Truth4TCKs 2021 Conference Blog Tour

I’m excited to share with you about the special weekend event, Truth4TCKs 2021, that I’m speaking at! Truth4TCKs 2021 is a virtual conference for teenage and young adult Christian TCKs, whether they be Missionary Kids, Military Kids, Expat Kids, Business Kids, Diplomat Kids, etc. The conference mission strives to bring biblical truth and encouragement regarding the cross-cultural and highly mobile life to TCKs. The conference’s administrative team is made up of teenagers and young adults serving teenagers and young adults. It is not an organization; rather, an organic movement. The theme for this year’s conference is finding what it means to be a global citizen of Heaven. 

The title of my sessions is “Belonging Beyond Borders.”

To me the word “borders” are the “bounded” spaces of nation-state boundaries that are politically created, moved, (re)imagined, and (re)mapped. There are over 190 borders on the earth; in other words, over 190 countries. I’m hyper aware of borders and boundaries because of my multiple experiences between them, over them, around them, and through them. As an Adult Third Culture Kid (a Third Culture Kid grown up), I have lived in ten countries and five U.S. states. I’ve crossed many borders in my 30+ years not just for moving, but also because of my love for traveling. It’s a personal goal to visit more countries than my age – I’m just a couple countries behind.

Growing up as a diplomat dependent TCK, every two to three years we would move to a different country. This is why being a Third Culture Kid is a significant part of my identity shaping and even has informed the professional path(s) I’ve chosen to pursue.

For me, the concept of “belonging” to people and to place has shifted and changed over the years. As I think about all the places and communities and people groups to whom I’ve belonged, different faces and objects and environments come to mind. I recall that when I lived in Seoul, South Korea one of the communities I belonged to was the Girl Scouts of America (on the Yongsan military base). I belonged to the US military base housing community located to the left of the main gate entrance, which was distinct from the housing community to the right of the gate because that was “North Korea” in my seven-year-old mind. When in Germany, I belonged to two different international schools; for our first year in the country: Bonn International School and for the following two years: Frankfurt International School. In terms of belongings, living in U.S. government owned houses, the furniture never belonged to us; it was always a surprise to see what kind of chairs and tables and sofas we would have upon arrival in a new country. My personal belongings fit into a handful of boxes, which have multiplied over the years and my Dad sometimes comments: “What’s in those?” as I store some of them in their basement. “My childhood belongings,” I reply. I like my belongings. (Thanks for the storage area, Mom and Dad).

Belonging to friends, community, places, professions, and possessions continue to be a journey for me as an Adult Third Culture Kid. And as I work with the next generation of Third Culture Kids as a friend, mentor, advocate, and educator, I want to share some principles of belonging that root deeper and longer than times spent in a certain man-made border.

Professionally speaking, I belong in and to multiple spaces. You’ll see my face across sectors. You’ll see me call myself a TCK Mentor/Advocate, an Intercultural Communication Trainer/Consultant, and English Language Instructor. I’ve got the pieces of papers and letters behind my name that showcase how much time and effort I’ve invested to hold those professional identity titles and roles. I’ll continue to be the chameleon professional showing up at NAFSA: the largest international educator conference and community, showing up at Families in Global Transition (FIGT), showing up at the Society for Intercultural Training, Education, and Research (SIETAR). The thread of commonality is that I do have the personal and professional expertise to adapt myself and my materials and resources to different audiences.

Not too long ago one of my mentors, Dr. Ruth Van Reken, gave me a self-reflection task to help me identify my next right career pivot. She told me to list out everything I am (from personality qualities to strengths and from skills to knowledge/topic expert) and list out everything I am not (from qualities I don’t have — or at least the ones that make me feel exhausted trying to “be ” and other “expert” claims/roles). This was a helpful exercise in revealing “what lane I’m in” and where are potential paths I can take in my career trajectory. This exercise reminded me of the French saying, “Quand on connait sa maladie, on est a mortie gueri” roughly translated: “When you know your sickness, you are halfway cured.” In building my awareness for who I am and who I’m not, provided more clarity and direction about what will suit me both professionally and personally. It also reminded me of my gifts and talents and how I can both invest and cultivate them in different ways.

As an Adult Third Culture Kid, I still wrestle with where and to whom I belong. Sometimes I feel pulled and pushed in different communities; sometimes denied and invited; sometimes spread thin and isolated. I feel like I’m a walking contradiction with all of my paradox belongings and expressions of identity in and through them. In some spaces, communities, and places I am brave; others: quiet. In some believer, in others: doubter. Life for all of us is full of paradoxes. And that’s ok. We are intersectional beings to communities, places, and cultures and we can shift our minds to view these as “productive tensions” instead of pesky paradoxes. 

We can be change and continuity. We can be dislodged and rooted. We can be global and local. That’s the power of “and.”

What’s true is that you are a human with multiple identities, roles, and places of belonging. You are a unique human being that offers talent, a listening ear, curiosity, adventure, poise, and love to others. Perhaps you have had a global or cross-cultural upbringing, meaning you may identify as a Third Culture Kid (TCK). Sometimes being a TCK has “carried” you through your circles of belonging to people and to place. But know that you are so much more than “just” a TCK. Don’t let being a TCK be your “issue” or decision or excuse in why you can or can’t belong to people or to a place.

My personal identity and belonging concepts are complex, nuanced, and ever-changing. One steadfast identity marker and belonging root I cultivate is my Christian-faith and personal journey as a Christ-follower. Throughout my life I have been a part of various Christian faith-communities and denominations; a member of various places of worship and practitioner of different faith traditions. It never ceases to amaze me how there are so many different expressions of worship, prayer, sermons, scriptures, and services across “borders.” I grew up and came of age in Christian faith communities that primarily taught me to pray specifically; that way you know it was God who answered it. I believe in the power of prayer. I believe in the energy and manifestation of it. I believe in answered prayer, because I have witnessed it.

