third culture kids

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Gifts for Third Culture Kids, 2018

This site has hilarious gifts for TCKs. T-shirts that say, “Where am I from again?” or “Invisible Immigrant” or “Yes, I speak African. If by ‘African’ you mean one of the 1,500-2,000 languages spoken on the African continent.”

Uncommon Goods has beautiful, fun things, especially search ‘travel’. (I make no commission, just love the site!) I especially love these coloring coffee mugs.

Color Map Mugs

This sticker, from Etsy. “Where am I from? It’s complicated.” Only $3.00

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A world map and push pins. The push pins are for them to mark places they’ve traveled or where people they love live. Or, this map has a scratch off-able cover, so they can scratch off the places they’ve been.

10 Days in Africa game. My kids love this game and of course we made our own pieces to include the countries (ahem, Djibouti) that aren’t included. It has helped our relatives, in particular, to learn geography and gives the kids a chance to talk about the places they’ve been.

Another game, geography of Africa and the Middle East.

Ticket to Ride has an Africa map version but the cover is deeply problematic. Check out these other games instead.

Magnetic poetry, this links to a French version. This is a great way for kids to engage with their new language or to remember and use their old one, if they are no longer in their host country (ala university students)

Food. Always, food. Passport country food, host country food, food you make for them, food you ask them to make in order to celebrate and honor their upbringing…food.

Books

Finding Home, by yours truly.

Between Worlds, by Marilyn Gardner

The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition, by Tina Quick

Misunderstood, by Tanya Crossman

Home, James by Emily Steele

 

*contains affiliate links

*For more ideas, check out the list from 2017

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?

15 Things I Want Tell My Graduating Third Culture Kid Seniors

Five years ago I wrote a post, 15 Things I Want to Tell My Third Culture Kids. I’ve been writing my kids letters and telling them things for years. When they return to school every three months, they return with packets of letters. One for each week, usually written on the back of a photograph of people and places they love. I’ve written them verses, prayers, quotes, poems (so much Mary Oliver), song lyrics, and rambling mom-junk. And we talk. So, they know this stuff. But, too bad for them, their mom is a writer and sends some of that mom-junk out to the wide, beautiful world.

I wrote this several weeks ago, a lifetime ago.

You can always come home. Home might not be this house but home is always this family. Come rejoicing, come weeping, come whole, come broken, come lonely, come with packs of friends, come in silence, come and spill it all. This table, meaning the table I’ve set in my heart for our family, always has room.

You can never go back. There is no rewind on life and no redoing spent years. You can’t go back, even if you come back. In You Can’t Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe wrote, “Make your mistakes, take your chances, look silly, but keep on going. Don’t freeze up.” Keep going. Djibouti will keep going and changing, too. When you meet again, whether this country or the people you have known on the continent, know that you will have to reintroduce yourself and re-explore the other and rediscover who you can be together, or from a distance, now. You might want to go back, you might think things were better or easier or simpler back when…that’s nostalgia. That’s saudade. That’s okay. Those days were good and beautiful and hilarious and I can testify to that. They are part of you now, in your very being, the fabric of what makes you, you. But you can’t live them again. Hold them, honor them, and live into the now and the new.

Guard your heart, your mind, your soul, your body. Be wise, be discerning. Make good choices. Be patient, take your time. Stay in touch with old friends. Don’t sink into social media or the internet or porn or alcohol or consumerism.

But don’t lock it up. Don’t shut the door to keep out what might feel like overwhelming American culture. Don’t be afraid to be tender and loving. Don’t cling so fast to friends far away that you don’t have space for new friends. Be vulnerable, in the appropriate relationships.

Don’t treat Americans with contempt. Even, especially, when they have no clue what a ‘Djibouti’ is. Hear them out, learn their stories, ask inquisitive questions.

Don’t be afraid to be who you are. All that Djibouti awesomeness. All that Kenya awesomeness. All that you awesomeness. You can blend it up however you want, but don’t be ashamed or embarrassed or too proud. Be you.

Be honest about what you don’t know. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help. People might think it is strange that you don’t know something they think is normal American life, but most of the time, they will also enjoy helping you and you never know what friendship might come of it. Be humble.

Explore and be curious and savor. Think of your college campus or your new city as though you have just moved abroad, which for all practical purposes, you have. Think of American English as a new language, restaurants as exotic local fare, a trip downtown as an exciting cultural exploration. Try stuff. Try broomball. Try downhill skiing. Try snowball fights. (Don’t try licking the flagpole in January). Try saying “oofdah.”

Seek out a trusted advisor with whom you can be completely transparent and ask for cultural guidance. Here gender and race conversations look different. Here poverty, justice, corruption, wealth, privilege these things look different and are talked about in different ways. It will be hard and you might feel confused sometimes, but try to learn to contextualize your conversations and learn from the people around you. Conversations in America have changed since mom and dad lived there and we can’t be specifically helpful in this regard because we are often confused, too. In this same vein, seek out a counselor, a trained professional, who understands cross-cultural issues.

Find a strong, healthy, joyful, creative, supportive, purposeful spiritual body to be part of. Maybe a church, maybe a campus group, maybe a small group of friends. Explore who you are, spiritually, apart from mom and dad.

Root yourself. You might be tempted to flit around and there will be potentially appropriate times to leave – to transfer or to study abroad – but don’t move just for the sake of movement. Settle in, make a home, even a dorm home, connect with people, invest in your community.

Call home. Text. Facebook message. Send photos. When you do, be honest. Goods and bads. Talk us through it. We’re transitioning, too. We miss you like whale sharks would miss the sea.

I am eternally grateful that we have had the honor of sharing this life abroad with you. Djibouti hasn’t always been easy, but what is easy? No place is easy. The way you love this small, fascinating nation blows my mind. You have embraced it, the heat and the dust, French school and Djiboutian best friends, Papa Noel and Eid Mubarak, volcanoes and ocean, with exuberance. And it has embraced you back. This is a rare thing. Including you, I can count on two hands the number of non-Djiboutian American children who have spent their lives, from toddler-hood to graduation in this country, and you have loved each other well.

You are not alone. You can cross the sea, go to the highest mountain, the lowest volcanic lava tunnel, you are not alone. God is with you, cliché and true. But also, all the people who have loved you and taught you and coached you and prayed for you are with you. You don’t leave friends or family behind, not when they have invested in you. They have become part of who you are, part of your character and your stories. You know this, from the Open Houses that we had/will have. We need to have them on two continents, with letters from people in dozens of other countries, because love and support is coming at you from all corners of the globe.

Live here and now. They might be hard words to live in and I’m still learning how to do this well. Right here, this now. And then this one and then this one. Pay attention to your here and your now and feel it. This actually builds new pathways in your brain. Did you know that? How you choose to receive and embrace each moment matters. Make it good, even the hard ones. Learn from them. Savor the good moments. Laugh when you want to, cry when you want to. Get angry and feel wonder. Here. Now.

Okay and a couple bonus, obligatory things:

I love you. I’m proud of you. Always and forever, to the moon and around to Djibouti and back around again.

What do you want to say to your graduating senior, TCK or not?

Read suggestions on helping TCKs transition to university in Finding Home.

Find more wisdom for graduating TCKs here.

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?