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Third Culture Kids Checking out Colleges

Quick Link: Third Culture Kids, College, and Culture Shock

I wrote this week at A Life Overseas about observations my kids and I made last summer while on college tours in the upper midwest of the US.

We saw some funny things. And some awesome things. And learned a ton.

Here’s a start:

Girls wear sport shorts, tight and short sport shorts, or pajamas (dressed to impress?).

Minnesotans play a lot of hockey and broomball.

If you grow up in a country with no snow or ice, you don’t know what broomball is (it is okay to ask, get used to asking).

TCKs are the only seniors in a room who have to clarify the question, “Where are you from?” (do you mean where was I born? where my passport says I’m from? where I go to school? where I keep most of my belongings? where I stay every few years in the summer? where my parents pay taxes and will get in-state tuition? where I came from just this morning?).

There are a lot of white people in the Midwest, especially in rural areas (notice, my kids are also white, but they barely realize it. What this means is that the color of a person’s skin tells you very little of their actual history and story. Ask questions, listen, be slow to judge).

Parents and students respond with more excitement to the prospect of a Starbucks on campus (as opposed to all the way across the street) than they do to a $15 YEARLY membership at a club that provides bikes, kayaks, paddle boards, sports equipment, and intramural teams to join. Or than they do to pretty much every other thing mentioned on tour. Starbucks is very important.

Click here to read the rest and to share your own observations: Third Culture Kids, College, and Culture Shock

Are Expat Families Really Any Different?

Quick link: But What’s So Different About Being an Expat Family, Anyway?

I wrote at Velvet Ashes about being an expatriate family and what that means for my kids. Honestly? I don’t know exactly what it means for them, they are going to have to figure that out on their own. I have some ideas and we have some conversations, but ultimately, as two of them are about to ‘launch,’ they will have to do some work in this area. From race to gender to wealth to faith, things have been different for my kids than they would have been had we stayed in suburban Minnesota.

My twins are seniors and our conversations have naturally turned toward university choices. For my family, of course, that includes conversations about America and culture, home and upbringing. We moved to Somalia when the twins were two and we’ve lived in the Horn of Africa ever since.

One evening, my daughter asked, “But what’s really so different about growing up here? How does my experience compare with that of a high school girl in Minnesota?”

How can I even begin to answer?

Read the rest of the essay here: But What’s So Different About Being an Expat Family, Anyway?

Tips for the Parents of Third Culture Kids Going on College Tours

So. You’re going to college. Oh wait, you aren’t. Your kid is. Except they aren’t a kid anymore. Oh dear. What on earth is happening to your life?! I mean, when did you get so old? I mean, this is awesome and right and you’re so excited for your kid. Right? Here are just a few suggestions for how to get the most out of your, ahem, their college tours.

Don’t talk to the tour guide. You aren’t cool and your jokes aren’t funny. And, your kid needs to step up. Now’s the time. Back off.

Don’t ask questions on the tour. You aren’t on tour. You are just the driver. And probably the pocketbook.

Tell your child ahead of time that you aren’t going to talk or ask questions. This is their tour. They need to own it and if they want to know something, they can ask.

Follow your student. Let them lead you to where they want to sit, what they want to see.

Enjoy it. Enjoy the long drives, the (possible) overnights in hotels, the dinners or lunches out together. Explore new cities together, listen to good music (by which I mean your music) on the road, or podcasts, or talk about college, or sit in comfortable silence. Enjoy watching your child as they envision themselves on a campus.

Ask insightful questions of your child after the tour.

Make eye contact with your child during the tour, especially at goofy moments, so you can create memories and have some inside jokes to share later. My kids and I shared some laughs about the thrilled ooohs and aaaahs people expressed over on-campus Starbucks and giggles about how people reacted to hearing the word, “Djibouti.” We also used those slight eye glances to communicate things like, “Do you want a handful of Swedish Fish from my pocket to get you through this rather dull presentation?” and, “Yes, please!”

Don’t be a dream crusher. Help your child make wise decisions, but also let them dream. The wide world is before them, they will come up against enough limitations eventually. Don’t be one of those limits, at least not now.

Bring snacks. I had a few packages of, yes, Swedish Fish, in my purse. Mostly for me, but also for my teens. The tours can be long, especially if you’re doing several in a row. (see #7)

Don’t be a paparazzi but do take a few, surreptitious photos, both to remember which campus is which but also for your own sake. These are precious moments and they, like every other moment with your teens ever since they were born is fleeting.

Talk about something other than college with your teen on the drives or over meals. They are tired of people asking.

Read Janneke Jellema’s essay in Finding Home for advice on transitioning to university as a TCK.

Pick up Marilyn Gardner’s book Passages Through Pakistan for your TCK.

Read The Global Nomad’s Guide to University, by Tina L. Quick

What other tips do you have parents of TCKs on college tours?

