Graduation Gifts for Your TCK


Every where I look I see graduations. Cambridge and Boston are alive with the activity and color of students who have finished their college or graduate school education. From the bright red gowns of Boston University to the maroon gowns of Harvard, you can’t escape this season. And neither can your third culture kid who may be far away from the landscape of Harvard and Cambridge.

You have watched this young one grow from doing the toddler waddle to confidently crossing the globe alone. And now they are graduating. They are leaving the tight expat or missionary community that has loved them well and they are moving on to college and another life. What do you get them? How do you express what you feel as you say goodbye? Besides writing them a note – which is the best idea possible – here are some tangible gifts for your TCK.



  • Finding Home – a set of essays in an e-book compiled by writer Rachel Pieh Jones. These are written by either third culture kids or their parents and address a number of areas that are pertinent to the TCK.
  • The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton, This is a delightful read that looks at the “pleasure of anticipation, allure of the exotic, and the value of noticing everything!”
  • Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging – this was my first book, and I really do believe it will resonate with many TCKs. If it doesn’t, I promise you your money back!
  • Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey – my second book and personal story. I’ve included a quote at the end of this post from the book! “We left behind our entire lives the night of graduation. We said goodbye to all we knew.”
  • Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing up Overseas in the 21st Century by Tanya Crossman – Tanya’s book is an excellent read and must have on your TCKs book shelf. Through interviews with over 250 third culture kids she gathers themes and thoughts on belonging, transition, home, and more.
  • Third Culture Kids 3rd Edition: Growing up Among Worlds  by Ruth Van Reken et al. In this 3rd Edition emphasis is on the modern TCK and addressing the impact of technology, cultural complexity, diversity & inclusion and transitions.
  • The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition by Tina Quick. This is a guide book to help TCKs understand what takes place in re-entry and/or transition and gives them the tools and strategies they need to not only survive but to thrive in the adjustment. This is the first book written to and for students who have been living outside their “passport” countries but are either returning “home” or transitioning on to another host country for college/university. It addresses the common issues students face when they are making the double transition of not only adjusting to a new life stage but to a cultural change as well.
  • Stuff Every Graduate Should Know by Alyssa Favreau. This is not TCK specific, but looks like a great guide to have on hand for life beyond high school.

I am a Triangle Merchandise – The I am a Triangle community is an amazing community of folks from all over the world. It was founded by Naomi Hathaway who has become a dear friend. The I am a Triangle Swag Shop is great for gifts for the global nomad. Mugs, T-shirts, Bags, and Multilingual Hoodies are just a few of the great gifts available.

Phone Charging Passport Holder – I love this! From the command “Just Go!” to the practicality of having the phone charger, this is a great gift for the one who has traveled the world and may worry they will feel stuck.

Plane Ticket or Airline Gift Card – Sounds expensive right? It is and you probably can’t do it, but even for a domestic flight, that TCK will welcome the chance to get on a plane and fly to visit a friend.

Gift Card or Assortment of Gift Cards  –  Target, Forever 21, H & M, Primark, or Amazon. Personalize them by putting each one into a separate envelope using the labels – Dorm, Clothes, Miscellaneous Stuff, Books, Fun.

Visa or American Express Gift Card – I prefer American Express as there is no expiration date and they are amazing at reimbursing lost cards. The trick is to register them, so take that extra step and register the card for them. That way they won’t have to keep track of it.

Map of the World – With gift-ready packaging, this scratch-off map gives a concrete visual for the TCK to remember their previous journeys and look forward to more. Available here and here

Money, Money, Money – I had no idea how much I would need money. As cards were stuffed into my hand in the midst of tearful hugs I didn’t know how life-saving the gifts of cash would be. I still remember a few months later when strapped for cash I pulled out an envelope, and opened it with a grateful “God bless Auntie Connie for this money!”

Exerpt from Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey

Graduation Night: 

The magnitude of what I was leaving was not completely lost to me that night. Even in the midst of the goodbyes, I felt my throat catch. But as I look back I am overwhelmed by it. We left behind our entire lives the night of graduation. We said goodbye to all we knew. For the rest of our lives we would struggle to answer the question, “Where are you from?” We would rage at those who attacked our adopted country, even as we raged at Pakistan herself. Some of us would be accused of crying “every time a cow died in Pakistan.” Others stoically moved forward, silent about the impact of being raised in another world.

As for me, I went back that night to the cottage where we had set up our home for the past few weeks of summer. Suitcases and bags sat on beds and chairs throughout the cottage. It was beginning to echo with the empty place we would leave behind, and it smelled musty and damp, the effects of monsoon season already begun. Crying had to wait, there was still packing to do. But how do you pack up a life? I stayed up to gather the remainder of my possessions, putting them into an old green suitcase, and finally fell asleep to the sounds of monsoon rain on the tin roof.

