Tina, can you tell us something about your background and what prompted you to write "The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition"?
I am a third culture kid (TCK) myself. My father was in the military and I once asked my parents how many moves I had made by the time Dad retired. It turns out that I had moved 15 times by age 13. My husband and I have raised our own TCK daughters across four cultures and continents. As a family we have made 10 moves altogether.
A good friend who happened to be a psychologist who worked with globally mobile families offered to give me a transition workshop when she heard my family was repatriating after having lived nearly 15 consecutive years abroad. She taught me that we needed to treat our home country the same way we would a foreign one as it would be foreign to us in many respects. This training was a godsend. Although we still had some hurdles to jump, it made us more aware of why things were happening and what we could do about it.I was so intrigued by the effects the training had on my family’s adjustment that I decided to become a cross-cultural trainer and start a consultancy to help other families making international relocations, whether they were going abroad or coming home. In the process of setting up my company, International Family Transitions, my initial mission and vision changed. Due to living in the greater Boston area which hosts over 200 colleges and universities, I began bumping into TCKs that I had known from all our different international assignments. And I was hearing the same, familiar, but sad stories over and over again. Many of these TCK college students were voicing concerns of ‘not fitting in,’ ‘not belonging,’ ‘not being able to connect with peers.’ After that they would say things like, “I ended up spending a lot of time alone,” and then “I became very depressed.”
I knew it didn’t have to be this way. That’s when I began researching TCK issues and looking at programs that supported TCKs. I identified the main reasons TCKs had difficulty settling into university, why they had those difficulties and what they could do to counter the challenges. I started up my own transition/re-entry program to offer at sending schools such as international schools as well as the receiving organizations – colleges and universities. Unfortunately not all students believe they will need help adjusting, especially if they are returning ‘home.’ But home really isn’t home to them. This is something that comes as a huge surprise.
Trying to counsel TCKs about the challenges of the university transition before they actually go through it is a bit like giving marriage counseling to a young couple in love. They really don’t think they will need it. And that is exactly why I decided to turn my transition/re-entry program into a book. Someone could stick it in their hands and they can choose to read it in preparation for the adjustment (the recommended course of action) or to turn to the chapter that addresses their specific need when they hit a bump along the way. Either way, TCKs will know that what they are experiencing is:
(1) not weird or unusual,
(2) normal and expected, and
(3) will pass in time.
Along the way of educating TCKs about to transition to college/university I also realized that the psycho-social/emotional issues of transition I address in my book, The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition, also apply to families repatriating with adolescents. So the book has a much broader appeal than I had first envisioned. In fact, many parents at international schools where I speak buy the book as a family resource well before they have a student transitioning to university.
What are the main challenges faced by TCKs (Third Culture Kids)? How can they overcome them?
The biggest challenge for TCKs comes once they step out of that third culture – the expatriate culture – where they enjoyed a sense of belonging with others of shared experience. As I mentioned earlier the challenge is not being able to connect with their domestic peers. This happens for a variety of reasons. What follows are just a few:
(1) They feel different from their peers. That’s because they ARE different – not them as people, but their international experiences make them very different from most of those they are surrounded by in their home or new host country. They must constantly remind themselves that their experiences are what make them feel different and there is nothing wrong with them.
(2) They have no point of reference for someone who has lived a more traditional, non-mobile lifestyle and the domestic peer has no point of reference for someone who has lived a cross-cultural, highly mobile lifestyle. So they don’t have a lot in common. They must learn to ask questions of others. Find out what their peers’ stories are. Then there can be a mutual understanding and sharing of each others’ experiences.
(3) There is a lack of a sense of belonging. They need to find community by seeking out other TCKs or at least someone who is also making an inter-cultural adjustment such as international students.
