A Life Overseas – 10 Ways Teachers can Support TCKs


Readers – I’m traveling today so sending you over to A Life Overseas where the gifted Lisa McKay shares some excellent thoughts for teachers working with TCKs. I urge you to read her article and pass it on!

Here is an excerpt:

I was talking to the principal of an international school recently, and he had never heard the term “Third Culture Kid” (TCK).

This really surprised me. By now, after more than three decades of research dedicated to understanding the impact of growing up globally mobile, I had assumed that those working with TCKs would at least be familiar with the concept.

Since this conversation, I’ve been thinking about what I want my children’s teachers to understand about TCKs. What are the basics they should know? And how this knowledge could prove helpful to them as they guide these children in the classroom and on the playground?

Key Points About TCKs For Teachers

The late Dave Pollock provided a good definition of third culture kids:

“A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background”

The childhood lifestyle of TCKs (one high on cross-cultural experiences and mobility) impacts development patterns, fosters certain character traits, and influences the way these children typically interact with others and form relationships. These characteristics often become more pronounced in older TCKs and on into adulthood (a four-year-old TCK, for example, may seem anything but flexible, mature, and socially competent).

3 Typical Areas Of Strength For TCKs

There is now a significant body of research that identifies some of the typical strengths and areas of challenge associated with growing up in more than one culture. Here are some of the strengths/benefits that the third culture kids often develop over time:

  1. Flexibility/Adaptability

Over time, TCKs learn to blend effectively into new places and adapt to new settings and experiences. Many TCKs become so skilled at doing this that they are akin to chameleons—easily adjusting their dress, language, and style of relating to reflect their surroundings.

  1. Maturity/Perspective

TCKs often seem more mature than their peers–particularly in the ways they interact with adults and how they view the world. Their diversity of life experience tends to broaden their perspective and cure them of black and white thinking at an unusually young age. This, combined with the acute observational skills that help them adapt to new settings, tends to make TCKs skilled at picking up on nuance and seeing more than one side to situations.

  1. Advanced cross-cultural communication skills and general social skills

Third culture kids become practiced at communicating with those from other cultures and backgrounds. When it comes to making friends, they tend to have the ability to form unusually intense connections with others fairly quickly. In part, this tendency to form fast and deep relationships comes about because TCKs often jump straight to talking with others about universal life experiences such as passions, hobbies, family and relationships, rather than trying to connect around more culturally-bound topics such as TV shows and sporting

3 Common Areas Of Challenge For TCKs – Read the rest of Lisa’s article here at A Life Overseas!

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/sandals-flip-flops-footwear-beach-342672/ word art Marilyn Gardner

Transition – Building a RAFT

RAFT Reconciliation  •  Affirmation  •  Farewell  •  Think Destination

In their landmark book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, the authors Dave Pollock and Ruth Van Reken have a chapter devoted to transition and dealing with leaving one place and starting in a new one. The chapter is a constructive and practical look at leaving well, at closure, at saying our goodbyes in peace. While transitions are never easy there are concrete steps we can take to make them as smooth as possible, always bearing in mind that no matter how well we prepare some situations will arise that are completely out of our control. The authors suggest four steps that make up the acronym RAFT. They are these:  reconciliation, affirmation, farewell, think destination. 

Reconciliation is the first step in building a RAFT. I’ve written before that I believe it is important to leave in peace, that when we leave in peace we can begin in peace. By contrast when we leave with unresolved conflict we carry that with us to the next place we go to. That’s exactly what reconciliation is — it means leaving in peace as far as is possible. When we’ve struggled mightily in a place this is difficult. I remember leaving Massachusetts and the small town on the North Shore of Boston where we lived. We loved our house and throughout our time there we had laughed hard, cried some, partied much, and grown in extraordinary ways. But we struggled with choking provincialism of the area and felt good eyes upon us, criticizing at every turn. It was not easy to leave that town in peace, and so I didn’t. Thanks to some beloved friends in a nearby town we were able to return and create new memories, but I still wish I had been able to leave with greater peace. It’s this move I think about when I think about the advice to have the first log of the raft be reconciliation. It’s an obvious first step — if we are able to do that well then we can better move on to the other three logs.

Affirmation moves us into acknowledging and letting those we love, those who have become our dear friends know how much we love them, how much we will miss them. Affirmation is about talking to a teacher and saying “Thank you! Thank you for your role in my kid’s development.” Affirmation is about saying thank you to coffee shop baristas and favorite bakery vendors, people who worked in church nurseries and pastoral staff. It’s about affirming the time we had in a place and the people who knowingly or unknowingly helped us create a home.

