Libby's Blog

The Evolution of the TCK - Stage Four: The Trans-Nationalist

Let me begin by making an apology. I cannot believe it has been this long since I last posted a blog. As is the whole world, I too have been incredibly busy. However, I did expect that, although I was on 2 continents and speaking in 4 countries, I would be able to write a short blog. What was I thinking? With that off my chest, let’s look at the fourth stage of Third Culture Kid development!

A few weeks ago I began a short series on the behavioral evolution of the Third Culture Kid. The first of the four stages is the Cultural Sponge. This is the initial phase of Third Culture Kid development that ushers in cultural learning and begins the etching of what is normal in the TCK’s growing up experience. In stage two, we talked about the Cultural Chameleon, the essence of this stage being cultural adaptation combined with developing personal patterns of transition as well self-awareness and self-preservation in the midst of his changing worlds. In stage three, TCKs begin to question their identity and to wonder where if anywhere they belong as they become Hidden Immigrants in their passport country.

Today I would like to explore with you the fourth stage of “The Evolution of the TCK”.

Stage Four: The Trans-Nationalist
global-survey2
After thinking through all the stages mentioned above, we finally come to the last stage, the elusive stage of Third Culture Kid development, when he or she becomes a “trans-nationalist” or “global citizen”.

The developmental journey of the Third Culture Kid to the stage of being a Trans-nationalist is a long one. Some TCKs never reach this point. In actuality it may be easier to identify this TCK in terms what he/she is not rather than what he/she is. 

  1. This is not the TCK who finally reaches adulthood and decides to live internationally again because he cannot adjust to living in his primary passport country.  
  2. This is not the TCK who decides he has had too much mobility in his life and decides he never wants to move again so he plants himself somewhere and grits his teeth and says “Never again will I move.  It is just too painful.”
  3. This is not the TCK who makes the decision to live internationally because he does not want to feel trapped in his primary passport country.
  4.  This is not the TCK who hides his history to the point of denial. This TCK’s story might be unknown to others. He never makes references to his international life. It is as though it never existed, which most certainly brings about a level of guardedness and lack of vulnerability in his relationships.


Rather, the trans-nationalist is the Third Culture Kid who has completed a successful transition back to his primary passport country. He is the TCK who may or may not desire to live internationally again but has developed the skills needed to live, even thrive, in the country that has legal claim to him though his developing experiences were in another country.

Psychologist Nancy Schlossberg defines a successful transition like this:

“A transition can be said to occur if an event or non-event results in a change in assumptions about oneself and the world and thus requires a corresponding change in one’s behaviors and relationships.”

bridgingthegap-300x230This TCK is one who has developed skills to live in any culture and uses those same skills in his passport country. Skills like cultural tolerance, adaptability, being observant, culturally adventurous or linguistically adept are used by this TCK wherever he lives. He might be a cultural mentor, bridge the cultural gap or be a cultural diplomat. These skills are who he is. He isn’t stuck in his past, but treasures his past and still years later may periodically mourn his past. However, the grief he feels is good grief rather than bad grief. Having said that, he does not glorify the past or tell himself life will never be as good as it was when he was a kid.


This TCK has grown up! He is not afraid of change. He is not afraid of stability. He can objectify his life and experience and he understands and accepts who he is. He is the new global citizen and he has a fantastic story to tell.

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Word cloud courtesy of Pocket Cultures
Bridging the gap image courtesy of New Directions Consulting

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The Evolution of the TCK - Stage Three: The Hidden Immigrant

A few weeks ago I began a short series on the behavioral evolution of the Third Culture Kid. The first of the four stages is the Cultural Sponge. This is the initial phase of Third Culture Kid development that ushers in cultural learning and begins the etching of what is normal in the TCK’s growing up experience. In stage two, we talked about the Cultural Chameleon, the essence of this stage being cultural adaptation combined with developing personal patterns of transition as well self-awareness and self-preservation in the midst of his changing worlds.

Today I would like to explore with you the third stage of “The Evolution of the TCK”.

Stage Three: The Hidden Immigrant

At some point, our Third Culture Kid returns to his/her passport country. This event ushers in the third stage.

