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Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds
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The "Third Culture Kids" Book > Chapter 19: It's Never Too Late

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message 1: by mkPLANET (last edited Aug 25, 2015 02:00PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

mkPLANET | 85 comments Mod
Hello Everyone! It's hard to believe how quickly the summer has gone by. After such a rich journey through "Third Culture Kids" which has been facilitated by so many insightful, gifted, and dedicated individuals in the TCK community, we've reached the final chapter of the book.

Our topic this week will be 'It's Never too Late,' and we'll follow the chapter's outline as a guide for our conversation. We'll dedicate the first two days to 'What ATCKs Can Do.' Then we'll focus on the question, 'How Can Parents Help Their ATCKs?' And lastly, we'll spend some time looking at 'What Friends and Other Relatives Can Do.'

Here's a quote to get us started, and I'll post more topics and questions as the day goes on:

"For many ATCKs, simply putting a name to their past–'I grew up as a third culture kid'–opens a new perspective on life... Some who have spent a lifetime thinking they're alone in their differentness or wondering 'What's wrong with me?' discover they have lived a normal life after all–at least normal for a TCK. Somehow the concept of normality is very liberating. It doesn't solve every problem, but it gives permission for a lot of self-discovery and frees ATCKs to make some changes they may not have thought possible."

Here's an example of this sort of self-discovery in action, also from the book:

"Since one ATCK discovered withdrawal was her consistent pattern before moving, she now tells her friends a month before the departure date, 'I want to let you know what a great friend you've been, because I might not be able to tell you at the end. I also need to tell you that I've hurt a lot of people by acting like I don't care when it comes time to say good-bye. I'm going to try not to do that, but if I start to withdraw, you let me know.' And her friends do."

Here are a few questions this brings to mind. Feel free to comment on whichever ones grab your interest, or ask your own!

– How did learning that you were a TCK change your perspective on yourself, your childhood, or on life in general? Did you have an 'aha' moment, or was it a gradual process?

– Have you begun a process of self-discovery in light of everything you've learned about your TCK experience? If so, what's one interesting thing you've learned about yourself?

– Can you give an example of your self-discovery in action, like the ATCK in the example above?

I look forward to hearing from you!


message 2: by Sharon (new)

Sharon | 4 comments I re-entered the US at age 18 (kinda journaling as I write...). Am now over 50. My greatest emotional need it to be accepted. But I push people away with oddities of past or current "me". I fulfill a self-defeating prophesy - I am not worthy of being a friend. I do have one friend, whom I am convinced that God has given her an assignment of being my friend and prayer partner(over 30 years!), who will actually tell me that she believes the oddities, but is honest enough to tell me she is uncomfortable dealing with the subject! Love, love, LOVE her honesty. Absolutely no demeaning attitudes! She is still willing to meet me and pray for me.


message 3: by Bethany (new)

Bethany P | 14 comments One example of my self-discovery was when I had lived in a new place for about a year and a half. I actually had a fairly stable TCK experience, living in one house for 5 years, and then another for 18 years. But upon returning to the US, my family moved almost every 2 years for about 6 years (actually 4 moves in 6 years I think). I grew to associate living in the US with transition. I moved away from my parents' final move after about 2 years, lived in one place for 2 1/2 years, moved to another place... and once I had been there for almost 2 years I found myself very antsy, itching for change, a new place, new friends, new adventures. But I had bought a house, was going to school, quite settled really. I knew I should stay, that staying was good, that learning to feel at home was good. Here I am 3 1/2 years later starting to feel the itch again, but still reminding myself that what I have here is good still. I am certainly not ruling out the possibility of moving: right now just isn't the right time for that in many areas. So I need to relax and enjoy what I have found and built here for a while longer, until the right time does come along.


mkPLANET | 85 comments Mod
Sharon wrote: "I re-entered the US at age 18 (kinda journaling as I write...). Am now over 50. My greatest emotional need it to be accepted. But I push people away with oddities of past or current "me". I fulfill..."

Sharon, that's a very relatable need you've described. It reminds me of a quote I recently came across by Tim Keller. He says, “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything.” I'm so happy to hear you've found someone who knows your 'oddities' as you say, and loves you as a friend! Everybody needs someone like that in their lives! (As TCKs, we're an odd bunch, aren't we? Our quirks have helped make us the interesting, seasoned, mutilayered, people we are. That's certainly worth celebrating.) :)

Since you know about your habit of pushing people away, has this knowlegde ever come in handy? In other words, has it influenced the way you approach or respond to potential new friends?


mkPLANET | 85 comments Mod
Bethany wrote: "One example of my self-discovery was when I had lived in a new place for about a year and a half. I actually had a fairly stable TCK experience, living in one house for 5 years, and then another f..."

