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Dear Parents Launching Your Third Culture Kids

Hey you, yes you, the one who just relinquished your child’s passport into their own hands to carry for the rest of their life all by themselves.

Yes you, the one who wonders how your child will introduce herself on campus. Is she from Minnesota? Africa? Kenya (which as everyone in Minnesota knows is the same thing as Africa)? Djibouti (what’s a Djibouti?)?

Yes you, who calls this move to his passport country an international move to a new, exotic, and slightly scary country.

You who has to not only turn around and walk out of their dorm room but who has to step onto an airplane in the international terminal.

You who will not be nearby, not even continentally (yes, that’s a word, I just made it up) nearby, on Family Weekend or on Thanksgiving or over Christmas break.

You who watched other kids move in with boxes of winter boots and hats and gloves and big, puffy coats, while your kids don’t own any of those items yet because they aren’t for sale in July in Minnesota and the winter gear they last owned (age two) won’t fit anymore.

I see you. Stumbling back to the car, wishing eyes came with windshield wipers so you could drive safely through tears, crying in the bathroom at the gas station or the airport or the borrowed house. You who aren’t even ‘home’ yet to cry into your own bed, or who are is crying alone because your spouse wasn’t able to make the international flight with you, or who is left to numb your sorrow with, I’m so sorry, airplane food and jet lag.

This is hard.

This is really, really hard.

You feel alone. You look at the other parents, the ones who live in the same city or the same state or the same country and you are jealous or angry or feeling protective. You think no one understands all the questions and losses and griefs and fears racing through your mind and heart. You’re confused because no one told you raising TCKs would end up here, would end up with you on the other side of the ocean finally appreciating what you’ve put your own parents through all these years abroad. No one told you this would be harder than moving abroad in the first place.

Or maybe they did, but when you heard it, perhaps at an orientation meeting, your only thought was, “This kid? University? Don’t they have to be potty-trained for that?!” And so, in the stupor of breastfeeding and surprise positive pregnancy tests and figuring out schooling options for kindergarten and worrying through vaccination records in multiple languages and multiple countries’ schedules, you didn’t listen. I know I didn’t. And now, here I am.

Let’s talk about it.

It is so right and appropriate and you’ve raised them for this, to be competent, generous, brave, tender, loving, creative gifts to the world.

You’re excited for them and for this new adventure. So much of life as expatriates has been an adventure into the unknown or into places that have stretched us outside our comfort zone. But you’ve done that together, with this kid by your side. Now they have to navigate it alone and you have to navigate this new stage without this particular child, without their take on experiences, their sense of humor, their insight.

You have a lot of questions about how to parent adult children and how to parent from a long distance.

I don’t have any answers, I’m winging it now. I’ve been winging it since they were born, like all parents, with the added twins times two thing happening. But maybe we can help each other.

What questions do you face now or did face when you sent your kids to university and returned to living abroad?

What hurts the most in this season?

What makes you the most proud in this season?

What wisdom have you earned through experience and time and perspective?

What do you wish your parents had done differently when you went to university? What did they do well?

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?

25 Things You Need to Know but No One Tells You about Moving Abroad

You’ve made the decision to move abroad.

Do you really know what you’re getting into?

Are you ready?

You can find all kinds of lists for packing, websites for taxes, books on culture shock. But has anyone told you that you might hate where you end up living? You might hate it for a really long time? Has anyone told you how to spell what you are becoming (e-x-p-a-t-r-i-a-t-e) so you don’t look silly on emails or posts? Have you heard how many horrible, embarrassing mistakes you’re allotted in the first week and how those numbers change, hopefully?

What do you really need to know?

Well, this short, fun list will help you out.

You can get it by simply signing up for my monthly newsletter, which comes out monthly. Mostly. It includes links to stories from the Horn of Africa, book suggestions, publishing news, and a look behind the scenes of Djibouti Jones.

I love helping people thrive while living abroad and maybe this list, with a few laughs, will help launch you on positive, exciting, average, mundane, joy-filled, productive adventure.

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How Do Third Culture Kids Use Social Media?

Quick link: Third Culture Kids and Social Media

At A Life Overseas, talking about if TCKs use social media any differently than non-TCKs.

This summer, The Atlantic published a fascinating article called Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation? I encourage every parent, especially of tweens and teens, to read it and discuss it with your children.

I read the article with a particular mindset, that of a parent raising teenagers who also are Third Culture Kids. I wondered, how do these ideas apply to my own children? Keeping in touch is powerfully different for a suburban teen chatting with her friends from school than for a teen in Beirut chatting with her friends in Turkey or in Minnesota.

So how do TCKs, specifically, use social media? Both positively and negatively? How can we help our TCKs navigate this fraught world with wisdom and grace? I did a little unscientific survey and asked some TCKs for their perspectives.

Click here to read the rest Third Culture Kids and Social Media

I Hear the Nomads Singing

I found this poem in a dissertation by Nathan Jurgenson. I couldn’t find any other references to the author, Sarah E. Gilbert, or the poem. If anyone has a link to her, please let me know. I love this.

I Hear the Nomads Singing

(in the style of Walt Whitman’s ‘I Hear America Singing’)

I hear the nomads singing, the earth wanderers’ melodies I hear,

The song of the one who delights in the hearts of a people not his own, and yet who are a part of him,

The song of the one who weeps in despair, he knows not who he is.


Some have said: “You are one of us, the brother from another blood,”

While others from his own land say: “You have returned to us,

your people!”

And all the while his own heart cries out its dirge: “Who am I?”


I hear the song of the one who is never content to rest,

The pegs of his tent are driven into the ground,

He reveals his heart to those he meets, or else builds a wall through

which none may pass,

But either way his heart turns to the road

His ear listens for the roaring “thrummm” of the plane

His feet ache to move again.


I hear the song of the one who knows people,

From every corner of the earth,

From the steaming, living green wealth of South America,

From wave upon wave of red roofed Istanbul,

From the cool, isolated majesty of the Pamirs,

And from the culture rich provinces of China


I hear the song of the one who has said goodbye

One hundred too many times,

I see the crowd of downcast friends, and the one who is leaving in the center,

I see the tears run down her cheeks

her pain is freely shown,

I feel her arms clench me, strengthened by the knowledge that this is the last time I shall feel them,

I hear her groan

half of weariness and half of pain,

The cry of a heart that has been bruised too many times by goodbye.


All of this I hear and they are my songs also,

Melodies of pain and of joy,

All twining together to become one song,

The nomad’s song,

My song.


Sarah E. Gilbert

a TCK, in high school when she wrote this poem in 2007