DSC_0873It has been my experience in the 25+ years of working with Third Culture Kids that the Hidden Immigrant stage is the most difficult and painful part of the evolutionary journey. The TCK returns to his passport country and sees people who look like him, speak the same language, dress like him but at the same time they are nothing like him. Interests are different, experiences rarely intersect and neither the Third Culture Kid nor the Mono-Cultural Kid find much to say to each other.

Unknowingly, they have embarked on a cross-cultural situation. But this is a cross-cultural experience like no other. Prior to this stage most cross-cultural encounters have been obvious. It may be skin color, language, clothing, etc. that set the TCK apart from the mono-culturals around him. But when the TCK returns to his passport culture most of the differences are beneath the surface and are rarely seen. But when they are, they are often looked at as strange quirks at best at worst socially slow or under developed. In either case, the child is known not as a TCK but rather a person who is socially out of step.

During this stage many TCKs begin to question their identity and to wonder where if anywhere they belong. It is not surprising to see TCKs embrace the TCK label at this stage when they may have disregarded it before returning to their passport country. Why? Because for many TCKs this is the first time they have spent a prolonged period of time in their passport country.  It is no longer a holiday place…they live there.  For the first time, reality hits that citizenship and cultural belonging are not the same.

Potential pitfalls during the Hidden Immigrant stage:

  1. Deep loneliness
  2. Being trapped in the past
  3. Overly critical of the passport country
  4. Habitual anger and bitterness
  5. Depression


It is true that most of these 5 issues may happen during the early part of the Hidden Immigrant stage and must be worked through, but it can become unhealthy and potentially dangerous if any of these become a permanent feature in the TCK’s life.

TCKs, ATCKs, parents, caregivers - I'd really love to hear from you. Do you remember yourself being in this Hidden Immigrant stage? What are some of your memories from that stage? Do the potential pitfalls above ring true to you? If so, which are/were some of the hardest to overcome? What advice would you give to other Third Culture Kids in this stage?

Stay tuned for Stage Four in this series: The Trans-Nationalist!

windows-1

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Photos used with permission.
Red windows, courtesy of GypsyMe.

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The Evolution of the TCK - Stage Two: The Cultural Chameleon

A few weeks ago I began a short series on the behavioral evolution of the Third Culture Kid. The first of the four stages is the Cultural Sponge. This is the initial phase of Third Culture Kid development that ushers in cultural learning and begins the etching of what is normal in the TCK’s growing up experience.

Today I would like to explore with you the second stage of “The Evolution of the TCK”.

Stage Two: The Cultural Chameleon

Cultural ChameleonAs I mentioned in my last blog, it is difficult to say when this stage begins. But we know that to be in this phase, significant mobility and/or exposure to cultural diversity has to have occurred. As a Cultural Sponge, the child is merely soaking up culture. During the Cultural Chameleon stage however, not only is the TCK experiencing new cultural events, he is beginning to process them as “different” to the ones before and he is now in a place of trying to piece it all together.

The essence of this stage is cultural exploration, adaptation and change combined with developing personal patterns of transition as well self-awareness and self-preservation in the midst of his changing worlds.  Just as a child soaks up culture every time he moves, he also learns how to live in those particular cultures, as well as between cultures. This is the time when a child becomes aware that with every move, he needs to make adjustments not only to the way he interacts with the culture around him but also to who he is as an individual. Just like the chameleon in nature, the TCK to varied extents, takes on the persona of the host country or community he is living in so he can blend in as much as he can though he and others may know he is just adapting to their world. The more often this happens the more chameleon type behavior seems natural and normal to him.

The timing of this knowledge is critical. After all, he is learning cultural adaptation during the developmental years of his life…those critical years that determine normalcy and predictability. This is often a very rich part of the TCK’s life. It is here when worldview is developed, language is learned, preferences are decided upon and much more that contributes to the TCK identity. It must be said that it is also the stage in which the TCK becomes very aware of the losses attached to the mobile lifestyle and grief becomes part of his developmental experience.