Bethany, that's a great example of how knowing about your TCK instincts/habits gives you the freedom to either follow through on them or not. Dealing with them may still be difficult, but knowing about them means you can anticipate them and choose your approach.

For me, this kind of knowledge was very helpful when I realized that I had the tendency to want to exchange not just homes, but also friends. Once I realized that I had this subconscious timer telling me when it was 'time' to say goodbye to my current friends, rather than letting them go, I was able to make choices that actually strengthened my friendships. I'm thankful because, had I not been aware of the way my nomadic past was impacting me, I might have lost some very good friends!


message 6: by mkPLANET (last edited Aug 27, 2015 04:20PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

mkPLANET | 85 comments Mod
Apologies for coming back so late! I've had computer troubles that made typing difficult, so I'm thankful for a friend who loaned me their laptop! So I'll cover a couple issues here to make up for lost time. Feel free to jump in on any or all of these topics!

In the chapter, the authors mention common ways that TCKs use to process and grieve their losses. Journaling is one way many TCKs choose to do this processing. Chatting on listserves or blogs, in forums, or social media groups is another way many people have processed their TCK experience. These are places where all kinds of questions and stories are shared. Pollock and Van Reken list several questions for reflection, several of which I've listed below. How would you answer them?

- Did you properly say good-bye to a country you loved dearly?
- What ever happened to your pets?
- Where is your amah now?
- Have you rediscovered your role in a group?

Others approach their past through painting, photography, poetry, writing fiction, and even by the way they decorate their homes, and other creative outlets. I want to invite anyone who may have put some of their creative work online, to share their links with us if they like. If you have a gallery, blog, book, etc. showcasing a part of your TCK experience, you're welcome to post it here.

Still others have the opportunity to process their past by revisiting the place(s) they grew up. Have you had this opportunity? If so, tell us about a highlight, or a surprise you encountered along the way. Did you find old acquaintances, or bring back a meaningful memento? Would you go again? And if you haven't had this opportunity yet, do you plan to travel to your childhood home(s) one day?

Lastly, how do you process things best? Do you prefer the privacy of journaling, or do you like to be introspective with friends, family, or in groups of fellow TCKs? Are you the creative type, or do you process best by revisiting people from your past and the places you grew up? Or is there a different method that works better for you which I haven't mentioned here?


message 7: by Bethany (new)

Bethany P | 14 comments I definitely did not get to say goodbye, at all, much less in full and with closure. I haven't been able to go back yet either, and now, 11 years later it all feels SO far away that I don't know what to do in that area. I feel that I really have to, but it just hasn't worked out either with finances, time off work/school, or figuring out who to go with me.


mkPLANET | 85 comments Mod
Bethany, I can relate with that! I missed my childhood home a lot, and by the time I finished my first year of university, my homesickness was getting in the way of my studies. I told this to a friend over coffee one day, and he said to me, "Well, why don't you just go?" I was a bit stunned by this, and didn't have an answer for him. His suggestion sounded impossible, and yet I didn't know why. That was a turning point for me, and I finally figured why not? So I took a year off from university to work and travel, and it was exactly what I needed.

Everyone's situation is different, of course, and for some ATCKs it may really be impossible to travel back to the place they grew up, whether because of finances, illness, or family obligations. Some can't return to their childhood home because political instability, diseases, or natural disasters have made those areas unsafe. If someone longs to return to their childhood home but is prevented from doing that, it can add another layer of grief which needs to be worked through.


mkPLANET | 85 comments Mod
What's the parents' role in helping their adult TCKs? Here's one TCK's story from the chapter:

"One ATCK took courage and finally wrote his parents some of the things he had felt through some of the early separations from them as a child. His mother wrote back, 'Thank you for telling us how you felt. As I read your letter, of course I cried. I wish I could give you a big hug right now. I'm sorry we didn't know then what you expressed now or we might have made some different decisions–but we didn't. I love you and trust your story will help others.'"

This mother's response is a good example of the way parents can support their adult children process past losses. You'll notice she acknowledges her son's feelings, she shares about her own grief at finding out how her son felt, and she wants to comfort him. She also apologizes, even though she didn't know what her son was feeling all those years ago, and reassures him that he was a priority to her and his father, saying that his feelings at the time would've been a factor in the decisions they made. This kind of response, where a parent believes, values, and responds in love to the ATCK's feelings, helps the healing process immensely.

