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February 01, 2013, Friday

Feeling like a fish out of water

One of the biggest challenges an expat youth faces is the day when they return to their parents' homeland, where they have never lived, and begin to relate to their peers who have not lived abroad.

Many good books on the subject of third culture kids (TCKs) are available on the market. Another book was published in December 2011 and this one is slightly different in that it focuses on preparing your TCK for the big step of leaving home to go to university.

When raising children in a second or third culture in their developmental years, every TCK parent begins to understand that their child's experience within the international community in the country can differ from their experience in the foreign country. There are definitely added challenges in raising your child abroad, but the rewards can be well worth it.

In my piece, “Not just another kid on the block… Third culture kid or global nomad?” (Feb. 24, 2007), I recommended the book “Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds” by David C. Pollock and Ruth van Reken. In their book they outline the key points on the variables in reference to your TCK's experience within the international community in their home country and how it can differ from that of the TCK's experience in the foreign country. You can read a summary of these in my piece or buy the book!

Third culture kids, or as some say, “global nomads,” who have lived cross-cultural lives do not realize they have acquired different ways of doing things and usually have a broader take on issues until one of those a-ha moments. Often this can occur upon repatriation for university when they are surrounded mostly by those who have never ventured away from their home country or culture.

Most expats have experienced feelings of cultural imbalance, not fitting in or of an inability to connect with their home-country peers when going back home to visit during holidays. We have all had the experience of feeling like a "fish out of water" in our own country. Well, for a TCK, at university this feeling can also lead to feelings of isolation and depression.

The other day, on a Yahoo group, a friend recommended the book “The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition” by Tina Quick. I know a lot of my friends who are parents have experienced varying degrees of anxiety during that period of preparation and sending their teen off to college. My friend who gave the recommendation on the Yahoo group rated this book with five stars, saying it is a great handbook.

Transition to college for any student is a major life change and coupled with the issues that a TCK faces, parents have every right to be concerned. Not every TCK finds the transition easy.

From my quick glance at the Kindle edition, it is evident that Tina Quick knows her subject well and can communicate it in a way that both TCKs and adults can understand and enjoy. Tina writes clearly and gives wonderful examples for the “global nomad” making this transition. I enjoyed perusing the practical overview of the different stages of the “transition cycle” of children and their parents returning to their country of origin. The book provides insights on each stage of the transition cycle in detail with practical guides on how to cope with mental and physical distress related to the transition process. Every parent knows when the apron strings are cut that the real test comes for their child. For TCKs going to university, it is a time when they learn to set boundaries with regard to drugs and alcohol and learn to take care of their health and deal with campus life abroad.

I've been told by my friends who are parents of TCKs that the individual often experiences a greater reverse culture shock during their university life back in their home country than from being on foreign soil. It truly is a time of finding one's true identity and defining oneself.

I am not a parent but I know from living in different cultures that living in many different places can be a positive experience. This does not mean it is easy. It is all about finding the similarities that make us feel comfortable. Isn't really knowing “why we are” rather than “what we are” more important?

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