5 Things for TCKs to Consider When Choosing a University

by Lauren Wells

A couple years ago, my husband, myself, and our two kids traveled to the Midwest to visit family and attend the wedding of a good college-friend of ours. The wedding took place near where my husband and I both went to university, and this was my first time back to that place since our college days several years before.

There is something about going back to a place that makes you see it in a new light – through new eyes. If I’m being honest, my memories of our college town are stormy and dark. The thoughts of my time there have always been accompanied by an anxious, sick to my stomach, thank-goodness-I’m-not-there-anymore feeling. If I’m being honest, I was really dreading going back to that place. I was excited for the wedding and elated to see old friends but was not thrilled with the geographical location.

But, Indiana surprised me. As we spent the weekend exploring Indianapolis with our kids, I kept saying to my husband, “Wow! Indiana isn’t as horrible as I remembered!”

So why did I remember it that way? Why did I picture a dark, dreary, lifeless place when I would think back on my time in Indiana?

While I do believe that I was exactly where I was supposed to be for university and wouldn’t trade the great friendships and amazing husband that I found there, I realized that there were some things that made my college experience very difficult. Things that I never would have considered before arriving at college. Things that I think are likely relevant to most TCKs.

So now, when I talk with parents and their TCKs who are starting to think about and apply for universities, these are the things that I recommend that they explore.

 

1. A school with a TCK program or group
Because I went straight from Africa to school in Indiana, I was considered an international student. I quickly realized that, in that group, I was the odd one out. The international students were those who came from different parts of the world, but they were not American and for the most part, had never lived in the United States. I, on the other hand, was very familiar with the United States and knew how to grocery shop, open a bank account, dial 911, et cetera, so it was hard to be required to attend these “American Life” classes. While there were great people in that international student group, I didn’t feel like I really fit, and it seemed like they didn’t think I fit with them either.

Likewise, I found it hard to connect with the majority population of the university who were mostly from the midwestern states and hadn’t traveled outside the country. These were the main two groups, and I didn’t feel like I really belonged in either one of them. Though I did end up making some great friends, it was a difficult process trying to figure out who I was and where I fit. I later found out that there were a few other missionary kids at the university who had similar experiences, but we never crossed paths during our college years because we were all TCKs trying to blend in. I think that things could have been so different for all of us, had we had a TCK group to associate with.

 

2. A diverse population
Having lived in international communities overseas, I missed being surrounded by people from all over the world. The university had some international students, but there were not very many, and the American student population was not very ethnically diverse. I would also have loved to have had professors from different parts of the world who could offer a more globally-influenced perspective on the topics they were teaching.

 

3. A multiethnic location
Along with the previous point, the Midwest is not incredibly diverse. Location wasn’t something I had ever considered when deciding on a university, but I wish I had. I think that I would have felt more comfortable and less of an outsider had I been in a city that was more culturally diverse. The fact that I had to drive an hour to find an international grocery store and that ethnic restaurants were few and far between, was painful.

 

4. An option that minimizes debt
Most TCKs end up going into a helping profession, according to David C. Pullock and Ruth Van Reken, (Third Culture Kids 3rd Edition, 2017). Unfortunately, many helping professions are not the most financially lucrative. This works fine for TCKs (who are generally not interested in wealth), but it does create a problem when they graduate from university with an average of $60,000 in student loans and a career path that can’t pay those off in fewer than 25 years.

The bigger issue with this, and something that I wish I would have considered when choosing a university, is the fact that student loan debt ties your feet. Having tied feet is many TCK’s worst nightmare. No longer are you free to travel, because you have the lead ball of student loan bills chained to your foot. Paying bills requires a job, and maintaining a job requires sticking around long enough to avoid looking flakey on a resume. I ended up switching to a community college and finishing up at an online school to reduce the amount of student loan debt I accrued, but if I would have thought to do that from the beginning, I could have significantly reduced the debt that I graduated with and thus would be more financially free to travel.

 

5. A school and major that allows for travel
I didn’t consider, as a young college student, the fact that my TCK-self would have a need for change and travel. If I had, I would have chosen a school and major that required some sort of overseas study program, or an overseas university entirely. I would have also made sure that my degree was one that would yield a career that allows for travel. I ended up changing my major and now am in my dream career that does involve travel and cross-cultural work, but if I were to go back, I would have started with that trajectory from the beginning — considering that I would want to travel.

 

Third Culture Kids experience an intense and challenging transition when they leave their globally-mobile lifestyle and head to university. Considering these few things could have eased that transition for me and allowed for a university experience that catered more to my TCK nature. If you are a TCK or parent of TCKs starting to think about university, keep things things in mind as you sift through your university options. While they may not be essentials for all TCKs, I do believe that they are worth considering, exploring, and having conversations about.

 

Originally published here.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lauren Wells is the Founder and Director of TCK Training and author of Raising Up a Generation of Healthy Third Culture Kids. She specializes in practical, proactive care for TCKs and their families and has trained TCK caregivers from over 50 organizations. Lauren grew up in Tanzania, East Africa, where she developed a love for smokey chai and Mandazis (African doughnuts). She now lives in South Carolina with her husband and two children.

 

Caring for TCKs During Covid

by Lauren Wells

Back when COVID first began to wreak havoc on the lives of expat families with whom I work, I put together a spontaneous video series. I had talked through the same points, concepts, and answered the same questions with many families in those early weeks of quarantine and decided it would be easier for them and myself if I could record those responses. I figured I would send them to those families and put it on my website (TCKTraining.com) in case it might benefit others as well.

