Tag Archives: TCK

B at home: Emma moves again by Valérie Besanceney

If you are raising or teaching Third Culture Kids and are looking for a book to read to them – or for them to read by themselves! – about leading a mobile life and especially relocating this is the right book for you.

The author, Valérie Besanceney, is a Third Culture Kid herself. In this fictional “memoir” she tells about what a ten year old girl, Emma, and her teddy bear feel when they need to move again and how they perceive the changes. She translates what “adults know about the TCK experience into language and concepts that children who grow up globally can relate to”. (p.XVI)

If you are not a TCK yourself, this book will help you understand what TCK children are facing and find a way to help their adjustment.

This book will give you an insight into what children go through from the leaving stage until the entering stage of the transition phase. Changes can be adventurous, but also scary. Saying goodbye to friends, adjusting to a new school, a new language, a new country is a challenge TCKs face at every move or change in their life. Emma tells about the issues she has to B, her bear, who is her constant companion and the reassuring voice throughout the book.

Emma has already moved twice and when her parents tell her that they will relocate again. She is furious, sad, nervous – excited? Not really: “taking of for a vacation to an exotic island is exciting. Getting a present you’ve been wanting for a long time is exciting. Having a little brother or sister finally join the family would be exciting. Moving is not exciting at all!” (p.2).

Children usually appear to be resilient during transition and parents often don’t get to know what’s going on with them, unless they complain about tummy aches or show unusual behaviour. Valérie Besanceney knows all this first hand: “I know I silently struggled as a child, and there were only a handful of educators along the way who showed empathy for my situation” (p.XXII).

Emma finds a way to “tackle the conflicting emotions by turning to B, her faithful teddy bear”. All Emma wants is to “be at home”. During her journey, “home” acquires a new meaning for her and she finally comes to terms with the challenges of this move.

The very useful discussion questions added at the end of the book, help teachers and parents to discuss the different issues of a TCK with the children.

What others said about this book:

“In this book, parents, educators, teachers etc. will find suggestions for ways to translate TCK theory into practices to help children navigate the “chronic cycles of separation inherent in a TCKs childhood” (Ruth van Reken, Co-author, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds and Co-founder of Families in Global Transition)

“Beautifully written, B at Home: Emma Move Again is a must ofr parents, teachers and organizations that support global nomads. Adults who work with famlies in global transition will find it added to their “go to shelf”. Tidbits such as ‘…home will never ever be one place. It will be constantly moving. Like the waves, ike the beads in the kaleidoscope’ has made this one of my favorite books!” (Julia Simens, Emotional Resilience and the Expat Child: practical storytelling techniques that will strengthen the global family, Summertime Publishing, 2012)

“This is a book that will help children and their parents (and stuffed animals!) with any transition or move” (Dr. Lisa Pittman, Co-author, Expat Teens Talk: Peers, Parents and Professionals Offer Support, Advice and Solutions in Response to Expat Life Challenges as Shared by Expat Teens, Summertime Publishing, 2012)

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B at Home: Emma Moves Again, by Valérie Besanceney, Summertime Publishing, 2014.


European TCKs vs Global TCKs

In most of the books and articles about TCKs I miss the comparative approach between globally living TCKs and continental living TCKs.

Most of the studies focus on children who spend a significant part of their developmental years outside their parents’ culture, i.e. overseas, mainly on different continents. But what about those who, like me, did “only” live in different countries on one continent?

During gatherings among TCKs and ATCKs in the last years here in Europe, I noticed that those who did lead a global life, having experienced life on different continents and those who did “only” live in different countries but on the same continent didn’t really have that much in common. Often those who didn’t live globally were intimidated by the exuberant and exotic life of the other group. – Many expat families raising TCKs here in Europe have a completely different lifestyle than the ones described in the mainly US literature about this topic.


Let’s start with the definition Pollock and Van Reken gave about this group and which forms the base for many studies about the topic:

“A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background” (Pollock & Van Reken, 2009, p.13).

Pollock & Van Reken point out four main aspects which characterize Third Culture Kids:

a) their upgrowing outside of the parents’ culture

b) the fact that they build relationships to all of the cultures

c) the fact that this kind of children would “not have full ownership” in any of the cultures, “although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience” and, last but not least,

d) that “the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background”.

Relationship with all the cultures

I think this is the main aspect of the definition of Third Culture Kids: that we build relationships to all the cultures we grow up in.

This also is fundamental for every Third Culture Adult (cfr. someone who did start the global or international life after age 18, i.e. left his or her passport country in adult life): wherever they end up living, they’ll pick up something from their host-countries and take it with them on their international journey. They will adopt certain values and habits that will form their “third” culture.

