Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Home Poem

Hello lovely blog readers,

As this week marks the beginning of university classes around the country, I too will be participating in the extra workload that is school. Because of that I regret to inform you that I have not perfected the post for this week.

Instead, I would like to encourage you to dig into another blog by TCK and author of the book Between Worlds, Marilyn Gardener's Communicating Across Boundaries.
Featured this week is a post by Robynn and Adelaide which leads us down the path to a beautiful poem written by a young TCK finding her voice and searching for home. I challenge you to try and read this poem without tears forming in your eyes, and maybe take on the assignment yourself. Below is a short excerpt of the post:

Adelaide is a sophomore in high school. She’s in grade 10. The Language Arts teacher wanted them to write a poem introducing themselves to her and to the class. It was a simple assignment. Five short stanzas. Two lines each. Begin each stanza with, “I’m from…”. Apparently the teacher’s included lines like, “I’m from the yellow kitchen, blue popsicles and red posies. I’m from the white house, the fenced yard, the barking beagle”.
It’s a good assignment.
Unless where you’re from is convoluted. Unless you’ve inherited some confusion on that particular subject. Unless it’s too long of a story to be captured neatly in five short stanzas.
And then it’s not such a great assignment...

To read the rest of this post please go to Communicating Across Boundaries. And while you are there be sure to check out her other masterfully crafted posts.

Next week I promise to continue our dig into TCKs and what makes them tick, or twitch, depending on what is going on around them. Meanwhile you will find me slaving away over my computer doing research and working on school with a huge mug of coffee and my puppy nearby.

As extra penance for missing this week, and in honor of national dog day which was yesterday, I give you an overly dramatic picture of said puppy (who was born in Egypt and has now traveled across the United States with us. Does that make him a TCD, third culture DOG?):
He looks serious but he's really a big goof

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Cultures and Icebergs

I mentioned in my last (and also first) post that TCKs are masters at blending in and that they often can look, sound, and act in sync with the culture around them. This is one of those really cool traits that all TCKs tend to hold. Like a chameleon, they can change to fit the culture around them. But how much of the culture are they really picking up and how much does it affect them? The best way to explain this is through a very cool graphic I found:

The above graphic is one I borrowed from another TCK blog called Notes From the Tarmac, but is featured in our handy-dandy TCK book and was originally founded by Dr. Kohls (whose studies on American Culture and Values you can find here). Dr. Kohls' graphic shows us that Culture has two parts. The top part, as illustrated by the top of an iceberg, (or the most obvious and visible part of culture) is made up of behavior, words, customs, and traditions. These are all parts of culture that are taught, or easily discovered. The bottom half, illustrated as the part of the iceberg that is underwater, (or the hidden part) includes beliefs, values, assumptions, and thought processes. Those are the more unspoken parts of culture, the pieces that are passed on unknowingly, and the parts that an outsider would not be able to easily uncover. If you travel to a new culture on vacation, you will likely learn or notice the surface culture, but you are very unlikely to understand the inner workings, where their values and assumptions lie.

TCKs have a marvelous ability to quickly ascertain the surface culture of any place, however, they tend to only pick up on pieces of the deep culture of every place.
TCKs keep an eye out for cultural cues
If you've ever seen a TCK enter a new situation, or as a TCK, maybe you've found yourself doing this without even realizing it, often they will stand back and assess before jumping in. What are they assessing? Who has the power, what is the acceptable social behavior, how are people acting and reacting to each other, how do they speak? Those are all parts of surface culture. And then after assessing those things they jump in as assimilated as they can be, changing their "skin" to fit what is around them. But, those unspoken things, the deep culture, will pop up without warning and suddenly they find themselves at a loss. What seemed like a simple tradition might hold a deeper meaning. A simple action might have very different motivation than it seems it has. Sayings and gestures may be deeply rooted in an unseen value. Disregarding or not paying enough attention to something rooted in deep culture may bring unanticipated consequences. What do I mean by this? Let me give you an example.

This is my very fitting fake tattoo
I am married to a Non-TCK, and we have some really interesting conversations because our values sometimes clash. For example: Time is one of those values that we hold at different degrees. I grew up in South America where time is a rather, how shall I say it, fluid idea. My husband grew up in the US of A where being on time is a very valued part of culture. What does this mean for our real lives? It means when I am running late it doesn't bother me very much. You know who it does bother? My husband. Poor guy. Luckily, he has adopted the "fashionably late" phrase as a coping mechanism to help him deal with my lack of punctuality. The first time we dealt with this he insisted that I was being rude and that everyone knows that being late is rude. In the United States this is a very true statement. But in many cultures showing up on time can be rude because no one will be ready for you. Does that mean that we can't connect on very deep levels and understand each other? Sometimes. But usually we do just fine and understand each other just fine too. And thanks to him I have learned to adapt in cultures where punctuality is a strong value and I am more punctual now. Sometimes I might even be early though I try not to make a habit of it.

It is things like that that lead a TCK to sit on the sidelines before jumping into a culture. Without knowing they might offend someone, and often TCKs do not have time to waste when making friends.