I created the Power Points, asked my husband to take our girls out on a drive for an hour (because there weren’t many other options during quarantine), and quickly recorded the series. Oh, and this was the day after we moved across the country so what you can’t see is that I am surrounded by boxes and the wall behind me is the only sliver of blank wall space in the tiny apartment we spent those first few weeks in. All that to say, it was much to my surprise (and honestly, horror because I’m a perfectionist and they are far from perfect) that the videos that I threw together quickly grew to over 1,000 views. It clearly hit a felt need. 

Though it has been nearly seven months since that time, the effects of COVID on expat families are far from over. I pray that these thoughts, practical ideas, and reflection questions allow you to proactively care for your family in the midst of this season.

 

When Leaving Well Didn’t Happen…RAFT (Reconciliation, Affirmation, Farewell, and Think Destination) is still important. 

Reconciliation with those whom you’ve abruptly left is critical. This is especially true for TCKs who learn early on that they can use a move to excuse making amends with people. If the answer to any of these questions below is “yes,” it is important to do the hard work of reconciling.

  • Are there people who you or your TCKs were not on good terms with when you left?
  • Is there someone who was upset about how your leaving happened?
  • Is there anyone that you or your TCKs were relieved to leave because that seems a good excuse to not resolve an issue? 

Affirmation is still important. You may have left without the time to tell the people who you love that you love them. Don’t let that keep you from doing so. 

  • Write a list as a family of all the people you left who were significant in your life. 
  • Decide how you’ll affirm them. This could be a letter, pictures drawn for friends by your children, a video call, a text, etc. 

Farewell needs to be said, even if you’ve already left. Because we live in a very connected world, it can be easy to skip this step because we feel we aren’t really saying “goodbye,” we’ll still “see” them on Facebook. Yet, we are saying “goodbye” to the place that they held in that season of life and that needs an intentional farewell. This can happen over a phone call, in a video message, in a letter, etc. It is particularly important that your children have a chance to do this with their friends. TCKs get into the habit of cutting off relationships without saying, “goodbye” so it is important to show them the importance of an intentional farewell. 

  • Who did you not say a proper “goodbye” to?  
  • Who did your TCKs not say “goodbye” to? 
  • How will you arrange that in the coming days? 

Think Destination becomes think about where you are. If you are in your current location because of an evacuation, you likely didn’t spend time planning for your arrival and all of the things you wanted to do upon arrival (and if you did, that was likely all canceled anyway). As difficult as it may be, one of the things that I have seen be the most helpful in this season is gratitude. 

  • What are 5 things that you like about the place where you are?
  • What are some things that I’m grateful we’ve been able to do/experience in this place? 

 

When Leaving Well Didn’t Happen…Meeting Emotional Needs Becomes Critical 

Prioritize family health and relationships. It can be easy to put these needs on the back burner during transition, but that is exactly when prioritizing them is most necessary. 

  • What do your children need from you as parents in this season? 
  • What are the emotional needs of each family member and how can you work as a family to meet them? Some examples could be stability, playfulness, nurturing, quality time, introverted time.

 

When Leaving Well Didn’t Happen…Assume a Block has been Added to the Grief Tower 

The Grief Tower is my method of explaining the concept of TCK grief. Each time something grief-inducing occurs, it stacks like a block on the grief tower. When those blocks go unprocessed and unresolved they remain on the tower. In early adulthood, TCKs with a high-stacked grief tower are susceptible to it toppling over and wreaking havoc. If your family has been negatively impacted by COVID – an evacuation, a difficult quarantine period, an abrupt end to school, etc. you can assume that your child has added a block to their Grief Tower. If not intentionally unstacked, it will remain there.

So, how do you unstack it? 

 

1. Talk Through the Emotions
Pull out an emotions chart (you can download one for free at tcktraining.com/worksheets) and talk through times in the past year each of you have felt that emotion. Parents, you need to give honest answers to be a model for your kids.

 

2. Begin Family Check-Ins
Each day, ask, “What was the best part of your day?” and “What was the hardest part of your day?” My kids like to ask everyone to point to the emotion face that they felt today on the emotions chart, so you might consider doing that too! This seems like a simple process, but especially during stressful seasons, these regular and expected check-ins become a built-in family debrief. When you have conversations about the challenging, worrying, difficult, parts of the day, it keeps those moments from being stored and unprocessed in the brain which can lead to them becoming a “block” on the Grief Tower. Ask questions like, “What made that so hard?” “What do you wish would have happened differently?” “What do you hope tomorrow looks like?”

 

3. Process the blocks
Processing the blocks on the Grief Tower can happen in a number of different ways. Here are ideas for various ages:

For toddlers and young children, tell them their story. You can either talk about them personally or create a character that is like them and tell a story that parallels theirs. Pause routinely to ask “How did he/she/you feel?” Storying allows them to process their emotions by putting themselves back in that time and place. If they don’t want to talk about how they themselves feel, using the narration of character can help them to open up.

Example, “There was a little boy who lived in Indonesia. He loved living there and played outside with his friends everyday. One day, his parents found out that they were going to have to go back to America and only had five days to say goodbye. They told the boy that they needed to start packing their things quickly. How did that boy feel when he was packing his things? Then, they flew to America and had to stay inside the house for TWO WEEKS! How did he feel being stuck inside? They thought they would go back to Indonesia in just a couple of months, but now it has been seven months and they are STILL in America. How is that little boy feeling right now? 

For ages 5 and up, use art processing. You can create your own ideas, but here are a few to get you started.

