Painting Pictures: Third Culture Kids and Re-Entry Questions

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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


  1. Corrie December 3, 2013 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    Welcome to Minnesota – Glad you have gotten some snow.
    Give me a call if you have time and want to get together. I would love to see you and the kids!

  2. Marilyn December 3, 2013 at 10:19 pm - Reply

    I love that you did this. I have to say it was bittersweet reading it. I was in so much trauma and pain when we left Egypt that I didn’t do any of this…..and of course when I was growing up there were no resources or thoughts about preparing us for the afterlife. 🙂 There are so many areas that I see your wisdom in this process and learn from it after the fact. Have a great time in Minnesota. Wish it was closer to Boston 🙂

    • Rachel Pieh Jones December 3, 2013 at 11:31 pm - Reply

      It makes me sad to hear about how hard it was to leave Egypt for you. I am deeply thankful for the resources available now and I feel like I’m learning more from you than anything/anyone. If you have more insights into this whole topic too…bring them on.

  3. Christie December 4, 2013 at 1:15 am - Reply

    Hi Rachel, I am really glad to have recently discovered your blog. We are preparing to return to Pittsburgh, PA after nearly four years living in Melbourne, Australia with our four children (ages 7, 10, 13 and 15). I must confess that I never considered the challenges of repatriation for our children when we made the decision to move here. We have been discussing the move back, particularly with our older two children, for many months now, and will continue to do so. It’s been great to read what you have to say about re-entry with your twins. I look forward to following your journey in this space.

  4. Elizabeth December 4, 2013 at 1:38 pm - Reply

    Thank you. This is helpful. People at church telling you their name is great and so helpful. Hoping this will be that way for us in the spring when we re- enter for a couple months.

  5. Jennifer Dougan December 5, 2013 at 6:20 pm - Reply


    These are good reminders for me, as an adult TCK here now on how to welcome people from overseas. Thank you.

    I remember the gift of having winter jackets and warm clothes to pick from at a language school in the French Alps upon our arrival from a hot red-dusted West Africa. That was one less expense for our family of five to have to worry about for that year in France.

    Hey, you’re in snowy MN now, not far from me. I know that our parents know of each other and do similar work. I’d love to meet you for coffee sometime, if you have the time? I’ll try to email you.

    Jennifer Dougan

  6. Kayjay January 15, 2014 at 5:57 am - Reply

    Oh yes… the winter jackets… That brings back this adult (?) TCK’s very first memories of re-entry.
    I was four years old when I first returned to my passport country, Germany, from California, USA. Needless to say, I did not own a jacket or any item of clothing that would get me through a German winter. I still remember the brown zip-up jacket my aunt brought to the airport to get me through the cold am sure I could still identify it if it turned up in an attic somewhere.

  7. Amy E February 7, 2014 at 7:44 pm - Reply

    Rachel, I’m an MK, a few years removed, but I remember the re-entry trauma. And one of the more hurtful things that was said to me from the teens State side. “Wow! You don’t look like an MK” Are we supposed to look, dress or act a certain way? So the most helpful friends treated me and my siblings like we were normal teenagers and like we belonged. And it was ok for us to forget words in English and interject words in Portuguese. And it was ok for us to not know who New Kids on the Block were and what Growing Pains was. I hope this makes sense.

    I pray that your kids re-entry, no matter how brief, is a blessed time of renewing friendships and visiting with those precious grandparents!

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