Part 3 – Re-entry: Reconstructing a life well-lived

Continuing the Re-Entry series….

In Part I, we discussed how the development of an individual identity, a sense of belonging with one’s peers, and close personal relationships are normal developmental tasks faced by every young adult.   In Part 2, we focused on how re-entry introduces an additional, often strenuous, developmental task – reconstructing our lives.

sartre quote

What story will you tell yourself about your reconstructed future? 

In a study of 450 re-entered early-adult TCKs, the primary source for psychological well-being and for psychological distress was a sense of fulfilling life goals, life purpose or life view, in the expected directions:  The more returnees felt they were fulfilling their purpose or living a meaningful life, the higher their well-being; alternatively, the less returnees felt they were fulfilling their purpose or living a meaningful life, the greater their distress.

So how do we reconstruct lives in our home cultures that are filled with well-being and purpose? 

According to Martin Seligman, the granddaddy of positive psychology, a sense of a life well-lived is based on five elements – known by the acronym, PERMA – which lead to a sense of well-being:

Positive emotion – heartfelt emotions that create a pleasant feeling, e.g. love, joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, and inspiration

Engagement – a state of flow, i.e. being so absorbed in a challenging, yet doable, activity that we lose track of time

Relationships – close, high-quality social connections

Meaning – living with purpose; contributing to something bigger than the self

Accomplishment – the pursuit of mastery, achievement and success

While everyone finds their own “right” mix of these elements, many early-adult TCKs appear to be tipped toward the need for meaning, and perhaps achievement, reflecting the life reconstruction underway.  If you happen to be one who feels the angst of marginality and dissonance, know that it gets better.

TCKs’ overall mental health improved as they reconstructed ways to fulfill their life goals and life meaning.

Reconstructing our lives begins by building continuity to offset the disequilibrium brought on by the novelty we encounter in our “home” culture.

  • How can we carry past valued relationships, beliefs and values into our present and future?
  • How long must we compartmentalize those aspects of ourselves that are different – or must we?
  • What environment would be the best match for us – for a good person-environment fit?

Reconstructing our lives continues as we search for ways to bring our worlds together – to benefit from both our past and our present, to understand and navigate our new world:

  • How might we turn our re-entry experiences into opportunities and possibilities?
  • How might we reintegrate our “unused life [and] unlived life” into a multidimensional whole self?
  • How might we turn our “a part of and a part from” experiences into a skill we can use constructively?
  • How might we find meaning and purpose in our lives again?

As you look to the next chapter in your story, what are you creating?  Might you gently free your fingers from clinging too tightly to distressing stories?  Might you flex your thoughts and find possibilities?  What would your best possible future self look like?

If you’d like to explore who your best possible future selves could be – what it might look like to have a meaningful future where you are at your best, you could complete the Best Possible Selves Exercise.  You can read about how this exercise can be helpful here.  Then, give it a try by answering the following:

Think about your top core values (e.g. relationships with friends and family, religion, creativity, athleticism, etc.) and your life in the future.  Consider why these core values are important to you, and imagine that everything has gone as well as it possibly could in fulfilling them.  You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your life goals.  Think of this as the realization of all of your life dreams.  Now, write about what you imagined.

Do this for 20 minutes per day for three days in a row.

What story did you tell yourself about your best possible reconstructed future?

Part I ~ Re – Entry: Oh the Stories We Tell Ourselves

I have wanted to write some essays on the re-entry process for a long time. It is a topic of critical importance in the world of the TCK, expat, missionary, and global nomad. I’m grateful that this week while I’m in Istanbul I have the privilege of posting a 3-part series on re-entry written by Joy Salmon, a fellow TCK from Pakistan who has done extensive work in this area. In this first post, Joy does a great job of putting our early adult experiences with re-entry into the context of development. I’d appreciate your feedback on this three-part series on Reentry by Joy Salmon. You can find out more about Joy at the end of the post, but for now take a look at Part 1. 


What story have you told yourself about re-entering your home culture?

The stories we tell ourselves and others matter.  They shape our lives.  Our stories not only describe us, they also define us – they even give meaning to our lives.  They’re useful, in that they make sense of our experiences and events that happen to us.  In doing so, they influence our thoughts, feelings and life paths.

When I returned to the U.S. after graduating from high school at a boarding school in Pakistan, I was filled with excitement to be entering the next phase of my life – college, independence, adulthood.  My dad had taught me how to open a bank account and write a check.  My sister was waiting with open arms and a summer job.  Family friends opened their home and moved me into my college dorm.  What more could one want?  I was prepared and connected.