Farewells – Honor the goodbye. Those goodbyes are critically important. As I wrote last week “We grieve as we say goodbye because we are losing places and people that we love. Each goodbye is a little like death, it’s saying goodbye to permanence and the relationships as we know them. They will change, they have to change. Comfort and hope will have their place, and they are part of the process, but sometimes we need to just sit with the grief before being forced to move on. The global transnational family has developed an amazing capacity to adapt, to move forward, but sometimes we need to just stop where we are and honor that moment.”

Think Destination is the last log that the authors recommend. This can be either tremendously difficult or really easy. When our family left Cairo we thought our hearts would break, the collective grief in our family was palpable and as long as we live I don’t think any of us will forget our last night in that city of 18 million people.  A last meal eaten with laughter and joy; saying goodbye to dear friends Jenny, Len, Yasmine, Neelam, and Tariq as they sang to us a hymn of blessing; hugging tight, not knowing when or if we would ever see each other again – these friend who knew our lives in Pakistan and Egypt; and then finally walking down the road toward our home just steps from the Nile River with the smell of jasmine in the air. How could we think destination? How could we think ahead when we were leaving so much? And yet we did. We thought destination as we sorted and packed and began reestablishing connections back in our passport country. We thought destination as we sent out emails asking people advice on housing, schools, churches. We thought destination as we prayed and planned, even while tears formed at every thought and our hearts began to bleed in anticipation of that final goodbye when we would look out the plane window and feel grief too deep for words, too heavy for tears. At the time I didn’t know the acronym RAFT. The first edition of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds was not released until three years later. The research was still being conducted, interviews with third culture kids and adult third culture kids were not yet complete. A few years later when we left Massachusetts for Phoenix this last step ‘thinking destination’ was easy – I could not wait to exchange ice and snow, the dog days of New England winters for the desert sun and vast blue sky. During that move other logs on the RAFT were more difficult.

Each move we make varies. Intuitively I think many of us know this RAFT, we know that this RAFT is critical to take us over the sometimes calm, sometimes rocky, always unpredictable thing called ‘transition’. But to see it in print, validated and researched, gives many of us a life line to draw from, a method to keep us afloat.

How about you? Are you familiar with the acronym RAFT? How have you used it in the past? Are you in the middle of a move? How has it helped you transition? Join the conversation through the comments! 

Blogger’s Note: If you’ve not yet read the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds I highly recommend it. Full of practical information and both qualitative and quantitative research it is a tremendous resource for the transnational family.

A Life Overseas – To the Parents of Third Culture Kids

Readers – it’s Marilyn and today I’m back at A Life Overseas where I write specifically to the parents of Third Culture Kids. I would love it if you joined me, even more if you contribute to the conversation through comments!

To the Parents of Third Culture Kids

If you are raising your children in a country other than their passport country, you are raising third culture kids. The definition used most often is this one from the late Dave Pollock: A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background”

I was raised as a third culture kid and went on to raise third culture kids for 10 years. There is much I don’t know, much I can’t articulate. But some things I do know and in these next few minutes I offer them. They are not comprehensive and they are not formulaic; there are far better and wiser voices that have documented research on the topic. But these words are offered with humility and a prayer that they will resonate with grace and hope.

Guilt will get you nowhere. If you feel guilty for raising your children overseas, I encourage you to seek counsel. Guilt is an unproductive emotional pitfall that will warp your parenting. Guilt is defined as “the fact of having committed a specified or implied offense or crime.” Living overseas is not an offense, nor is it a crime. For many it is a high calling, for others it is a career move. No matter, guilt cuts deeply and helps no one, instead causing stress, undue anxiety, and ultimately destroyed relationships. The guilt felt over raising children overseas is false guilt. No child has a say in what their parents become. My husband’s father is a mechanic. He did not consult my husband and ask him if that would be okay, and rightly so. This overseas life is not about kids agreeing or disagreeing with your life calling. It is about living well and faithfully within that calling. Lose the guilt – take a helium balloon, write the word GUILT in big letters, then release it and watch it go until you see it no more. That’s where guilt belongs – out of sight, leaving your body and your heart free to live faithfully right where you are.  Okay – so you live in Somalia or Mumbai and helium balloons are nowhere to be found. A piece of paper will do just as well. Write the words, then light a match and burn them. Watch them burn away through the light of the holy fire of faith.

Your ‘back home’ is not your children’s ‘back home’. You may have grown up in a small town, surrounded by generations of family and friends who are still in the town. That is home and that is what you miss when overseas. You miss the smell of newly mowed grass, the sounds of downtown, the feel of putting on a heavy sweater in the fall as you walk through vibrant colors of red, gold, and orange. Your children don’t miss those things. They never knew them. Their reality is not your reality. Their ‘back home’ is not your ‘back home’. When they go to their passport countries for periodic visits, that’s exactly what those trips are: they are visits. They are not going ‘home’.

