Friday, 18 October 2013

I'm not a tourist but I 'm not really Dutch either...

With a suitcase, a really full bag, my viola with a tennis racket strapped onto it I board the plane. Alone. Depature was from Harare, Zimbabwe and the destination Schiphol international airport. Arrival time a fresh morning in May. Blond, blue eyes, nineteen years old, the start of an adventure called: going to university in Holland. Was I an international student? Was I Dutch?

One thing was certain even though I spoke Dutch I did not really understand the Dutch. I thought I knew what I should know. I thought I would be able to understand the ways of the Dutch. What a major culture shock! The wierd thing was that I had not expected a culture shock at all. In the meantime I have survived and started to thrive here so I have some advice for you.

10 tips to survive and thrive in the Netherlands:
  1. Buy a bicycle. It's an easy way to integrate, do as the Dutch do. If you are sensible you will buy some
    At Keukenhof by DrieCulturen 
    good "fietstassen" (bicycle bags) too. Mine are one of the best investments I have ever made. They have served me so well I could write a whole post just about my "fietstassen".
  2. If you are serious about learning Dutch get a button "Spreek Nederlands! met mij!" and pin it on your jacket. Otherwise people start speaking English to you when they hear your accent or hear you struggling to speak Dutch.
  3. Buy a museumkaart which gives you free entry to nearly 400 museums all over the country. To give you an idea there are more than 30 museums in Amsterdam which you can visit with the card.
  4. If you have a garden plant some tulip bulbs, it will make spring even more exciting. You can plant them now between September and December. I mean it is the country of the tulips so why not let them flower in your garden.
  5. Make sure you know how to flush the toilet. There are many different kind of toilets here. Sometimes you need to push a button or pull on a chain. There are even bloggers that write about the toilet here: everything you never wanted to know about Dutch toilets.
  6. When going to a Dutch birthday party remember to congratulate all the family members too, it's what you do here.
  7. If you want to start a conversation while waiting in a queue just start talking about the weather. In the beginning I was irritated about the fact that everyone complained about the weather and was always talking about the weather but it is just a way to start a conversation. What a revelation!  
  8. Start cycling just for fun. There are nearly 35 thousand kilometres of cycle paths in our country. It is the cyclist friendliest country in the world. Discover the cycling culture! Even the BBC wonders why cycling is so popular in the Netherlands? Do you need suggestions for your cycling adventure? If so check this website Nederland Fietsland. 
  9. Taste the local food like stroopwafels, drop (liquorish) and herring. Did you that herring is the thing the Dutch miss most when they live abroad?
  10. Make a local friend and spend time together.
Now back to the question about where I'm from. The answer is a complicated one. I am not a tourist but I am not really Dutch either. I was born and bred in Africa but I have a Dutch passport. When I came to my "passport country" I suffered from a culture shock. I now know I was a hidden immigrant at the time. I looked very Dutch but I thought differently. My identity had been formed by all the years I had lived in Africa. Even though I spoke Dutch at home I did not know the sayings and the slang words. I easily connect with expats and internationally minded people, actually I love being in an environment with people from different nationalities. Years ago I discovered that I was a "third culture kid". That discovery helped me understand my confusion. It gave words to my feelings. I am a member of the "third culture kid" tribe. Actually I am a global citizen living in the Netherlands at the moment. In Dutch we would say "een wereldburger".

Just in case you have never heard of the term "third culture kids" it refers to a person who has spent a
At Madurodam by DrieCulturen

significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture, like I did. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.

Moving to the Netherlands years ago was the start of my new adventure. I hope you meet as many interesting people as I have here, I hope you become addicted to cycling like I did. I hope you not only survive but thrive in the land of the clogs and tulips. Do you have any survive and thrive tips? Please share them here.

If you enjoy this blog would you take a couple of minutes and vote for my blog in the I'm not a tourist expat blog competition. Voting closes 30 October 2013. So time is short. Thank you for your support.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Will therapy be the place a third culture kid finds their voice?

Once again the internet has helped me find some research on third culture kids. This time it is a thesis on the subject "Third Route Kids: A New Way of Conceptualizing the Adult Third Culture Kid Experience" by Tamara Lynn Williams at the University of British Columbia (February 2013).

I want to quote part of her research. I know she writes specifically about the therapeutic setting but there are some great themes here: third culture kids as hidden immigrants, fitting in to the dominant group, silencing their voices, and not telling their stories.

"In a therapeutic setting, it may be of help to recognize your role as a therapist in restoring the voice to the TCKs in the room and to encourage them in finding places where their stories and their voices will be accepted as valuable. Being able to share their stories, even in a focus group setting, appeared to be a positive and encouraging experience for the participants, and their stories were often punctuated with laughter and recognition of a shared experience. Remembering that TCKs are often a hidden minority/non-dominant/immigrant population is important, since they may often be able to fit into the social expectations in the world around them and will often avoid talking about stories or experiences that may make others uncomfortable or that sessile individuals have difficulty relating to. As a therapist, it is important not to place people into predetermined categories based on assumptions of their culture or past. Many TCKs are able to appear to fit into a dominant group, due to the silencing they have experienced; if not given a voice in therapy, their experience may go unexplored. It is hoped that therapy will serve as a place where TCKs’ voices are heard and not another experience where TCKs are silenced."

The research included focus groups of third culture kids in which they discussed different topics. What was striking is that participants noticed that they all experienced a certain time that they felt:

  1. Increased angst
  2. Dissatisfaction with themselves
  3. Identity confusion.
As they matured they grew out of the period of angst and identity confusion. During that time they they felt:

  1. Dissatisfaction with their sense of self
  2. Heightened anxiety
  3. Sadness
  4. Worry over whether they would ever fit in
There were periods of feeling grief, anger and sadness over their childhood experiences. The good news is that as they matured and grew out of that developmental phase they began to feel at peace and happy with their experiences.

If you grew up abroad, like I did and have experienced one or more of the feelings mentioned above then I hope you know now that you are not the only one with these feelings. It can be quite painful at the time but there is hope. A time can come when you feel at peace and can look back and kind of be happy with your experiences. I have not had help from a therapist but some times I wonder how it would have helped me. I read a lot on the topic of third culture kids. Reading and talking to others has helped me on my journey.

You might need a little help in the process, maybe a therapist can help you a little on the way. If you find a good therapist, the therapy can be a safe place where your third culture kid voice and story can be heard.

Tips to help you on your journey in becoming an adult TCK:

  • Find people who will listen to your story!
  • Remember you have a unique story which needs to be told. Start a blog or submit your stories for the TCK anthology, read Giving Third Culture Kids A Voice for more information.
  • Sharing your story with like-minded people can be positive and encouraging.
  • If in despair seek help from a good therapist.
Have you felt any of the emotions mentioned? Have you found a way to be at peace with your childhood experineces? Any tips? Did therapy give you a safe place to tell your story? I wonder. Please share your story here. By the way here's the link to Tamara Lynn William's research.

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