Tag Archives: International Travel

I’m Not Done Here

TCK Life I'm Not Done HereIf you’re here, then you’re either a Third Culture Kid, the parent of a TCK, or have some sort of intimate relationship with TCK life and/or expatriation. In some way, you at the very least partially understand that TCKs are a mess of culture driven by this seemingly unnatural desire to get up and go, experience more, and jump from location to location leaving everything behind in hopes of capturing that next piece of the puzzle that makes up multiculturalism. People have coined us everything from Permanent Internationals to Global Nomads, and you know what, we’re proud of all the titles that non-travelers and international explorers alike have thrown our way. We embrace our multiculturalism with such ferocity that anyone would think we have in our possession something as precious and sought after as the fountain of youth.

We talk about how much we love the world, how much we always want to see more, how much we need to move and experience the next step. We talk about how we don’t mind saying goodbye, how we handle departure differently from everyone else, how nothing is permanent in our lives, even the culture we create. We talk about all the things we’ve seen, all the things we want to see, and how all these sights made us who we are or will make us into something better. We talk about going, moving, and the next step in what appears to be an endless path of places for which our thirst can never be quenched. But in all my time as an author for Third Culture Kids, the one thing I’ve never said is this:

I’m not done here yet.

It’s time that changed. When TCKs talk about what it is that makes them who they are, TCKs that have truly embraced their multiculturalism, there’s an oddly consistent trend in which we don’t really talk much about the place we are right now. We talk about the cultures of our past, the pieces we’ve already absorbed and are confident in explaining, the shining lights of memories past. We talk about the future and what it holds, the potential for new cultures and the promise of an ever-changing understanding on what it means to truly be a citizen of Earth and not a member of a single country. But we don’t ever really talk about where we are, right now.

In part it’s because we haven’t fully pieced together the elements of the culture we are currently experiencing, we haven’t decided on our final adoptions in regards to cultural development, and we know that by admitting that we are still learning, still adopting, we bind ourselves a little closer with the inevitable goodbyes that sit in our future. We know that by opening that door, we strengthen bonds to people that would start believing that they understand us, when the truth is we don’t want you to understand us because we aren’t like you. We don’t see the world as countries and pockets. We don’t believe that one person or culture is better than another. We don’t want to be another person in the herd of a like-minded community. We want to challenge everything, we want to make you think, and we want you to see the world as we do: That we are all just people, like everyone else, stuck here fighting to be more than just a forgotten name in a forgotten world.

But that’s not fair for the now. Because the truth is, as I sit here in Raleigh, North Carolina and look out at the rest of the world and consider the next inevitable step, a move that will absolutely come one day in my future, maybe soon, maybe not, I can’t help but shake that one thought in the back of my mind, one that counter-acts our entire external projection of what it means to be a TCK. The truth is, I’m not done here yet.

I know I’m not alone. I know that TCKs everywhere have whispered that same silent thought to themselves, maybe not everywhere, but somewhere. They’ve said quietly “But… I don’t want to go. I’m not done here yet. I need more time,” and no one has heard them.

Because who would we be, the TCKs that we are so proud of, if we let the world know that there was actually something about this place that was more special than all the others? Who would we be if we admitted that this culture is still growing, still adding to the pot of knowledge that we possess, and there’s more to it than we pretend to have already figured out? Who would we be, the people that are so confident in our ability to just let go and move on, if we admitted that in this place there are people that we just aren’t ready to do that with, that we just aren’t ready to leave behind and release from our world? Who would we be, if we admitted that we wanted to stay, if only for a little while longer?

But the truth is, we’ve all thought it. And we’ve all pretended we haven’t. And we’ve all moved on and gone to other places and left whatever it was behind just a little sooner than we would have liked.

But we don’t have to. It’s alright, you know. You can do it, if you really want to. You can look out over the trees or plains or deserts or mountains and think how beautiful they are. You can look at a colleague or a friend or a lover or a partner and think “I’m not ready to let you go.” You can get in your car or on the bus or on a bike and go from A to B without discovering anything new and know that you don’t really mind that you’ve taken this road before a thousand times and still find it fascinating.

