Cultural Competencies

Real Talk : This weekend, I had my Global Competencies Inventory assessment one-on-one debrief and the results cut through BS I was both telling myself and crafting for outward perception management. I have some serious re-entry work to do in terms of treating my present location as any other foreign place I’ve lived. I can start by being more inquisitive and getting involved locally! My cosmopolitanism remains high on the GCI scale but my inquisitiveness was strikingly low. This assessment helped me to realize that I need to launch forward with an intentional curiosity and integrate myself more into my surrounding community — even if it is temporary. The one-on-one consultation also helped me to see with new eyes the importance of engaging with the present. Opening myself up to the possibilities around me will undoubtedly produce new ones exponentially. Hoping that this week I’ll thrive in this renewed perspective and understanding of myself.

Anchors & Mirrors

In a TCK’s personal identity formation, there are three anchors, which paradoxically, also function as mirrors: family, place, and community. Beth Knuckles explains that these three things that, “give us a place of grounding and strength…are also mirrors – reflecting back the messages of who we are as seen by these entities.” Each move for a TCK perpetuates the (re)formation and (re)shifting of their unique anchors and mirrors. : : : So, a bit of advice from an ATCK : : : give TCKs the language to talk about their culturally complex experiences that begins with a conversation of *likeness* not of *difference* because ultimately if TCKs operate from an internalized message of “I’m different”, then they are more likely to struggle to adapt, find commonality, and integrate. Janet Bennett says that TCKs who do not process the fluidity of likeness and difference will be “terminally unique”…and not in a healthy way. Consider the anchors and be mindful of how they are mirrors in different scenarios.

The Senses

South Africa : I flew before I walked. I had an Afrikaans accent before I had an American one. I drank Rooibos tea before Koolaid. I moved to Pretoria when I was still in nappies and three years later I asked my Dad after deplaning in Washington D.C. when we were going back home. I didn’t go back home until 25 years later and 20 additional houses had been considered home. The smells, the tastes, the sights, the sounds, and the touch surfaced a subconscious longing and an internal reconciliation for confronting a loss I didn’t know I needed to grieve and to heal from. From this experience, I understand the need to revisit past homes and my heart countries when time and finances and spaces allow for it so I can cultivate a sense of closure for them.

Intangible Tangibles

Home l0l : Having experienced multiple disruptions of places and belonging over time, I’m grateful for the consistent nest of safety, rest, and familiarity that is my parents’ place. Parents of TCK’s: don’t underestimate the need for these things even into your kids’ adulthoods. [i.e. Don’t sell the bell; it’s a transfer cue (tangible thing) intricately connected to place (and intangible things…like emotions)].

Bridge People

Hey, You Need Us : “In an ever-shrinking world, the TCK will play an expanding role. As more links are forged, and as communication among members of different cultures becomes more and more common, the skills of adaptation and understanding which are developed by TCKs become invaluable. As the population becomes more mobile, more and more individuals will experience challenges to their self/identity, the need for a concept of home and roots, and the need for strategies for simple adjustment. In order to be able to help these people, we must understand and nurture the TCKs. Having developed between cultures, TCKs are positioned to become the mediators between cultures. Though they may never feel fully a part of a culture, they can be the bridge through which monocultural people learn to appreciate other cultures. These individuals have the resources which are needed to facilitate understanding between cultures with distinct value systems, histories, and norms. With their ability to perceive similarities and differences that might escape the notice of someone not accustomed to looking for cultural cues, TCKs have the potential to bring these groups together to find common ground. We need the TCKs.” -Gary Weaver
This is why I always mention my TCK background in interviews. And why you should too.


Abroad : Where’s “abroad”? Is it everywhere but here? Is it the urge to be somewhere else? Is it implicitly conveying that elsewhere is better? Is it a commodity? Something that will change or transform your life? Hey- consider where you are! Don’t be disrespectful of your home; as if home is not transformative or good. Don’t mythologize “transformative” abroad experiences. Indeed, be aware of the danger / boundary you cross when using the word “transformative.” Don’t be burdened with illusions of “transformative”; it can be inflated rhetoric when referencing abroad experiences. Be present with your present. Otherwise you’ll miss the magic and gift of it.