(4) TCKs typically relate differently than someone who grows up in a more traditional, non-mobile community. TCKs are in a hurry to make relationships because they have had to. They never know when they or a best friend might have to move. So they immediately get into deeper levels of communication than someone who has had the time to wait and see if a relationship will develop. TCKs will throw something out there to see if the other person will share something back on that same level and thus determine quickly whether or not they can be friends. Domestic peers spend a lot of time in more superficial levels of communication before they will trust someone to share something deeper. The domestic peer is taken off guard by the TCK’s openness and the TCK ends up feeling weird and alienated. They need to learn to take their time on the superficial levels of conversation. It may seem that there is no real getting-to-know you going on, but there is.
I think the next biggest challenge for these global nomads is finding identity. They grow up saying they are whatever nationality is stamped on the front of their passport but they may feel anything but that once they return home. They feel more like an international. They have a foot in both worlds but don’t truly belong to either. They need to understand that belonging for them is more in their relationships than in a geographical place.
The high mobility that is so characteristic of these global nomads’ experiences also leads to a lot of loss in their lifetimes. Dave Pollock, co-author with Ruth Van Reken of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, writes:
For most TCKs the collection of significant losses and separations before the end of adolescence is often more than most people experience in a lifetime.
When there is loss there needs to be the time and permission to grieve over it. Unfortunately, in the life of a TCK, for numerous reasons, grief is never dealt with. The result is that the grief is carried around as baggage and dysfunctional expressions of grief such as anger, depression and rebellion can surface later in life. TCKs must be taught how to put a name on their losses and to spend time grieving over it. I tell students heading off for university that homesickness is actually grief and they should allow themselves to give into it. Pick a time when there are no classes or obligations, jump into bed, pull the covers over their heads, put on their favorite sad music, pull out their school year books or scrapbooks and just allow themselves to grieve. Good grief teaches us something and takes us to a better place.
If you had to give one piece of advice to parents raising and educating children overseas what would it be?
Give your children language for their life experiences. Introduce the terminology, “third culture kid” and “global nomad” early on in their children’s lives. If children understand that their life experiences are different enough to deserve a name, it will help them begin to understand how their experiences are shaping who they are. Use stories, movies, plays and songs with a TCK theme to discuss the issues and how they might relate to the lives of their children.
A great movie for young TCKs is Tarzan II. I love the scene with the Phil Collins song, “Who Am I?” playing in the background while the young Tarzan is trying to see which animal group he fits into. The end result, of course, is that he doesn’t fit into any of them. He is in a group of his own, as are TCKs.
What advice can you offer to university-bound students to help them adapt to studying abroad or returning to study in their home-country after living abroad?
The same advice my tutor first told me when preparing for our repatriation – treat your home country the same way you would a foreign one. There will be many aspects of your home country that you do not know as well as you thought you did. Buy a guidebook to your own culture and read it. Attend International Orientation along with other foreign students. You may even meet TCKs from other countries who may have spent little to no time in their passport country. At the very least you will have something in common with international students because they are also making the same double transition that you are. You both are not only adjusting to a new life stage as an independent adult, but to a new culture as well.
What are your plans for the future?
I am mostly focusing on the talks I give at international schools and college communities, but I am also very passionate about continuing to educate both sending and receiving schools about the importance of preparing and supporting this demographic of student through the college transition experience. I also hope to advocate more within schools and organizations the importance of transition programs for incoming and outgoing families.
At some point in time I would like to make DVDs based on my programs to help institutions develop their own self-sustaining programs.
What do you do to relax?
I play a ton of sports but of late, my passion is basketball. In fact, I’ll take this opportunity to boast a little that my women’s basketball team just won the National Championship in our age group! But basically any physical sport is what makes me happy and keeps me healthy and I am thankful to have a husband who loves to stay active as well.
Tina Quick is a cross-cultural trainer, writer and international speaker. She is the founder of International Family Transitions, a consultancy with a focus on empowering individuals, students and families to successfully negotiate international relocations through cultural training, seminars, workshops, and individual counseling. Her passion is working with students who have been living outside their passport countries but are either making the transition back home or to another host country for college or university. She is the author of “The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition,” a hand book for students and parents of third culture kids.