Today my blog entry is an article I recently published with EXPAT NEST. A huge Thank You to Vivian Chiona for this opportunity. Dear reader thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts, own experiences, best practice, questions and thoughts and with us.
Wishing you well!
Today I’ll be sharing with you my story – a story of an Adult TCK.
I’ll do so in three steps:
- TCK – definition
- My storry
- TCK’s – their skills & challenges
1. TCK definition
A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background, other TCKs.” Ruth van Reken, http://www.tckworld.com
In other words a TCK is a child that between 0-18 years is growing in one to multiple countries or environments that are different than his/er passport or parential cultures. Mostly this happens when a parent moves for a job to an other country. Sometimes though a completly different area of the own country can do it as well; eg from central US to west coast or North India to the South.
See how TCK children descibe it in their own words.
2. My story
I was born in Zurich Switzerland, daughter of a German mother (German parents) and Swiss father (Swiss mother, German father). Since my mom was working and a single parent I lived with my grandparents during the week – transition #1. At the age of 8 my mom and her partner (Greek parents, partly grown in Germany, TCK) moved to Greece – I went along, transition #2. Though we had been visiting regularly during last 4 years it was quite a change: new school (always biggest challenge), new family setting (my mom got married), new family member (my sis was born), new country/language – tons of new roles I was exposed to. After a year I had slowly found my place in the family: 2nd mom for my newborn sis, translater to my mom, exotic cousin etc etc etc… in school it took me a few more years to find my place, friends and new roles; was relieved to find friends with similar parential patterns, mostly fathers Greek and moms non-Greek. Even there I wouldn’t fit completly due to the fact that it was my mom’s second marriage still quite a rare phenomenon back then in the 70s… I stayed in Greece until I finished school… visiting Switzerland/Germany some years during summer vacation. When I was done with school it was clear to everyone – I had no oppinion to be very honest – that I would study in Switzerland – repatriation was ahead, transition #3. I was looking forward to ‘visiting’ Switzerland, what I did not know was that staying there would be such a different thing to visiting. Culture shock and stress started hitting in… One thing is clear to me today. It took all my enegry to find my place – finding friends, managing my finances, dealing with daily stuff, having fallen out of the overly protective nest – that there was no energy left for university, even after changing university/city (from German to French speakig), transition #4, I did not manage to get a degree. After that I moved back to the Zurich area – where I felt most comfortable – and sucessfully graduated from a job training, transition #5. This is a moment where I could say I had started to find my place at least in the professional area. It was my first career – out of three by today (2014). As to my private life the journey had only started. I can today say I was never ever completly happy however I could never put a finger on it why. Only when reading the TCK book from David Pollock and Ruth van Reken the world finally started to make sense… Being a cross cultural trainer and coach at the time (3rd career) I started digging into this, talking to other TCKs, various professionals, the co-author of the book and this is what helps me diggesting and putting the pieces together that so many years where scattered in my life. Because of course there was never ever a consious good bye from my Swiss school and friends, from my family I left behind or later on when repatriating a good-bye from the country I had lived in so many years. Today since I have a base again in Greece where I had spend most of my childghood, it feels right… it feels like coming ‘home’. I communte on a regular base to Switzerland and other countries for business. So transitions are my daily business, guess I got so used to it, I cannot live without. One thing is for sure: I love my life and the way I was brought up across cultures because I would not be who I am without it since it shaped me, my relationships and my business.
3. TCK skills & challenges
Typicall questions I and other TCKs get more irritated than anything are
- Where is home?
- Where are you from?
- Are you … ? A guess of nationality is outspoken
Skills I personally have developed as a result of my adult TCK life style are:
- highly adaptive – attachment/dettachment, a skill that supports me in my daily business where I connect with people of a very personal level when walking in and say goodbye for good a few hours later
- speaking two languages accent free
- find common ground with people no matter where I am
- embrace/love change
- personal growing – striving to become a better person or visiting life University on a daily base
- high pace – quickly bored specially with routines: therefore chose profession with lowest rate of routine: human beings
- listening behind words
- doing one thing in many different ways – eg communication styles: in Switzerland I email; in Greece I call
These are only a few to name… Now every skill if done too much or exessively can turn into a negative skill, something we all know and are aware of. I will only mention one thing that I understand is difficult specially for monculturalists dealing with TCKs. I feel TCKs are not as predictable as monoculturalists would like to. Let me give an example: if I have the need to cry… I sometimes want to be alone, sometimes I want to be talking, sometimes I want to get a hug and sometimes I may want all of that. Now I ask you. How can a person who wants a one-way-rule ‘how to treat Regina when she cries’ deal with this?
