1. Would you tell us a little about yourself?
Hi! Well, I'm an adult TCK, a missionary kid to be exact. I was born and raised in West Africa until the age of 16, when my family "returned" to England to settle there indefinitely. After finishing the last two year of my school education, I took a gap year, working with children with additional needs. I went to Keele university to study French and Sociology, and enjoyed a couple of study abroad opportunities in that time also. In my Masters year I got married, and during my doctoral studies I had my beautiful daughter. Sadly, my marriage was not a happy one, and during my maternity leave my husband and I divorced. I suppose my life has been full of transitions, reaching beyond my childhood years! My daughter starts school this September, so that's another transition for us at the moment!
2. Can tell us about your research?
My thesis examines the ways in which the experiences of Third Culture Kids, or the children of expatriates, impacts upon their adult notions of belonging, identity, and relationship to place. It was prompted by a professor in my final year, who spotted research potential for this relatively understudied population after I did a research project exploring whether or not TCKs should merit consideration as disaporic. Typically, migration research has ignored TCKs, focussing instead on groups united by nationality or ethnicity. I wanted to explore the shared experiences of TCKs as originating in a shared expatriate culture.
3. For what degree did you do your research?
My PhD in Sociology, at Keele University.
4. What is your main conclusion?
This was an exploratory, qualitative study, rather than a quantitative one, so I have no concise statistics to sum things up with :) My main conclusions establish that rather than being rootless, TCKs are very much rooted in an expatriate, organisational culture. I suggest that there are characteristics and shared experiences that reach across expatriate organisations, be they military, business or missionary, and that these shared experiences have a huge impact on the development of TCKs sense of belonging, identity and place. Rather than observing that TCKs all share similar characteristics, I note that while many TCKs share similar worldviews, they are more likely to be reacting to the same experiences, than all reacting in similar ways to those experiences. In other words, there is a TCK culture, rather than a TCK personality. It's hard to narrow findings down, for fear of oversimplifying complex human experiences, but broadly; -
In terms of belonging, I found that TCKs often feel most comfortable in situations in which there is high diversity, and in which they may represent the ethnic minority; such a situation reflects their earliest experiences of culture as mediated by their expatriate organisations. TCKs were often found at the margins of society, often engaging constructively with their marginality (reaching out to other marginals, for example), yet some experienced deep isolation in their marginality.
In terms of identity, I observed many TCKs struggled as adults with the idea that they were getting better at 'blending in' to their passport culture. As 'perpetually unique' children, adult TCKs may need to find new ways in adulthood to express their individuality. For many TCKs, their adult careers proved a means through which they could negotiate their relationship with a local and global world. Nationality is an ambivalent identity, too restrictive for many, and yet crucial in understanding a TCK's experiences in their host country as national identification often mediated their interactions with that country(ies).
In terms of place, my findings counter suggestions that TCKs were 'placeless' and/or didn't find places meaningful or relevant, due to their high mobility. Rather, I found that TCKs had a keen emotional connection with place, and that it is possible that the presence of high mobility in adult TCKs may be a case of feeling propelled towards pepetual movement, rather than their making an active choice between settledness or mobility. Indeed, I suggest that of the many skill sets absorbed by many TCKs growing up in expatriate communities, being able to (or seeing the value of settling) is one that may be lacking.
5. How was it to hear so many TCK stories?
It was an absolute joy and privilege! It was striking though, that for many it seemed to be the first time they'd had this opportunity. We often tell stories from our lives to those around us, but very rarely do we tell the whole story, from beginning to present-day. It seemed a cathartic experience for many. This in itself made me feel the responsability of honouring the stories gifted to me so generously.
6. How did doing the research influence you?
It inspired me to try and find a way to meet the needs of the people I had spoken to. I was not able to do this directly; as a researcher this was beyond my remit. But for the many TCKs like them, I wanted to make sure that my research could be applicable to their lives in a way that would both validate and equip them to meet any challenges they may be facing.
7. What TCK research still needs to be done?
I would like to see more research on the gendered experiences of TCKs; the ways in which experiences in multiple host countries may be wildly different depending upon the gender of the TCK. This may be because of host cultural norms about the presence of men and women in public spaces, for example, or it may be that the gendered narratives of the expatriate organisations in which TCKs are raised merit examination in their own right. Gender is such a basic way in which we interpret personal and public identity, I feel this focus would illuminate the TCK experience hugely.
8. You have decided to start Life Story, tell us about it.
Life Story uses the life story interview as a therapeutic tool. In this way I directly apply my research experience to the process, both in the structure of the interview, and in the subsequent analysis of the interview. Life Story work offers the space to narrate and reflect on one's life story, and analysis of this interview focusses on connecting the past with the present through the emergence of particular patterns and themes.
This process can help anyone struggling to move forward positively in their lives to unlock past patterns of thinking and behaviours that may hold the key to a more empowered future. In this way, Life Story aims to encourage a more settled sense of self, one that is grounded in a full understanding of the past, but whose future is not limited by its history.
I work with both TCKs and non-TCKs, and life story process is helpful for anyone seeking to find clarity in a fragmented history. I offer sessions by Skype primarily, although some face to face sessions may be possible also should clients be able to travel to Lincoln, England.
9. Why do you think that telling your life story works for TCKs?
I think that TCKs especially find that their life stories get chopped up and fragmented, their revelation dependent on the appropriate audience or country. The life story interview offers an opportunity to bring all those fragments together in one place, and in so doing, offers an opportunity to gather all our fragmented selves together also. This in itself is a healing process, and also an empowering one, as it becomes possible to make connections between the 'chapters' of our lives that shed light on our current situations and challenges. Increased understanding of these connections then paves the way for positive changes that can move us forward, where we have felt stuck or without focus.
10. What advice would you give those who want to do research?
Stick at it! And follow the truths emergent in your work. Research is a lonely furrow, and it is easy to get discouraged. But though your work will not resonate with everyone, it will matter, and it adds to a body of knowledge and extends the voices that can be heard. That is hugely valuable in and of itself.
I've typed an answer to this a few times, and then deleted it. I suppose I'm finding this one tricky because, at heart, I believe
that beyond any profiling or shared characteristics, TCKs are individuals first. Deeply distinct individuals. And I couldn't presume to ever give a group of individuals the same advice. Except this. Be you first, a TCK second. Understanding your TCK experiences and their impact is crucial to this. Otherwise it can be easy to mistake our tendencies for our desires. Unless we can root our 'selves' in a conscious vision for what we want our lives to look like, we will instead be driven by our tendencies, which may or may not coincide with our long term goals.
12. Any last comments?
Thank you so much for the opportunity to be interviewed! And just that if anyone has any queries or questions at all about Life Story, do get in touch. I am happy to reply to any emails of this nature, and anyone interested in the process is entitled to a free hour consultation by Skype to work through if life story work is something that might benefit them.
If you want to contact Rachel you can email her: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or you can visit her website: www.explorelifestory.com Thank you so much for sharing about yourself and your research.
Readers have you had opportunities to tell people the whole story? What was it like?