You can admit that maybe, just maybe, you’re not quite done here yet. And if you really want, it’s alright if you choose to stay a little while longer.

__________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

 

 

 

 

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Domestic Cultural Blending

Domestic-Cultural-BlendingThere are two types of people in this world when it comes to culture. There are those like us, the Third Culture Kids of the planet, that find comfort in absorption and  who want to take a culture apart to add it to our lives in pieces, the pieces we love, and even sometimes, the pieces we hate. And then there’s the people who do everything they can to reject cultural absorption and isolate their life-experiences based on the culture that they were raised in.

Culture is a lot like religion in that way. People are a certain religion because they were born into it, which is exactly the same as a culture. You wouldn’t be born into an upper class Mexican culture, be raised in that culture, and mysteriously adopt all the cultural elements of Malaysian middle class culture any more than you’d be born into Buddhism, educated only on Buddhism, and somehow mysteriously adopt all the traits of a Hinduism when you’ve never actually experienced it or been educated in its teachings.

We are culturally dependent upon the cultures we have experienced, and that dependence is what has created so many different cultures across the world. Our parents educate us, teach us how to live, how to act, how to behave. They teach us societal constants, show us how to eat, how to sit, how to sleep, how to smile, how to greet each other, how to dance, and on and on until we have been fully educated in the culture of our youth.

But we also learn from experience, and that’s how we as TCKs came to be. If that education period is fractured, if you pull the child away from the source, you are going to create a cultural separation. We can be taught to do things a certain way, but if we are surrounded by those who do things differently, we are naturally inclined to believe that their way of doing things must be right, too. So, naturally, we absorb a little bit of both.

When you yank a child out of a culturally isolated situation and move them into a different culture, you shatter a window that is inherent in all mono-cultured children and adults. There’s a barrier in mono-cultured individuals that is rarely overcome, and that’s a belief that all other forms of cultural normality are incorrect, wrong, and foreign. The barrier for entry into a different culture and community is so immense due to a lifetime of community driven development that comfort takes over and mono-culturalism becomes a crutch for life.

Forcing a child to experience a different culture during their developmental years, however, creates a different type of beast, one that is capable of adaptation and camouflage not because they want to be, but because they need to be. It’s the opposite extreme, a person who is so vastly different from any one culture that they fit into none. And that, my friends, is a TCK to its core.

I bring this up because it has come to my recent realization that cultural melding is more than the extremes that many of us as international Third Culture Kids have experienced in our lives. There’s a side to the TCK upbringing that doesn’t necessarily require the developmental experiences we have had travelling the world. As international TCKs, we stand out more than anyone else. We don’t fit in really anywhere, and we don’t have a home.

But we’re not alone, are we. There are kids that are born in the south of the United States who move all the way to the North. Born on the east coast and move to the west coast. And if you know anything about America, there’s a lot of cultural difference between one state and its neighbor. These kids, while much more capable of fitting in, go through very similar identity issues as the internationals. The difference is, it’s harder for them to realize what is happening.

See, with domestics, they don’t necessarily have the physical recognition factor that internationals and expats do. When you were born in England and you move to China, it’s hard to not realize that you don’t quite look like everyone else, and it’s even harder not to realize that this place doesn’t quite look like where you came from. The domestics don’t have that luxury. Much of the architectural and ethnic differences in a country are fairly decently spread to an almost equal degree. You move from one state to another, and not much changes physically. But culturally, it can feel like everything has changed.

It’s this struggle for domestic movers to identify with a particular culture that has become truly fascinating to me. I understand what it’s like to be an international TCK. I’ve lived it and breathed it my entire life. But to feel different without anything really seeming that much different must be a very difficult thing to confront.

I have several friends that fit into this category, and it wasn’t until a recent conversation with one of them that I realized the level of connection I have with the confused domestic development thought process. It always seemed so different to me, not having lived outside of your country. But that’s not really what TCK life is all about, is it? It’s about cultural adaptation, about absorbing your surroundings and becoming something different based on the elements you choose to adopt.