  • Paint a picture of how your insides feel right now
  • Sculpt something with play-dough that you are excited about and something that you are nervous or worried about
  • Perform a skit with your siblings about something difficult that has happened in the past year
  • Draw a picture of a fun/happy thing from the last week and a picture of something that was hard/sad for you this past week

For teenagers, give the gift of a Safe Space. Create a safe space for your teen to process with autonomy by giving them something specifically for the purpose of processing their grief. You might consider doing this for the adults in the family as well! Along with the gift explain, “We’ve been through so much in the past year and we are learning how important it is to process through it instead of pushing it down and moving forward. We know you like ____, so we’ve gotten this for you specifically for you to use while you think through and process the last year. We are here if you’d like to process out loud at any point.”

Safe Space Gift Ideas: 

  • New art supplies for the one who processes through creativity 
  • A cookbook for the one who cooks when under stress 
  • A nice journal for the one who processes through writing 
  • New running shoes for the one who goes for a run to process 
  • A cozy blanket for the tactile one who need comfort to process 
  • A set of legos or model airplane kit for the one who needs to process while building
  • Seeds and gardening tools for the one who needs to get their hands dirty while they process 

 

This season has been a difficult one for everyone, but particularly for expat families. For many, leaving well didn’t happen. Leaving happened abruptly, spontaneously, and with little chance for intentionally transitioning well. Instead of moving on past this time without processing it, I pray that you will use this time and these tools to help your TCKs work through the grief of this season. Doing so can prevent unresolved grief and the consequences that result and can lead to learning to process emotion in healthy ways for everyone in your family. 

 

*The Grief Tower and Safe Space Gifts are trademarked concepts of TCK Training

To learn more about caring preventively for your TCKs, consider attending an upcoming TCK Training workshop

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lauren Wells is the Founder and Director of TCK Training and author of Raising Up a Generation of Healthy Third Culture Kids. She specializes in practical, proactive care for TCKs and their families and has trained TCK caregivers from over 50 organizations. Lauren grew up in Tanzania, East Africa, where she developed a love for smokey chai and Mandazis (African doughnuts). She now lives in South Carolina with her husband and two children.

GRIT: A Guide to Praying for Third Culture Kids

by Lauren Wells

The life of a Third Culture Kid is not a simple one. Wonderful, enriching, colorful, and filled with incredible life-altering experiences, absolutely. But certainly not neat and tidy, or without its share of troubles.

We moved to Tanzania when I was 13 years old. The first two years of life in Africa were filled with death and trauma. Because of circumstances out of our control, our time there ended abruptly. We spent the following 3 months at a live-in counseling center where we slogged through all that had happened in Africa. I didn’t want to be there. I blamed my parents, blamed ministry, and blamed God. I was grieving, but I didn’t know it.

That next year, we moved 18 times while I tried to navigate public high school in California. I struggled to fit in, to figure out who I was, and to build healthy relationships – all the while pushing down the grief of our time in Africa. At first, I liked being the girl who came from Africa (especially after watching Mean Girls for the first time!), but then the novelty wore off, and I was just awkward, lonely, and misunderstood. High school is hard enough, but add in culture stress, anxiety, and unresolved grief and it’s the perfect prescription for a horrible experience.

The struggles that manifested that year continued, in different forms, through my high school and college years– through moving back to Africa and then back to the US again. But, few people knew that I struggled. I was determined to be strong and capable and tough. After all, that is what is expected of a missionary kid, isn’t it?

God has taught me a lot in the years since then. He has shown me the power of prayer and how that has had more of an impact on my life than I realize. As I write my narrative, I can see all of the places where things could have gone terribly awry. Yet, because of the faithful prayers of so many people in my life, I am now working with families who are embarking on their own journey to a life overseas – passionate about preparing and encouraging children and youth who are becoming TCKs. I’m constantly learning to let go of my fierce “I can do it myself’ attitude, learning to build deep relationships, learning daily to find my identity in Christ, and learning to let Him heal the hurts of the past.

My story is not unique. The struggles with identity, relationships, self-reliance, and grief are a part of the narratives of most TCKs.

I met Jacus* not long after he moved from Europe back to the US for college. His unresolved grief led to struggles with depression, alcohol abuse, and a DUI. Bailey*, another TCK I know, spent her college years jumping from boyfriend to boyfriend, making poor decisions, and consequently pushing potentially good friends away. Another, Grant*, blamed his parents for his grief and struggles, cut them out of his life, and entered toxic friendships.

Nothing has taught me more about the power of prayer than seeing the effects of intercession in my life and in the lives of so many other TCKs. Through persistent prayer and subsequent apologies, repentance, and reconciliation, Jacus is now in graduate school working to become a counselor for TCKs, Bailey is learning to invest in deep, healthy relationships, and Grant is working to repair his relationship with his parents.

There are 4 specific areas in which TCKs need prayer: grace, relationships, identity, and truth. I’ve structured these prayer points using the acronym GRIT**, because every TCK I know has a special measure of grit—resolution, fortitude, and courage.

 

G – GRACE

God’s grace, love, and comfort to surround them and pervade the way they act toward others.

Pray that they would be lovers of all people and cultures. That they would remember to give grace when they can only see a culture’s faults and shortcomings – especially in their passport country.

Pray that God would comfort them and walk with them through the seasons of grief and transition.

Pray that they would learn to be dependent on the Lord and not on their own strength.

Pray that God would heal the hurt and grief that come with so many goodbyes.

 

R – RELATIONSHIPS

The common theme of feeling misunderstood, out-of-sync with their peers, and uncomfortable in their passport culture causes TCKs to have difficulty building deep, lasting relationships. This opens a great opportunity for the lie to be planted that they are too different for non-TCKs to really know them and love them well.

TCKs also have a rootlessness and restlessness that keeps them moving and prevents them from building a group of long-term, deep friends. Because of this, they often don’t have a “herd” and, like a lion, Satan preys on the weak ones who are separated from the pack (1 Peter 5:8).