As I write this I am reminded of a situation that happened to me when I was working at a TCK boarding school in Europe. One of my students was returning to his home for Christmas break. When talking about his vacation plans I mentioned I was going to the French Rivera for holiday. He immediately expressed a desire to show my friend and me around the Rivera city where he lived. He asked me to come to his home to meet his family and then he would take us on a tour of the city.

When we arrived at his home, I saw a completely different young man.  Oh, he looked exactly the same…it was his manner…his speech…his confidence level. All were different. His mother told me how excited he was to have us come, but she was confused as suddenly her son was not acting his normal self. I had a suspicion this young man was experiencing internal cultural warfare. Suddenly, two of his worlds had come together in the same room and he was caught off guard.

On our city tour I talked to him about my observations and he full-heartedly agreed. He realized for the first time that he unintentionally creates a different persona in whatever culture he is in, based on the demands of the culture. When confronted with two of his cultures at once he wasn’t sure how to respond.

TCK chameleonDuring this chameleon stage, the child is fixed on adapting. In some cases the adaptation is so deep the child himself may actually see himself as a bonified member of the culture when he is not.  Others may find themselves merely adapting to the point where they can live successfully in the culture for the time they are there fully realizing the next move in never too far away. In either case the critical learning piece for the developing TCK is “I must change…I must adapt to the circumstances and culture around me” The identification of identity is therefore relative and “who I am “ depends on where I am, and often is dependent on external expectations.

This stage has great potential for dynamic growth in the TCK identity. At the same time it can be the stage where his quest for self-understanding is met with unanswered or unacknowledged questions and self-doubt.

Next time, I’ll talk about Stage Three: the Hidden Immigrant. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you! Caregivers and parents, have you seen the cultural chameleon behavior in Third Culture Kids in your care? TCKs, do you remember times when you where the cultural chameleon, striving to adapt to each world. Maybe you were “caught” between two of your cultures? What were some things you were able to learn from this stage?

 

 

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Images courtesy Flikr Creative Commons, by dtron and lambatofa

To learn more about the 3 "Third Culture Kid" Cultures, go here!

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The Evolution of the TCK - Stage One: The Cultural Sponge

I am often asked about the process an individual goes through to become a Third Culture Kid.  To be honest, I am not sure how long it takes, but I do know that it doesn’t happen overnight. And to become what I call a “completed TCK”, it could take years.

So what does it mean to be a “completed TCK”?  In my thinking this is the Third Culture Kid who has reached a point in his life journey where he can objectify his own experience. He is not possessed by it nor does he disavow his experience.  He also does not project his TCK experience onto other TCKs and does not expect other Third Culture Kids to respond to their life experience the same way he does. He sees his experience as his own.

As I mentioned before, becoming a “completed TCK” does not happen over night. The process is a long one, yet a somewhat predictable one. I call this process "The Evolution of the Third Culture Kid".

Over the next several weeks I would like to blog at bit about each of the four stages in the process.  As I share my thoughts, I would love to hear your own as well as your observations on the subject as my train of thought progresses; so please feel free to join the conversation and comment at the end of each blog.

Stage One: The Cultural Sponge

This evolutionary journey begins during the formative years of life, from birth to about 18 years old. This is the stage of life where life scripts are written on the brain. It is during this time a child learns the meaning of normal by observing and participating in the culture around him. This would include not only the family culture, but the host culture, friendships, etc.

SpongeImagine with me that a child’s brain is like a dry sponge. When a dry sponge is placed in water it soaks up every drop it can. After all, the sponge is thirsty, and it is designed to soak up the liquid it comes into contact with. Now let’s say the water is blue and after all the blue liquid is gone the sponge is placed in liquid that is green, then red, and so on.  At some point, no one knows when, the sponge reaches it’s capacity to take in more liquid. The sponge is at its “fully saturated” level.

Now if that sponge could talk and if I asked it what part of you is red or blue, etc. it is very likely it could not tell you. It may be able to tell you all about the red color or the blue, or any of the colors it has been exposed to, but to differentiate the colors within it would be next to impossible, since all of the colors have come together in the sponge and they are now all part of what that sponge is. So it is with the formative years of the Third Culture Kid.