As I continue to grow spiritually in my Christian faith journey, my prayer practices and patterns change in different seasons of life. I often say quiet prayers throughout the day; sometimes as a meditation, sometimes as a “Hey, God: that was pretty cool what you just did there. Thanks.” Sometimes as short mantras. Sometimes prayer is experienced as ethereal and otherworldly soul flutters. Sometimes my prayers are Bible verses. Sometimes my prayers are offered with others’ words. Sometimes prayer happens in community in call-and-response style liturgy. Sometimes my prayers are whispers under my breath, sometimes spoken aloud in the car, sometimes in the wee hours of the night in my bed, and sometimes when I’m doing yoga in the morning. Sometimes they are wordless prayers as I believe what Mahatma Gandhi said: “It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without heart.” These are prayers of blessing and of declaration; of gratitude and of pleas. These prayers are for you, for me, for the world.

I am compelled to share this because it’s my desire that you know that I have prayed for this event, for the organizers, for the speakers, and for the participants. My prayer is that it is a gathering for you to be encouraged, for you to be affirmed, for you to learn and to be challenged in your own faith journey. As this event explores and unpacks the truths about Christian belonging, may we all settle into some space and silence to prepare our souls, minds, and bodies for the words shared by both speakers and participants.

Have grace for yourself and for others as we listen, receive, learn, and share what it means to belong beyond borders. I’m so grateful for the courage and willingness and grace we will have for ourselves and for each other at this event.

Dates for Truth4TCKs 2021

The virtual conference takes place on May 22 and 23, 2021

Cost of Truth4TCKs 2021

$10 per person.

$17 for the recorded sessions.

Registration for Truth4TCKs 2021

Unlearn Before You Learn

5 Ways to Increase Your Self-Awareness about Community and the “Other”

2021 continues to produce collective grief, change, and ambiguity. In an effort to draw our attention to what we can control and to provide hope for courageous leaders to step into roles for responding well, the following are five ways to practice intentional self-reflection to bring about more love and more understanding to ourselves first and also to our neighbors. 


Look at your own identity in new and relevant ways. In what areas can you exercise your own power and privilege to be an advocate and change-agent for what you would like to see changed in your community? Perhaps it’s your age, ability, education, or employment that provides you with opportunities to create change. But it first begins with looking closely at your own agency and knowing how to use it to affect change. Unlearn your typical ways of “seeing” people and assuming their ability/inability just off of that sole identity marker. Learn to approach self and others with a sense of curiosity for their entire identity.


Listen to more stories of your community members. This requires seeking out diversified voices, news outlets, social media channels and personalities, and community leaders. What are the stories not making headlines? What are the stories not even making the news? Committing to listening to stories and the feelings embedded in them can cultivate increased empathy skills which will result in greater tolerance, understanding, and solidarity.


Learn about your biases. Biases are automatic judgments our brain makes about people, situations, and experiences. To learn about them is to recognize the judgements you associate with a person or a situation. This can be how stereotypes are formed and readily accepted if they align with your judgements. Because it’s humanly impossible to eliminate biases from our brains, it’s important to slow down and think through the why of our judgments and assumptions.

Lean in

Lean into where you can enact change. Where are the intersections of where you have felt ‘othered’, ‘marginalized,’ and misunderstood? This can be a starting point for you to understand how to engage in dialogue and perspective-taking when learning about power and privilege. Leaning into discomfort of difficult conversations with self and with others takes courage.

Let go

Let go of complacency. There can be complacency in thoughts, actions, assumptions, and accepting routine. To challenge yourself to learn about more perspectives is to let go of one-sided stories, stereotypes, and siloed opinions. It will unearth biases and replace them with holding multiple truths.

Unlearning to learn is an act of courage and of love. Loving self and others requires looking, listening, learning, leaning into, and letting go of assumptions and judgements.

Washington DC Reflection Piece from American University Graduation 2016

Three weeks ago, I graduated from the School of International Service at American University. At the commencement ceremony, I had the honor of being one of the flag bearers on stage. Out of the options to carry the US flag, the DC flag, the AU flag, the SIS flag, or the alumni flag, I chose to carry the DC flag because that is where I am “local”:…/taiye_selasi_don_t_ask_where_i_m….

As an ATCK, I have always identified where I am local. Not where I am “from.” I was given the flag bearer opportunity because I was the Master candidate finalist to give the commencement speech. I first received the invitation from SIS to apply to be a commencement speaker when I was about to leave for Amsterdam in March. I was so busy with the conference I was attending and with travelling that I decided not to follow up with the offer. But then I got a personalized email that I had been selected to be a commencement speaker finalist so there I was on the train from Leiden to Utrecht, and then Utrecht to Rotterdam, and then from Rotterdam to The Hague writing and rewriting my commencement speech….I have a photo of doing that somewhere….because I found it so random.

Ultimately, SIS decided to only have one student commencement speaker (the undergraduate speaker) because we are the largest school at AU and there wasn’t enough time to have 2 student speakers. (Every other school at AU had two student commencement speakers).A few days ago, the official AU photography team emailed a photo of me carrying the DC flag. I look proud to be local here. But I have a feeling I’m not going to be local here for much longer….

Per the request of many who were curious about my speech, here it is:

School of International Service
American University
Commencement Speech 2016
Megan Norton; MA International Communication Candidate

Good evening President Kerwin, deans, members of the faculty, proud parents and families, and above all: graduates.

I have spent my life packing and unpacking boxes. I have lived in nine countries and five U.S. States. I have moved over 25 times. So you can imagine the boxes I’ve accumulated along the way; boxes from South Africa, Germany, Japan, Israel, Greece, Hungary….a lot of places. When I moved to DC, it was the first time that I had all of these boxes in one space and I started unpacking. I saw all the things I had identified with or that identified me. I was looking at not only tangible objects but also intangible ones. I was unpacking the values and beliefs and thought patterns that had shaped my worldview. In doing this I had feelings of displacement and I didn’t feel like I belonged anywhere. I felt the urge to pack up my boxes and to move again. Moving would be easier to do than confront the accompanying unease of trying to figure out what my identity was and who I wanted to become.

