Painting Pictures: What I Learned from My TCK Husband

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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.


  1. Marilyn October 16, 2013 at 11:55 am - Reply

    Love this post MaDonna! I’ve been trying to get my husband to do one “You know you married a TCK when…” We have it half done. Usually we get stuck at the “You know you married a TCK when she wants to rearrange the furniture every 3 months.” I especially appreciate your emphasis on TCK’s being tight. This is SO true. We tend to do anything for each other or each other’s kids.

  2. Carin October 16, 2013 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    Beautiful. I really appreciated this.

  3. richelle @ "our wright"-ing pad October 16, 2013 at 5:49 pm - Reply

    appreciated how you don’t try to unpack and classify “what part” you are seeing when you see a certain characteristic. we really are, each one of us, the sum of so many things and so many interactions.

    taiwan sunshine sounds like a really neat ministry!

  4. Sheryl October 16, 2013 at 8:14 pm - Reply

    What a great post! There’s so much truth in here. I’m sharing it with the TCKs I work with as well as their parents.

    It’s good to see a picture of your family so much more grown up than the one I have in my mind from PFO. 🙂

  5. Ruth October 16, 2013 at 11:20 pm - Reply

    Great post! Thank you!

  6. Susannah October 17, 2013 at 8:18 am - Reply

    I think you might be right about that last sentence, Rachel. This has been such an amazing, touching series, and I think this will be my fave post. Every relationships takes work; it’s all about the //individual//.
    Thank you MaDonna.

  7. MaDonna October 18, 2013 at 11:23 am - Reply

    Thank you for all the encouraging words. I’m deeply humbled.
    I had so much fun writing this piece and am so happy that each of you enjoyed it (and can even relate). We do have our patience tested with the furniture moving, don’t we? HA. But, they have to have patience with us, too. Don’t they?

  8. MaDonna October 18, 2013 at 11:26 am - Reply

    Thanks for having me and for such an amazing introduction. “Maurer” is a good name, isn’t it? I’ve loved this series and have learned so much from others. Thanks again for letting me be a part of it.

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