Pray that God would teach them how to build deep, lasting relationships with others. That they would be brave enough and humble enough to let people really get to know them.

Pray that God would lead them to people who appreciate and hone their cross-cultural knowledge and experiences.

Pray that they would be humble and willing to learn from others, especially in their passport country.

 

I – IDENTITY

With so many cultures and other factors shaping them, it is a common struggle for TCKs to figure out who they are and their place in the world.

Pray they would learn to be comfortable in their own skin and free to be who God has made them to be, even if that doesn’t perfectly align with any culture.

Pray that God would use their independence and cultural savvy in great ways for His glory.

Pray that God would show them how much He loves them, cares about them, and celebrates them – not for being a Third Culture Kid, but just for being His child.

 

T – TRUTH

TCKs are more prone to mental health issues like depression and anxiety, often stemming from the unresolved grief that commonly accompanies the TCK life. It is easy for them to believe that there is no hope, no solution, no way forward, and no one who understands.

Pray that God would show them that their life overseas was ordained for a purpose. That it wasn’t just God’s plan for their parents, but for them also.

Pray that they would allow God to untangle the truths from the lies about their time overseas and the way they were raised.

Pray for God’s protection on their heart and mind.

 

God hears our prayers, and He acts on behalf of His children. Whether the TCKs in your life are young or grown, whether they are your own children or your teammate’s children, whether they are in your school or in the missionary family you support, please pray for TCKs. We need it more than we know.

 

*Not their real names
**My dear friend Corrie Miller developed the acronym GRIT. She’s been praying for me since we were ten years old.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lauren Wells is a Third Culture Kid (TCK) and Missionary Kid (MK) who grew up in Tanzania, East Africa where she developed an affinity for mandazis (African doughnuts) and Chai. Her experience as a TCK fuels her passion for working with globally mobile families, which she does as the Children and Youth Program Director for CultureBound in Portland, Oregon. In her role at CultureBound, she teaches families how to learn new languages and embrace new cultures when they move overseas. She blogs regularly at tcktraining.com

10 Questions to Routinely Ask Your TCKs

by Lauren Wells

It is important for parents raising children anywhere to be continually engaging and checking in with their kids. When you are raising TCKs, this is even more important. TCKs are privy to struggles that mono-cultural children don’t often have to face, so being aware of that and taking time to routinely ask questions such as these can strengthen your relationship and show your kids how much you love and value them.

Set aside time routinely to talk with your TCK. Ensure that this time is not tainted by distractions and that you are not attempting to multitask, but instead be fully engaged and interested in their answers. If these types of conversations are not something you have had with your TCKs in the past, it may take a few times before they truly trust that you care about their answers and that they are safe to answer honestly. For this reason, it is critical to create a safe space for them to speak openly.

Listen and encourage them to explain their answers or elaborate, but be careful to not be too pushy or to respond in a way that invalidates their answer. Remember that the purpose of asking these questions is not to provide a solution, but to open up the communication between you and your child. You might ask your TCK all of these questions, or just have them on hand to ask one or two when you’re spending time with your child.

 

1. How are you doing?

It seems simple, but asking this question is one of the best ways to show your kids that you care. Make is clear that there isn’t a right answer and that it is ok if they really aren’t doing “just fine.”

 

2. What are some things that you enjoy about living here?

Their “favorites” may be different than you expect!

 

3. Do you ever wish that we lived a different life?

It’s important to help your TCKs process the life that they are living. It is unique and it wasn’t of their choosing. It’s healthy for them to think through this question and for you to hear their answer as it may reveal some deeper struggles that need to be worked through.

 

4. What is something that you’re looking forward to?

This gives your TCK the opportunity to share their excitement about an upcoming event. Perhaps you didn’t know about this event or didn’t realize how important it is to your child. Now that you know, you can share in their excitement!

 

5. What is something that you’re not looking forward to?

This question often provides the opportunity to dig deeper and discover why a certain event, place, task, etc. is unenjoyable or uncomfortable for your child. Avoid a positive comeback such as, “But that will be so fun!” and instead explore the question further by saying something like, “Wow, I didn’t realize that place made you nervous. What is it about it that is uncomfortable to you?”

 

6. Do you feel like we spend enough time together?

TCKs can often feel like they are second to their parent’s work or ministry. This question allows them the opportunity to say so if that is the case. If their answer is “no,” be vigilant about finding ways to spend more time with this child.

 

7. Where do you feel most at home?

The question “Where is home?” is a common, confusing question for TCKs. Working through this idea at a young age prevents it from becoming a surprising realization when they are older and feel that no places feels completely like “home.”

 

8. Is there anyone or anything that you miss right now?

It is important to give TCKs the permission to reminisce and grieve their losses. Bringing these up for them can help them to do this in a healthy way.

 

9. Do you feel like people understand you?

Being a TCK has many challenges and one of them is a constant feeling of being misunderstood. While you may not have a solution to their perceived uniqueness, it can be insightful for you to hear your child’s answer.

 

10. What’s your favorite thing about yourself?

Again, identity issues are common for TCKs so asking them to think through things that they like about themselves is a good way to promote self confidence. This is also a good time to tell them a few of your favorite things about them!

 

Do you have any questions to add to the list? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lauren Wells is a Third Culture Kid (TCK) and Missionary Kid (MK) who grew up in Tanzania, East Africa where she developed an affinity for mandazis (African doughnuts) and Chai tea. Her experience as a TCK fuels her passion for working with globally mobile families. Lauren is the Children’s Program Director for Worldview Institute for International Christian Communication in Portland, Oregon. In her role at WorldView, she developed and now runs a program for children that equips them with the skills they need to learn new languages and embrace new cultures when they move overseas with their family. She blogs regularly at tcktraining.com.