Read the rest of the post here.

Learning to Grieve Well


Research shows that those of us who have grown up as third culture kids have layers on layers of loss.

Dave Pollock, a man who arguably did more to understand the third culture kid experience than any other before his death, said this: “One of the major areas in working with TCKs is that of…dealing with the issue of unresolved grief. They are always leaving or being left. Relationships are short-lived.At the end of each school year, a certain number of the student body leaves, not just for the summer, but for good.It has to be up to the parent to provide a framework of support and careful understanding as the child learns to deal with this repetitive grief.”

He ends the paragraph with these words:

“Most TCKs go through more grief experiences by the time they are 20 than monocultural individuals do in a lifetime.”

We are told we need to grieve our losses. We are told that this is healthy, that this will help us move forward in life, not paralyzed by what was, instead purposeful in what now is.

But what does grieving those losses look like? How do we grieve?

Cecily at Cecily.Mostly wrote a post about grief – specifically getting over grief – a couple of weeks ago. The post is full of wisdom and sound advice.

It struck me as I’ve thought about grieving, specifically grieving well that it’s something we have to learn. But how do we learn it?

It helps by reading posts like that of Cecily’s, it helps also to read books like the classic CS Lewis, A Grief Observed. But part of it is not about outside resources and more about walking with one foot in front of the other and owning the grief.

The ‘grief and loss’ road has been a long one for me. And it’s not just about being a third culture kid. This road has been full of what it looks like to not grieve well and that’s not pretty. But through the journey I think I’m learning more of what it means to grieve well.

So here are a couple of things I’ve learned about grief.

Grief is good. You can’t grieve well if you don’t grieve. I grieved because I loved my life in Pakistan and then in Egypt. Yes – hear this loudly – I loved boarding school! I didn’t love everything about it but does any kid love everything about school? I think not! My grieving is not bad – it is a protective emotion. It is cathartic. It reminds me how much I loved. Grief and grieving is a good thing. Understanding grief as something good is a first step in grieving well.

Grief is individual. It is unique. Though grief itself is universal, my response to my specific circumstance is unique. It is caused by, and directed at, an event or series of events that are from my perspective. And just as the stamp of my fingerprint is like no other, so is my grief. Grieving well means understanding and living with the paradox of grief being universal and grief being personal and unique.Understanding that grief is universal helps me let others in; understanding that my grief is unique helps me to give grace when their suggestions may fall short.

Grief is rarely nicely organized. Grief doesn’t fit into nice categories or pockets. And those that try to put it there want to medicate us too quickly instead of allowing us to process, to go the hard route of getting to the bottom of grief and slowly healing. Grieving well means understanding that it is not well-organized and the more I can accept that, the less surprised I will be when it comes on like a tsunami in the most unlikely places.

Grief is physical and emotional. Grief is exhausting. The yawning. The anger. The wanting to cry but knowing you can’t –  all of that is physically exhausting. Grieving well means that I’ll be conscious of how grief affects me physically and do what I can to sleep and to eat well: protein and vitamin C, those physical healers need to abound in my diet.

Grief is culturally based. From wailing at funerals in Pakistan to the stoicism in a German woman diagnosed with cancer, responses to grief are culturally based. I cannot assume that others are not grieving because their grief ‘looks’ different. Grief knows no national boundaries, but it is definitely culturally bound. Grieving well means understanding how the culture where I am now living both defines and copes with grief, yet understanding that as one who knows what it is to live between worlds, I can choose to define and cope in other ways.

Laughter in the midst of grief is okay. Grieving well means understanding that laughter and joy are holy gifts. In the midst of grief it can be amazing to laugh until you begin to cry. It feels wrong at times – how can we laugh when something so terrible has happened, or when grief rips our souls, when we’re still full of pain? The amazing truth is that we can laugh. And laughter is good. It is holy.

Spiritual truths that we believed when we weren’t grieving are still true. They just don’t feel true. So know God doesn’t waste pain. Never. Part of me doesn’t want to say this because it is so cliché. But it’s also truth. He doesn’t waste pain. He doesn’t waste grief. Period. Full stop.

He meets us under whirring fans or beside oceans; in cold bedrooms or curled up on couches. He is as present at six as he will be at sixty. He speaks to us in our grief and in our pain.  And he never, ever gives up on us – even when we give up on ourselves.

How do you grieve well? What truth have you learned about grief? Please do share – we need each other.

This essay (and others that speak to living between worlds) is available in the book Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging

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