Becoming an immigrant broke me open for this other Way. It splattered me and poured me out, so my old container no longer worked.

Here on the outskirts, pioneering a new life in Canada, no previous degree or family line or achievement or friend could speak on my behalf.

I learned that our essence, without the trimmings and the branches and the shade or even the fruit our lives may offer, is enough.

Once we are broken open like this, we inevitably spread out and set up camp outside of the center. This is where we find our hearts open and exposed, our lives vulnerable without the re-enforcements of the city wall.

We learn that we need each other, like daily bread and a little wine.

This Third Way is not hierarchical.

It’s a movement outside of the center.

Often it’s finding each other through conversation and food.

Memories of bi bim bap are mixed in with memories of a family braai on a Sunday afternoon.

Sharing stories over a steamy bowl of noodles or while sipping a Fanta under a thatched roof in Burundi, unite us.

We, the mish-mashed participants in a Third Way, know that we can’t survive without connection.

We know that, essentially, we are the same. And it’s not strange when the woman in the Costco aisle, both of us leaning over our carts, tells me my Gabrielle has a twin walking about in Afghanistan.

We see this essence in each other.

Our world only makes sense because of the people.

I tried so hard to find my place in this world. I yearned so long and hard for home and then one day, I realized there had to be a different way. That’s when I stopped looking for home and became home.

I stopped looking for Peace to appear from outside of myself and I am owning—slowly and humbly—my part in making Peace. I have a part in picking up the pieces and mending the broken pieces and finding the missing pieces. We are all part of shaping this different world.

I’ve come to understand that how my daughters treat each other—how they become peacemakers in their little messy room with the bunkbed and the Ikea rug in the suburbs—is important work of Peace. I’ve begun to get a glimpse that how they are with each other, is also how they learn to be with the world.

I don’t always get it right. (Just ask my girls!) But I want to do it better.

I imagine that if we could all meet the girls in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or in Moldova, we’d hate for anything bad to happen to them. When we shift to friendship and a closeness—when the world is no longer big, but small—then standing up for justice, is no longer something we should do, but something we want to do, because these are our friends, our sisters, our daughters.

When these stories of bombs and fear and poverty are no longer far away, but when they become close, because of the people we’ve connected with or the experiences we’ve lived, how can we not believe in a different Way?

We’ve tasted and we’ve seen.

idelette mcvickerI love cinnamon buns, vanilla Rooibos tea and sweet chai. I drink my lattes plain, but most days I think animal print is the new black. I would like to go to every spot on the map of the earth to meet our world’s women.

I have three children and–is my fourth baby. I am African, although my skin colour doesn’t tell you that story. I am also a little bit Chinese, because my heart lives there amongst the tall skyscrapers of Taipei and the mountains of Chiufen.

I dream of a world where no women or girls are for sale. I dream of a world where women and men are partners in doing the work that brings down a new Heaven on earth.

I live in Vancouver, Canada and I pledged my heart to Scott 14 years ago. I believe in kindness and calling out the song in each other’s hearts. I also believe that Love covers–my gaps, my mistakes and the distances between us.

I blog at and tweet @idelette.

Painting Pictures: What I Learned from My TCK Husband

risingToday’s Painting Pictures post comes from MaDonna Maurer (who can only be amazing because I have Maurer in-laws and Maurer writing friends, its a solid name). This is a beautiful look at the realities of being married to a TCK and I think her last line might be one of the most important sentences in this entire series. Because it is all about relationship: being a TCK or raising one or loving one.

(here is a fun, related link at Denizen: So you think you’ve met (married?) a TCK)

What I Learned from My Third Culture Kid Husband

I’m a monoculture kid married to a third-culture kid.

I met Uwe while working in China. His name and passport were German, but his English accent was very American. He was sort of German, but not really. His idea of personal space was more like the Chinese. I remember before we dated, a packed 10-hour train ride, where I was thinking,This guy is way too close.” I couldn’t figure out why he seemed to be oblivious to this personal space dilemma I was having. I soon discovered that he grew up in Taiwan and attended an American school for most of his childhood. That little information explained some, but not everything. At that time I was fairly new to the TCK world.china1

After a few months of dating seriously I had the opportunity to attend a few TCK seminars led by the late David Pollock. I decided to attend them all when Uwe informed me that through David’s stories I’d really “get him.” I took notes like a serious student preparing for a final. I knew our differences were different and that could affect our relationship, but I wasn’t worried until David shared examples of relationships and marriages between monoculture and third-culture people.


His examples seemed to never really have a “happy-ever-after” ending. One person was always unhappy, miserable, or wanted out. This terrified me because we had just begun to discuss marriage. The question boomed in my head, “Is this relationship doomed?”