And honestly, I find great beauty in the idea that if we can connect with domestic movers as TCKs on a deeper level, maybe the world us TCKs live in isn’t so small after all.

__________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

 

 

 

 

NEW FEATURE: After each article, I am going to post an additional piece going forward that invites you to discuss an element of this article as a community. I will of course participate, as I always do, but as TCKs, we spend too little time openly communicating with strangers that truly understand us and can help us better understand ourselves. So, here’s the first topic of discussion:

Let’s Discuss:
Do you find that you can connect with people that have moved around more or less than those that haven’t? Why do you think that is?

The Death of Culture

The-Death-of-Culture-BannerHere’s a thought to consider: The first world fear of offending someone who has different beliefs, characteristics, or values to us is killing culture as we know it, and not just ours, but the culture we are trying to protect as well.

How many times have you pulled up articles on the internet going over massive cultural and global events lately to find that every other article seems to be a criticism on how some person, group of people, or country failed to recognize the differences of another person, group of people, or country, and in the process they have fundamentally offended them. Then you read the quote from the person, group of people, or country who offended the other and they something cliché like “England has tons of Muslim friends and we apologize for walking over door mats because of their apparent similarity to prayer rugs,” and then a couple months later a law has been passed that you cannot step on a door mat anymore?

Ok, probably not very often with that specific item, but you understand what I’m talking about. I touched on it earlier, in fact, in You Define Tolerance, a piece discussing the implications of the words global tolerance and how they impact culture. I’m talking about how our constant fear of causing offence is not only killing our own culture, but is damaging the culture we are also trying not to offend.

Culture is a delicate thing. It has the natural ability to grow and evolve with changing times, and that means that with globalization increasing its reach with every passing moment, the culture that once was isolated will inevitably be impacted by various other cultures from all corners of the world. We cannot stop this, and in truth, we shouldn’t want to. There are cultural elements that should, for the sake of humanitarian needs, be eradicated and forgotten. Things like genital mutilation that has been masked as a cultural right of passage for centuries, unchallenged and unaltered due to a lack of education, or the inequality of women that plagues almost every major religion and has only recently been challenged in just far too few places around the world.

But then there’s the other side of the coin, the cultural elements that help define who we are, things like art, music, how we greet each other, the festivals we celebrate, the languages we speak, the clothes we wear, the way we dance, the accents we use, and many, many more. All of these elements are pieces of a global pie that makes us more than just “people.” We are the people of something-someting-province. The people of somewhere city. The people of someplace hill or sometime meadow. We are culturally specific, with differences that define and shape us, make us unique, make us different, and all those things help make the world truly and completely beautiful.

As Third Culture Kids, we have spent the formative years of our lives picking up the details on all of these elements, from the good to the bad. We have adopted characteristics that strengthened our shared culture, and made a subconscious effort to become more like certain cultures while building a person that is completely unique of all the cultures we have absorbed. We have made more cultures that support and strengthen, never lessen or belittle, the cultures we have touched. We have embraced these things because they are beautiful, unique, and individual. They are qualities that are foreign, and in being foreign they are something we adore and aspire to be part of.

And yet, as the world begins to globalize and more people who have culturally isolated begin impacting the opinions of the world, something odd is beginning to happen that is breaking down the cultural value of our individuality. There are people arguing both ways, saying on one extreme that we need to rid the world of any form of differential recognition because differences imply that we are not all equal, that we are not all human. And then there’s the other end that implies that either we are different, and that these differences make one group morally, spiritually, and ethically superior to another.

