The Parentals’ Retirement

Excerpt on Retirement : “That night before I returned to D.C., Dad, Mom, and I sat around our campsite fire in the campground on the outskirts of town. We stared into the burning embers as we thought about this new chapter in our lives. I looked up and told them how I admire them for their lifelong practice of seamlessly moving in and between social spaces gracefully and of being comfortable with interacting with anyone while having the ability to form meaningful conversations. I explained that I love the way they value relationships they have had overseas and how I sense how eagerly they look forward to those they will engage in domestically.

Most importantly, though, I told them that I was happy that they still had their wanderlust youthful spirit to travel and to be adventurous. … ….At that moment, I saw the glow of satisfaction that not only had they anchored themselves to a place but had positioned themselves to lead us in a new story. A story with a HOME we chose for ourselves.

What is Success?

Personal Identity in “Success” : I am proud to be a millennial Adult Third Culture Kid. In and through these identities, I’m not necessarily following/have followed a linear path of/to “success”: good grades = good university = good job = good family = good retirement. That formula doesn’t/isn’t/hasn’t defining/ed my path. My “success” is not necessarily stability and security in my job. It is not my life structure [right now]. My generation and my fellow Adult Third Culture Kids are (re)structuring what “success” is and what it looks like. We value work-life integration, flexibility, sustainability, purpose, and intrinsic motivation. Our “risk” looks different from other generations’ “risk.” We value being someone rather than being something. We know that what we don’t want is just as important as what we do want.

: :

My narrative is different from your narrative, fellow ATCK. But we have a thread of similarity in our drive for “success.”

ATCK Conversations

Hey, Adult Third Culture Kids : Hold conversations with fellow TCKs. Discover how/if your identity is (dis)embedded in location, people, belongings, systems, ____________. Discuss core values and ways of knowing and being fundamental to your community. Unpack the culturally complex and nuanced life you lead. You’ll find commonality and clarity. And trust me: there is healing and closure in the process. 

And quite frankly, the unexamined life stifles growth.

Questions about Change

Change : Whenever I go back to a place or reenter my passport country, I am struck by the change I see in both it and myself. The rate of change seems to be increasingly faster and more overt. What does that mean for identity? And for community? And for sense of belonging? It reminds me of a stream of water — always on course. Always in a state of movement. How do we cultivate a sense of rootedness in the fluidity of change?

ATCK Siblings

Adult Third Culture Kid Siblings : Has anyone else been watching the popular U.S. series “This is Us”? I watched Episode “Number 3” recently and felt so much connection to the feelings of [unresolved] grief and feelings of love and loss that the characters in the story acted out so authentically. The part where “Number 3,” otherwise known as “Randall” in the series, describes life as a game of pac man with chasing things and sometimes having old ghosts show up in different ways resonates so much with my personal TCK stories of (re)entry and moving from country to country. Randall said, “Decade after decade just eating those circles, I mean, trying different routes, trying his best to avoid all those ghosts.” Those “ghosts,” in whatever form for me, produce triggers of emotions and grief that I am running away from processing in and through my TCK identity.

Whereas Randall’s wife, Beth, says that his analogy is “bleak,” he says it’s “beautiful” and goes on to show how acknowledging, facing, and leaning into those “ghost” forms helps us to process current feelings and to understand the root of loss, pain, and unresolved grief. Every time I watch an episode of this show, it is so clear to me that unresolved grief in adulthood is complex and can appear in different ways.

One final line in the episode tonight stung and sprung instant salty tears streaming down my face. Randall’s adopted Dad, “Jack,” was narrating the final scene which showed various unresolved grief the siblings [Number 1, 2, and 3] were facing. He said, “And when one of you falls down … the other one’s standing up.” It hit home. I thought of my relationship with my own brother. How when I have fallen down, especially in my various moves back to the U.S., he has stood up in support (financially, emotionally, wisely). And when he’s fallen down, I stand up for him. We may not understand why one another has fallen down, and it may take a few more episodes in our own series to get to that clarity, but we will be there for one another through it all.

We haven’t been together in place for over a year now. But we’ve connected in emotional spaces to lean into the process of continuing to heal grief, feelings of loss, and helping one another to stand up taller than before. I love you, brother. I’m standing for you right now.

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)].