Being a kid or raising one overseas…now these are challenges. If you talk to adults or even teenagers who have grown up in foreign countries, most will relish telling you how much they enjoyed the experience. What’s more, most can’t wait to move to another country and do it again.
As ‘third culture people,’ they may not know the names of ordinary birds or flowers in their home countries, the rules of American football, or for that matter, have a clear understanding of their own national history, but plenty of their home-grown peers don’t either.
So what makes this experience so different? ‘Third culture’ is a term used to describe the process of becoming international in perspective identity, and experience. It’s far more than carrying a passport or knowing how to count or say ‘cheers’ in numerous languages. ‘Third culture’ means viewing the world, and your place within it, as a vibrant and continuous adventure involving exploration, assimilation, and change.
This is what makes growing up in a foreign country so special and why it’s something they want to repeat.
Most TCK’s (‘third culture kids’) will talk about the opportunities they had: the adventure, the people they met, and the friends they now have all over the world. If you probe deeper, they’ll also tell you it was exciting and growth-inducing due to having to cope with the small things like riding public transportation, the unknowns of operating in a language they don’t fully comprehend, and the intercultural challenges of making friends with people different from themselves. All that has made them feel confident, more mature in many ways from their ‘domestic’ peers.
In order to better grasp the implications of this for your children, we should begin with some reflections on why you took the kids overseas to begin with. Typical responses-beyond the issue of their dad’s (or mum’s ) cancer opportunity-are generally along the lines of broadening their horizons exposing them to differences, new people, and ideas. Simultaneous with these noble and quite achievable goals are the less loudly voiced concerns about the academic standard of the new school, the kids’ ability to make friends and fit in, drugs, violence, illness, family time, and household chores and responsibilities. And if you ask kids prior to departure, you’ll find their primary concern – and most frequent objection to going-is about leaving their friends behind, making new ones in a new school environment, and what their new home will be like. “Will I get my own room?” “Can I take my favourite…?”
So lets begin with the friends issue, Kids are moving all over the world all the time, and everywhere they go they find peers, In Thailand, expatriate schools report about a thirty percent turnover each year, and while this may seem higher than in typical small town or sprawling suburban high school back home, in fact in means that making friends is actually easier. Every kid in the new school has been a new kid, and are, by necessity, more open to differences. While tight peer groups do exist, they are more fluid, with ample room for newcomers. Relax, your kids will make friends.