It all comes down to our cultural tolerance level. Every single one of us starts in the center of our cultural tolerance, no matter where we stand in our opinions, and on either side of our cultural tolerance marker we have two varying extremes of cultural tolerance that are maximum level we will swing on any cultural adoption. The radical ends, as they are listed here, are massive changes to our cultural “You.” It looks like this:

Blank-Tolerance-Graph

TCKs have a highly attuned cultural tolerance map. We are extremely adept at identifying items within a particular culture that we want, pieces that can fall on either side of the chart all the way to the radical spectrum. We can swing both ways, absorbing cultural elements from all pieces of the chart regardless of how radical their nature becomes, governed almost solely by the idea that what we absorb is being absorbed because we believe it is benefiting us and our cultural whole. Naturally, as adapters, we are completely capable of absorbing anything that is radically different to us, however making radical changes to our culture is difficult and is therefor done less frequently as moderate and minor alterations. It looks like this:

TCK-tolerance-graph

A good number of people are capable of absorbing cultures also, especially those who have an intense interest in things like art, music, and general culture. However, these people tend to lean only one way on the cultural chart due to biases set in place by the “You” culture, or the culture of their developmental years. What this means is that they’ll happily change the entire way they dress (Radical B) for a big culturally different party, but they will never show up naked (Radical A) if the culture requests it because their internal cultural bias about what is right and what is wrong gets in the way. They are cultural leaners, and they pick a side and relate heavily with items closest to them in one radical direction with a tapering amount of enthusiasm until the extreme, but will only lightly play with ideas on the opposite side of the equation. They’re like this:

Biased-tolerance-graph

The people that are fighting for total inequality, and yes, even those fighting for total equality, are operating on very limited scopes. They see the world in only one possible outcome, their own, and are incapable of relating to either side that extends beyond their limited field of perception. They lean in one radical direction only, in this case with their core principal being highly extreme, such as making every single person follow the same laws in regards to what clothes they have to wear, they relate with people who have similar views. The further away from the “You” cultural opinions fall, the less likely they are to agree with or relate to them. If they are making the argument that all people should be forced to dress the same, they’ll have a dwindling level of agreement with people who also agree. Their drop off on either side happens quickly, and they are isolated from understanding the value of cultural difference regardless of whether they’re fighting for equality or inequality, because in reality, to achieve either, you have to completely remove culture entirely. They look like this:

Extremist-Tolerance-Graph

And this is where the death of culture comes into play. The leaders of the world almost exclusively fall into either the Biased Cultural Tolerance graph or the Radical Cultural Tolerance graph. As for extremists, equality is winning, and if you were going to pick a side, that’s by and far the best winner because no one deserves to be treated like anything less than an equal human being with equal rights.

We are walking a very new path in human history right now, one that is seeing the world come together and unite in ways it never has before in the history of the planet. The big question is, when it is all said and done, do we want to be one giant cultural blob on the same types of people, or do we want to remain unique in our cultural heritage and show that the world is made up of more than one kind of person?

Personally, I would never want to see the cultures of this world that I have had the pleasure of experiencing be replaced with one, unilateral culture of earth. But then I’m just one voice in the sea of billions of voices. The question is, really, what do you want for the future of global culture?

__________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

Third Culture Kid Design Poster — Coming Soon

TCK-Blueprint-Poster

I know this is a little outside the ordinary for TCK Life, but I wanted to give my readers here the first glimpse of an item I put together that will be going on sale early this year. The poster in it’s full size is 19″ x 27″, and will be available for purchase online (obviously without the watermarks and URL) soon!

As always, thanks for reading, and stay tuned for another TCK Life article coming soon!

___________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

The True Pioneers in TCK Life

True-Pioneers-BannerPeople are always asking me what it was like to grow up all over the world. I know I’m not alone when I say that, and I know I’m not alone when I struggle to respond to that question. The thing is, it’s not like I know any different. Other people asking me what it was like growing up all over the world is like me asking them what it was like growing up in the same place. “It was normal, I guess?” You might as well ask someone what it’s like to breathe, or think, or smell. “It’s all pretty normal, I guess?”

It got me thinking, though, about what people think when they talk to me about my travels. I get so many “Wow that’s so amazing,” or “I’m so jealous,” and mostly “I could never do that…,” but what’s the motive behind the question, really? So, I started asking. When people asked me what it was like, I’d answer, and then ask them why they wanted to know. The answers varied, but they all sort of followed a similar theme in some sense, and that was the idea that it was something brave or pioneering of me to be a person that grew up around the world, always travelling.

Yet, it isn’t really pioneering at all, is it? It’s certainly not brave. It’s just life. This is the way we grew up, it’s not like we had a choice in the matter, it’s just something that happened to us, like eating lunch or driving to a friends house. It’s all just part of life. Our parents took us from country to country because that was what they had to do, and we, as TCKs in production mode, tagged along and did what do best: we thrived on culture.

This very idea that there is some sort of inherent pioneering nature or bravery in the mind of a developing TCK also made sense of something else that we as TCKs experience far too often. When FCKs hear about our travels, they have a tendency to think that we’re bragging. Even my girlfriend has said that to me: “Don’t you think it’s a little pretentious to talk about how you’ve been all over the world and how cultured you are all the time in your blog?”

“Don’t you think it’s a little pretentious to talk to me about how you’ve spent your whole life with your family on your doorstep, with friends you’ve never had to say goodbye to every three years, and how you had a consistent and strong education without spending six months to a year every two to three years readjusting to your entire life being turned upside down?”

It’s not our fault, and it never was, that we became who we are today, just like it’s not the fault of an FCK they did not travel in their youth. We are the products of someone else’s decisions, and like any child going through a developmental period, we simply learned to adjust to what was our new period of normality. There isn’t bragging in our words, or at least there aren’t in mine. It’s just a life, like so many others, with a different background and a different string of experiences. To ignore it would be to ignore who I am, and ignoring that I like the person I am would be a massive disservice to myself and my parents.

And then it all suddenly made sense. The FCKs who are looking at me and seeing a guy who loves to travel, one that wants to get up and go all the time, who loves cultures and different corners of the world and back alleys that lead to mysterious places, they’re confusing my sense of adventure with something bigger. They see a pioneer in me, someone who isn’t scared to step outside of what’s considered culturally normal to them, but I’m nothing special.

The people that are special are our parents.

They were pioneers to their core, completely brave, completely original. Our parents, barring those few of us who have TCK parents, in which case it was your Grandparents most likely who fall into this category, broke the mold of everything that is culturally normal to them. They, like all of those around them, were born and raised into a First Culture Kid life. They grew up with the same friends, went to the same schools, had their families all around them all that time, knew the feeling so well of someone being on their doorstep at a moments notice when need be.

But they chose to leave. They chose, knowing the entire foundation of their life would be so far away, to jump into something completely different and new. They chose something that so many seem terrified of. They chose to do the thing that so many FCKs wrongly credit me for doing, me, a creature of habit, chasing the only thing I know how to do in terms of travel, and that’s to keep going. They credit me for this bug, this itch, this endless need to go, when to me that’s nothing but a natural and inherent desire.

The bravery, the pioneering nature, that belongs to the generation that built me, the ones that said “I may be terrified, and this may be different, but you know what… I’m going to do it anyhow.”

Me, I sit here and think about how terrifying of a concept it is to stay put, something I hope never ends up happening to me. I want to go, I want to keep running, I want to see it all and never stop. And that’s exactly what I was built to do. In a way, I am no different to any FCK that doesn’t want to move. We are both just creatures of our development.

Our parents, on the other hand, reshaped their world to make us. And while some of us may still be in that transitional phase of realization, and others may have made it through and love their TCK nature, and others still don’t even realize they have the TCK inside of them yet, it was our parents that took the plunge and changed everything.

So, in the spirit of the season, whatever cultural celebration you may be having at this time of year, or perhaps just in the spirit of us being people thrust into this crazy world: This TCK would like to thank all the parents in the world who were brave enough to take that leap of faith and do what so few have the courage to do. You left a life of comfort, predictability, and normality behind, and in the end, you created us.

So truly, thank you.

We love you guys.

___________

James R. Mitchener
Post by: James R. Mitchener

Why Your Company Needs a TCK Leader

TCK-Company-Leader-v1.2Globalization is an unavoidable truth. The world has changed a lot over the decades, and in that time we have transitioned from being a planet of fairly isolated industries to a global unit that crosses all borders and feeds off the people, resources, and cultures of countries that may not even be our neighbors. That’s the way of the world, and it is only getting smaller with every passing day.

For that very reason, leadership in every company needs an individual or individuals who fundamentally understand the varying differences between cultures and countries. The ability to look with great detail at the decision making ability and the cultural norms tied to a specific company is paramount to the success of your business. To truly understand the inner workings of your relationship with a particular business or community is a deal-making opportunity, and it’s one that no company can pass up if they want to succeed and grow.

The common misconception that cultures are isolated in today’s world is tied to a mentality that is flawed to its core. Many companies believe that they are an exception to globalization, all because they operate in a small area, they cater to a specific group, or they are restricted to working in one country, county, or community. Unfortunately for these organizations, they are heading down a path that leads them to falling very far behind, and possibly resulting in them losing touch with their customer base to a level that they will not be able to continue competing in the not-too-distant-future.

You see, the problem with believing that you are an exception to globalization is based on the flawed belief that globalization is only impacted by your personal social and professional reach. By saying “Well I only operate on the East Coast of the United States, so I only need to know about Americans that live on the East Coast” says two things: The first is that you do not recognize the fact that the East Coast is populated with countless thousands of cultures and sub cultures, all impacted by people coming and going from different parts of the country, and even entering and exiting from around the world. The second thing this says is that you, as a company, fail to recognize that the building-blocks of your business, no matter what it may be that you do, are pieced together from products, teachings, and practices provided by all parts of the planet.

“No, that’s not true, I am an American company!” Is that so? Well, let’s think about that for a second shall we? Let’s say you sell T-Shirts that say “Proud American!” which must be an american product, right? Not necessarily, actually. Your cotton could be coming from Brazil, your production done in Bangladesh or Indonesia, your shipping handled by a Chinese shipping vessel through an international channel, your customer service could be based in India, your marketing firm is from Australia, your investor capital is coming from Germany, and the final production piece, say a pocket on the front of the shirt and the label attached to the finished product, is done in the USA. Right there, you are touching seven different countries in a single sweep, just to build a single T-shirt, and each of those countries has its own cultures and subcultures, its own practices, its own form of manners, its own style of business, its own ethical values, its own legal values, and its own personal goals.

But lets pretend that isn’t the case shall we? Let’s pretend that you somehow got every single piece of your design from the United States, and no external hands touched it anywhere else along the way. When you distribute this item, who do you think is buying it? The most common misconception here, especially for First Culture Kids who have spent the majority of their lives, or all of their lives, in one city/town/state/county, is that they rarely realize their market. I say this out of personal experience; Your market is never what you expect. So, FCKs generally assume their market is people like them (continuing our T-shirt making company example), natural born Americans with a good strong accent from [insert location here] who love all things America. But what about everyone else? Not only was this country born on globalization, it has continued to be a hub for people from all over the world. In 2012, almost a million people became Americans, and this number does not include a single person born here. Those people are new citizens, people who came here from somewhere else, a great many of whom love America and want to show their support, a group of people with different backgrounds and different cultures to that of County X. These people are going to be a big part of your market.

And so we come to the point of it all: Why should I, as an HR Director or an owner of a small local company, care? What does a Third Culture Kid have to offer that the guy down the street doesn’t? Well, maybe nothing. People are all different. But, from a law of averages perspective, TCKs naturally offer your business the following skills that many FCKs do not:

  1. Cultural Bridging – TCKs have developed into natural cultural melting pots. They learn a culture quickly, fit into it easily, and have no problem mixing and mingling with cultures that would otherwise seem foreign or distant to an FCK. Why? Because TCKs have never had a single culture to latch onto, and so they have spent their whole lives building their own. This is a valuable commodity when you are trying to strike a deal with someone “foreign” or trying to communicate an idea to a potential customer that has different cultural values.
  2. Global Mindset – You may not be thinking about how many subcultures are impacted by your company or brand, but I can promise you your TCK partner is. While you’re paying attention to the big community in your area, the TCK is constantly looking at how to pull in all the other cultures, too.
  3. From Handshake to Bow – Business deals are struck all over the world. If you’re visiting a factory in Indonesia, or sitting around a conference room table in Shanghai, the cultural norms are going to be very different to what you’re used to. This is where a TCK really shines. If they don’t know the culture yet, they’ll have it down very very quickly. Their natural ability to pick up on cultural queues is unmatched, and they’ll rapidly have techniques for polite business transactions and authoritative stands alike down to a art.
  4. Manners are Key – Sometimes, something as simple as eating with your left hand can lose all the respect you have earned over the years. Remember, every community has different rules. And if you can’t remember, just ask your TCK. They’ve been silently learning how the culture works from watching people on the plane before you even landed outside of your element.
  5. Travel Away – Got a new facility opening up in a country 5,000+ miles away from home? Can’t find anyone who really wants to be on board with the move and help get things rolling? Well, you obviously haven’t asked the TCK you hired yet, have you? As natural movers, we’re the most likely to say yes, and we’ll blend exceptionally well with the new hires at our most recent branch of operations. It’s what we were raised to do!
  6. An Eye on Globalization – Globalization is only going to keep growing. That means that if you don’t stay with it, you’re going to fall behind. If you are going to remain a front runner, you need to get used to the fact that things are changing more and more every day, and the global-political discussions that are taking place right now mean a lot more than you think. Make sure you’re in the right position by having someone on board who understands this.
  7. Minority Thinking – If you haven’t noticed that offending people is becoming a rather consistent trend in the business world these days, that means you either don’t care about your customers, or you forgot social media existed. Regardless of the race, creed, or culture of a group, a TCK is very aware of your minority market. After all, we have spent most of our lives as a minority in the first place.

The world is a small place, and it’s only getting smaller. Remember that when you are looking at your next hire. TCKs have all different types of professional backgrounds. We are normal people with normally different desires and goals, so we are highly diverse in what we have to offer. So when you draft that letter asking for a person who can do X, Y, Z, why not throw in a little piece about wanting someone with international travel experience and a strong understanding of various cultures. See what happens.

I promise, you’ll be happy you did.

___________

James R. Mitchener
Post by: James R. Mitchener

How to Adapt to Cultural Shifts

How-to-cultural-shiftCultural shifts are a massive part of any Third Culture Kid’s life. Whenever we pass from one culture to another, our adaptability forces us to change a little bit of who we are. Sometimes we do this consciously, but in the early days of our TCK development, much of what we absorb is achieved naturally. We acquire elements of a new culture simply by being around it, and it’s the natural feeling of indoctrination that masks the change in our internal culture, hiding the cultural shift from our conscious memory. However, as we travel more, we quickly notice that many elements of previous cultures we have adapted to are no longer relevant in our active cultural environment.

Some of the largest of these fluxes in my development came from transitioning to a life in Asia, then back to a life in the Americas, all while carrying my United Kingdom passport and English heritage. The cultural shift, especially in returning to America from Asia, was by far the most difficult transition I have ever made, and I am not sure that I ever fully achieved a state of symbiosis similar to any of my previous travels.

The question I want to address today focuses on this very idea of, after we have undergone multiple cultural shifts in our identity, how do we adapt to a large and semi-permanent transition? One point I have constantly made when talking to Third Culture Kids who are still in the process of their youthful moving phase is that one day this hopping from place to place will begin to slow down. Granted, there are some people out there that have the resources at their disposal to keep doing it forever, but for most of us TCKs, a day will come when the trips to the airport become fewer and fewer with larger and larger gaps between each trip.

It’s a natural progression, but it’s one that causes a great deal of difficulty for almost every TCK I have had the pleasure of meeting. Suddenly, everything you have known your life to be changes, leading us to the question: How do we, as TCKs, adapt to that phase in our life where things begin to slow down after a lifetime of cultural shifts?

I wish I could say this was going to be easy for you. Unfortunately, most TCKs struggle endlessly with this time in their lives. But, unlike most TCKs, you’ve found Third Culture Kid Life and undoubtedly other TCK sites that are helping you to prepare for the transitions, shifts, and personal developments that are on your horizon. That on its own gives you a leg up on most of us who were TCKs before the internet had given us a place to find help and understanding. You are part of a day and age that allows for constant communication with people who are oceans away, and that on its own is something life-changing.

Even with the internet, though, you’re going to experience what I can only describe as a minor existential crisis. Be prepared for that. It’s pretty much inevitable, and the majority of TCKs seem to go through it. When things finally slow down, you’re going to wake up one day and think hopelessly to yourself “Oh no, I’m going to be stuck here forever aren’t I!” You’ll think that a lot actually, and if you think about it on the grand scheme of humanity, you’re certainly part of the minority thinking that. Most people wake up thinking “Oh no, what if I have to move and leave my family and friends?!” We’re the complete opposite side of that equation, and there are a whole lot fewer of us out there.

I digress. When your brain flashes with that fear that you’re never going to move again, don’t worry. That’s a completely normal thought, and maybe if you understand why you’re having it, you’ll be better equipped to understand and combat it. The worst thing you can do is let it get the better of you, to feel depressed and uninspired because of it. Your love for the world, your desire to chase cultures, your incredible ability to adapt to any climate are all absolutely incredible assets in a world built upon globalization.

Your biggest obstacle in this whole experience is a lack of understanding in what’s happening to you. That’s where the depression kicks in, and you’ll feel trapped and lost and surrounded by people that simply don’t understand. But understanding is the key to getting through it, so let me get that out right now: You are only feeling this way because for the first time you are surrounded by people and cultures that are not changing. Many of you have experienced a Third Culture Kid upbringing in international schools. This means you’ve had a constant stream of different cultures. In college, that constantly changing environment has been severely hindered. You are isolated in a pocket that feels odd to you, because unlike most of these people that feel out of place because they are in a different school outside of their hometown for the first time, you’re in a different school outside of your hometown without extreme cultural stimulation for the first time. This could also apply to post-graduation if you happen to fall into the category of people who continued their cultural exploits through university, and find yourself in a job that mimics this same cultural lock.

Getting through it is tough, no matter how you look at it. But fortunately for you, there’s a world of opportunity out there for people like you and me now. To help, find others who are like you. They can be near of far, and lets face it, distance has never been a problem for us, but find people who understand how you feel. There are a lot of us out there now, so go look, and do the following as much as you can:

  • Find articles written by TCKs online. Blogs are a great source of information, from expats to TCKs, you’ll get a lot out of those.
  • Comment! Almost every blog or digital article has a comment field. My experience is that TCK authors get just as much pleasure out of engaging their TCK audience as they do in writing. I know I do. That’s why I attend speaking events and Google Hangout with international schools. Engage your favourite authors. That’s why we write. It’s all for you.
  • Join social groups. Facebook has plenty of little communities. Some are invite only, but don’t be afraid to request an invite. All the groups I’m part of are wonderful, especially You Know You’re a Third Culture Kid When… The page creator, Mike Sullivan, is a wonderful and passionate TCK advocate, and all the people there are equally as friendly and engaging.
  • Join networks on LinkedIn that include TCKs. There are also websites that cater specifically to TCKs like TCKid.
  • Email your old friends. They know you well, even if you haven’t spoken to them in a long time. This is the 21st century, and we are all TCKs. We know what happens when you move. But that distance doesn’t have to be permanent.
  • Tell others about your travels. Don’t worry if people think you’re bragging. You’re not. This is your life! You didn’t choose it, just like the rest of us didn’t choose it. And sharing your experiences is one of the greatest parts of being a TCK. So share. Share share share. Share anywhere with anyone you want. You’ll never know what cultures you’ll find unless you look.

In the end, no matter what you’re going through, there are always people out there who can help. As always, you can comment here and chat with me anytime, or you can find other TCKs like me who just want to help anywhere online. Our Third Culture lifestyle is built upon a foundation of awkward separation, but that doesn’t mean you are ever alone. Just reach out and ask. We’re here to help, however we can.

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James R. Mitchener
Post by: James R. Mitchener