Tips for Third Culture Kids Going on College Tours

So. You’re going to college. Maybe. Eventually. Somewhere. Where? To study what? Why? Who knows, maybe you do but maybe you don’t. In any case, you might tour some schools before making your final decision. Here are just a few suggestions for how to make the most of the tours. (tomorrow I’ll post tips for your parents, so they won’t totally humiliate you – if you’re lucky).

Be engaged. Be curious, look around.

Look the tour guide in the eye.

Smile at their cheesy jokes.

Ask questions. Of the tour guide, not of your parent. Unless you are asking for Swedish Fish (because of course your mom brought a bag full and is trying to eat them on the sly).

Don’t be afraid or embarrassed about what you don’t know. People like to be helpful and they like to feel like they know something.

Tell people where you are from in whatever form you choose to. You can be your passport country, your host country, your boarding school country, the country in which your parents pay taxes…be from where you want to be from but then own that, be proud of it. If you say you are from Kenya or Djibouti, you are intrinsically interesting and stand out, even if people don’t know what a Djibouti is.

Don’t expect your parent to talk for you. You do it.

Walk confidently. Don’t shuffle around with your head down. Pay attention, look up, notice. (Trust me, I saw a LOT of kids shuffling).

Imagine you are on an interview, don’t be a bump on a log. This is a huge decision, be involved in it. Make a good impression. The tour guide has no say over your acceptance but this is good practice.

Same idea regarding what to wear. Dress comfortably, like blue jeans and a t-shirt and tennis shoes, but don’t wear ultra-short sport shorts or pajamas. I’m being serious.

Know what you are looking for or what you are not looking for, at least as much as possible. Does the food or the sports or the music or the research facilities or the dorms or the cost matter most to you?

Enjoy it. Be curious. Enjoy exploring new cities and meeting new people and dreaming about what you can do in these places. Enjoy the chance to pick your parents’ brain on the drives and over meals. Enjoy their (probably dorky) company, they love you and are proud of you.

Chat with the other students on the tour. See what people are like who are interested in the same school as you.

Listen to your gut. How do you feel about a school? Your parents will want you to be objective but they also want to know that a place feels right. Trust your intuition.

Read Janneke Jellema’s essay in Finding Home for advice on transitioning to university as a TCK.

Read Marilyn Gardner’s book Passages Through Pakistan, especially the last chapter, for help in handling the emotional side of this major transition.

Read The Global Nomad’s Guide to University, by Tina L. Quick

What other tips have you found useful on college tours?

Acclimating to Africa, a Book Review

Debbi DiGennaro sent me her book Acclimated to Africa last week (full disclosure, she sent it for a review).

Have you read African Friends and Money Matters? I found that book helpful, while simplistic and limited in scope. This book reads in much the same style, as Debbi unpacks some significant cultural differences between African and Western cultures.

To be honest, my only real criticism of the book is this set up: African/Western. Debbi directly addresses this and her explanation makes good sense. It is true that narrowing down the focus would make for an entirely different book, so I’m glad she discussed her choice. Still, I found it grating to read over and over about Africans and African culture. We’re talking about fifty-four countries, hundreds of people groups, hundreds of languages. My co-worker from Zimbabwe had a very different response to African Friends and Money Matters than my co-worker from Kenya did and both said the book had a highly West African bent to most of the issues.

That said, many of the topics Debbi raises are major issues in cross-cultural adaptation, no matter what the specific cultural traditions are – gift giving, value of relationships, managing money, perspectives on time, birth, death, spirituality, and so much more. From deep cultural differences to things that on the surface appear minor, Debbi unpacks much of what a Westerner can expect to encounter in daily life on the continent.

Adaptation and cultural competence requires patience, self-forgiveness, curiosity, and a willingness to be changed. Too many expatriates assume that if they eat local food, wear local clothes, and use a few local words, they have adapted.

Wrong.

Cross cultural adaptation is so much deeper than these things, it is almost laughable, if our failure to adapt weren’t so sad and inter-personally damaging. It is pretty easy to eat ugali with my fingers. It is far harder to change the way I see time or possessions or faith or grief.

With humor, clarity, and relying on local perspective, Debbi pokes holes in this theory of easy cross-cultural adaptation. The major takeaway for me from her book is how challenging and rewarding that adaptation is. The only way to do it well is through ever-deepening relationships, with persistent humility, and a good sense of humor.

I would recommend Acclimated to Africa as a resource for opening up conversations on teams, among coworkers, between neighbors and friends. Know that it is only a guide, though, and be sure to ask your own host community how their perspective differs or is similar. As has become so common now to restate, thanks to the wonderful Chimamanda Adiche, author of Americanah, there is no single story.

Use this as a guide to your international growth, let yourself be challenged, and learn to see the world from another perspective.

You will never regret that.

You can find Acclimated to Africa here and read more about Debbi at her website here.