The authors' first suggestion to parents is to listen and try to understand, which they say "may seem simple, but it's not." In spite of a parent's love for their child, it's easy to become defensive, to rationalize past decisions, and minimize their effects on children, especially if the child expresses intense emotions, including anger, at the parents or their organizations. Parents might be tempted to dispute the child's memory of certain circumstances, or to argue that the child's emotional response is unwarranted.

The authors say that it "may not be easy for parents to hear [these emotions], but it's important for parents to keep in mind that life has stages, and that often children can't fully deal with or understand what is happening at a certain time in their lives." They also say, "it is critical that when ATCKs try to tell their parents, even years later, what they were feeling as they grew up, parents need to listen and accept it." Guidelines for the parents include comforting their children, being gentle, forgiving, and assuming they are still needed in their children's lives. (The authors expand on each point in the chapter, and naturally I would encourage parents of TCKs to pick up the book if at all possible.)

Questions:
Does anyone have a success story they can share with the group? What's your advice for families who are trying to, or have yet to work through these issues together?

For TCKs: What aspect of your parents' response has been the most meaningful to you in this process? If you haven't gone through the process yet, or if you've tried and it didn't turn out the way you'd hoped, what response do you wish they had given/might still give? What's your advice to other TCKs who are having a hard time having their feelings be acknowledged and validated by their parents?

Parents: If you've gone through this process with your child(ren), how did it go? What were some of the hurdles you encountered along the way? And what's your advice to parents who may be struggling through the process? If you haven't gone through it with them yet, do you plan to?


message 10: by mkPLANET (last edited Aug 29, 2015 10:26AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

mkPLANET | 85 comments Mod
The last section I'd like to mention briefy is the way friends and others can support TCKs.

The authors mention several points, including the importance of comforting when appropriate, and not comparing stories or reminding TCKs that 'other people have it worse.'

At its simplest, a helpful response is for friends to be interested, and to ask good questions. It's rare for people to sincerely want to hear more about the TCK's experience, so this alone can be a type of support.

Friends can build on their interest with good questions. In my experience, though, the question I've been asked most often is, "Do you still speak the language?" and that's as far as the conversation usually goes. I've heard TCKs joke about some of the questions they've been asked, as well as the lack of knowledge people have about the countries/cultures TCKs have lived in. I would suggest, instead, that if we as TCKs see that a friend's question is sincere, we can use the opportunity to help them learn a bit about our countries and open their eyes to the reasons we loved those places.

That being said, it does help if friends are able to ask good questions. The authors suggest questions such as, "How did you feel when you said good-bye to your grandma?" "What was the hardest thing about returning to your home country?" and "What did you like best about growing up that way?" Questions about feelings, stories, and specific circumstances begin to explore the TCK's experience beyond a superficial level, and may actually be the first opportunity the TCK is given to process the experience out loud.

Questions:

What have been the more helpful and/or unhelpful questions you've heard about your TCK experience from a friend or acquaintance?

What are other ways that a friend has given you support to process your TCK experience?

Lastly, what advice would you give to friends of TCKs who want to be supportive but don't know how?


message 11: by Jared (new)

Jared (jaredf79) | 27 comments Sorry for being late!

>>”How did learning that you were a TCK change your perspective on yourself, your childhood, or on life in general? Did you have an 'aha' moment, or was it a gradual process?”

As I learnt more about TCKs, I found that a lot of my history and present characteristics fit more neatly into that framework and those concepts. It didn’t change how I live, per se, but it did give me a ‘vocabulary’ to start understanding myself better and to relate that to others when I acted a certain way.

>>”Have you begun a process of self-discovery in light of everything you've learned about your TCK experience? If so, what's one interesting thing you've learned about yourself?”

This has been a slower process for me, but I have found myself identifying more with TCK constructs. It’s not that I’ve learnt anything new about myself since I’ve been self-analysing for a while. It’s more that I have a name for it.

>>Can you give an example of your self-discovery in action, like the ATCK in the example above?

Very similarly to the example cited, I informed some acquaintances/friends that I may appear distant because of a possible move, but that I still want to keep connected and interact. It may just be more difficult. I just asked for their understanding of this process.


message 12: by Jared (new)

Jared (jaredf79) | 27 comments >>Did you properly say good-bye to a country you loved dearly?

No. I was too young and I barely realized it was happening.

>>What ever happened to your pets?

We gave our cat to a neighbour who had a farm. I think the cat died of poisoning, but I forget exactly what happened.

>>Where is your amah now?

The person closest to the concept of ‘amah’ is still there, I believe, but we haven’t been in contact since I left. My sister has, though.

>>Have you rediscovered your role in a group?

Not really. I’m still working through that.