But I stayed. And I observed. And I learned that I wasn’t the only one unpacking my identity in the School of International Service. My classmates and I were reorganizing our ways of knowing and of being. We were recognizing our assumptions of not only each other but also of the world we operate in. I remember a moment in one of my classes when I shared that I was one of the students in the first integrated schools in post-apartheid South Africa. This ignited conversations immediately about race, power, and privilege. It was in moments like this that I saw my in between identity manifested in concrete new ways of belonging.

I became part of this multi-cultural community bound together by the shared commitment to accept that identity is fluid and complex. And I learned that SIS celebrates the power of seeing beyond identity boxes that so often imperfectly define us.

SIS integrates this message into its orientation toward service. As a form of service here at AU, I volunteered to be an intercultural dialogue facilitator. In facilitating cross-cultural communication between groups of both undergraduate and graduate students, I experienced the complexity of culture in new ways. One dialogue session stands out vividly. I had just landed at DCA from visiting family in another State and was headed to AU when I received a text message from a participant that said: “Can we talk about what just happened on campus?” What just happened on campus, I thought? And should I be going there? She was referring to Anti-Muslim fliers had been put around campus, but immediately reported and taken down. In our intergroup dialogue, we discussed how religion and faith are integral parts of our identity and we must be aware that sometimes people are forced to box it up and keep it hidden. I realized that I had never had to hide my faith for fear of physical safety. In our session we made space for stillness and for reflection. We were vulnerable and authentic with one another. In that moment we chose to understand rather than to simplify; and to acknowledge our agency to foster respect and tolerance.

When President Obama visited our campus last year, he spoke to this as well. He said: “Being an American is not a matter of blood or birth. It’s a matter of faith, of shared fidelity to the ideas and values that we hold so dear. That’s what makes us unique. That’s what makes us strong. Anybody can help us write the next great chapter in our history.”

President Obama’s reference to “anybody can help us” resonates with us graduates as we see the invisible boundaries that usually divide our world and have been trained to lean into the discomfort of stretching our comfort zones to understand how the interplay of culture, politics, race, and gender frame our behavior.

As SIS graduates, we are committed to celebrate cultural complexities and we are equipped to engage global challenges in our professional careers and future scholarship.

For all of us here today, we need to remember that as we move in and out and between social groups, we are making a difference in the world. It is our decision as to whether we are building boxes of fear and resistance or breaking down boxes with generosity and empathy.

Class of 2016: this is our commencement, our beginning. The beginning of new interactions, collaborations and intersectionalities of what constitutes shared identity. Perhaps you’re about to pack up your own boxes to move out of DC. Remember to take our culture of service, tolerance, and curiosity to navigate this increasingly interdependent world.

Trust in the Person You’re Becoming

May we enjoy the places of peace — the ones that give us peace and the places of peace we create.

Lake Michigan Sunset

I don’t know about for you, but ringing in 2021 for me was rather anticlimactic. Some of my friends and I had this plan to have a college reunion for New Year’s Eve 2020, but as the ripple of the COVID19 pandemic grew wider and stronger through the U.S. Midwest this season, we decided not to do it after all. For me, I celebrated the new year quietly and simply. With immediate family in the living room, it reminded me of my childhood new year’s eves when I would be so excited to stay up until midnight and as much as I tried to preserve my energy, I grew sleepier and sleepier as it got later and later. To be honest, not much changed with how I felt this New Years Eve. However, in addition to the steadfast nature of my inability to be a night owl, I also felt the same childlike liberty to feel protected, loved, cared for, and secure; feelings that at other times this year ebbed and flowed with challenges and changes.

I don’t know about you, but in 2020, I had more feelings of disorientation, displacement, and discouragement more than feelings of hope, purpose, and gratitude. Burnt out on the virtual and as I am still reeling from cancelled plans, parties, and participating in in-person programs, it’s a difficult year to reconcile. And I imagine we are all still feeling the ongoing waves of grief.

As I reflect on 2020, I want to remember the positives as well. Not each of those 365 2020 days were negative. These are the questions I’m reflecting on in the early days of 2021:

  • What was a good memory I made in 2020?
  • What progress did I make?
  • What is an affirmation I received?
  • What self-care routine worked? What didn’t?

And as I prepare for 2021, I’m concretely considering my choices. My choices to set boundaries, to create healthy rhythms, and to be ok to change what doesn’t work for me. And may I encourage you to be gentle with yourself and to (re)evaluate the expectations you set for you and others as we begin this new year.

One approach to do this is to consider and reflect on why you commit to the things you commit to, how you structure a routine, and where you can take small steps to meet the requirements of your work or school. This may look like deciding for you:

  • What and when are exceptions ok?
  • What questions can I ask for more clarity?
  • What does kindness look like for self and others?
  • What is one thing I can do today that’ll be good for my body, mind, and soul?

As we step into 2021, with its new changes, challenges, and celebrations, may we be empowered to respect our personal needs and to articulate graciously what we have time for and what we don’t have time for. It’s ok to say “no” and it’s ok to rest. It’s really important that we do both, actually.

One way I feel re-centered and grounded is in nature and what I’m finding living in West Michigan is that there are so many outrageously beautiful sunsets on Lake Michigan. I find so much peace and renewal when I have the opportunity to witness one of our sunsets. I’ve travelled a lot in my life (like 30 plus countries a lot) and have also lived in 10 countries. And I wholeheartedly believe that our sunsets are the best in the world. In 2021, I want to commit to taking more time to watch our lakeshore sunsets. When things I can’t control come my way, I can control my reaction and will probably go out to a pier to process and to protect my mind from “what ifs” and unexplainable “whys?!”. As each sunset is different, so is each day of our life. Let’s reflect on each one and prepare for each next one. May we enjoy the places of peace — the ones that give us peace and the places of peace we create.

Life is a series of trade offs and as we decide what to do in 2021, may we consider these questions every morning:

  • What is in my heart today?
  • What do I need to do today to feel healthy in body, mind, and soul?
  • What is one way to practice patience today?
  • What is the most important thing for me to do today?