The Lion King

Quotable & Relatable : “Look inside yourself, you are more than what you have become” • “The past can hurt, but, you can either run from it or, learn from it” • “Love will find a way” • “Never forget who you are” • “Love is never wrong and so it never dies” • “There’s a perfect world shining in your eyes” • “…Till we find our place on the path unwinding…”
The Lion King – quotable and relatable for any TCK. True Story: one of my TCK friends used the storyline in a job interview to convey her cultural context challenges and how she had to realize her upbringing shaped her to be a cultural navigator. (she got the job). I watched this film several times as a child and I still have the Simba stuffed animal on my shelf that I bartered for when I was 10 at a Korean street market. I sang the songs in school choirs (in Germany and in Japan). And two years ago, I saw the Broadway production in NYC (one of the best bday gifts ever btw). I have so many beautiful and strong memories from this story! And I was reminded of them when I captured this shot of one of the lions I interacted with at the Lion Reserve in South Africa.
I’m again trying to find my place on this path unwinding… [you know you’re an Adult Third Culture Kid when moment…]

Culturally Unique

Culturally Unique : I had a wise professor say, “You have to leave your culture to understand it.” I thought that meant I had to go to the other side of the world or to a remote village or to a country drastically different than my own to understand my culture. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that. (It certainly C A N mean that and it D O E S mean that for individuals who go abroad for the first time and return home to feel everything is different). But what it means to people who don’t go abroad is, for example, the intentional act of getting out of a comfort zone, or walking across the street to meet neighbors, or initiating a conversation with someone in another department at work. In doing these things, a new perspective is cultivated. A new understanding of ways of doing and being is discovered. I advocate that a starting point to understanding yourself and others is to leave your culture. You are a multicultural being operating in a multicultural community, in a multicultural country, in a multicultural world. Every single person is culturally unique. And it takes Y O U observing and interacting with the cultures around you- from your yoga class to your adjunct department to your cafe barista to appreciate the diversity in culture and to realize that you don’t have to go very far to have a heightened awareness of the cultures you move in and out and between. Let’s move together to understand the  C U L T U R E S  we live in so we can understand ourselves better.

Starbucks & My TCK Story

Coffee, Communication, & Connection : One of my favorite standing traditions with my Mom is conversing with her over a good cup of coffee at a café. We kind of fell into this tradition when we lived in Tokyo when I was in my awkward early teen years. The transition I had experienced at that time in our move from Germany to Japan was one of the most challenging I can recall in my upbringing. I think it was a combination of the terrible insecurity that accompanies teenage identity development coupled with the difficulty I experienced in making friends in a quite snobby private school. On the weekends, mom and I would choose to go to one of the 4 Starbucks that was within a 1 mi/2.5km radius of our Roppongi townhouse. I remember always ordering a Tall Mocha. We would try to get seats near a window because we both loved people watching (we still do). As we watched and drank our coffees, Mom would gently probe about what was in my heart – the good, bad, ugly – and she listened deeply to each story. I can’t say that I remember a specific piece of advice she followed up with after each story. But that’s not the point of this reflection anyway. The reason I share this is because I want to encourage parents of TCKs to establish traditions with each of their kids, to demonstrate listening deeply, and to take responsibility for the mental and emotional wellbeing of their children. Expat children and parents experience transitions differently, so maintaining communication and demonstrating care are crucial steps in the process of creating understanding, establishing stability in the family unit, sustaining trust, and learning how best to support one another. It is also a way to demonstrate and encourage vulnerability. The coffee tradition with my mom into my adulthood has helped me to not feel abandoned when I have experienced a lot of abandonment of both people and places. It has been integral in maintaining attachment to feelings of gains – not to the feelings of losses in over 30 moves we experienced (together/separately) thereafter. It has contributed to my sense of what my priorities in life should be, and that includes making time to go to cafes with my friends!

TCK parents, I encourage you to take your child/ren aside one by one to get to know their emotional estate; what’s in their heart. Coming from a ATCK, know that this very practice my mom employed (at an especially vulnerable time in my life) shaped me into a more resilient, empathetic, and culturally aware person today. Never underestimate or apologize for your probing. Always make time to listen.