>>Lastly, how do you process things best? Do you prefer the privacy of journaling, or do you like to be introspective with friends, family, or in groups of fellow TCKs? Are you the creative type, or do you process best by revisiting people from your past and the places you grew up? Or is there a different method that works better for you which I haven't mentioned here?

I tend not to journal. I mull things over in my mind or talk about them. I’ve thought about journaling, but I’m not drawn to it. Perhaps I may deal with TCK issues through other things, like writing a narrative of some kind. Time will tell. Perhaps I should do more. I’ll have to think about it.


message 13: by Jared (new)

Jared (jaredf79) | 27 comments >>Does anyone have a success story they can share with the group? What's your advice for families who are trying to, or have yet to work through these issues together?

I have pretty good parents with whom I’m still close. We’ve talked about the difficulties but also the joys. I don’t feel this is an open issue for me. As with the example cited, my parents listened and feel bad for the difficulties. I know they are supportive and love me. Of course I can’t ask them to change the past. It’s good to know they understand and acknowledge the difficulties.


message 14: by Jared (new)

Jared (jaredf79) | 27 comments >>Friends can build on their interest with good questions. In my experience, though, the question I've been asked most often is, "Do you still speak the language?" and that's as far as the conversation usually goes. I've heard TCKs joke about some of the questions they've been asked, as well as the lack of knowledge people have about the countries/cultures TCKs have lived in. I would suggest, instead, that if we as TCKs see that a friend's question is sincere, we can use the opportunity to help them learn a bit about our countries and open their eyes to the reasons we loved those places.

LOL. Very true. It’s the same with me. Nothing about the culture or how it changed me. But good point.

>>What have been the more helpful and/or unhelpful questions you've heard about your TCK experience from a friend or acquaintance?

Sadly, I can’t think of any.

>>What are other ways that a friend has given you support to process your TCK experience?

A couple friends did listen, but some jumped to given unhelpful advice. Just listening would be a good start. Knowing that some of the difficulties have no quick fixes and being a friend to a TCK means committing for the long haul…as it should be with any good friend.

>>Lastly, what advice would you give to friends of TCKs who want to be supportive but don't know how?

Pretty much my answer to the last question. :-)


Michael Pollock | 21 comments Friends have supported me by listening, being genuinely interested, humble and curious. The best is when they also share their own stories back freely, not trying to match, outdo, nor downplay the significance of their own experiences.

For me that is the strongest link, the ability to share stories freely and appreciate the perspective, the history, the knowledge and experience of others and to be heard and known and accepted in return, even when our stories are seem very different. At heart, the themes are human.


message 16: by Gill (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gill | 31 comments OK. I'm commenting rather late. But better late than never. Which might be a good title for what I'm about to write, or for this chapter.

From a number of different angles I've tried to tackle "what's wrong with me" all my life. Sometimes worrying it was about my repatriation from Malaysia at age 5. Sometimes worrying it was not - but never really being able to make sense of it. I mythologised the past. I resented the present. I was angry with my parents and the UK. But mostly I was unhappy, anxious, depressed, rootless. I struggled to commit to places or people, constantly had the urge to travel but would often slip into severe anxiety or even terror when I did. I had been diagnosed with trauma and found a lot of help from Somatic Experiencing - body work about releasing stored trauma. However largely it was an endless cycle of unhappiness.

This year 2015 I decided to go on a journey, a shamanic one if you like, back to Malaysia my childhood home. I was frightened by what might be triggered; and perhaps even more so perhaps by what might not be. I had made one ragged backpacker style trip back in my 30's (I'm now 53) but I became seriously depressed and left for Thailand.

As part of my preparations this year I started writing a little about my thoughts and feelings as I prepared. I also started reading things and researching. Just typing into the laptop words like "homesick" or looking at "separation anxiety." Somehow as I clicked link to link I came across the phrase and the explanation of TCK.

Thinking about it right now I can feel a huge deep sob struggling upwards. And that was what it was like when I stumbled on that link and started to read - a painful, deep, but fantastic sob of relief and recognition, a breaking down of the anxiety and uncertainty of decades of "what's wrong with me."

And so I discovered I was a TCK. I read everything - like a dog wolfing down chocolates - I couldn't read enough. Everything resonated everything made sense it was totally totally fantastic. And I read my way through my first proper trip back to Malaysia. Reading about things TCK were the backdrop to my trip. I also made contact with Rachel Cason who does "Life Story" work for TCK's and started work with her. Which meant for the first time after working with zillions of therapists I was working with a TCK who saw and spoke from a completely different angle. One that made sense. It was like magic.