Perhaps see you at sunset. Still socially-distanced, of course.

If You Were to Build a RAFT, What Would it Look Like?

The semester is wrapping up and for some, this may be the final one on campus. And so, it’s important to consider how to transition well. The popular “RAFT” model coined by David Pollock in the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, is one way to concretely decide how to move through this transition. The RAFT model is an acronym for Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewells, and Thinking Ahead.

A fancy word for a simple (albeit, sometimes difficult) action. In other words, is there anyone you need to go to one-on-one to apologize to, make things right with, hash out some misunderstandings? Stepping into a place where you can talk about conflict takes courage and vulnerability. It’s an important action to bring about understanding and forgiveness. Here are some steps to an apology as a framework to reference:

  1. Express sorrow (I’m sorry)
  2. Own guilt (I was wrong)
  3. Name the specific wrongdoings (I did ____________________)
  4. Name the impact (I hurt you)
  5. Don’t blame shift/defend (But you…I’m sorry if you…..)
  6. Don’t use passive voice (I’m sorry if you were offended….)
  7. Make amends (What can I do)

Another fancy word simply translated: let’s celebrate each other a little bit more! What do you love about someone? Their encouragement? Their detail-orientation? Their courage? Their timeliness? Their active volunteerism? Their jokes? Their availability to have a heart-to-heart sesh at 2am on a Tuesday? Take some time to reflect on how various people have invested in your life this semester and thank them for it! This is a beautiful way to demonstrate your love and to honor the people in your life. Some card-writing prompts could include:

  • One thing you did for me this semester that stands out is…….
  • One comment you made to me that really encouraged me was……..
  • Thank you for taking the time to….
  • It meant a lot to me that you….
  • Your ability to……
  • I deeply appreciate your…..


So long, farewell, auf wiedersehn, goodbye! We TCKs are no stranger to this word. We’ve done this action and said a variation of this word (sometimes in multiple languages!) countless times. This year it may look a bit different on campus, though. With social distancing regulations in place and students leaving on different days, it’s important to make a list of who you want to see before you leave campus yourself. For Seniors especially, it’s important to say farewell to the places that have been significant to you on campus as well. Take some time to reflect on campus about how the places and people have encouraged you, challenged you, and shaped you into who you are today.

Thinking Ahead
It’s a hard ask this year with so much change and ambiguity. Thinking ahead may be daunting, discouraging, and even depleting. Protect your energy and thoughts as you think ahead.  Write out what you can control and the decisions you can make to set you up for success next semester. Don’t dwell on things you cannot control. 2021 may not be as clear as you want, but continue to give yourself permission to dream and to goal-set; and to name and own your desires — to claim them as gifts from God.

The Importance of Not Just the Facts Post Election 2020

I’ve never been one to either start or engage in political conversation; or to overly and overtly showcase my political perspectives and leanings. Growing up, I learned to “respect the office” no matter who sat in the Oval Office; a value rooted – I believe – from my military and Foreign Service household. And I tend to hold that value now into adulthood as I choose not to report on social media or in wider social circles my opinions about the person behind the desk in the Oval Office.

As a sociologist, I am drawn to the facts in election seasons; but, not the facts you’re probably thinking like the policy positions and debate material. I’m curious about the facts people vote on based on their values, which are full of nuances and shaped because of their worldview. The facts I consider include my believing that no election should contain the words “right” and “wrong” and that decisions cast don’t make us into “winners” and “losers.” The fact that in my travels I have seen candidate signage change from one state to another – and even house to house in neighborhoods, makes me wonder how many of the people who have placed these signs have had the courage to listen to those who placed the candidate sign of a different party. With the result of the 2020 election, it’s important to look at not just the facts of policy position or the person taking office; it’s important to look at how we are responding to the facts. Let’s consider the facts of emotion management as we embrace the reality of election facts. Emotion management is not using those facts to assume, accuse, or assault. Emotion management is using those facts to ask open ended questions – and to not be upset if it’s not what we consider the “right” answer. 

Emotion management is first and foremost taking emotions seriously. There have been “facts” thrown out this election season that some positions are based on “thought” and some are based on “emotion.” The fact is, it is not accurate to say: “I’m casting my vote this way because ‘I’m thinking’” and you’re making your decision because ‘You’re emotional.’” Our values, worldview, and choices are made up of both feelings and thoughts. We attend to our emotions because we care deeply about a particular position or decision, but we need to ensure that emotions don’t drive our conversations.

Emotion management is pausing to consider if a social media post or verbal response is evoking or suppressing emotions. Consider: you don’t need to have the last word, even if you are right. There are disagreements about position and policy and that’s ok — what’s not ok is when you don’t listen to where someone is coming from in their perspective and worldview. Asking questions as someone ready to understand – and not as someone armed to respond – is an act of kindness and of exercising emotion management.

Emotion management is identifying what information our emotions are giving us and not asking others to be responsible for them. All emotions are valid and are an important human mechanism in each of us to help give clues about what we need. Pause to understand the whys behind your values and where your perceptions have been shaped. Focus on the things you can control, starting with the intentionality of getting curious about another person’s perspective. Claim some relational land with yourself and with others as you look at the facts of why emotions are there and listen with deep grace and patience.

Emotion management is reminding yourself that, “Everyone has a story. Have the patience to listen. Have the wisdom to learn.” Engaging as a listener to both self and others as together we see and experience the implications of this election season takes patience and wisdom. Listening is initiated in asking questions and resisting the urge to “fix” feelings. Some will struggle with this more than others. Some will find peace sooner than others. Some will feel hurt and fear and as a result, that may come out as anger. Don’t let emotions drive your life in reactionary ways. You don’t need to react.

Emotion management is using facts to find potential common ground and to find those intersections of agreement. Emotion management is using those facts to exercise emotional intelligence and empathy. It’s not coming to the table saying, “change my mind.” It’s coming to the table to engage difference and asking, “can you explain to me why these facts are so important to you?” It’s coming into conversation without armor or case studies or a fixed mindset. Emotion management is developing a growth mindset and protecting your energy about what discussions you engage in.