But life happens.  My sister moved away.   I no longer was a known and valued entity.  Nor were the people and world around me.  Even those who were “like me” (re-entered TCKs from other countries) seemed “not like me.”

I told some not-like-me people stories about Pakistan that were really stories aboutcharpoy my fear that they were not liking me and my misguided attempts to still be okay.  One time, I said my miniature souvenir charpoy (a wooden framed, jute twine bed), which was 1/6 the actual size, was an exact replica of the beds Pakistanis slept on.  I explained that the beds were small so there would be enough space for the many beds needed for large families who lived in one-room homes.

I cringe to admit that I laughed at their naiveté when I realized they believed me.

In time, I grew to hide my story from other not-like-me people because I wanted to avoid long explanations, disinterest or their not liking me by virtue of my differences.  But it leaked out.  One time, in a team-building exercise, we were asked to name a favorite farm animal that hadn’t yet been named.  By the time it was my turn, farm animals typically found in the western world had been named, so I named a camel – to the bewilderment and amusement of other participants.

My misguided efforts to build myself up and hide out were based on the story I told myself that went something like this:  You’re different.  You don’t fit in.  So there’s something wrong with you.

ReentryWhile there was a kernel of truth in my story, i.e. I did have different life experiences, my decision about what that meant took me down a path of incongruities:  I set myself apart from others, while doing all I could to become the poster child for middle America.

What if I had known that my like me vs. not like me and my liking me vs. not liking me struggles were expected and typical parts of the story of everyone my age?  That internal crises and emotional upheavals were inextricably linked to exploring possibilities, to discovering and committing to a strong sense of me, to becoming confident in my identity while still being able to connect with my peers.   That the process of exploring and growing in the ability to have close, trusting relationships that are mutually caring and beneficial is often messy.  That I was like my peers in these normal developmental tasks for young adults.

Perhaps I had some personal vulnerabilities that predisposed me to make these developmental tasks into internal struggles.  And perhaps defining them as “struggles” changed their meaning – one that spoke more of an agonizing battle than a natural growth process.

What if I had embraced these seemingly adverse events as normal experiences for my stage in life.  What if I had realized that these feelings and struggles were:

  • Temporary
  • Ones that nearly everyone experiences at this phase of life
  • Ones that would be naturally resolved with time and effort, some new skills and strategies, and a little help from my friends and mentors

More specifically, what if I had known that almost all young adults feel uncertain of their belonging, and that these feelings wane with time.  How might I have responded differently?

What story will you tell yourself – and others – about your re-entry to your home culture?  If you’d like to explore this, here’s one way:

  1. Grab a pen and paper and describe in writing how your experiences are similar to my late-blooming realizations mentioned above.  Let your thoughts and feelings flow, without worrying about writing style.
  2. Turn your writing into a paragraph or two you could share with others.
  3. Would you be willing to share your paragraph below as a way to help the transition of future re-entering TCKs?

In Part 2, we’ll look at how the cultural transition of re-entry adds a development task – reconstructing our lives.


Joy SalmonJoy L. Salmon is a former TCK.  She lived in Pakistan for most of her youth.   Her dissertation research was on the early-adult experiences of third-culture kids (TCKs) who returned to the USA upon graduation from high school overseas.  She is a licensed psychologist, with a Ph.D. In Counseling Psychology & Human Systems, and the founder of

Re-post: Bright Pink Razais

Before Fridays with Robynn began, Robynn did a piece that I loved. I’m reposting today as Communicating Across Boundaries has so many new followers that have not seen this amazing piece. Enjoy Bright Pink Razais.


We have two little girls that began their childhoods in India. Just before we brought them to the US they received bright pink razais for their birthdays. Each razai was bordered with a red, black and quite pink block print. They were gloriously Indian. They were cozy and comforting and warm. The girls loved those blankets.

The razais covered their beds those last months in India. They were the last things packed in to the suitcases for the long journey into their new world. They were the first things unpacked in our new home here in Kansas. The pink bulky comforters were immediately spread on their new bunk beds on top of the pale bedspreads  provided by generous women from our church. In a way the razais represented the identity of these little girls.

The razais said” We are Indian. We are bright, we are alive and we are not from here. We are different.”

