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)].

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…]