As we enter into a season with ongoing political transition and conversation, ask yourself this question Arlie Hochschild poses in an On Being podcast, “Do you want to be right in every moment, or do you want to be part of the larger healing? …. [Be] models of repair.” Emotion management is a form of empowerment; it is leading with purpose and impact. As we are going to experience the spectrum of emotions this month, let’s not be ashamed of our own emotions or make others feel shame because of theirs. But ensure that your emotions don’t run the show and purpose now in your heart to take the power away from them. Reaction isn’t necessary. Phrases like, “I’m disappointed, but….” and “It’s hurtful that…..” and “I’m concerned that…..” can empower you to validate your feelings and not be consumed by them. Soothe any fear and hurt with what you can control and remember the principle that trusting in others is not blind obedience. Your reaching across political spectrums is not eliminating difference; it’s bridging. I may not reveal or discuss my political stance, but I will contribute to the larger story of what I can do by listening to others.

Take your emotions seriously. Take others’ emotions seriously and together “May we be people of peace with voices of hope doing the hard work of love.” We must not see difference as a threat; but an opportunity to find bridges.

I voted.

A Fall Reflection on Taking Care and Receiving Help

I read an article recently on that talked about how we’ve all exceeded our “surge capacity” this year. We feel like we are scraping the bottom of our reservoirs emotionally, mentally, and physically because of the trauma, uncertainty, and transitions 2020 has brought to each of us in real and heavy ways. It’s a lot. It’s been a lot. And it continues to be a lot. With the on start of the new school year, systematic reopening of businesses, and increased conversations about our political landscape, it seems like we’re still drudging through messy attempts to re-center and anchor ourselves to both self and others. In attempt to encourage you in a small way, I want to share a recent project I accomplished that grounded me in a renewed mindset of gratitude and grace for people, place, and ultimately myself.

I moved here more or less three years ago. It’s been a rocky transition in understanding and adapting to the culture and since I travel a lot for work, it hasn’t been the smoothest process to build community. Having lived in other parts of the country and of the world, my home is a sanctuary which reflects the beauty and uniqueness of other cultures I have integrated into my own. Since being here, I’ve had one ongoing side project of creating a yard signpost that would showcase outside of my home all of the places I’ve lived with different slats that capture the city name and how far it is from Whitehall.

I’ve shelved the project multiple times because I was unhappy about my hand lettering on each sign. My internal expectation was to have each one be perfectly uniform, and I was increasingly frustrated about how each rendering was coming out differently. But this summer I decided my enough was enough and my attempt at symmetry went as far as outlining with a pencil and using a smaller paint brush size to get better line accuracy. I finally finished the signage because I had reached a point that I knew my enough was going to be a gift to me. A lesson I’m carrying away this year and encourage you to do as well is that your enough is enough. Sometimes your expectations for self is just that: for yourself. Others will appreciate and value your energy, effort, and “enough.”

Next came the part of hoisting the two long signage beams into the ground. I had no idea what I was doing. Dig a whole with a shovel? A spade? We were having some work done on our house and we asked the builder to take a look at the project idea. He had a machine that drilled the beam holes in less than a minute. The poles were vertically secure in minutes and he also used a nail gun that hung the signs even quicker. I was amazed at these tools. I was even more amazed that he and his teenage son taught me how to use this nail gun to hang the majority of my city signs. My lesson that day was to receive help gracefully. I am so impressed about the skills these two builders demonstrated and that they took the time to teach me a little about their trade. The lesson I encourage you to consider is what skills can you invest in others during the remainder of this year? No matter your age, you’ve got skills to share.

Finally, I had to express gratitude for those who have helped me with this project, namely: my Grandpa. He was the one who took me to Menards three years ago to pick out wood for this project and he cut the signposts in his wood shop. These signposts are a reflection of his investment of time, talent, precision, and energy into my life. Also, special thanks to my Dad who researched where to buy lumber and bought the wood beams in addition to new paint this year. And lastly to our builder and his son who went the extra mile to help me complete this project. The lesson I take away is that you need community to accomplish your goals and to support you in your vision — whatever it is.

Three years ago, I wouldn’t have had either the tools or the people to help finish this project. It’s taken time and my reevaluation of what’s enough and my community here to finish it. I’ve learned that living in a still-new-to-me place during a pandemic period with people who love you for showing up with your ‘enough’ is wildly weird and yet incredibly rewarding. Sometimes it’s difficult to ask for help, but receive it when it comes unexpectantly along. This is how we will refill our capacities this year. Take good care of yourself and of others in your neighborhood. We’re here for each other.

Finding where you belong: Community on Campus

A new academic year is full of so much newness in all areas of life. When I was at university, my favorite part of a new academic year was selecting my new class schedule which in turn shaped my new rhythm of life to settle into. With this newness came the negotiation of which student club events I had time to attend and what leadership roles I could commit to. In addition, there was the immediate schedule comparison with friends and classmates to see where our free time overlapped. Sometimes there was perfect synchronicity and other times there was calendar blocking of “let’s do dinners on Tuesday’s and lunches on Friday’s.” The variation in schedules meant that there was opportunity to discover new pockets of communities on and around campus and to explore how – or if – I belonged in and to them.

Community on campus can feel like a bubble in certain respects. There can be pride in institution affiliation and who you share your time, talent, and passion with which increases the multiple ties of commonality with campus culture and its community make up. Whether it’s classes, meals, clubs, activities, sports, or leadership opportunities, university life is a unique time to be a part of different communities in one central location.

This year, with all the newness of different campus procedures and social gathering protocol, it may feel like there are restrictions to developing authentic and sustainable community. For example, some universities are requiring students to select 30-minute meal time windows or do carry-out meals, thus limiting the opportunity to connect with friends over a shared meal in the cafeteria. Also, residence halls are implementing new rules about guests in dorm rooms and evening curfews, thus limiting opportunities to study or to socialize with others in person. Additionally, student leaders are looking for new ways to do virtual meet ups instead of on-campus ones. With these changes, students may question how to connect with their communities in authentic and trustworthy ways. Three foundations of community formation can help students develop a strong sense of belonging to and with one another both on and off campus.