The next day I would leave Pakistan and never sleep in this house again, never walk up the hill to catch the school bus. The final chapter of life as a child in Pakistan had ended. I was the baby turtle, making its way slowly to the sea. No one could do it for me. In order to survive and thrive, I had to do it by myself.

High School Graduation – A Question of Punctuation

High School Graduation—A Question of Punctuation by Robynn

I think the difference between the ending of my high school career and the ending of Connor’s is rather like the difference between a period and a comma. A period, in the realm of punctuation, indicates, “the full pause with which the utterance of a sentence closes; end, stop.” Most of the world calls this grammatical point a full stop. In many ways my life ended on my graduation day. It was over. I came to a full stop. Yes, there were new sentences yet to be entered, but on that day, life as I knew it had come to a close.

A comma, however, is a punctuation mark that separates words or groups of words in a sentence. Connor’s graduation will serve as a separation, a pause, between spaces. His primary education chapter is over. His university chapter now begins. His momentum will not slow. He’s turning a corner, he’s picking up speed. There is so much joy all over this story! It’s fun to stand back and watch. Prom and after prom parties. Senior Skip Day. Graduation. After grad parties. Receptions. Cake. Balloons. It’s a celebration drenched season. There’s a lot of happiness around these parts.

I find myself in a stir-fry of emotions and comma confusion. I’m thrilled for Connor. There’s so much joy! But I’m also battling waves of grief and memory as my own experience is called to mind. I know the comma is the appropriate punctuation but I’m tempted to use a period instead.

My graduation from high school was a world away. I graduated from a small international boarding school in the Himalayan foothills of Northern Pakistan: Murree Christian School. The graduation ceremony was held on a Friday evening in the “Big School” –an old British church built in 1857, later converted to a high school. Chairs were set up. The stage was cleared and arranged. The pianos were tuned. Although there were only five in our class the entire community came to our graduation. They filled the auditorium. By the time the quartet of pianists started to play Pomp and Circumstance, there was standing room only.

Once we had formally and slowly marched on to the stage the program began. There were speeches from the principal, Phil Billing, the Chairman of the board, Mr Burrows and Philip Lohr, a genuinely brilliant man, our valedictorian. Out of a class of five I was the salutatorian with an (un)impressive grade point average of 3.21. I gave the salutatorian speech that evening. I seem to remember that our class sang, Michael W. Smith’s Friends are Friends Forever. Then there was that moment where all five of us moved our tassels from one side of our mortar boards to the other and the ceremony was over. Really the transition had just begun, within hours we’d be moved from one side of the globe to the other.

A reception was held in the dining room where mothers from the junior (grade 11) class had prepared cakes and cookies and punch. The room was decorated with crêpe paper streamers and balloons. Before our class would reach the reception though we stood around the periphery of the staff lounge and the entire community walked past to say goodbye. Our “aunties” and “uncles” –missionaries our parents had served alongside filed past. Younger students, teachers, dorm parents, cooks and administrators that had watched us grow up all came to say goodbye. Many of them had taught us Sunday School, or proctored our exams, or helped keep the statistics on Sports Day. Younger students had looked up to us. We had been their “big sisters” and “big brothers.” The community had known us and our families for years and years. And now they came to wish us well, to commend us to the great grace of God, to remind us that we were loved and that we belonged to them.

Each hug was an ending. Each squeeze meant impending loss.  These were people we would never see again. And we knew it deep inside. We were saying goodbye, not just to high school, not just to childhood, but to everything. We were saying goodbye to community, to culture, to our sense of connection. We were bidding adieu to our place and our people. Our lives as we knew them were ending. We were essentially attending our own funerals, or so it seemed, and the grief was intense.

But for Connor it’s entirely different but I’m not completely sure in what ways. His class is the size of our entire missionary community in Murree. There will be a service. The class of 2015 will be surrounded by community: parents, grandparents, younger classmates, teachers, administrators. Here each individual student has a reception on their own—in their backyards or at the park, at their churches or their community centers. Mothers make the punch and the goodies. Family and friends will gather to wish the graduate well, to celebrate his or her accomplishments.

As a foreigner-mom looking ahead to this significant milestone I’m not sure what to expect and I feel nervous. I have friends that have coached me. I know it will be fine. Connor will walk across the stage. He’ll shake hands with the appropriate person and receive his diploma. I’m not worried about him. I’m a little worried about me. I feel this well of grief, still not dry after all these years, being mysteriously tapped again. I find myself grieving again the loss of myself—although those ‘deaths’ happened years and years ago. I don’t want my own experience to overshadow Connor’s. I don’t want this to be about me. I want to enter Connor’s experience with joy and gladness. We are so proud of who Connor has become. He’s an incredible young man with great passion, great commitment to justice, with discernment and gentleness. He has a great sense of humour. He’s quick witted and candid. I want this to be about him!

