A Common Purpose: Working with School Counselors and Parents to Safeguard the TCK Experience.
There have been times, after having had a session with a child or teen who has spent most of their young life moving around the world, that I wish I could sit down with their parents, international schoolteachers, and school counselor to chat. I would want to brainstorm together on how to make the child’s school and international experience better.
Our first conversation? I want them all - parents, TCKs and international educators - to spend a moment acknowledging the many wonderful things about their current, international school experiences.
The Advantages of International Schools for Third Culture Kids
Small classroom size and more individualized attention. (The largest class I was in during my elementary years in Central America was six.)
Better education. (Many TCKs are ahead of their peers when they transfer back to their home country.)
Great field trips. (Some classes get to travel internationally to wonderful museums, tourist spots i.e. pyramids, temples, coffee plantations, etc., government offices, and beaches, just to name a few of the trips shared with me by clients.
Language classes with locals. (No accent and immersion in the local culture are just a couple of the benefits. What an advantage for them as adults in career choices.)
Friendships formed from around the world. (Most of us adult TCKs don’t realize the vastness and diversity of our circle of friends.)
Peers who share the same characteristics. (Since the schools are typically populated with other Third Culture Kids, they know and understand one another’s responses so well.)
Parental support. (Many of these schools also understand what the parents are experiencing, raising their child and living in another culture. They provide conferences, resources, seminars, and newsletters on how to help their child succeed in this unique world.)
Challenges Facing Children Moving and Living Overseas
Once we've shared what they have done so effectively, I always want to gently raise what I see as their current challenges. These are the areas where I feel we (school counselors, parents, teachers, and myself in my role as international therapist) need to continually acknowledge when we work with these young lives. They vary from person to person, and are as unique as each individuals experience, but there are many themes and issues that these kids, both young and old, share.
Social skills and "how to make friends?" is a topic that I see most frequently. They were raised in a unique world and do not know how to interact with those from their home culture. Parents seem surprised that their child does not have a clue how to relate to their peers or cousins after the initial hello. Some have not allowed themselves to become vulnerable to anyone outside of their immediate family. They are afraid of someone moving and their tender heart is broken once more by another loss. They learn at a young age to be numb in relationships and long for close friendships.
One way I was able to help a 12 year old TCK cross that bridge was by looking at how he adjusted to various countries and then how he put those same skills into play as he adjusted to “Cornlandia” (Indiana). our first step in forming friendships in his small community of Cornlandia was to try to identify social 'rules' and behaviors around him. We explored Cornlandia’s dress code, lingo, interests, games, value systems, etc. and developed the tools he needed to assimilate into his new environment. He loved the assignment; experiencing a sense of relief and the freedom to practice and make mistakes in a safe space, and was able to make a smoother adjustment.
Dealing with bullies in their school. There are many wonderful programs on dealing with bulling behavior. When peers find out that TCKs are different they are easy targets for being bullied. This is particularly true in Jr. High school - the pre-teen and early teen years. Some of these TCKs end up traumatized, have lifetime issues of insecurity, and even become suicidal due to quietly taking on the school bullies as they don’t want to be the cause of their parents losing their international assignment.
Dealing with grief and loss. This is a continual piece that needs to be addressed by all parties. How do they say goodbye to a home, school, classmates, nannies, friends, and favorite skateboard park? Like one young TCK would say over and over in order not to deal with the grief, “Suck it up buttercup and move on”. When I saw her, this self statement had her stuck in the grief process.
Enjoying their world. I just cannot understand why parents spend all of their time and money in their international assignment and NOT visit the wonderful sites - and sights - of their new country. This might be the only time their child may be in that part of the world, and they will miss seeing what makes that particular country loved by locals and tourists. It is like keeping your face buried in a book reading about a country while riding in a car through a new country and never experiencing it i.e. walking down the local streets, eating the food, befriending the locals, trying out your limited vocabulary, etc.
Understanding the normal cycle of transition. Children need help understanding that there is a normal cycle to transition i.e Leaving, Entering, Chaos, and Adjustment (reference). This is all an journey with it’s hard spots and it’s fun times like it is with life anywhere in our world. And one day they will move past it and enjoy life once again.
So What's Next?
These are the points that I would love to know more about in helping their children make an easier transition to yet another new culture. I feel we could all learn from one another in our brainstorming session of several hours or days. I am sure you have your points you would like to add to the discussion and would greatly benefit all of us. Please add your experience, comments or viewpoints to the comments section. I'd love to hear what you have to say!
For further reading on how to help your children/teens make a smoother transition, I have found these four books very valuable. These are my “go to” books on my bookshelf.
Go-To Books On Supporting Third Culture Kids (TCKs)
- Bushong, Lois. Belonging Everywhere & Nowhere: Insights into Counseling the Globally Mobile. Mango Tree Intercultural Services, 2013.
- Ota, Douglas. Safe Passage: How Mobility Affects People & What International Schools Should Do About It. Great Britain: Summertime Publishing, 2014.
- Pascoe, Robin. Raising Global Nomads: Parenting Abroad in an On-Demand World. Vancouver: Expatriate Press, 2006.
- Pittman, Lisa & Smit, Diana. Expat Teen Talk. Great Britain: Summertime Publishing, 2012.
- Quick, Tina. The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition. Great Britain: Summertime Publishing, 2010.