Thursday, 30 August 2012

Third Culture Kids do you Dare to be Green?

In an earlier post Third Culture Kids Learning to be Themselves I had written about this poem but I had not posted the complete poem. I can really identify with the words so I did want to post the whole poem. My parents are from the blue country: the Netherlands and I grew up in the Yellow country. Well the yellow country for me would be the African culture or continent. The countries I lived in were: Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe. If you enjoy this poem and want to read more, read the poem "Who am I?" by my guest Marina Sofia, who was a third culture kid too.

By a 4 year old @DrieCulturen

by Whitni Thomas, MK

I grew up in a Yellow country
But my parents are Blue.
I'm Blue.
Or at least, that is what they told me.
But I play with the Yellows.
I went to school with the Yellows.
I spoke the Yellow language.
I even dressed and appeared to be Yellow.
Then I moved to the Blue land.
Now I go to school with the Blues.
I speak the Blue language.
I even dress and look Blue.
But deep down, inside me, something's Yellow.
I love the Blue country.
But my ways are tinted with Yellow.
When I am in the Blue land,
I want to be Yellow.
When I am in the Yellow land,
I want to be Blue.
Why can't I be both?
A place where I can be me.
A place where I can be green.
I just want to be green.

What about you. Do you dare to be Green? Do you enjoy being Green? Have you accepted that you are Green?

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Wednesday, 22 August 2012

New mentoring program for expat teens!

Recently I wrote about how important it is that counselors are curious and interested in a third culture kid's story. The great thing about blogging is that I get to meet new people online. I appreciate every comment that is left on my blog. Thank you so much. So that's how I met Ellen. She left a comment on the post I just mentioned. She wrote about a new online mentoring program for expat teens, called Sea Change Mentoring. As curious as I am, I had to know more about this. I am glad Ellen agreed to answer my questions. If you have more questions you can add them in the comments and hopefully Ellen can answer those too. Ellen grew up abroad too, just like I did!

1. Can you tell us about Sea Change, your online mentoring program for expat teens?
Sea Change Mentoring helps expat youth prepare for going back to their home countries, minimize reverse culture shock and maximize the benefits of having lived abroad. We do this by connecting high school students with mentors who grew up as expats and who went through this re-entry process successfully. With the help of our tailored curriculum, and by connecting online on a weekly basis, mentors ensure their proteges persist in college and lead healthy, independent lives.

2. What made you realize that there is a need for online mentoring?
I'm being heard!
My work at iMentor allowed me to observe firsthand how online mentoring changed the lives of thousands of young people in New York City. iMentor is one of the leading e-mentoring programs in the US. I worked for them for 5 years developing their volunteer management program, trainings thousands of mentors and ensuring the organization used the evidence and best practices in the field. 
After the 2011 earthquake in Japan, I realized that it was time for me to give back to my own community, the TCK community, by bringing mentoring to the lives of young people living abroad. I grew up as a TCK in Japan and Singapore and know firsthand what the benefits are of living abroad and what the risks can be of going “home.” According to the research that’s out there and our own survey results, the majority of TCK’s want (or wished they had) someone from the expat community to guide them through the process of adjusting to their home country. Mentoring is focused on letting the power of a structured relationship with a caring and safe adult be a guiding force in helping a young person live a well adjusted life. In my opinion, mentoring is perfectly suited to help young people living abroad.

3. How do you mentor the expat teens? Our mentors work with expat teens while they still live abroad. They are matched through the teen’s first year in their home country. Mentors and these proteges meet weekly via videochat technology. Together they create goals that they would like to achieve together within the structure of our curriculum. Mentors use the curriculum to guide teens through processing their expat experiences, managing their expectations of what coming home means and building coping skills that will help them minimize reverse culture shock. We cover topics like relationship building, pop culture and life skills (like getting a driver’s license and understanding how to use their country’s banking system).

4. Can you tell us something about your mentors? In what countries do they live? How many do you have? This organization is in its start-up phase and will launch our first program year in January, 2013.  We expect to work with over 50 mentors during this pilot year. The majority of the mentors will have US passports, necessary for screening purposes, but they may live anywhere in the world. All of our mentors are Adult Third Culture Kids and are carefully screened and trained. We pay them an hourly wage as a way to thank them for giving back to the community. So far the mentors we have recruited have lived in various countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.

5. You have started mentoring recently, how many expat teens have you mentored so far? Again, this organization is in its start-up phase and will launch our first program year in January, 2013.  We expect to work with between 50 and 100 teens during our pilot year. So far, the response from families and schools across the globe reaffirms the need for this type of service.

6. What kind of problems do the teens experience when returning to their "home" country? As some of the research suggests and as our recent survey of over 200 Adult TCKs exposed, many kids experience depression, anxiety, feelings of restlessness and difficulty relating to peers.  A lot of this has to with unresolved grief. Ruth Van Reken goes into this in detail in her book Third Culture Kids.