7 Ways to Teach Your TCKs to Process Grief

By Lauren Wells

The topic of TCKs and grief is one that circulates often on online forums about TCKS, and there is a good reason for this: we know that TCKs deal with a significant amount of loss. In fact, they experience more losses in their first 18 years than most mono-cultural adults do in their lifetime (Misunderstood, Tanya Crossman, 2016). TCKs lose friends, family, places, things, culture, language, and familiarity all at once with a single airplane ride. The majority of TCKs will repeat this cycle more than once, and a survey by denizenmag.com, says that most will do so an average of 4 times. The grief that comes with moving from place to place and living in a world where most everyone around you does the same, is the storyline of many TCKs. TCKs not only endure the grief of anticipated losses, but they are also more commonly exposed to death, trauma, poverty, and corruption- an area of TCK grief that is not as commonly focused on.

According to Ruth Van Reken, unresolved grief is the most urgent mental health issue facing TCKs. I believe that educating parents of TCKs is a critical part of the solution to this issue. Often, we look at how to fix problems after they have occurred, but I am convinced that if we arm our TCKs with skills before they need them, they can be used more effectively when the issue arises. We know that nearly all TCKs will experience grief of some sort, so let’s proactively teach them how to process that grief. Whether it is the grief of transition and goodbyes, the grief of death, or of exposure to poverty and corruption, children need to be equipped to process it in a healthy and effective manner.

So what can you as a parent do to help your child learn to process grief before they are grieving?

 

1. Name past and anticipated losses. This step is a critical part of avoiding unresolved grief. Talk about both the losses that have already occurred, and potential losses before they happen.

Before a move, have your children write or draw the things, people, places, and events that they will miss. By encouraging them to begin thinking and talking about the losses, you will help them to begin the process of grieving those losses. I have noticed that parents often avoid talking about the sad parts of leaving and instead focus on the positives of the destination. There is a time for that, but your TCKs need you to first acknowledge the loss. This is the only way that they can begin to process the grief of transition.

If you are already living overseas, talk as a family about the things that you miss- people, places, foods, smells, etc. Your children need to know that it is ok to talk about what was lost and that their parents miss things too. If an unexpected event occurs that could be a source of grief such as the death of someone they knew, witnessing a traumatic incident, a friend moving away, etc., make it a point to talk about it.

Often, if simply asked, “How do you feel about…?”, children will respond with a quick answer alluding that they are “fine” and the conversation won’t continue. Instead, a great way to start the conversation is to first talk about your own feelings. “I heard that so and so from your class moved away today. That makes me very sad. How are you feeling about it?” Or “That was so heartbreaking when we saw that man beating his child in the market today. It makes me feel yucky on the inside when I think about it! Do you remember seeing that? How did it make you feel?”

 

2. Set the environment. Foster an environment of open and honest communication. Often children feel that it is taboo to talk about loss, and especially death. Your kids need to know that it is an appropriate topic of conversation, and they need you to teach them how to talk about it appropriately. If they feel comfortable talking about the uncomfortable grief triggers before they happen, it will be much easier for them to be open with you after the fact.

 

3. Give them language. Teach your children to identify emotions. Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child is a fantastic book for this. If they learn from a young age how to identify and name their emotions, it will be significantly easier to do so when they are in the midst of grief. You can easily make naming emotions a part of your daily practice. Here are four basic ways to do this:

  • Narrate your child’s emotion. “You seem like you feel….”, or “I can see/hear that you are feeling…”.
  • Name the emotions of others. Children’s books are great for this. “Look at (character in book’s) face. What do you think he/she is feeling?” Or in real life. “Your friend is crying, what do you think he/she is feeling? Is there something you can do to help?”
  • Replace actions with words. Instruct your child by saying, “Instead of hitting your sibling say to him/her, I am frustrated because…”
  • Routinely ask your children how they feel and look for opportunities to help them develop a larger “feeling word” vocabulary. For example, if your child says, “I’m mad!” Say, “Are you just mad? Or are you maybe feeling hurt and frustrated because sissy took your toy?”

 

4. Watch your language. Be very careful to not discredit or deny your child’s feelings. This will curb their willingness to share them with you, especially when they are grieving. Listen, listen, listen. When you respond, be careful to not say, “You shouldn’t feel…” or “There’s no reason to feel…” Often, responding instead with a question works well. “Why do you feel…?”, “Can you remember another time when you felt like this?”, or “I hear that you’re saying that you feel…” Remember, your goal at this point is not to fix the problem or change their perspective; it is to help them process their feelings.

 

5. Be an example. Practice being open with your children about your feelings, when appropriate. Show them how to identify their emotions by identifying your own. “I feel…”

Don’t wait until a grief-inducing situation has occurred, but instead look for daily opportunities to name your emotions. “I feel frustrated that the market didn’t have the type of bread I was hoping for” or “I feel excited about our dinner with the Jones family tonight!” The key is to say, “I feel” instead of the more common, “I am.” This will teach your children that these are feeling words and are appropriate to talk about.

When your child is grieving, it will be critical that they have seen a healthy demonstration of how to talk about feelings, so practice now by naming your feelings!

 

6. Express anger appropriately. Anger is often the result of underlying grief and because of this, it is important to equip your children with appropriate ways to deal with those negative emotions. For example: “It is ok to be angry, but it is not ok to hurt people or yourself in your anger.”