Parents, this is something to be aware of. I have heard parents baffled because after a move to a new location an overtly social child will suddenly become quiet and seemingly anti-social. On a quick trip home the kid might never really show their true colors because they don't feel comfortable with the culture they have been inserted into. Also, there may be a part of your culture that is very special to you that you have not passed on to your child, a value that you didn't realize you held, and it may be frustrating when your child does not respond the same way that you do, even though you raised them. That is okay. Celebrate the fact that your child is learning and absorbing many cultures around them in many ways.
A TCK can find common ground with almost anyone
And TCKs, it's okay to step back and take it in. While you may not always be able to fully understand the deep culture of the people around you, you have an incredible ability to relate to them quickly on what you do know. And even better is that, thrown into any culture, you will be able to adapt. And even better than that better part I just mentioned is that, although you may not understand each deep culture fully, it doesn't mean you don't learn some of them, and you will share many of them with other TCKs.

Not being able to always ascertain or share the deep culture of loved ones is one of those facts that can make a TCK feel alone. You aren't alone. Other TCKs are in the same situation as you. This is where websites like, TCKWorld and TCKid are wonderful tools to help you connect with other TCKs.

But if you just need some quick help on what to do or not do in certain cultures check out this book by Robert E. Axtell on just that, or his book for business and vacation travelers or on international body language. They may come in handy for when the time comes and you are considering giving a clock as a gift or explaining someone's height in another culture, plus they will save you some stand-back-and-watch time and keep you from alienating some would-be friends.

Have you ever had a moment where you didn't share a value with someone who is close to you? Or a moment where you felt you adjusted to a culture really well? Share them in the comments below!

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Monday, August 11, 2014

TCKs- more than a definition

My passion is TCKs. I am a TCK. This blog is about understanding TCKs, or at least that's where the idea is starting.
So let me start with a definition:

My copy with crucial post-it markers 
According to "The TCK Profile" by Interaction, Inc. and as quoted in David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken, in their book Third Culture Kids (which by the way is probably still the most extensive and informative book out there on TCKs, albeit hard to get through),

"A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents' culture. The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK's life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background."
Whoa. Yep, I just started this off all nice and technical on you, didn't I? It's okay, that's why this blog is here. Because most of the reliable resources out there are complex and hard to understand. I'd like to bridge the gap between the two. Complex Research + Reality = this blog. So here we go, basically a TCK is someone whose parents are from one place, let's call that "home base", but who has lived in another place, "host country", and has then developed their own third culture; hence the name. Interestingly enough, no matter what the TCK's home bases or host countries are, TCKs have demonstrated similar attributes across the board.
I'll try to unlock some of those attributes and show you how they show up in real life situations as we journey through this whole blog process, but let me start by telling you something I can't stress enough, and I say this to TCKs, to their parents, to their teachers, to their friends:
TCKs are masters at blending in

Third Culture Kids are their own culture.

That means that even if they look like they fit in one culture, or they sound like they are from another culture, they are their own culture. It means that as you interact with them, if you are not from their culture, you will have difficulties. It means, as a parent, if you are not a TCK, your child is really different from you. The moment you understand this the better off you will be, as a TCK, as a teacher of a TCK, as a parent of a TCK, as a friend of a TCK.

Imagine that you are an American who goes to Malawi, it would be ludicrous for you to try to interact with a Malawian as if they were an American or for them to interact with you as if you were Malawian. And not only would it be ridiculous but it would be hard to communicate and understand each other, and probably someone would get frustrated or offended. This applies to the TCK. While they may respond as if they are the same, they are adapting but not uniform.

A friend of mine, Sarah Malak, recently got to travel to both her parents' home countries, Lebanon and Russia. She lives in Egypt normally and she said these trips had interesting interactions:
"In Lebanon, I got to interact with Syrians and Lebanese, and every single person I met thought I was American, and I have no idea why. In Russia, I guess people thought I was Russian, but I think they noticed that my language doesn't come out as smoothly as theirs..."
Her experiences were unique because not only did people realize she was different but she knows she is different, even though she may look, sound, or even act the same. Her rusty Russian got them out of a ticket though. Good for you, Sarah!

I currently live in the United States and the most ghastly reaction I get to my TCKness is always when I talk to my peers about TV shows they grew up on. The conversation usually goes like this:

"You know that episode of (insert American 80's TV show, eg: Full House, Saved by the Bell, Home Improvement, Fresh Prince of Bell Air... etc.) where..."
"I've never seen that show (or) I've only seen one or two episodes."
"WHAT? How did you not watch that show?" looking at me skeptically.
"I didn't grow up in America."
"Oh, right..."

And suddenly I am different, which I knew, but now they know too. But this blog is all about embracing that difference, because while TCKs are different, we as TCKs are also the same. And if you don't believe me, put a bunch of them in a room together. Instant friends. I love that.
Just like this lovely diverse group photo I found on Huffington Post
Does any of this ring true to you? Have you had an interaction like Sarah or myself has had?