7. What advice do you have for parents when they prepare their kids for re-entry into their passport country? In our recent survey we completed of over 200 Adult TCKs, parents came up a lot. The good news is that TCK’s that had an easier time adjusting to their home country had supportive parents that were present and educated about reverse culture shock. It helps when parents “go home” at the same time as the child, if they return to an area that the child is familiar with and if they attend the same university as their siblings. For Adult TCK’s that had a difficult time, many of them reported that they had wished their parents had been more empathetic. Also, many Adult TCK’s spoke about needing more help from parents on particular “life skills,” such as learning how to drive or how to use their home country’s banking system.

8. What advice would you give teens returning to their "home" country? Dr. Nan Sussman has done some great research on this topic and a lot of our curriculum reflects her suggestions. In her article, “Sojourners to AnotherCountry: the Psychological Roller-Coaster of Cultural Transitions,” she stresses the importance of psychologically preparing for their return home, understanding that feeling distressed once they have moved back home is normal and to find like-minded individuals to help ease the transition. In fact, we have found that teens that join international clubs or communities or that move to urban centers with diverse populations fare better. Many teens do well if they get involved or stay involved in sports once they return to their home country. Finally, just keeping a positive attitude about the transition can make a huge difference.  As one respondent from our survey said “While I was nervous and scared it was also this great new adventure where I was all on my own and I could either make the most of it or hit rock bottom.”

9. Do you have any suggestions for useful resources (like books, websites etc) for expat parents or their children? The book “Third Culture Kids", the research done by Dr. Nan Sussman and the varied articles in Denizen Magazine are the first resources that come to mind.

10. Is there anything else that you could like to share with the readers? I want to stress that are so many positive things that we can get out of being TCKs. Dr. Sussman reports that living abroad can increase our cultural sensitivity, Ruth E. Van Reken talks about how TCK’s have an expanded worldview. Our survey brought up some really interesting benefits of being TCKs. The one I think is most interesting, that a number of ATCKs wrote about, was the increased ability to think and express oneself creatively. With all the body language deciphering, interpreting and listening we have to do as TCKs, this makes a lot sense to me. As someone that has been involved with hiring college graduates for years, I often look for these qualities in potential employees. So I want to acknowledge both the difficulty and the privileges and life lessons we experience as TCKs.

If your readers are interested in becoming mentors, signing up a teenager for the program or becoming a corporate partner they can contact me at or visit our website

Do you have suggestions for the mentoring program? Would you have liked to have a mentor on returning to your passport country? I would have! 

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Image thanks to Mary R.Vogt at Morgue File

Saturday, 18 August 2012

A third culture kid speaking "I'm not from anywhere"

"Where are you from?" is a difficult question for third culture kids (or expat kids). Often there is no simple answer. Just like Victoria explains on this video. She actually often answers "I'm not from anywhere". When you hear her story you will understand why she says that. For those who do not have time to watch I will let you in on her secret. The background of her family is Ukrainian but she was born in Richmond, Virginia, she lived in Russia, Italy, Syria, Germany, China and then back yo the USA. (Excuse some of the language in the video). I have included this video because Victoria explains what is was like to return to the USA. She discovered that she felt so embarrassed because she did not know how to say "the pledge of Allegiance" , she could not name all the American presidents, she had not had American history but I am sure she knew lots of other things. Victoria was teased for not knowing the names of all the presidents, imagine that. People asked her the dumbest questions: like did you ride camels wherever you went in Syria?

Moving was a constant factor in her life. There was always only a short time to make friends before she would loose them again because they would move on. She really wonders how people can live in one place all their lives, is it not boring? Victoria is looking for an international job because that's what she is comfortable with, that is what she knows. She says the best way to discover a culture is to eat the food. She ends by saying that she has to go and do something, learn a language or make a move.

Just like Victoria, I found it hard to answer the question: where are you from? I remember being embarrassed because there were things here in the Netherlands that I did not know about. To this day I am still not very good in Dutch geography, knowing where place are. I can tell you lots about places in Zimbabwe, would that do? I recently discovered that there is an online mentoring program for expat youths called Sea Change Mentoring. They aim to prepare young people returning to their "home country" to minimize reverse culture shock and to maximize the benefits of having lived abroad. That sounds really good, I wish there had been something like this when I moved from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe to university in the Netherlands. That was a real shock, I wrote about it earlier: The most difficult transition for third culture kids.

What was your experience like? Did you have embarrassing moments? Did you have a reverse culture shock? Do you have advice for kids returning to their "home" country? Do you know where you're from?

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Saturday, 11 August 2012

Counselors: be curious about their upbringing...third culture kids

Once again I found an interesting article online: "Identity, mobility and marginality: counseling third culture kids in college" by Dana Leigh Downey, University of Texas at Austin. The article mentions that it is estimated that over 4 million Americans live abroad, with over 37,000 matriculating into U.S. universities each year. Our societies are becoming more and more global. Third culture kids "experience a collision of cultures and form hybrid identities in the course of their development".