Traditionally a razai is a thick cotton stuffed comforter. A large brightly patterned cloth bag is blown full of white fluffy cotton. That stuffed balloon is sewn shut, trampled down and harnessed with stitches and knots to keep the wild, wind-blown cotton in place. These blankets, to the uninformed might seem like carpets. They are heavy and immovable. During the winter in the villages, when the goats are tethered and the water buffalo are fed, families circle around a metal brazier filled with hot coals. A thick razai covers the coal plate and everyone’s toes and knees and arms. And under the light of a lantern and the weight of a razai stories are told, rumours fabricated, news exchanged. The razais serve a limited purpose each year. The temperatures drop surprisingly low in the desert. But the winters are short and the razais are locked into large aluminum trunks for the long summers. Modern razais are filled with polyester. They’re much lighter in weight, easier to wash, easier to roll and to store. But the colours are still as vibrant and the purpose is still the same.

Over these last 4 years since our return to North America the girl’s beloved razais have served as tents, as sleeping bags, as magic carpets, as reading companions, as dear friends. Although now our girls have picked more subtle bed covers, the hot pink razais remain among the blankets. Our older daughter prefers to have her Target-purchased, light pink and pale green floral bedspread on top of her razai. It’s still there, but not as visible as it once was. She still pulls it up to her chin at night, sees it, smiles and reaches for the bedspread.

Our younger little girl, however, vacillates between her two options. Some days the bright Indian blanket is on top, other days her lavender and mauve striped comforter rises to the surface. She’s our child that struggles to remember India. And it grieves her. I can see it on her face. The razai for her assures her that her birth place is a vibrant part of who she is. She snuggles up under that reassurance with stuffed elephants and tigers to keep her company. Some mornings the American cover is kicked off. On other days the pink razai is balled up at her feet and her only covering is her newer, softer bed spread.

I pulled the pink razais out of the wash machine yesterday morning and tears flooded my face. It comforts me to have bed-clothes from Asia enveloping my girls as they sleep. Somehow the connection to my own Pakistani childhood is strengthened. These heavy, bright, seemingly silly blankets keep me warm and remembering in the cold blast of a place I still struggle to settle into and embrace.

Bloggers Note: Just a reminder that Fridays posts are written by Robynn Bliss (née Allyn), a fellow Third-Culture-Kid and invisible immigrant. A Canadian who grew up in Pakistan, she married an American and then lived in India for many years. She has entered into the western hemisphere and now lives in Kansas with her husband Lowell, and three children Connor, Adelaide and Bronwynn. She is as bright, alive and colorful as her writing.

Singapore-shaped Hole

Little can describe those first months in our passport countries after living overseas, We leave strong, vibrant expat communities and return to places where community seems absent or elusive; we think it’s there but how do we find it? We leave places where we have connected with other people from all over the world and created our own global neighborhood and move to places where that global neighborhood feels far away and the local neighborhood too provincial. Most of all we leave places that we have grown to love, where our hearts are marked by holes shaped like those places and filled with those people that we have left. 

Fall is typically a time when these moves happen. And so my niece Amy is guest posting today, taking us on a bit of her journey this fall as she faces a Singapore-shaped hole in her heart. 

Fall has historically been my favorite season. And this week, the DC metro area is experiencing the most gorgeous fall weather a girl could ask for. The trees are starting to change colors and there is a crisp breeze causing all the leaves to rustle joyously. But what really gets me is the smell; the smell of changing seasons is indescribable and intoxicating.

I find that there is a stirring in my heart; a nostalgic joy that has been long-lost is awakening in my soul. It is brought on by crunchy leaves, bright orange pumpkins, delicious apples, and that familiar and comfortable atmosphere of Fall that I know so well.

But every crunch of a leaf, flash of orange from a pumpkin, and juicy bite of an apple reminds me of the season I have left behind.

English: Overview of Singapore's financial dis...

The last two years of my life were spent on the tiny island of Singapore. This island is a bustling city nestled in Southeast Asia between Malaysia and Indonesia; rich in jungle atmosphere, cultural diversity, and the best food known to man. Though 6 weeks have already passed since I moved back to America, a piece of my heart still dwells with that little island. I long for the sticky, hot air and the smell of jungle and city, combined with a hint of durian.

I wonder when I will again feel that tropical atmosphere, eat chicken rice at the local hawker stall, or be the only white face crammed into a train car packed with Asian faces.

As I am experiencing the joy I have always found in changing seasons, my heart is being torn in two as I grieve what I have left behind. Some mornings when I wake up, the Singapore-shaped hole in my heart is almost too much to bear. I tell myself that I would trade the gorgeous Fall weather any day to be back on that tiny island.

But the grief will inevitably fade, and the joy of Fall will once again take over. And I will move forward into my new season, as we are all forced to do at times, but I do so having left a piece of my heart in Singapore and treasuring the piece of Singapore left in my heart.