I have been crying a lot and suffering years and years of cultural stress, not beloning, being an outsider… however it has made me the person I am and I wouldn’t want to change that for anything in the world. Personally I’m positive that the future citizen is a TCK – due to travelling and cross cultural marriages and job opportunities around the globe. My suggestion: with awareness, mindfulness, solution orientation and human sense we will grow together as human beings and the day will come when instead of where are you from we will be asking: WHERE DO YOU GO?
Literature & links
- Groups & Live events: Third Culture Kids Greece – FB & Meetup
- Book “Third Culture Kids” David Pollak & Ruth van Reken
I’m a TCK that grew up in only one country other than my passport countries which are two.
So I lived, grew up and went to school for 13 years in Greece. My passport countries inherited from both parents are German and Swiss. In Switzerland I was born whereas in my other passport country Germany I never stayed longer than 2-3 weeks when visiting family.
After school I moved to Switzerland in order to study – mostly an idea of my parents… I did not want to stay for long… But as we all know from experience plans are made for only one purpose, to be changde.
So it was only 27 years, one marriage, 3 careers, 3 cities and a lovely son later that I took a decision to move back to ‘my home country’ Greece!
Contrary to all ideas that TCKs do not bond to places in my case I need to strongly disagree. The first day I slept in my house back in Greece I had only one thought: landed, finally home – even if this is not any of my passport countries!
any similar experiences out there?
- Listen twice with both ears
- Ask open questions
- Sum up
- Repeat in your own words
- Validate, offer a present
- It’s considered rude to interrupt!!!
- Be authentic, passionate transparent, interested, curious
- I versus YOU messages
- Learn about non verbal local dos & dont’s
- Find a compromise between extreme direct/indirect speech
- Avoid: generalizations, judgments, knowing, accusing
- Express wishes when giving feedback
- Slow down speaking pace
- English is not English – native, 3rd language speakers, watch out:
- Vocabulary, shortcuts, accent
- Written text (email, sms) IS a communication – answer within 24 hours
#cultural or not, #stress stays stress!
In literature commonly known as culture shock I prefer the expression cultural stress.
I keep meeting clients who experience it, some more than others. Let me share with you two true stories from clients giving me permission to share their experience hoping to support and encourage other people out there dealing with cultural stress.
A senior marketing manager in his thirties based in a Latin culture with all pluses going along with it such as big house, high income, social status, highly positioned in his organization – in other words well positioned in his comfort zone. He is offered a two year relocation to company’s headquarter in Switzerland. This is a great training opportunity, no question so he accepts. Still he has to give up not only his social status, his position, leave back friends and family but also needs to learn from scratch how to handle daily life: house…
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I was 19 when re-entrying my passport culture, back in the late 80s (no cell, internet, social media).
Had been visiting 2 summers each 5 weeks. Now I was supposed to live, love and like it. But I did not. Everyone pointed out to me that I was in the nicest place ever…
Looking back I would say I did like the country, not its people though. I’m a relationship person and I had landed in a factual country that was supposed to be MINE. Daily life was unknown, there was no intercultural training for me and I did not know how to look out for people with similar experience. I was culturallyshocked/stressed and had stranded like Robinson Cruso…
Looking back I, would I need to redo I would suggest
* finding like-minded people for the beginning
* detect the skills (rather than what does not work) of the culture
* takeing a consious choice of being in that country
* allowing myself to not belonging (like in any other country)
What works well for me and I do nowadays when introducing myself in my ‘passpport’ countries is making a difference between ‘where are you from’ and ‘which passports’ I own. Like this I give people immediately an idea that I might have the same passport but have been culturally impacted by other nations and cultures and therefore may not fit their expectations.
At this point I would like to point out the book TCK from Pollack/van Rekenwhich changed my perspective 25 years later… yes it may seem later and no it is not too late because it changed my entire perspective from ‘I’m the exotic one stranded in my own culture’ to ‘hey it’s ok, I like it and it defindes even my professional role’.
The other day while explaining my clients the very complex system of Swiss garbage recycling it happened just like this: I came up with a new word
It felt so right, so comfi that I decided to implement it into my standard wordings.
I’m not native English speaker. But I adore the possibility of expressing complex issues with only few words.
Whereas in my mother tongue German we do the contrary. The more complex the topic the more complex and long the sentences. Sometimes it feels as if there is a hidden agenda called ‘complexity versus understanding’.
Have you also ‘invented’ words for the sake of simplicity?
Urban dictionary GARBAGING