Here I speak directly to you, students:

Community formation and sustainability takes intentionality.

Whether in-person or online with others, be authentic about who you are and who you want to be. Otherwise, it’ll feel like you’re performing and you won’t feel wholly connected to either yourself or to others. Your level of belonging is in direct relation to showing up and being vulnerable. Brene Brown highlights this in her books, saying that that if you want to create connection and develop purposeful belonging, you need to listen as intently as you want to be heard. Active listening is one way to purposefully hear and appreciate what others are choosing to share with you and you need to first be connected with your own emotions and body in order to listen well. In this cultural moment, it seems social media can be where you share and/or find resources, yell at and/or encourage people, and find and/or leave a niche group you identify with that transcends location. Being intentional about the (mis)use of social media is important to consider how you claim community and/or it claims you.

Particularly for Third Culture Kids, it is important to activate the same level of curiosity and intentionality to connect with others as was practiced when living in another country. For example, when I was at university, I had to check my intentions for sharing one of my global stories with others: was it to brag about my experiences while living abroad or was it to connect with others and to their stories. Intentionally reflecting on purpose and pride in relationships can grow trust, dependability, and understanding.

Community formation and sustainability means holding something in common.

Having a sense of belonging lies on a spectrum and considering how you construct community will play into where you think you belong and/or don’t belong. All of us are human beings, and with that we all operate out of a foundation of similarity. As we move along the spectrum to being an individual person, we splinter off into different affiliations and affinity groups based on what we have in common with them. While community and sense of belonging can be based on cultural, racial, familial, etc. markers or qualifiers, it is important to acknowledge that these markers can be “hidden” and not known until conversations, history, skills, passion, and proximity are observed, learned, and taken into consideration. Furthermore, being aware of how social media can operate as a counterfeit community in the way it can fragment social support and disconnect or misdirect people from reality is important to remember when discussing sensitive or potentially polarizing topics.

For some Third Culture Kids, there can be a strong sense of being an outsider on campus, especially if they don’t understand specific cultural aspects or cultural values and expressions. For example, I wore a particular sports team logo on my clothes because my family had gifted these particular t-shirts to me. I didn’t realize how polarizing it was to wear them in some local communities. While I was feeling connected to my family in wearing them, I was creating playful division in my friend group. Cultural commonality takes social wisdom and learning. Being curious about culture helps TCKs to change the perspective of “I’m a TCK, no one is like me” to “I’m a person with multi-faceted interests, skills, experiences, and passions, so who can I connect with on one or more of those factors in this place?”

Community formation and sustainability is shaped by shared memories.

Your sense of belonging can be forgotten, but it cannot be lost. Reminding one another of previous times shared in laughter, service, or with entertainment can be significant to reinforce unity and commonality. This foundation can be found and highlighted on social media and in other virtual spaces. Circulating these memories can be especially important this year to remind one another of time invested in events, service opportunities, and passions. Online relationships can be valuable and important through different online mediums, and being aware of how memories and current experiences are curated and displayed should be analyzed in terms of outcome and impact on in-person relationships. Are they useful for connecting or are they creating division? Online communities and different channels are not meant to be individuals’ only way to have relationships and build community.

With Third Culture Kids, sharing memories about previous homes and places can be confirmation that they belong to several communities which have given them a sense of who they are and continue to shape their perspectives. When I was at university, I read through the news of places I used to live in and was wondering how those events were impacting my communities there. One of my mentors encouraged me to also read about local news and to learn how to become more involved in my local community off my university campus. While I had memories from places I had lived, I knew it was time to invest in my current community to create new memories. Community building takes commitment to confront yourself and others and to move through conflict and to celebrate commonality.

In sum, belonging in and to a community takes time as you develop the skills to acknowledge and lean into the love, limits, and leveling of opinions, experiences, and perspectives. Whether virtual or in-person, building community takes more time and more care than you expect. But it’s worth it.

Assuming good intent, remaining curious, and being kind are guiding principles as we consider the foundations of community.

Re-Entry Tips for TCK Teens

Third Culture Kid teens are resilient, resourceful, clever, creative, and flexible. For their entire lives they have not only practiced but also excelled at adapting to new cultural situations and learning new ways of being and of doing. This year in particular they have been challenged to draw upon these strengths in new and important ways as the world continues to navigate the ambiguity and adjustments of new protocol and procedures in all arenas—work, academic, social, and commerce. 

For high school third culture kids transitioning back to their passport country this year it can be challenging in several areas—from learning how to socialize virtually to following new social cues and customs. Whether transitioning into university, high school, or a gap year, these third culture kids can equip themselves to process emotions, create friendships, and figure out next steps in acknowledging these three steps.


In times of distress, trauma, and grief, it is a human default mechanism to go into “flight or fight” mode. Flight can look like avoidance, mood swings, and apathy; fight can look like confrontations, frequent arguments, and anger outbursts. In order to process these emotions in a healthy way, it can be helpful for third culture kid teens to share their re-entry story with a family friend or mentor that has either been through this kind of transition themselves and/or are processing it together in a facilitated manner. 

To process the 2020 grief is to acknowledge both the tangible and intangible losses: perhaps it was not being able to go to an in-person graduation, or to throw or attend a graduation party. Maybe it was not being able to travel one last time with friends on a class trip or being able to say goodbye to families who weren’t able to return to the country due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. Maybe it wasn’t being able to take one last favorite hike to see the sunset or to go to the airport to send off a friend. 