A great tool for teaching your children to deal with their anger appropriately is to make a deck of “Get Out My Angry Cards.” Have your children brainstorm appropriate ideas for cooling down when they are angry. These could include: counting to 100, doing jumping jacks, listening to music, praying about it, drawing your anger, taking 5 deep breaths, talking about it, etc. Write and/or draw them on 3×5 cards, hole punch the cards, and clip them together with a binder ring. They now have a deck of choices for working through their negative emotions. Every child grieves differently, so providing them with a variety of healthy options can be very effective. When you see your child becoming angry, you can instruct him or her to choose a “Get Out My Angry Card.”

 

7. Start family meetings. One of the best ways to create a space for open and honest communication is to have daily family meetings. Set guidelines for your meetings to encourage a respectful atmosphere. It may be uncomfortable at first, but family meetings are a great way for your family to practice talking about feelings. If you begin doing these daily, then it will become a normal part of your routine. When your children are experiencing and processing grief, there will already be a set time and place for the family to process it together. During your family meetings, talk about your favorite, and least favorite, parts of the day. Practice using feeling words like excited, sad, uncomfortable, scared, worried, thrilled, etc. This will naturally create a space for open communication about deeper subjects than just the cheery parts of the day, and that is critical when processing grief.

Grief is a tough topic that requires a lot of vulnerability, which most of us are uncomfortable with. However, fostering an environment of trust where your children (and you) can be vulnerable and support one another will proactively set your children up for success, not only while living overseas, but also for the rest of their lives. If you are part of raising a new generation of TCKs, let’s break the cycle of unresolved grief. Instead of fumbling through these methods when you and your children are in the midst of grief and transition, make them a part of your family’s routine now so that when a difficult season inevitably comes, processing grief is already a natural practice for your family.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lauren Wells is a Third Culture Kid (TCK) and Missionary Kid (MK) who grew up in Tanzania, East Africa where she developed an affinity for mandazis (African doughnuts) and Chai tea. Her experience as a TCK fuels her passion for working with globally mobile families. Lauren is the Children’s Program Director for Worldview Institute for International Christian Communication in Portland, Oregon. In her role at WorldView, she developed and now runs a program for children that equips them with the skills they need to learn new languages and embrace new cultures when they move overseas with their family. She blogs regularly at tcktraining.com.

Should TCKs Take Their Parents to College?

By Lauren Wells

When you become a parent, you quickly realize that there are a plethora of strong opinions about just about anything regarding the rearing of your children. When you are parenting TCKs, the voices are even louder. TCKs often have unique challenges that make parenting far from straightforward, and this is particularly true when you enter into parenting teenage TCKs and university is on the horizon.

Do you go back with your TCK for the first part (or all) of their college/university years? Perhaps at least the first semester of their freshman year? Or is it time to hang up the overseas missionary hat all together and settle back into your passport country?

Again, strong opinions abound. Some say, “No matter what, make sure you accompany your TCK for their incoming freshman year for at least the first semester or as long as you can spare.”

Others stress the importance of giving your TCK the opportunity to independently “find themselves” without the peering eyes and pressure of their parents. Perhaps allowing them the freedom of not being “on stage” for the first time in their lives.

I’m going to add yet another opinion. One that will split the difference and hopefully allow you, parents, to let out a collective sigh of relief.

There is not one right answer. There are so many factors that go into this decision, and thus there cannot be a “one-size-fits-all answer,” though many well-intended individuals and organizations try to create one. Instead, the parents, together with their TCK, should strategically make the decision with specific factors in mind.

 

1. How independent and mature is your TCK?

Is your TCK itching to jump out of the nest, or will he or she need a little extra push? I am personally very independent by nature, so when it came time to leave Tanzania for university in the USA, I was ready to leap headfirst. I dove into college life and loved the chance to be independent. Though I did struggle with some stereotypical TCK issues and did have a difficult freshman year, being able to work through those challenges on my own, apart from my parents, was a positive growing experience for me.  After feeling like I had been living in a fish bowl for many years, as many missionary kids do, it was healthy for me to live outside of the gazing eyes of supporters, churches, and organizations.

However, my parents knew that my brother would not have the same experience that I did, and would benefit greatly from having a bit more parental support as he navigated his first year of college. They chose to move to the US for his freshman year, and he was able to live with them and commute to school. This gave them the ability to teach him how to drive, set up and wisely use a bank account, apply for jobs, etc. Having my parents as a “home-base” for him significantly contributed to his success that year and the years after.

God has uniquely wired your TCKs and thus, your decision may (and dare I say, should) change based on the individual TCK. You may have one child that needs autonomy and independence and another that needs more direct support. It is crucial that you make your decision based on the specific child instead of having a blanket policy that applies to them all.

 

2. Is there a good option for a “home-base”?

If you choose not to follow your TCK to university, it is important that they have a safe “home-base” nearby. This can be a relative’s house, a family friend, even a supporting church. If you are still living overseas while your TCK is in college, it is imperative that they have a getaway nearby and people who will reach out to them. University can be stressful, especially when working through common TCK challenges, and it is important that your TCKs have a place that feels “homey” to escape to for the weekend, someone with whom they can process the challenges they are dealing with, and someone whom they can call if they need last-minute help moving out of their dorm.

Communication with the “home-base” is also a critical factor. I know parents who assumed that a family member or friend would be more attentive to the TCK during their college years, but when college began they hardly ever reached out. It is important that you have multiple conversations with the family member, friend, or church to talk about your expectations of the “home-base” role. If they feel they are unable to be that support system for your TCK, you may need to consider reaching out to someone else, looking at a different school if location is the issue, or returning with your TCK to be that home-base for them.

