Monday, September 7, 2009

Creating a brave new world?

A conversation last evening over a delightful dinner (I didn't cook!) got me to thinking: Why DO people move to other countries and become expatriates??
Is there a genetic "roaming" gene that some of us inherit, or did we move because of our upbringing and environment?

Our friends are both educators [teacher/headmaster] newly retiring, and have taught outside the UK early in their careers. They have also spent a lot of time teaching multicultural chidren at all levels of income. So we were talking and the term "third culture children" came up.
I found it fascinating. I looked it up this morning. Here's a sort of definition from the US State Department :
"Third-culture kids are those who have spent some of their growing up years in a foreign country and experience a sense of not belonging to their passport country when they return to it. In adapting to life in a 'foreign' country they have also missed learning ways of their homeland and feel most at home in the 'third-culture' which they have created."
The best quote came at the end, from a specialist affiliated with the State Department. As child psychiatrist Jack Smith said,
"The Foreign Service is what adults do. It is what our children are."
[ This Venn Diagram came from a New York Networking site for third culture kids]

Another very good article, "Third Culture Kids", by Lesley Lewis, highlighted the good and bad characteristics of these Third Culture Kids (or TCK's):
Characteristics of TCK's:
A life filled with high mobility - TCK's know an airport better than most people
Traveling is a way of life - many holidays are taken outside the home country
Politically astute - TCK's tend to read the newspaper and watch the news more often than other children. They are great debaters. They are often aware of the background of political decisions and implications for the people concerned.
Speak more than one language - often 3 or 4. English may be one language they function in, but they can think and feel in several.
Establish relationships quickly - they cut through many of the initial levels of diffidence when forming relationships.
Prefer to socialise with other TCK's as they enter adulthood - often become expatriates themselves.
Privileged lifestyle - their socio-economic lifestyle tends to be higher due to the expatriate status offered by some companies or the advantages of relocations (eg. they have access to helpers, drivers, club memberships and money).
Converse well with adults.
More mature in their social skills.
Culturally astute/cross-culturally enriched, less prejudiced.
Adapt quickly to unfamiliar countries and people.
More welcoming of newcomers into a community.
Educational achievers - a high percentage will attend university and obtain advanced degrees.
Live more in the present/live more for the moment(Pollock, 1999)
Make great culture bridges - they have multiple frames of reference.
Excellent observers of other people - often TCK's become too observant and sensitive

These are characteristics that are generally attributed to TCK's but should not be used to sterotype them. Even though the world of the TCK often appears glamorous, exotic and sometimes unreal, there are some challenging developemental issues that need to be considered:

The Challenges of being a TCK:
The elusive concept of Where is home? The sense of belonging everywhere and nowhere.
Difficulty with commitment to people, places, schools, or school systems as these constantly change.
Uncertain cultural identity.
Problems with decsion-making.
Loss of relationships, loss of community/school = loss of their world.
Feeling different from others, difficult in forming peer relationships; occurs more often at university level or when returning to "passport" country, where they are misunderstood by their fellow countrymen.
Rootlessness and restlessness. The frequent need to change countries and homes.
Powerless - A feeling that they have no control over events and that these are often taken out of their hands anyway by the inevitability of the move.
A crisis of identity - "Who am I?"

The question "Who am I?" is frequently asked by TCK's. They have accumulated a host of cultural identities, lived in many countries and have been introduced to a variety of global people. They are not the culture of their parents. TCK's position themselves by integrating a huge pool of values, norms, behaviours, beliefs, mannerisms and thoughts in order to identity self."

When we were done hashing things out over dessert, we also recognized that quite often these children came from bi-cultural families, where visits to grandparents and aunts and uncles meant trips and holiday visits to foreign countries, and often the embracing of dual nationalities and customs. Of course our conversation was circling around the education of these multilingual children and how they had to quickly adapt to new languages and cultures.

Still it got me thinking about what happens after all the schooling and living at home... where do this third culture children feel most comfortable? The Lewis article finishes with a rather lofty hope for the future that contains these children"
...they bring a deep knowledge from within and a special ability to compare international and local issues. They are the future cross-culturalists and hopefully future politicians, diplomats, multi-nationals, government employees and educators. TCK's have a deep understanding of human rights. They certainly encounter a differeing lifestyle compared to their mono-cultural peers but we can draw on their global and professional lives. So, whatever one chooses to label the international students as TCK's, Global Nomads, Expatriates or Global Souls, we will reap unbelievable rewards and a true sense of satisfaction.