I will watch and I will learn a lot…these are new things for me and I’m still crossing cultures most days. I intend to enter Connor’s world and fully experience the giddy exhilaration. I’ll keep my story separate for now. Later when it’s over, and the cap and gown are scattered on his floor, and he’s driven off with his good friend for their road trip adventure (that they’ve been planning all year!) –then I’ll cry. I’ll cry for me the high school graduate and all that grief I still mysteriously feel. I’ll cry for me the mother who’s done mothering this one. I’ll cry for those old losses and I’ll cry for these new losses too. I’ll cry because I wish his experiences were more like my own but I’ll also cry because I’m glad they aren’t.

The Boy Behind the Speech

The Boy Behind the Speech by Robynn

Connor has been chosen, by his peers, to give a ten minute speech at Manhattan High School’s commencement. The selection process was a little intimidating—or at least it would have been for me. Connor had to submit a written piece to the administration. He then had to deliver a two-minute speech to his classmates (all 400 of them) who then voted. And Connor’s was chosen.

Lowell and I are very proud.

And to be honest, Lowell and I are also a little nervous!

It’s remarkable to me how our Connor is all grown up. It’s unbelievable, really. How did that happen? Other people’s children grow up steadily, at an even pace of development. But not Connor–he’s exceptional that way I suppose–he just zipped up! Swoosh! I don’t know what miracle or scientific anomaly happened in our family but yesterday Connor was in grade six. He had his first job as a paper boy, saved up his money and bought a Wii. The day before that he was a seven year old resisting showers and personal hygiene of any kind. And just the week before that he was crawling around on his hands and knees on cement floors making this hilarious duck sound. Now, at age 18, with only 14 days of school left, he’s graduating from high school.

The only reason we’re nervous is because of other things we’ve heard come from this kid’s mouth.

 When he was nine years old and having a particularly bad day he mumbled this,      “Every kid has one childhood and you’re ruining mine.”

Personal hygiene was always a struggle for Connor when he was younger. He resented every shower, every scrub brush, every washcloth. Once when he was seven, I reminded him to take a shower and indicated which body parts he should remember to wash, his response was loud and impassioned, “Pits?! I have to wash my armpits?? I’ve never washed my pits in my whole life!” Another time, around that same season, I asked him if he had changed his underwear, to which he exploded, “Change my underwear?? Really? You’re killing me, Mom!”

Connor was always an articulate boy. He said what he felt and he said it with conviction. When he was eight years old he was fed up with the games his sisters played. He thought they were meaningless and lacked substance. In a heartfelt moment he confessed, “I’m so disappointed with God. I prayed for a baby brother or a dog that talks and he hasn’t given me either.” This was the same boy who wrote me a note when I went to the hospital to deliver his youngest sibling. The note read, “If the baby’s a boy I’ll have a lot of fun. If the baby’s a girl I’ll have another sister.”

We never knew what Connor might say and when. One time we had a group of pastors visiting mutual friends in North India. We offered to take them out to lunch on the Sunday they were in town. Midway through the meal, Connor leaned over with something significant to offer the conversation. He began with a question, “What’s a lesbian, Mom? He then turned to the pastors by way of explanation and said, “Late at night, after me and my sisters go to bed, my parents watch adult movies. That’s where I heard that word.” (For the record, ‘adult movies’ meant anything that was not Disney!) Lowell and I nearly choked. The three men with us burst out laughing!

This same young man when he was ten declared, “You are the worst mother in the whole world.” Not thirty minutes later he said, “You are the best mom in the world. I love you.”

These quotes and quips came from the boy. Connor is now a man. He is worthy of the trust his classmates have in him. He is a person of faith, he’s intelligent, well–spoken, and passionate. He has a great sense of humour. Politically engaged, civic-minded with a strong sense of justice, Connor has what it takes to leave his classmates with a little comedy, a little inspiration and a great challenge.

Never mind what you’ve said in the past, Connor —you’ve got this, Son!

Strength Will Rise

On Wednesday, my fifth child graduated from high school. The ceremony was living, breathing evidence of perseverance through adversity. Everyone on stage clothed in a black graduation gown with a cap and tassel has lived more of life than they should have in their short years. And we celebrated. Big time.

With this graduation I ended over 22 years and approximately 4025 days of school; of school functions and lunches; of good teachers and bad teachers and mediocre teachers; of interacting with parents I love and showing grace to parents I don’t love; of fundraisers and so much more. And it was Bittersweet. And it was time.