 

3. Be Actively Involved

Whether or not you choose to return with your TCK for university, ensure that you are still actively involved in their experience. There are wonderful online resources that you can take advantage of to keep in touch if you choose not to accompany your TCK to college. You can video chat frequently, ask about friends and events, send care packages, ask for a virtual tour of their newly rearranged dorm, “meet” their friends via the internet, etc. Thanks to today’s technology, you can still be actively involved in your college-student’s life while living on the other side of the world. If you do choose to return with your TCK for some or all of their college years, attempt to find a good balance of being involved while also giving your TCK the space explore their independence.

 

4. Acknowledge the Challenges

Whether or not you live near your children during their college years, you can expect that they will struggle with new challenges unique to their TCK upbringing. Though you may not have seen many of the typical “TCK issues” in your children up to this point, that does not mean that they will not surface during the college years. In fact, the college years are the most common stage of life for many TCK challenges to arise. Expect that this will be the case for your TCK, acknowledge it especially if they subtly express their struggles to you, and help them to find the support and help that they need.

I highly recommend that TCKs seek counseling during their college years so that they can actively process the transitions and corresponding challenges that they may be facing. A counselor with experience working with the TCK population is ideal, but if that is not possible, meeting with any professional counselor can still be beneficial. Many colleges offer these services free of charge, so gently encourage your TCK to take advantage of them.

Unfortunately, I have heard far too many stories from TCKs who told their parents that they weren’t doing well and needed help, only to be brushed off by the parent saying “The first year of college is hard for everyone. Just hang in there!” Whether we like to admit it or not, growing up overseas does create many unique challenges for TCKs as they grow into adults and it is absolutely critical that these issues are taken seriously, addressed, and are not shrugged off as a typical college-student experience.

 

5. Consider a “Gap Year”

Many expatriate families choose to allow for a “gap year” between high school graduation and the start of college or university. This year can be used in a variety of ways and can be a great solution to the question at hand. If you are not planning to leave the mission field, your TCK may benefit from using the gap year to work or volunteer in your host country. This allows time and space to learn independence while still remaining on the same continent, and may leave them more prepared to attend university alone the following year.

The gap year can also be used as a family’s furlough year. This time in the passport country can be used to teach your TCK practical life skills like how to drive and how to navigate the post office, as well as allowing your TCK time to acclimate to the passport culture before beginning school. This can also be a good time to decide upon and establish a “home-base,” and then universities can be visited and applied to within a drivable radius of that location. By spending time in your passport country, your TCK will become more familiar with the culture and physical area and thus, more comfortable remaining behind when you return to your host country.

I have seen the “gap year” used for travel for either the whole family or the TCK alone, a combination of time in the host country and in the passport country, a year of working or volunteering, an official gap year program such as this one, and a variety of other great options. The gap year can be a great compromise for families who are unsure, or have conflicting opinions, about whether or not to return with their TCKs for college.

 

While it may be difficult, it is important to drown out the multitude of opinions as you deliberate this complex decision as a family. Again, there are many options that resounding voices say you “should” choose. These voices may come from relatives back home, your sending organization, even experienced older missionaries who have successfully navigated the college-years with their TCKs.

While advice can be helpful when weighing your options, remember that every TCK is different and what worked for someone else’s child may not work for yours. I am so grateful that no one persuaded my parents to return home while I was in university, because that would not have been a positive experience for me. However, I also never tell parents to follow the same path with their TCKs, because what was best for me may not be best for another TCK. Again, it goes back to knowing your TCK and deciding based on his or her unique needs and personality.

So, should TCKs take their parents to college with them? The answer: it depends. Consider your TCK’s unique personality, maturity level, unique needs, and whether or not there is good “home-base” option. Most importantly, remember that there is not a “right” way to do it and that there are a number of good options that may work for your family and your beautifully unique TCK.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lauren Wells is a Third Culture Kid (TCK) and Missionary Kid (MK) who grew up in Tanzania, East Africa where she developed an affinity for mandazis (African doughnuts) and Chai tea. Her experience as a TCK fuels her passion for working with globally mobile families. Lauren is the Children’s Program Director for Worldview Institute for International Christian Communication in Portland, Oregon. In her role at WorldView, she developed and now runs a program for children that equips them with the skills they need to learn new languages and embrace new cultures when they move overseas with their family. She blogs regularly at tcktraining.com.

6 Ways to Help Your TCKs Manage Their “Need for Change”

By Lauren Wells

Third Culture Kids (TCKs) have an exceptional ability to become “cultural chameleons.” They have the uncanny ability to subconsciously pick out the subtleties in a new culture and operate successfully in that culture even if they only move between their passport country and one host country. Because of this, adapting becomes their lifestyle. More than that, I believe that adapting becomes their comfort zone.

For the majority of TCKs, moving is thrilling, exciting, and comfortable. This process of settl-ing and adapt-ing is familiar territory, and they know how to navigate it well. It is when they begin to settle that they feel uncomfortable and must make the conscious decision to wade into the uncharted territory of settled and adapted.

The adaptable and flexible nature of your child can be a great quality. It is a skill that they have learned (or will learn) out of necessity, in order to cope with the transition between cultures. And it will serve them very well in life if they learn to use it effectively. Fortunately, you, as parents, can help your TCKs navigate this change and develop the awareness needed to make this trait healthy and productive.

The majority of TCKs will always have the itch for change and, because of their upbringing, the “easy” solution to a difficulty is often a big change. This is where TCKs differ from mono-cultural individuals who feel they have a need for “change.” When a mono-cultural individual feels they need a change in their life, they might redecorate their house. When a TCK feels they need a change, they might move to Iceland.