Personally I think some of them just quietly decide to move to a different country and create their own personal world there. They're comfortable enough with their host culture and they have no problem living in a multi tier world with the ability to go back and forth between cultures - but now, on their own terms.

Anyway, I think that's why I'M so comfortable living in Greece!

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  1. How do you think this applies to kids from military families? They don't always have the high income bracket advantage, or the quality of education provision of the TCKs.
    I think you're right about the personal world..if you can take it with you you can manage anywhere.

  2. A very interesting post, Prosperos. I am Dutch and my husband is American and we have lived in a number of countries at various times. Our kids were young when they lived overseas with us, and then ended up spending their high school years in the US and that was that ;) Although they spent time abroad during their college years, their high school experience firmly formed them as Americans and I can't classify them as TCK.

    But me, well, I don't "belong" anywhere. I'm really a weird kind of foreigner in my own country, and I'll never really feel 100% American because I didn't grow up in the US and I still have all those tricky bits of Dutch culture hanging around in my personality.

    I've realized that I feel most comfortable in an environment, not Dutch and not American, where I am a "real" foreigner. I have spent so many years as an expat, "being foreign" is sort of my "nationality," if that makes any sense.

    Now, of course, we have to find a place to settle where we can be comfortably foreign... With sunshine, seafood, and most importantly the opportunity to make true friends.

    Miss Footloose, looking for a place to grow a few roots.
    Tales of the Globetrotting Life

  3. I think "Rootlessness and restlessness" would have summed me up pretty well before I settled in Turkey. Even though I was born and raised in England, for some inexplicable reason I never really felt completely at home.

    The first couple of years here left me in a state of limbo..not feeling that I belonged here either. But I do clearly recall the moment when I was flying back from a visit to the UK about 8 or 9 years ago, landing in Turkey and knowing that I was home. From then on I always felt the same emotion.

    Interesting subject...good post.

  4. Thank you all for the feedback!

    Dear Fly,

    I know a lot of children who were "Army brats" who went to the American Schools (there used to be one in Izmir, Turkey) and there were many other nationalities who went to that school as well.

    I am lucky enough to still "see" a few of them as they backpack through Europe after college or between jobs. (I even visited a couple of them after they settled, and nested, to travel no more!)

    As with a complete cross section of the population, some became really high achievers and some did not- but- they all were changed by the experience of living overseas, AND they all relate differently to their home (American) culture.

    I think that creating a personal world is the most important part of the package! Whatever you've become and wherever you are, your idea of what "home" means is unique and can exist almost anywhere.

    Dear Miss Footloose,

    I DO believe your children, tho living in America are quite definitely TCK's! As they were young when they lived overseas, I am sure they speak more than one language. That alone is a HUGE qualifier in the "being a regular kid" stakes!!

    I grew up speaking two (understood a third) languages and as a teenager, I completely had to play that down- AND play down the fact that I had been to many places we studied about or talked about in my classes.

    As an adolescent you embrace the culture you are in, in order to belong. (In the US, as we had many foreign exchange students stay with us through my three sons teen years, FOR DRIVERS TRAINING ALONE!! they all embraced the American culture!!)

    Your comment about your nationality of "being foreign" and choosing to live apart from either "home" culture, is a perfect way to phrase how some of us feel!

    Welcome, by the way! (and you might like living in Greece! We have sun, seafood and good friends here on Corfu! Tho I might add we also have more "weather" than say in Crete or southern Greece!)

    Dear Ayak,

    It sounds like you are in the right place for you. Certainly I think the phenom. of TCK is only one reason people wander and expatriate from their own country.

    I am sure there are other reasons. Marriage is a reason (it was for my mother, who, when she met my father, spoke no English and had never left Belgium-except for that short time they escaped to France after Belgium was invaded during the war).

    Working overseas can also, after a number of years, lead people to belong to neither on or the other culture and feel the same way.

    The one I think of most often though, were those intrepid people like Lord Byron or the literary Barrett-Brownings, or Freya Stark or any of the wonderful writers who lived outside their own country and wrote wonderful word pictures to inspire others to travel and look for their own place of "belonging"...

    Thanks for your comments.

  5. Sorry to eavesdrop, but Mr. Fly's family were Belgian, working in the Congo. On their way back to Europe at the outbreak of war their ship was diverted to England when Belgium fell to the Germans and they ended up in a strange country, without a word of English, totally penniless and regarded as aliens!
    They built a really good life for themselves, never thought to return to Belgium except for holidays, but...never became English!

  6. Dear Fly,

    It's interesting that they never became English, but held on to that one little thread of the other culture.

    [thanks for eavesdropping!]



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