In order for third culture kid teens to heal from their grief, invite them to articulate what they have lost and let them express how that makes them feel. Recognize that the expression may come out in one of the grief cycle stages such as bargaining (for example, “maybe next year we can go back and see everyone again”) or it may come out as negotiation (for example, “if I stay here one year, next year I’ll have enough money to return”) or it may come out in anger (for example, not feeling content about the current situation) or denial (for example, thinking that there won’t be culture shock because they understand the culture from social media). In order to reach the stage of acceptance, allow the third culture kid teen to express their grief by journaling, talking through it, or creating something that represents their grief. In and through this, affirm their resilience and draw upon their strengths in how they have transitioned before and have the ability to do it again in this season.


For any third culture kid, it can be a challenge to answer the question “Where are you from?” given “home” and “from” could potentially mean any of the following: Where were you born? Where did you grow up? What is your passport country or nationality? What is the last place you lived? Where are your parents? Where did you graduate? 

Given that many families have been forced to repatriate to new places this year due to COVID-19 border closures, this question could be an added challenge for third culture kid teens to answer as they may have had several disruptions of place and belonging in the past few months. Keeping in mind cultural context and who is asking the question, third culture kid teens may want to give a “5 second” response to “Where are you from?” such as, “Due to my parent’s work, I have lived most of my life in __________, but am originally from ___________” or “I grew up in several countries, but most recently moved from ___________.” 

If the situation allows for more discussion, it may be that the inquirer will ask further about what took the third culture kid abroad or which place they loved the most. Having short responses can allow the conversation to continue, however, third culture kid teens should ask the same questions in return. Perhaps they will have the most “exotic” background in terms of countries lived, languages spoken, and cultures experienced, but third culture kids need to exercise the same level of curiosity and respect for others’ stories as well. Again, finding community members who have had a similar upbringing can provide space to tell stories without the third culture kid teen fearing that they are “bragging” or not feeling understood by monocultural peers.


Whether the third culture kid teen has returned for university, high school, or a gap year, it’s important for them to recognize their need to adjust to new responsibilities. Life will be different in terms of socialization, communication expectations, and financial goals. This is the case for everyone this year as COVID-19 has determined new rules for social gathering, created new forms of virtual communication and expression, and brought about different financial concerns. 



As the world continues to navigate these changes, it is critical for third culture kid teens to have the support, guidance, and mentorship surrounding their responsibilities with these changes. Making a list of what is needed for physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual support and identifying who can help support these needs is an important way to holistically care for the wellbeing and nurturing of a third culture kid teen. Recognizing and recommending to third culture kid teens who in their network (such as church leaders, community peers, family, and friends) can serve as mentors and confidants as they process closing out a chapter in their life and transition the navigation into a new one is important for them to feel agency in their need for independence and personal growth. Establishing a “cultural broker”—someone who understands where they have come from and where they are headed—to guide them about the new environment’s food, fashion, music, slang, etc., is a foundational way to support this transition. Lastly, cultivating a practice of gratitude can also serve as an anchor of stability to help third culture kid teens to identify and appreciate the blessings in their life.

There are several organizations that offer facilitated debriefing through this transition such as Interaction International’s Wayfinder program beginning in Fall 2020 and MuKappa International’s virtual university chapter for incoming university freshmen in addition to their on-campus university student chapters. These organizations can suggest third culture kid mentors and cultural guides for third culture kid teens to speak with. 

This year has been challenging and unpredictable, full of grief and loss due to physical moves, health declines, and even deaths. It’s been one that has highlighted race relations and reconciliation initiatives, political unrest, and diverse civil discourse. For third culture kid teens who are navigating their own wild and ambiguous transitions, the weight and rate of change and media noise can exacerbate the reentry process and perhaps even numb the important journey of healing from their own grief and loss. By regulating media intake, committing to healthy nutrition, talking with a cultural mentor, and practicing their tried and true resilience methods, third culture kid teens will be able to adjust to their new home in 2020.

5 Questions to Ask (again) to your University-Aged Third Culture Kid (and the 1 to Ask as a Follow-Up to Each One)

They are grown and flown. But you will always be their parent/s. They have dabbled in decision-making and perhaps learned the consequences of some of those poorer life choices in their independent decisions. But this is a unique time and they may need a little extra guidance, financial support, and an active listening ear more than ever before in their “gone from the nest” adult status. Despite your being time zones away or in the other room, reach out to them. They are adults now, but they need you to play parent in this COVID-19 season more than you realize.

But as an important caveat before you read further. As their parent/s, hold yourself accountable for the safety, intention, and respect you are offering and exchanging with asking these questions. If you are not committed to the responsibility of creating psychological safety and trust between you and your child, and if you are not willing to make sacrifices to meet their needs, this article is not for you right now.

  1. Are you ok?

I remember whenever I had some “heavy” or potentially disappointing news to share with my mom over the phone, instead of her blaming or shaming me with words like “You should have studied harder” or “Why didn’t you go to office hours for help?” or “Did you really need to be out that late?” it was “Are you OK?” or “How do you feel?” She created a space to honor me as a human being rather than prioritize my role as a university student. And there was never an expectation for me to answer this question. If “fine” was my reply, then “fine” with her. She always had another way to get me to reveal my feelings anyhow. In that she probed gently with questions. And listened. She listened and didn’t lecture.

Whether your university-aged TCK is with you in person or if you are calling them in another time zone, ask this question. Even if they are a strong-willed, independent, fiercely report-facts-only young adult, they need to hear this question from you. Even if you didn’t have a family culture of discussing feelings while they were growing up, ask this question. Even if you’re not ok, ask them this question. Even if they don’t answer right away, trust that these three words frame the conversation in a way that they’ll know you’re there for them.