Fortunately, David came to our school and I had the opportunity to meet with him personally. I asked David if he thought this relationship had any chance of success. I loved his answer. It wasn’t magical, or inspiring – just truthful. He smiled and said, Any marriage takes work from both sides. If you work at your relationship, then your marriage will be successful. I remember sighing with relief because I really liked this guy I was dating. I really wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.

We’ve been married now for 14 years and I can attest that David’s words are true. Marriage is work. I’ll just add that it is sometimes hard work, but worth every effort that is put into it. I’ve learned that our differences are sometimes due to our background and sometimes it simply is because I’m a woman and he is a man. Though we think differently, I have learned SO much from him regarding living overseas, teaching TCKs and raising our own TCKs.

family photoI’ve learned that TCKs are tight. What I mean is they connect really fast. Once a TCK finds out the other person is a TCK, they immediately see if they know any of the same people. They freely talk of where they grew up and where they went to school. It’s not a competition or making an impression – it’s a connection. And I’ve found that being married to one, I get the same treatment, sort of like a VIP card. I’ve come to realize that this “club” isn’t selective, it’s just that they understand each other at a level that most mono-cultural people can’t.

I’ve learned that TCKs are individuals. I’ve learned that you can’t put a TCK in a box and neatly label them. Uwe has many of the characteristics of a TCK, but he doesn’t possess them all. Though his siblings have experienced many of the same circumstances, they don’t possess the same characteristics. This is true for most families, whether monoculture or third-culture. People just don’t react exactly the same because personalities are different. Conferences, books, and articles about TCKs are all good, but one must remember that a TCK is an individual. And to really get to know the individual, one must spend time with that person.

I’ve learned that TCKs are adaptable. I think this is the most important thing I’ve learned, that I can’t file his personality, character qualities and habits into cultural files. I can’t say he does a certain thing because that part of him is German, or Chinese, or even American. He does have a bit of all three cultures that make up his personality, but I can’t put them into files. It is like taking three colors of clay and kneading them together until a new color has been made. This new color can’t be unmixed. It’s very much like the poem by Ruth Goring called, “I Am Green”

“one life is navy blue

one life is sunshine yellow

I am green.”

I still read about TCKs because we are now raising three of our own. My husband has experiential wisdom about leaving, grieving, arriving and TCK life in general, but he will agree with me on this: that we all need to continue to study and learn from each other; that the most important part is to remember that the TCK is an individual. Each life, whether monoculture or third culture, is like a beautiful painting that can only be truly appreciated by taking time to get to know the individual.

MaDonna Maurer is currently living in Taiwan with what she calls her “fusion family.” When she’s not teaching, taking her daughter with special needs to therapy class, or writing she helps her husband with Taiwan Sunshine, a nonprofit for families of children with special needs. She has become a firm believer that cold Wulong Green tea is the best afternoon drink. You can find her writing at and follow on twitter.

Painting Pictures: Reflections from a Father and His TCK Daughter

painting pictures2Today’s Painting Pictures post comes from Trey Morrison, our first dad to post in the series. I am excited to offer you his words, experiences, and also the words of his 11-year old daughter. What a sweet idea, to interview her and present her own thoughts on the experience of living in Panama. Together they cover a lot of TCK territory and the conclusion is one of peace and transformation and an expanded worldview. My words to Trey though are that he is indeed raising TCKs, just TCKS that have now returned to their home country. He says he failed but from what I can see, he is succeeding, is a great dad, and I’m glad there are good fathers like him, giving their children the best that they can of the whole wide world.

Reflections from a Father and His TCK Daughter

I tried to raise two third-culture kids.  I failed, but I think this is a good thing.

When I grew up my family did a lot of traveling.   My father worked for Delta, so flying was normal life.   By seven, I was allowed to travel solo to visit relatives.  By the time I reached double digits I had memorized the security codes for the “Authorized Personal Only” airport doors in Dallas, Denver, Cincinnati, and Atlanta.  I knew where I could get cheap food and a nap while waiting for a flight under the normal airport.  I had been to all 50 states by the time I was a teenager and I had been to Europe numerous times.  My father constantly pushed us out of our comfort zones and I was equally comfortable building a log cabin in the North Georgia mountains with a toothless 70 year-old mountain man as I was choosing the proper fork at a the Cincinnati country club.  Okay, maybe I was a little more comfortable in the mountains.

Despite this upbringing, I found myself married and working as a realtor raising two children in a small town with a white picket fence.  Ughhh!  I saw my kids growing up in complete homogeny and it drove me crazy.

Something had to change.

So I convinced my wife to move the family to Panamá for 9 months to stir things up a little bit.  I needed the kids to get more exposure than a little mountain town had to offer.

After much arranging, we moved to Panamá with nothing more than eight checked bags and a dog.  When we got there, the home we were supposed to live in was not ready.  There was no power and the pool was green.  It took us months just to get basic furniture and essentials into the house.   All the while trying to raise two small children.