A remaining anxiety I had was that I wasn't a TCK as I was only 5 when I repatriated and that had been the families first and last international move. But then i saw this for what it was - actually a double sense of exclusion and of others questioning my reality because of my age "you were only 5". I had felt I didn't belong in the UK and didn't belong in the expat/TCK club either. Particularly as moving countries could trigger a PTSD like terror leaving me stuck in a marcel marceau like box always dissatisfied and wanting to move but not able to.

If I want to say one thing it is to TCK's who spent early years abroad. My experience of my two trips to Malaysia this year has shown me, validated my reality that I DO remember. I do feel and I was very strongly affected by my early childhood abroad. My earliest feelings thoughts and senses were formed not in my passport country. I am different and it is my reality. So if you were 7,6, 5, 4 ,3 whatever ... my experience tells me that you do remember, and you are affected by moves and repatriation.

I was not biological hand luggage.

So my realisation at 53 came in a rush, a fantastic, unforgettable rush. And now only 6/7 months later I feel I have travelled a 1,000 emotional miles. My perspective on my childhood has changed. I feel validated. I feel I can own those early years. I feel the malaysia childhood in me. And I can very clearly see how the brutal repatriation left me with deep and unresolved feelings of fear/terror/insecurity/grief/loss and anger.

And about life in general. Yes that has changed too as I have gained perspective including the perspective of what it was like for my parents and sister. Perspective of how it is for everyone who moves country as an adult or a child. And this has reduced the "victim" mentality I had about it; and the rage I felt for my parents and their decision.

If I was to choose one thing I learnt about myself? There are so many I feel truly blessed and so grateful. But I think I would choose that I can see that the "mythological" Malaysia that I lost is not lost but is in me -not in Malaysia in the past - and that I carry it with me everywhere. It is me.

And in terms of self discovery in action. I think I would choose the insight that working Rachel Cason showed me - that I am not driven to travel, instead I want a home - I want to go home. So I pay attention to the place I live in now, I make more effort to make it a home, I express myself through it and I find this immensely comforting. I am still tortured by ... "is this the right place for my permanent home?" but heh one thing at a time.

Thank you TCK world, Thank you MK Planet for creating this book club and thank you to all who posted here. Truly life changing.

And its never too late.


message 17: by Gill (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gill | 31 comments mkPLANET wrote: "Apologies for coming back so late! I've had computer troubles that made typing difficult, so I'm thankful for a friend who loaned me their laptop! So I'll cover a couple issues here to make up for ..."

On this I would like to say. I did say goodbye to my amah. But I still feel the terrible loss of a gentle caregiver. My mother was very harsh. So repatriation for me coincided with the loss of care and gentleness. Of my needs no longer being met instead being told I was too demanding and spoilt. Maybe I was but I didn't know that.

As part of my journey back I have been writing and journalling. I haven't looked at anything I wrote but maybe I will at some time. And I also painted and some of those paintings are really important. As are a few of the things I brought back with me. I have been twice now in six months and I plan to return again. But perhaps even more importantly allow myself to return whenever I want. I tell myself I can leave tomorrow. That I can even relocate if I want to, and that "allowing" that moving from loss and scarcity to availability and abundance feels such a relief. gill


message 18: by Anita (new) - added it

Anita Bardsley | 1 comments Thank you so much for writing this! There is hope for me at age 47 to try to figure out how being a TCK has affected me! I enjoyed your post immensely!


message 19: by Rachel (new)

Rachel Cason | 1 comments Gill wrote: "OK. I'm commenting rather late. But better late than never. Which might be a good title for what I'm about to write, or for this chapter.

From a number of different angles I've tried to tackle "w..."


It's such a delight to read so much eloquent hope expressed here... And I just wanted to add to anyone wanting to find out more about Life Story, and the kind of work that Gill is referring to, they can email me, Dr. Rachel Cason, at rachelcason@explorelifestory.com or see www.explorelifestory.com. Many thanks, and all the best to the many journeying TCKs here.


message 20: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Van | 64 comments I didn't realize new comments were still coming in here so Gill, sorry this is so late but what a wonderful, encouraging post you wrote...and thanks, Rachel, for your work on life story for TCKs...and to MKPLanet for giving this forum for us all to meet. Yes,having the language to use for our life experiences is so important and then to read all the stories on these posts is further validation. Thanks to you all for sharing. It gives me much joy to know how much the awareness of these things is growing through the internet and forums like this. BTW, my husband was a TCK in China from 2-4 and always discounted this as having any particular TCK like influence on him. But when we went to China a few years ago, I watched something in my husband come alive, be excited, or whatever. We have traveled much together and lived abroad but as I watched his reaction, I thought "he knows this place somehow deep inside" so I really appreciate what you said about age and the double exclusion you felt.


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