I am really interested in getting to know how many Dutch third culture kids transition from abroad to Dutch universities. Can anyone help me out? Do you know the figures? Years ago I was a third culture kid moving from Zimbabwe to the Netherlands to study. I had not heard of the term "third culture kid", I had no idea what challenges I would face, I did not know that I was a "hidden immigrant". There was no extra help from the university, no extra language help, no extra support. I was not even identified as coming from abroad.

Gaw* (2007) says that re-entry is often more challenging and unsettling than initial culture shock, affecting academic, social and psychological functioning. As with other non majority groups TCKs are less likely to seek support services on campus. "The non-linear background of the TCK does not fit the mold of the average intake form." There's a good idea here: Downey suggests that counseling centres may consider adding questions to their surveys or intake forms: before the age of 18 I lived in more than one country/culture. A question like this would help identify third culture kids. It is only worth identifying TCKs if there are people who are equipped to help them. According to Downey counselors must extend:
  • support
  • validation
  • encouragement
  • along with cultural compentence
  • and intercultural understanding
in order to assist third culture kids experiencing re-entry culture shock. That sounds too good to be true.

Gaw cautions mental health practitioners to be aware of possible misdiagnosis or incorrect clinical procedures that may result from:
  1. misunderstanding this population
  2. not accepting or validating this population
  3. assuming the TCK experience is transitory and something to grow out of
  4. assuming the assessment tools and constructs normed with the majority population will be applicable.
Nina Sichel co-editor of the collections Writing Out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids (2011) and Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Global (2004) recently wrote an article called "The Trouble with Third Culture Kids"  on Children's Mental Health Network. "So when she(the TCK) comes to you, don’t ask her where she’s from, or what’s troubling her. Ask her where she’s lived. Ask her what she’s left behind. Open doors. And just listen. Give her the time and space and permission she needs to remember and to mourn. She has a story -- many stories. And she needs and deserves to be heard, and to be healed, and to be whole."

Soon colleges and universities will start their academic year and over 37,000 TCKs will return to America to further their education. An unknown number of TCKs will re-enter the Netherlands and many other countries. What will their experience be like? Will it be different to mine years ago? Will they be identified? Will they be helped by well-equipped counselors, and mental health practitioners that have experience working with third culture kids? What was your experience like when you went to college or university?

By the way there is a new useful book to help you prepare for your transition to university. It's the book "A Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition" by Tina Quick.

*Gaw, K.F. (2007) Mobility, Multiculturalism and Marginality: Counseling Third Culture Students. Special Populations in College Counseling: A Handbook for Mental Health Practitioners(63-76).

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Thursday, 2 August 2012

Is your child having difficulty learning the new language?

As you probably know I grew up bilingually in Africa. We spoke Dutch at home and we spoke English at school and where ever else we went to. I'm really happy that my parents made the effort to raise us in bilingually. You can read more about it in a post I wrote recently Bilingualism and growing up Abroad.

I have just finished reading the book called "Adios Holanda!"by Anita Schmidt. It's all about how she and her husband leave the Netherlands with their three daughters and move to Spain to start a new life there. The book is in Dutch by the way.

I am very interested in the effect of international moves on families and particularly the effect the move has on the children. I enjoy reading books on this topic.

Their eldest daughter Nienke (a real Dutch name) was 5 years old when the family moved to Spain. Here in the Netherlands she went to school, had her own friends, spoke Dutch fluently and had her own "afspraakjes" play dates. After moving she was immersed in the local Spanish school, they had Spanish neighbours and as a family they adjusted to the Spanish lifestyle. She was the only Dutch girl attending this local school at the time. So she was immersed in Spanish during the school day.

After a couple of weeks the mum discovered that Nienke did not say a word at school. She did not open her mouth. She was scared to make mistakes. She was scared that the other kids would make fun of her. It actually took 6 months before she started speaking at school. During this time Nienke also started to wet her bed during the night again. Now mum was really worried. 

Each child handles stress and change differently. This situation was not only stressful for the family but very stressful for Nienke too. She was experiencing language shock. It's when the stress gets in the way of the language learning. I came across this article: Is your child experiencing language shock? 5 things you should know about language shock.

6 Things to consider when your child is not speaking the new language:
  1. Do not condemn your child because they are not speaking the language yet.
  2. Try to be relaxed about the fact that your child is not yet speaking the new language.
  3. Talk to the teacher and ask advice.
  4. Realize that this new situation is very stressful for your child, give him or her some extra hugs and have more time together.
  5. Remember that in the end most children do pick up the new language, but it takes some time.
  6. Seek professional help if necessary.
Here's an article with 6 Ways to help your child succeed when they are struggling to learn the new language. It is written for children in the U.S. but it is useful.

What's your experience? Did your children have difficulty learning a new language? Do you have tips?

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