And my strength was gone. Gone like the chewed bones of the ribs that were eaten at the graduation party. Gone like the cups, plates and silverware tossed in the trash for tomorrow’s recycling. Gone like the people who had come, celebrated and left. I wanted to curl up in the fetal position and cry until there were no more tears to cry and my tears had watered every flower, bush and plant in the Boston Public Gardens. Instead I called a friend and sobbed, talking through all the emotions I was feeling.

Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord, we will wait upon the Lord, we will wait upon the Lord

Sometimes all of life builds up like a house of cards and one little movement sends it crashing down, lying in a jumble of aces, spades, hearts and diamonds.

And that is what happened. My house of cards fell. I have gone on my own strength for so long that it took the tiniest of motions to cause the collapse and demise of my carefully constructed but pitifully weak house.

Our God, you reign forever. Our hope, our strong deliverer

After a heavy dose of tears and wise words of a friend swallowed with a big bottle of self-reflection I found myself in a place of humility and exhaustion. It was so good. It was so hard. 

You are the everlasting God, the everlasting God. You do not faint, you won’t grow weary 

I have tried to fix and rescue, protect and provide. Only. There are times when it is impossible. When the broken cannot be fixed and the drowning cannot be saved; when those who need protecting need more than our feeble efforts and provisions have run out. And that is where I was. I was weak. I was needy. My strength was gone.

You’re the defender of the weak, you comfort those in need

In the post-tears exhaustion that followed, I surrendered  with smudged mascara, tear coated contact lenses and weary willingness to lean on the One who gives life and the bread of life, the one who lifts us up on wings like eagles.

Strength will rise. 

A Long Journey; A Journey of Faith

When you become a mom you don’t have the luxury of seeing a future film about the twists and turns your life is going to take. You don’t know what joys, trials and tragedies may be awaiting you. You become a mom on faith.

Faith that you will weather the sun and rain that is a part of raising a child.

Faith that you will have strength for the long haul. 

Faith that you will have the grace it takes to love a child more than you love yourself.

In faith we get pregnant. In faith we give birth. In faith we cry tears of joy as we look at our newborn, awed by tiny hands and feet, puckered mouth, and newborn wrinkles. In faith we adopt. In faith we see our child for the first time at an orphanage or foster home, and from eyes to heart we know this is our child, given to us at this moment for this time. In faith we find out that something is not normal with our child, in faith we move forward learning all we can about children with Down Syndrome, or Muscular Dystrophy or Autism. It’s a journey, a journey of faith.

And there are moments when you see results of your faith. First steps, first word, first prayer, first day of school, completion of kindergarten, healing from a first heart ache or broken friendship, healing from a first wound, graduation…the list is endless.

It’s a long journey; A journey of faith.

Yesterday I saw a result: I received a text from my youngest saying “It’s all good!” – he had completed all the course work required and is graduating from high school. Next Wednesday he’ll pick up his cap and gown at four in the afternoon and go over final steps of the program. We will be there, celebrating with proud grandparents who will quietly cheer as their 17th grandchild graduates.

As youngest of five kids Jonathan came into the world with instant family and no need for play groups. He was adaptable and flexible, rarely displaying a temper and willing to go with whatever was happening. He is one of those kids that is comfortable to be around, even in adolescence. (Well. Mostly.) We can sit for hours discussing life topics, things that matter.

I’ve written before about Jonathan and academics. It’s been a long journey. He is smart, loves reading and is a critical thinker. But. He doesn’t fit with the main stream learning process that demands sitting at a desk, fitting in with the status quo, and writing one hundred ‘P’s’ across the paper in cursive to show you have it “right”. Wow. Good for us. We have a bunch of kids in this country who can write ‘P’s’.

And until this year, Jonathan did not have teachers that encouraged. He had teachers who were type A personalities whose teaching careers seemed defined by the results their students achieved. He has had teachers who follow the book to  the minute details and struggle to find room for the “Jonathans” in their classroom. He has had teachers who are more concerned about standardized tests than true learning. He was a statistic, caught in a bad system.

Until this fall. And this fall, by faith, we were able to move him into an extension program where he was surrounded by teachers who love teaching and love the students. He is now affirmed for who he is, not who they want him to be. He has excelled as he has inhaled Dostoevsky and Mark Twain, Kerouac and Nietzsche. It has not been easy and he has worked hard.

We celebrate the results of his work as he graduates a year early. This child who didn’t want to go to college (ever) is now excited about learning and looking into colleges and universities. He has applied to do a gap year in Oxford at an advanced studies program. He boasts a reference letter from one teacher that had me in tears with her affirmation of him as a student, of him as a person.

We become parents with no guarantees. Whether biologically birthing or adopting, parenthood is a journey of faith. Today I get to celebrate. Tomorrow I may have to cry. But that’s what this is: A long journey, a journey of faith.