The TCK in this first stage is in the ‘soaking up the world around him’ phase of life. And if the world around him changes often this child soaks up multiple cultural colors. He may be able to identify aspects of the worlds around him, but rarely can he see how individual cultures have affected him. He may not even see cultural characteristics he has adopted into his own behavior. The Cultural Sponge phase is the genesis of the TCK like. One could argue that in the early beginning of this stage the child is not a TCK at all, but he is definitely on his journey towards becoming one.

It is difficult to know when the TCK moves from The Cultural Sponge Stage, into The Cultural Chameleon, the second stage of this evolutionary process but it happens sometime in those 18 years of developmental growth.

Do you have interesting observations from this first "Cultural Sponge" stage? Have you been able to identify this stage in yourself or Third Culture Kids you know? What does this stage look like in your experience?

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Image courtesy Flikr Creative Commons, by sparkieblues

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Christmas TCK Style!

My blog entry today is a bit different. No transition issues…no pontificating about the Third Culture Kid experience. This blog is strictly for your enjoyment. I have asked some of my TCK friends to do some “thinking back” to Christmases of their growing up years and to give me some quick thoughts that come to their mind.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

If you are a TCK or any kind of highly mobile person, I’d love to hear your thoughts and memories too.

Merry Christmas.
Libby

***

Cami

(lived in Germany, now lives in the USA)

  • Snowweihnachtsmarkt
  • White lights
  • Shoes in shop windows
  • Calendars with chocolates hiding behind the days of the month
  • Candles on trees and wreaths
  • Lebkuchen
  • St Nikolaus parading through the town
  • Numbers written over front door frames
  • Käsekuchen
  • Glühwein
  • Weinachtsmarkt
  • Stollen!
  • Garlands made with real pine branches
  • Street venders selling hot chestnuts (Heisse Maroni)
  • Zimt Sternen (cinnamon stars)
  • Christmas trees at every village square with white lights that don’t quite cover the tree. Smile
  • Oh how I miss my German Christmas!


Eric Lawrence
(born and raised in Papua New Guinea…Canadian citizen)

  • pngThe smell of rain in the morning
  • The drip of the last remaining drops from the tin roof
  • The beautiful bird songs
  • The clanging of the wood stove
  • Our own personal sock for a stocking
  • Phantom comics
  • The smells of chicken/ham and potatoes/sweet potatoes roasting in the woodstove
  • The reading of the Christmas story
  • A Christmas service at the church, seated on the bark floor, led in a language I don't understand
  • Getting stuck in the mud
  • The 5-foot fake Christmas tree
  • Mom's homemade chocolates
  • The lush, green, rain forest
  • The incredible display of flowers strewn about
  • “Family” for dinner, be they Aussie, Scot, Kiwi, or Canuk; old or young
  • The heavy afternoon rain followed by the gentle warming of the sun
  • Games and conversation
  • A quiet thought for the brother(s) who are no longer with us
  • A story or two of christmases past and a compare and contrast to the one at hand
  • Thankfulness for the “family” who are there to share, even though this may be the only one we do
  • A hope for the day when we will all be together celebrating the one born as a human but forever God
  • This one will be no different. It will be nothing like any before and we will remember them all with fondness and joy, thankful for each and every one of them.


Esther Brumme
(born in Switzerland, raised in France..UK/American citizen)

  • OperaParisFeeding the homeless on Christmas day before opening gifts in Los Angeles (Egg Mc Muffins, poor homeless people) followed by feeding the homeless on Christmas day in Paris  (roasted chicken on fresh baguette, a much tastier option!)
  • A tradition of switching up traditions!
  • The French cult of food and the pressure of rivaling Christmas menus
  • Mum keeping up by preparing a new Christmas dish each year: ostrich, wild boar, capon, exotic crayfish, Danish Risalamande - paired with special wine saved for the day
  • Dad bringing the Christmas story to us from a different angle each year: such as from the perspective of the wise men or from Joseph’s point of view
  • Heavy transformer adapters for American Christmas lights and ugh.. repairing individual bulbs!
  • Hanging cards with clothes pins on strings
  • Licking hundreds of envelopes, folding hundreds of newsletters (thank God for email)
  • Christmas spent with our cousins in Amman, Jordan several times or Christmas at ours with stragglers from all corners of the world
  • Grandma visits and plenty of baking
  • Bûches de Noël, tasty ice cream Christmas "logs"
  • Classical music blasting (parents’ initiative) intertwined with more contemporary ethnic music (children's prompting)
  • Our balcony string of lights being an attraction - the only home on the block with Christmas lights!
  • Family gift-experience favored over personal gifts: Opéra de Paris tickets, Cirque du Soleil (before it became famous), ski passes (!!!), Polish concert with orchestra conductor directing from behind, driving to Italian border for an espresso - whaaat?!
  • Save that wrapping paper!
  • Gourmet chocolate boxes sent from friends - only one per person, please.
  • Later as us kids began living on three continents, Christmas became a rare time of family reunions - spent recounting stories from Korea, Mauritania and Germany..