After we settled in, we found schools for the kids.  My daughter Sydney went to a small school with a mix of local and expat children.  She had classmates from China, Russia, Peru, Argentina, England, South Africa, Chile, Australia, Panama, the US and Canada.   My son Michael went to a Panamanian preschool, where he had to wear a uniform and there was no English spoken at all.

classSchool Picture

After the nine-month “gestation” period was over we went back to the States for a few months and then came back to Panamá with another eight checked bags.  We ended up moving back and forth between the US and Panamá for three years.

In order to paint a picture of my daughter’s TCK experience, I interviewed her.    She is now eleven years old and I wanted to know what her memories were, and what struggles and joys she could remember.


Me:  What is your favorite memory about living in Panamá?

Syd:  Everything

Me:  Come on, give me more than that.

Syd:  I loved going on the beach and playing in the pool, just everything, everything, everything.

Me:  OK, what is your worst memory?

Syd:  Um, well, getting stung by a bee on that swing.  But then it was cool how we put mud on it.

Me:   What was good about moving back and forth between Panamá and the U.S.?

Syd:  I had friends in both places I was always glad to move back and forth and see friends I had not seen in a while.

Me:  What was the hardest part of constantly moving between countries?

Syd: When you leave toys behind and you want to play with them you then remember they are in another country.  Also, when we stopped [moving back and forth] I lost touch with my old friends.

Me:  Did you ever feel isolated from other kids because you were not around all the time?

Syd:  I was too young to feel isolation, I just didn’t think about that.

Me:  Tell me some more stories about what you remember.

Syd:  I remember Halloween when both houses and the pool house and the caretaker’s house had candy for us.  And for Christmas we found a real tree, which was hard, and we made ornaments from seashells.  And Easter we had an Easter egg hunt and it was fun and we swam.  I remember hermit crab hill and Shiva Time.

Me:  What was Shiva time?

Syd:  When the sun was setting and you could do whatever you want with your shadow on the wall, and 2, 3 or 4 people could get together so it looked like a four-armed or eight-armed person.  It was especially cool because everything looked pinkish.

Me:  What about food?

Syd:  I loved Tamarindo candies, pineapples, coconuts, maracuyá, and those things with the meat and raisins, what were those called?

Me:  Empanadas?

Syd:  Yeah, empanadas.  I love those.  You should learn to make those!

Me:  What would your friends here think about Panamá if they went there?  What would they think was crazy and different?

Syd:  There are so many less cars there and everyone bikes and walks everywhere.  But there are barely any sidewalks and people wear black and walk in the road at night.  I remember that.  The houses are smaller and shabbier and the roads have more potholes.  There is a lot of trash there, like litter.   It is just third worldy.

Me:  What did you think about living in a Third world country?

Syd:   I always felt a little, not rich, but like I had more money than everyone else.  And half of the nights I was there I couldn’t get to sleep because the music was very loud.  Like loud, loud, loud.

Me:  So was the whole experience worth it?

Syd:  It was a bit stressful but it was worth it.

Me:  What was stressful?

Syd:  Traveling.  Traveling is always a little bit stressful.


After these three years my wife had had enough of the transitions and decided we needed to stay put.  I wanted to continue to live in Panama, but I was willing to see her point, after a few weeks of pouting.  We were always either preparing to move or settling in after a move and that was stressful.

So now I guess my children are no longer TCKs.  For me, the transition to not living abroad has been more difficult than the transition to living abroad.   I miss the chaos, but I know that not everyone thrives on chaos the way I do, especially not children.  They need routine.  When interviewing Sydney I noticed that many of her memories were of the things we tried to do to keep continuity with her life in the U.S.

We created Halloween for them by giving candy to the caretaker and getting friends wait in all the buildings, and out buildings, on the property.  We did an Easter egg hunt and had a Christmas tree.  None of these things were local traditions.

We participated in many local celebrations too.  We went to two Carnival celebrations and one was in a river.  We burned life size effigies on New Years Eve.   We immersed ourselves in numerous Independence Day parades.  There are two independence days in Panamá, one from Columbia and one from Spain.  We celebrated with the Panamanians in all the local holidays we could.  But it is interesting to note that the ones my kids remember are the U.S. ones.

I am grateful the kids had the experience they did and I think it has made them better people.

They are truly colorblind when it comes to race.  They are open to new ideas and new people and they have something in common with me as a child.  They are excellent travelers.

They are patient and great at entertaining themselves without electronic devices.   That is a rare commodity here in the U.S., and is certainly due to their experiences living in other cultures.

Don’t tell anyone, but I secretly hope to do another stint overseas someday, but for now our roots are growing deeper in the mountain soil. 

Trey has written a book: Panama with Kids and you can connect with him at The Resilient Family or Moving Abroad with Children. You can also find links on those pages for contacting Trey, or following on Facebook and Twitter.

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