Friday, 9 September 2011

Third Culture Kids Going to University

Have you heard of Denizen Magazine? It is an online magazine dedicated to third culture kids also known as TCKs. There are more than 14 people contributing to this magazine. See the list of contributors here. It is a very multicultural group of people that have lived in many countries of the world. I am enthusiastic about one of their latest articles: A Third Culture kids guide to college. The article is full of links and worth reading if you or someone you know is going off to university or college. Please share it with your friends and family.

I remember the question I came to dread when I started university here in the Netherlands. It was the question: "well where are you from?" Now there someone just asked me one of the most difficult questions there is to answer. In my mind I would think shall I give a short answer or shall I give the whole story? The short answer was "I am from Friesland" (that is up in the north of the Netherlands, where my dad comes from). By the way in Friesland many people speak Frisian. I can actually speak some Frisian too. It has happened that when I gave the short answer and said that I came from Friesland, the reply was "so that explains your accent". Little did they know that the accent in my Dutch was actually an English accent. Now for the long answer I sometimes gave: I was born in Zambia, lived in Malawi, my parents now live in Zimbabwe. My parents are Dutch but I have never really lived here. Usually after the long answer our conversation would end. We had no similarities, my background was so totally different to their story. Occasionally there was the odd question: in what kind of house did you live in? What did you eat there?

Denizen Magazine has another article on 8 do's and don'ts for introducing your TCK background. How can you celebrate your experience abroad without boasting? It's worth reading if you are about to start at a new school or college.
The first tip is interesting:

"Don't give everyone you meet your life story"

So maybe I should have answered with the short answer instead of giving people and overload of information within a few minutes of meeting me?

A book worth reading if you have just started university is "The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition" written by Tina Quick. She is an adult Third Culture Kid (ATCK) who, having made 18 moves (9 of them before her 10th birthday) understands well the cycle of loss and grief involved in a cross-cultural lifestyle. Tina has raised her own TCKs across four cultures and continents including Asia, Africa, Europe and North America. On the website International Family Transitions Tina gives a list of 10 things every global nomad should know before leaving for university.Check it out.

Recently I wrote 2 blog posts in Dutch. One is about one of my first days at university and the other has 5 tips for students coming from overseas.
Waar kom je vandaan?
5 tips voor jongeren die vanuit het buitenland komen en in hun "thuisland" gaan studeren

Do you have advice for third culture kids going to university or college? Please share it with us. What were your experiences?

Image thanks to hmm360 Morgue file


  1. Thank you for the info about Quick's book, I've not seen that before!

    If I could do things again, I would read some of these articles and books before going to university, rather than near the end. I was still coming to terms with our most recent transition so decided to stay in the same city. Felt like I couldn't cope with another move, and I probably couldn't then. Now I understand that statistic about most TCKs taking several universities to finish a degree - I'm restless again!

    My advice: Don't do what I did. I realised that people did not understand me and withdrew from them, burying myself in my books. I'm sure that university would have been a much more positive experience if I accepted that I was different and made friends anyway.

  2. Hello Clissa, thank you so much for your comment. I experienced it, especially the beginning of my time at university as one or the most difficult time in my life. I kind of stopped talking about my youth in Africa, adapting to the Netherlands as much as I could, but then it is as if you have to deny a part of yourself exists and that is terrible too. Thanks for your advice!

    The restlessness is a problem for me too. I am still finding ways to deal with it.

    I wished this information and these books were around when I went to university. Tina Quick's book is a great book to give to a TCK going to university. Just so the book can sit in the bookcase and when the time is ripe, the person can pick it up and read it. We need to get the word out about these resources.