The TCK’s solution to their mental alarm clock is often a move (sometimes cross-culturally), a major career change, a school change, or a relationship change. These may not seem problematic and, on the surface, often aren’t when the TCK is a child, teen, or young adult. However, when they don’t learn how to satisfy this need in a healthy way, and this “need” arises later in adulthood, it can be incredibly crippling to their career, marriage, family life, and more.

So how can you as a parent of young TCKs prevent this struggle from becoming debilitating when your TCK reaches adulthood? Here are 6 ways I believe you can help.

 

1. Acknowledge that Your Child Will Have This “Need” for Change. If you know that your TCK will likely struggle with the need for change into and through their adulthood, then you can subtly teach them, from a young age, how to channel that need appropriately. Talk about the things that you can routinely and flippantly change (house decor, wardrobe, bedrooms, hairstyles, etc.) and the things that you really need to think and pray about before you change (friends, places, schools, jobs, etc.). Help your child embrace their love, and even need, for positive change.

 

2. Talk about It. Talk about this concept of being comfortable in the adapting process and less comfortable in a settled life. Your children may not understand and your teenagers may not want to hear it, but we can hope that when they become adults and are faced with this challenge, they will remember your words and be proactive about controlling the change instead of letting it control them.

 

3. Leave Well. When you leave your passport country for the first time, and every “leave” after that, make sure you are intentional about how you leave. It is nearly impossible to settle well in a new place if you have not left the previous place well.

When we (humans) know that we are about to leave people for an extended period of time, we tend to emotionally disconnect from people prematurely. This can very easily become a habit for TCKs and can lead to a lot of “burnt bridges” and unresolved grief over the years. Your children need to learn how to leave well from a young age.

One of my favorite tools for leaving well is David C. Pollock’s concept of the RAFT. Here is a simplified explanation and how you can implement it with young children:

R= Reconciliation. Or, Say Sorry. Ensure that you and your TCKs are reconciled with people before you leave. TCKs quickly learn that they can forgo the un-comfortableness of making amends with friends by simply getting on an airplane. This far too easily becomes a habit. Teach them from a young age that reconciling before a move is not optional.

A= Affirmation. Tell the people who you love that you love them. Help your TCKs write Thank You Cards or draw pictures for their friends and family. Perhaps make a list together as a family of all of the people to whom you want to say, “Thank you” or “I love you” before you leave, and then include your children when you do so.

F= Farewell. Say goodbye, not only to people, but to places and things as well. This is especially important for young children. Take a final trip to their favorite park, schedule final play dates, say goodbye. It is critical to the grieving process that children know that it is the final play date, trip to the park, night sleeping in their bed, etc., and are able to say goodbye.

T= Think Destination. Talk with your kids about the place where you will be moving. What do you know about it? What might be different from where you are living now? What is the plan when you first arrive? Perhaps watch YouTube videos or look at pictures of where you will be living.

 

4. Arrive Well. Show your children how to settle. It can be tempting, especially as an adult, to live with one foot in this new culture and leave the rest of yourself back in your passport culture. Some people do this by trying to keep their home and family life as “American” (or whatever other nationality) as possible while living in a different country. This will not do your TCKs any good and will definitely not teach them how to settle well. Wherever you are living, dive in. Make friends. Learn the language. Eat the food. Engage.

Because TCKs become incredibly good at adapting and integrating, this lifestyle will become their comfort zone. That is OK as long as they also learn to step outside of their comfort zone and settle in some areas.

 

5. Encourage Deep Friendships. When TCKs move often, it becomes easier to forgo deep friendships rather than deal with the hurt of frequent goodbyes.  Encourage your child to maintain friendships. TCKs become very skilled at making friends, but many have a more challenging time maintaining and developing deep, lasting friendships.

When TCKs have moved frequently, they may not want to invest deeply in friendships in order to avoid the pain of leaving friends yet again. The idea of deep friendships may also trigger that dreaded settled feeling. Teach your children to push past the fear and into those deep friendships. Encourage them to keep in touch with friends they have left behind and be willing to make new friends. Technology nowadays makes it much easier for TCKs to keep in touch with friends all over the world. Take advantage of it! Older TCKs may just need your gentle encouragement, while younger children may need more time and help on your part. It is worth the effort for your TCKs to have deep, life-long friends who can love and support them in the midst of their moving, changing, and adapting.

 

6. Teach the Process of Making a Healthy Change. Be an example of the process of making big changes. If you are looking at moving or changing your child’s school, pray with them about it. Ask God for wisdom; make a pros and cons list; make it a big decision. Often parents of TCKs don’t invite their children into the decision-making process and instead only tell them once a decision has been made. In some scenarios this is necessary, but in most, allowing them to be a part of the process gives them the opportunity to see changes made well.

 

In closing, I want to be clear that the healthy version of a TCK who has overcome the need for constant adapting, is not necessarily the TCK that settles down in one place for the rest of their life. That may be the case, but most likely it is not. The healthy TCK realizes that they have a need for change and knows that they are more comfortable with the adapting process than with the settled life.

However, they have learned how to control the need for change instead of letting it control them. They are willing to be somewhat uncomfortable so that they can live a settled life in necessary areas. For TCKs, doing this effectively is a life-long learning process, and that process begins with you, as parents, the second you decide to pack your bags and move overseas.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lauren Wells is a Third Culture Kid (TCK) and Missionary Kid (MK) who grew up in Tanzania, East Africa where she developed an affinity for mandazis (African doughnuts) and Chai tea. Her experience as a TCK fuels her passion for working with globally mobile families. Lauren is the Children’s Program Director for Worldview Institute for International Christian Communication in Portland, Oregon. In her role at WorldView, she developed and now runs a program for children that equips them with the skills they need to learn new languages and embrace new cultures when they move overseas with their family. She blogs regularly at tcktraining.com.