I know this will come as no surprise to you - because most of you interact with them all the time!
But TCKs... third culture kids... are nothing short of amazing. Don't you agree?
bi-, tri-, multilinguists
experienced world travelers
flexible, adaptable, go-with-the-flow -ers
(think "flow" with a long o sound!)
both sophisticated and naive all at once
kids who still almost always somehow stand out in a crowd,
even when they try their best not to
I don't think I can think about, talk about, write about or look at them in any way objectively. I don't think I can even try.
I know I'm far more than a bit partial.
I'm a mom to 8 of these amazing kids and I also teach at an international school where most of the students come from expat families and are TCKs from all over the globe. I've usually have some collection of them hanging out at my house any given day of the week.
As we prepare to head back to the States, one key concern is helping my children prepare for this transition. So lately I've been doing a lot of reading about "re-entry" to the passport country and have been learning a lot about reverse culture shock and what it means to be a "hidden immigrant."
Reverse culture shock isn't a new idea. I've experienced myself. First stepping off the plane, of course I'm exhausted from the stress of packing up, saying goodbye and the marathon of travel, but I'm also excited to be home, delighted to see and visit with people I've missed, experiencing reunions long anticipated - whether it be a dear friend or a favorite restaurant. But then I have to drive on the freeway for the first time and each time an 18-wheeler flies by me at 70 mph (or more), literally just feet distant, my heart in my throat and my hands gripping that steering wheel as tight as possible - holding my breath and waiting for the truck to make one of the predictably unpredictable maneuvers taxis in town make at least a dozen times every trip to the store. Running to the store to pick up a box of cereal, loaf of bread and some juice for breakfast overwhelms because there are too many choices. And then there's the awkwardness of recognizing that even the very best of the clothes that we brought home look faded, dingy and about 3 or 4 years out of style. No one of those things in and of itself is horribly huge or impossible to handle, but it does leave me daydreaming nostalgic about the comfortable cruise life in my country of service had become, especially as compared to the rushing tumult of what I know should feel normal but instead seems so strange and uncomfortable.
Thankfully, though, that season does eventually pass and I settle back into the rusty but eventually recalled, remembered and once again mostly comfortable routine of life back in my passport country.
TCKs experience this same sort of reverse culture shock, but there is an additional complication. Whereas for me, adjusting is like getting re-used to a comfy but long unworn old pair of shoes that had been shoved to the back of the closet, the same is not true for my children. For my kids, it will be more like breaking in new pair of shoes. For this crew of mine who much prefers to run around barefoot, I'm foreseeing stubbed toes, blisters and sore feet - both metaphorically and literally.
That is because my kids will be "hidden immigrants." Once back in our home country, they look like they should fit in. They speak the language. But? They think differently about the culture, about many of the things that are normal, expected and assumed to be common and often have some different perspectives on life and the world in general. So they look like they belong. The people around them assume they feel like they belong. But they still feel more like an outsider or a person on the fringe. And it isn't just a matter of re-habituating; they actually must learn new habits and practices.
How do I help my children prepare for this transition? I'll be detailing that more specifically in a few weeks.
One thing for sure?
We talk - a lot. I have to be sure there is time for my kids to share what is on their heart.
And I try and listen even more, only rarely offering suggestions or giving advice unless pressed.
I'm taking notes on those things that they want to talk about and what seems to be a priority to each one. For one, it may be the pets and what will happen. Another is already grieving those friends who aren't here and with whom, there won't be the opportunity for a face to face goodbye. A third has so many thoughts and questions about college and the next step, while our littlest one has no memory of ever having been in our passport country but asks lots of questions and wants to imagine.
How about you?
How do you help your children prepare for the transition to home assignment or a more permanent relocation back to their passport country?
What sorts of things do your children talk about when they contemplate leaving and returning to their passport country?
Other posts in this series of preparing to leave the field: