A Fall Reflection on Taking Care and Receiving Help

I read an article recently on medium.com 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.

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.

Princess Megan [sans h]

Saturday, May 19, 2018: It’s 8:00pm EST and I’m eating a generous helping of Caramel Drizzle Cheesecake ice cream out of a coral white bowl. This is what single girls do at 8pm on a Saturday night. 😉

Starting out at 5:00am EST this morning, I nestled up next to my mom with a cuppa tea to watch American Meghan Markle wed European Prince Harry. We used our delicate fine bone china tea cups and floral silver rimmed side plates for our English PG tip tea and biscuit breakfast.

We sized up the fashion of wedding guests; from the fascinators to heels to color choices, we looked on with sheer enjoyment as we ourselves were comfy in our PJs and slippers. I couldn’t help but remember the last Royal Wedding I watched seven years ago and wished my mom was with me then. She was in South Africa and I was in South Carolina. For today’s moment in time, we were both in Michigan.

Today was emotional for several reasons.

Marriage.

I was looking forward to marriage. The timeline was set: engaged this summer, married next summer, engagement events in and between and across two continents.

But I’m not. And I’m not in that relationship anymore.

Today, I was confronted [again] with this reality as I watched the royal wedding. The anticipation, the consideration of the cross-cultural relationship, the diamond ring…..

Royal Wedding.jpeg

I thought about how I was “Princess Megan [sans h]” to him.

Recently, I deleted a google document that contained the images of ring[s] potential I would have liked on my hand, the timeline of different events to happen in the U.S. and in Europe, and some musings of wedding decorations to have at said events. The deleted file has freed up space – both virtual and mental. I’m still working on the emotional.

It’s that Season.

Over the past few weeks, I have been confronted with the reality that more of my university friends, childhood friends, and career friends are announcing engagements, getting married, and having babies.

And now, more confrontational than ever before, I’m in a space of singleness.

Yet today, I was encouraged with a renewed sense of purpose on and for my own timeline. I’m building my own career track and (re)negotiating my own sense of identity as an Adult Third Culture Kid. Why should I allow society, community, family, or friends dictate what it means to live life according to a proverbial “ticking clock.” Why do I permit them so much power sometimes?

It’s been somewhat of a personal challenge over the past few months to feel authentically and fully happy for the engagement, marriage, and baby announcements across my various networks as my own prospect for these life markers seem dimmer and dimmer. Closer networks populate my phone screen with their celebratory announcements: a friend texts me the best photos of her engagement photo shoot, another shares over a skype call that she found out the day before she is pregnant, yet another displays beautiful shots of her wedding events as I scroll through my social media accounts. I simply love their joy and appreciate their willingness to share it with me. They have a radiant spirit of authenticity and of electric happiness as they embark on their new paths with the partners they have chosen.

Love is always a choice.

While my community certainly advocated for and supported my past relationship, I knew in my heart of hearts that I wasn’t being authentic in it. It took some coaching, mentorship, and deep reflection to be honest with myself and to choose myself. And I’m on a journey to completely understand who is this ATCK at 31 years old.

Meghan Markle, 36, met her prince 16 months ago. Over the past year, they have surely discovered both nuanced and overt differences and similarities and mishaps and funhaps of their cross cultural relationship. Surely they will discover more. My own cross-cultural relationship was full of them. Today, I am thrilled for these newly weds. I am inspired by their timeline. I think that when you’re older, you know faster who you want to do life with; who you want as a witness to your life and whose life you want witness. Because you have had time to have a fuller understanding of yourself.

Love is powerful.

“There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even oversentimentalise it. There’s power – power in love. . . There’s power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will.”  – Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry

As an ATCK now into my thirties, I’m (re)discovering how and why my globally mobile childhood and early adulthood has shaped who I am and if it is who I would like to stay. Today, although a bit sad because of my own sparkly girly dreams shelved, I am confident that I need to continue to lean into myself to believe in greater and better things to come — professionally and personally. Self-love is powerful. Don’t oversentimentalise it. Don’t underestimate it. Simply do it.

Be Thou My Vision, God of Love and Life.

Today, I am confronted with my gratefulness for this time and space and place in life. It is an intersection of rest and growth and cultivation of who and what and where I want to be this summer and next and the non-rush of it all. “Be Thou My Vision” and “Stand By Me” are two of my favorite songs. FAVORITE. And they were played at the Royal Wedding today.

Such a beautiful personal reminder that God gives good gifts to His children. This time in my life is a gift. And so, let me shine my light for God as He stands by me. After all, I am Princess Megan to Him.

Be Kind

To Each Other : Would you agree that what we were taught in Kindergarten are some of T H E key foundational lessons of life? The lessons even came in easy sing-song-like rhyming couplets such as “sharing is caring!” 🎶 But have you ever considered how some of those lessons could be ethno-centric or culturally-based? I was taught The Golden Rule in Kindergarten: “treat others as you would wish to be treated.” I thought this was a pretty straight-forward lesson. But in moving to several other countries in my upbringing (and in adulthood), I learned that The Platinum Rule is far better in intercultural interpersonal relationships: “treat others as they would like you to treat them.” This rule is ethno-relative, meaning it encourages you to consider the cultural context you’re in and to practice perspective taking.  How would my friends here feel valued, appreciated, and heard?  How can I show respect?  What does respect look like here?  What does K I N D N E S S look like here? It may be as simple as taking off your shoes before you enter your friend’s house. Or not being offended when you bring over a hostess gift, your friend doesn’t seem bothered to open it right away (because in some cultures, it’s more important to pay attention to the guest, not the gift). If you feel offended, you’re not practicing the Platinum Rule. Consider your cultural-context.  Practicing realistic cultural empathy and building authentic relationships requires you to understand your cultural lenses and to shift your perspective to see how you can serve your friends better. Context is golden. But Culture is King. Be kind in the way the cultural-context operates. [And by the way, that does require you to take off your metaphorical shoes so you can walk a mile in theirs]

The Construction of Home

“The construction and interpretation of “home” is not bounded by the location of origin anymore.  Rather, it is a process of reconciling the fluidity of identity and meaning-making practices with relationships and objects.  The underpinning framework of home is the understanding that it is an emotional place; where one truly belongs.”

In my second round of graduate school, I dove deep into exploring my ATCK identity.  My program at American University allowed me the flexibility to do independent studies and semesters abroad not only to research but also to sit with the liminality of it all.  I am grateful for the professors, mentors, and peers who helped guide my processing and reflecting.

I have decided to include an “Academic Papers” link to this non-blog to showcase some of my written graduate work.  The excerpt above is from my paper titled here as “Home.”

Tell it.

“A story is never complete until it is told, heard, and understood.”

As an Adult Third Culture Kid, I have a lot of stories to tell of my global background. Of my safaris, my international school field trips, my advice on luggage, my speaking three languages in one sentence, my definition of home, my favorite restaurant in Tokyo, etc. When I was a K I D moving to another country, I found it a bit easier for others to understand me – and my story/stories. As just another foreigner in the foreign school, I had an understanding that most of my friends had just moved from another country as well…not their passport country necessarily.  We just got each other…as kids do. And we loved each other’s stories. [You bet ‘Show & Tell’ looked a bit different in the international school compared to a homogeneous one].

But now, as an A D U L T, I’m finding that my global stories are not as well received when I tell them to my coworkers, family, or even fellow adult friends.  The stories are considered, sometimes, as bragging and/or exaggerations. Too Exotic. Too unbelievable.  The (non)reaction I perceive and experience has silenced me on more than one occasion and I have downplayed – or even hid – my international upbringing. Sometimes, I don’t mention my TCKness identity in order to fit in with my new community. I don’t want to alienate myself because of jealousy or misunderstanding.  But this is a T R A G E D Y.  People need to hear my stories. Stories of diversity. Stories of adventure. Stories of what has (re)shaped who I am today.  But it takes an effort on my part to (re)frame these stories so they are heard and understood. I can try to link them to a frame of reference or compare them to someone else’s story.  

But not be silent.  

In telling my story, perhaps I can discover someone else who has struggled with reentry into their passport country and we can tell our stories together, or someone else who has felt marginalized as a minority, or someone who has even used a wooden toboggan to sled down a Swiss alp at 10 years old. 

Hey fellow travelers, TCKs, wanderers, nomads, friends: tell your story so it’s heard and understood.

Post 1: This Adult Third Culture Kid “Non-Blog”

A couple months ago in Western Michigan, I had coffee with Michael Pollock (son of David Pollock, co-author of “Growing Up Among Worlds”) (and by the way the newest edition is hot off the press: “Third Culture Kids”).  We talked about our (non)writing thoughts and discussed the posts we have in our (non)existent blogs and what a (non)blog might look like. Months later…this is my attempt at a (non)blog.  

My non-blog looks like this (right now): the majority of the blurbs are short, most of the posts are succinct, but all of the thoughts produce additional ones.

Perhaps, as this venture proceeds, I’ll have longer posts. Perhaps, I’ll have a lot to say about something. Perhaps, I’ll want to get back into writing more after recovering fully from my second master’s degree academic papers. But for the beginning, expect short.  I have the ATCK change mentality, so expect a mixture of both long and short posts long-term.

I am excited to share with you my

Adult

T H I R D CULTURE KID

thoughts, inspirations, and questions.

To be clear, I’m going with the classic definition of an “Adult Third Culture Kid” : an individual who has spent his/her developmental years living outside of his/her passport country………..And is now grown up.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, inspirations, and questions on this ATCK identity!

Yours,

Megan