Helen Fail (Helen Jackson)
(UK Military Brat, grew up in the Middle East now living in the UK and the USA)

  • Christmas cards arriving every daycracker
  • Round robin letters
  • Faded, familiar paper decorations
  • Tattered fairy for the tree
  • Parcels from Grandma in England
  • Mince pies
  • Marzipan for the Christmas cake
  • Christ Church Cambridge Choristers singing carols on a crackling LP
  • Church with 9 lessons and carols
  • Military uniforms
  • Sherry and mince pies left for Father Christmas
  • Pillow cases left on the end of the bed
  • Being too excited to sleep
  • Waking up at 4am
  • Pyjamas and wrapping paper everywhere
  • Saving the wrapping paper
  • Swimming on Christmas Day in the Mediterranean (even though it was cold – just because it was Christmas day)
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Christmas Crackers
  • Paper hats
  • Silly jokes
  • Christmas Pudding with brandy butter
  • The Queen’s speech at 3pm


Stefan Batterman
German Citizen, grew up in Kenya, boarding school in Kenya and Germany)lebkuchen

  • Silly Christmas concerts at boarding school. A half day of school which was always a movie. Report cards. Climbing the tallest tree on campus to watch for mum and dad’s car coming to pick us up.
  • Model airplanes, squirt cameras and shriveled apples from Germany, with luck some gummi bears too
  • No shortage of mum’s amazing German cookies
  • Having baths prior to the Christmas Eve gift opening. I can’t wait that long!
  • Real lead tinsel on the tree which was recycled year after year. Real candles too.
  • Cedar Christmas trees
  • British Christmas crackers
  • Bing Crosby, Ray Conniff, Nat King Cole and other American Christmas music on the reel-to-reel tape player. No German music please! What does Frosty the Snowman look like? What is it like to sled?
  • Endless services at a distant Kenyan Church while new gifts sat in the car. Maybe a trip down to Lake Nakuru to see the Flamingos.
  • Shopping in Freiburg and, don’t forget the annual trip to McDonalds. You can order in English and they can’t be nasty German back to you!
  • Snow! So that’s what it’s like.
  • Flying home from Germany to Kenya with suit cases full of foods and gifts
  • Pet bush baby stealing ornaments off of the thorn tree Christmas tree
  • Pet bush baby almost setting itself on fire on the real candles
  • Amazing Christmas spirit and concerts at BFA quickly replaced hours later by a camp site next to Kilimanjaro. Christmas beside the Tana river and then on to the coast for time at the beach.
  • Shopping in the Moscow airport gift store for Christmas gifts. Snow on fur hats. Waking up after landing in Cypress and looking for pyramids because we were supposed to be in Egypt. After 8 hours, the blasting heat of Cairo then a chilly morning in Nairobi and finally home in Maji Moto.
  • 110v Christmas lights in a 220v country
  • Seeing Christmas working lights for the 1st time in College in Pennsylvania. Wow! Walking around campus to enjoy them.
  • Christmas in Canada. Whole houses covered in lights. Amazing!
  • Black Friday. Marketing in overdrive. Christmas spirit killed by Walmart.
  • Lot of years... 4 Kids! Little Tristan standing next to a 30 foot tree asking to take it home. Got the tree today. The kids are excited...


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Photo sources:
Weihnachtsmarkt
Papua New Guinea Rain
Opéra de Paris
Christmas Crackers
Lebkuchen

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