(and the 1 You Ask as a Follow-Up: What can I do?) In a season where there have been broken commitments because of lockdown and event cancelations, perhaps real or perceived mistrust between relationships, and maybe even some poor decision making on the part of your university-aged child (I mean the human brain isn’t fully developed until the age of 25), your young adult child/ren need to know that they can count on you to play witness to their grief and hold space for their emotions. Keep asking. Keep waiting. Maybe it is in the asking and in the waiting that you are meeting their need of feeling heard and safe and known. And that will help them to be ok

2. Do you have enough money?

In emerging adulthood, the lessons in financial independence can be at times awkward and trying. Especially for TCKs who didn’t have the opportunity to manage their money as teens in the countries in which they grew up. Personally speaking, with currency exchange rates trying my math skills and credit card fees, the inconsistency of managing multiple currencies contributed to my not having a solid grasp on the value of money. This was (and still is) a growing pain when I try to stick to an “adult” budget. My “self-care” money column in my budget also seems a bit fatter than my “contribute more to the utilities” one. I can always justify it, too. With the added transitions of this season in moving out of residence halls or losing part-time student / service-sector jobs, many university-aged students are feeling the save/spend tension. I would not be offended if my parents asked me this question (and I’m not a university-aged student anymore). And so, particularly in this season, I don’t think yours will be either. 

This can be a telling question to ascertain your child’s access to essential resources, food stock, and self-care pleasantries. One way to gift them in this season is to call one of their local restaurants to order take-out for them. Even better: pay for the delivery of it to their house. Another way is to order some household essentials online to have it delivered to them. One other way is to get in touch with one of their community members to ask if they could check-in on them for you. If you can’t make your TCK a home-made meal, maybe you can ask one of their friends/community members to.

(and the 1 You Ask as a Follow-Up: What can I do?) Even if you don’t have the financial capability (or means) to Venmo, Paypal, Zelle, or direct deposit a double-digit figure to your child, I argue that any amount would be a fun and welcomed surprise. Frame the giving as an opportunity for them to buy a book or rent a movie or UberEATS a meal. Just do it.

3. Where are you spending the summer?

Be prepared not to be offended if it’s not with you. Or a relative. Or a trusted friend or community member. Be prepared to say, “tell me more.” As your child has developed connections with roommates, classmates, neighbors, etc., they have certainly come across unique opportunities to apply their knowledge, skills, and talents in some initiative, project, camp, start-up, internship, etc. this summer. Now more than ever, your child is networking to figure out what the summer looks like. And hey, if it is that they want to spend their summer on your couch, then kudos to that as well! Let them come “home.”

This question may also be important to extend into “the Fall.” Make sure your TCK university student knows if their campus will reopen for the Fall semester. If it isn’t, begin to think through where your child will stay. Think through if your child needs extra cash, a new laptop, and/or a visa for wherever they’re planning to be in the Fall.

(and the 1 You Ask as a Follow-Up: What can I do?) Do you have ideas about how your child can spend their summer near you? Do you have a contact they can reach out to to secure a summer job? Leave it in their court to connect. Are you in another country? Ensure that travel bans won’t inhibit the ability for your child to travel to you. In asking these questions, you are getting a fuller picture of what your child is dreaming about for their future and considering how you can come alongside to support it.

4. Who are you talking with these days?

This is a very open-ended question. It could lead to revealing they’re in touch with their professors, college advisor, former roommates, and friends. It could even be what the gen-z-ers are framing as “plot twist” relationships – also more commonly known as “significant others.” Who may be contributing to their attitudes, impressions, and perspectives of this time?

This question could also be an indicator about their daily routines. Are they maintaining communication with people across time zones? If so, it may mean they have a choppy sleep schedule. Are they sitting in front of Zoom all day? It could mean that they are not getting enough physical exercise. Are they missing their friends? Encourage them to write them an actual hand-written letter to them.

(and the 1 You Ask as a Follow-Up: What can I do?) This is really asking yourself if you think there are people your child could do informational interviews with. Help them to make those connections. This can lean into understanding more deeply how they are dealing with this season both emotionally and physically. Do they have peer social support and accountability? This is an indicator about how they are managing their relationships from campus. Gently encourage them to maintain them.

5. What transition does this remind you of?

This question goes into reminiscing about how you have navigated as a family in other circumstances that required a “quick release” from place, people, and/or purpose. Without the ability to practice the RAFT (reconciliation, affirmation, farewell, think destination) model in action, you and your TCK are uniquely equipped to navigate this season with added empathy and understanding because you have navigated transitions without enacting RAFT before. You may not realize how pro you are at maintaining relationships across time, space, and distance compared to your mono-place/mono-cultural peers and community. As expats, there have been variations of “social distancing” when your globally mobile community has changed frequently. It may be interesting to reminisce about these instances with your TCK university student.

Perhaps your TCK university student will be able to help their roommates, classmates, and greater campus community to heal from the unsaid goodbyes and unframed closure, to move on with new and relevant connection opportunities, and to look to the future with hope and purpose. Your TCK has gone through multiple transitions before and is navigating it now with grit and grace. Encourage them to model this leadership to their peers who are struggling with all this transition.

(and the 1 You Ask as a Follow-Up: What can I do?) This may be a triggering question. If you as a family had some choppy transitions, it may unearth some trauma or unresolved grief from a previous situation. Ask this question if you are emotionally, mentally, and even financially equipped to provide support for your TCK college student navigating through this season. It’s a time of radical transition on multiple levels, so be prepared to have a support network to come along beside you in hearing their answer to this question.

As your TCK university student is “adulting” in new and often time challenging ways, it can be helpful for them to hear how you are navigating this season. Comments like “I’m struggling this way” or “I came across this helpful/funny/informative/etc article” or “is it ok to …..” can ease your young adult’s concerns if they are “adulting” wisely. Continue to be their parent/s in your vulnerability, authenticity, care, and love.

“All of these are invitation questions”

All of these are invitation questions. Questions for dialogue and that will assess the trust and safety you have with one another. What are the psychological consequences if you don’t show up for your TCK university-aged child during this time? Put aside your fears and insecurities to lean into the (dis)comfort of developing an adult-like relationship with your child. Take the pressure off yourself to “fix” or to “lead” the relationship with your child; rather, lean into the role to be a guide on the side, to connect, and to validate feelings. It’s a tension of independence and dependence but create and nurture the mindset shift that you are still needed and wanted. Even if your young adult child doesn’t engage with you in these questions, saying “I love you and I am proud of you” is the starting and ending point they need today and always.