Full ownership…

This is the part that intrigues me in the definition. How can you measure ownership in a culture? Does this mean that you know all (?!) about values, habits, language(s) with all the dialects, regional variants, the history etc. and that you can identify with everything (?) or most of the aspects related with that country, ethnicities if you grow up in your passport country? Honestly, I don’t think that anyone can say that he has “full ownership” of his culture. This is simply impossible. Even people who grew up in one country, in the same city their parents, grandparents etc. grew up in would not consider themselves having “full ownership” in their culture (i.e. of the region they grew up in).

The sense of belonging for a TCK

I strongly agree that TCKs and ATCKs (as much as global nomads, expats etc.) discover the sense of belonging when they encounter others of a similar background. It is a huge relief, when we realize that there are others that don’t want to know where we come from, which language we like the most or what kind of cuisine we consider “the best” or where “the weather/job/healthcare system is the best”. When we don’t have to explain every step of our journey and still feel comfortable in a conversation about our life and ourselves.

All these aspects mentioned in the definition do apply to all sorts of TCKs, no matter if their international journey is global or continental.


Why do some TCKs feel different?

Many expats here in Europe don’t consider themselves or their children who grow up abroad as Third Culture Kids. Even those who know the term and the concept behind it don’t feel that they “belong” to this group. Mostly due to the literature about this topic which is mainly from an American and strongly global point of view.

This made me realize that with this term people associate exclusively globally living families. I’ve heard comments like “I think I’m a TCK but I didn’t live in Africa or Asia… I only lived in Europe”. I did hesitate myself, when I first read about TCKs, saw infographics about this or tried to do tests called “You know you’re a TCK when…”.

Here are some typical questions of this kind of tests, which I consider really inaccurate (I only chose some of the assumptions, but there is a vaste number online about this topic):

“You know you’re a TCK when…” European TCKs Global (US) TCKs
You speak two (or more) languages but can’t spell in any of them No, usually we are proficient in several languages Yes?*
You flew before you could walk Yes, but more since the last few generations. Yes?
You have a passport, but no drivers’ license No (this is for young adults going to college: In Europe the age of these young adults coincides with the age they usually leave for college: and they don’t necessarily go to study abroad) Applies for young adults  repatriating to the US (abroad, the average age to get a d.l. is 18, in US 16)
You watch National Geographic specials and recognize someone No… Sometimes (depends on where you’ve lived)
You run into someone you know at every airport Not so often Yes?
Your life story uses the phrase “Then we went to…” five times (or six, or seven times…) Yes (maybe less times?) Yes?
You speak with authority on the quality of airline travel Yes (but the same about train travel, and viability by bike or car) Yes
National Geographic makes you homesick No Yes
You read the international section before the comics Yes Yes
You live at school, work in the tropics, go home for vacation No, no, yes Yes, yes/no, yes
You don’t know where home is Yes Yes
You sort your friends by continent No, by country Yes
You feel that multiple passports would be appropriate Yes (a European one would be handy!) Yes
You watch a movie set in a foreign country, and you know what the nationals are really saying into the camera Yes Yes
You automatically take off your shoes as soon as you get home Most times, yes. It depends on the country Yes
You have the urge to move to a new country every couple of years Yes Yes
Half of your phone calls are unintelligible to those around you Yes Yes
You have best friends in 5 different countries Yes Yes
You own personal appliances with 3 types of plugs Yes Yes
You know how to pack Yes Yes
You cruise the Internet looking for fonts that can support foreign alphabets Not necessarily Yes
You have frequent flyer accounts on multiple airlines Not necessarily Yes?
You consider a city 500 miles away very close Not always Yes
* I add a "?" when I'm not sure every globally living TCK would agree (or disagree).

Some assumptions are very country specific: “You know there is no such thing as an international language”: in most countries English is the international language. It depends very much on which countries you live in and in which context. If sent by an international company, the chances are big that you’ll stay in an international environment and English will be the main language. “Rain on a tile patio – or a corrugated metal roof – is one of the most wonderful sounds in the world”,  “You haggle with the checkout clerk for a lower price”, ” Your wardrobe can only handle two seasons: wet and dry” and “Your high school memories include those days that school was cancelled due to tear gas, riots” really only apply to very specific countries.

Many assumptions are very American: “You go to Taco Bell and have to put five packets of hot sauce on your taco”, “You go to Pizza Hut or Wendy’s and you wonder why there’s no chili sauce”, “You won’t eat Uncle Ben’s rice because it doesn’t stick together”: these are examples of food preferences from an American point of view, an European would not consider. “You know the geography of the rest of the world, but you don’t know the geography of your own country” depends from the school you’re attending abroad. If it is an International school, chances are high that you’ll know more about your own country. “You don’t know whether to write the date as day/month/year, month/day/year, or some variation thereof” is something very American. In Europe, this is much more unified. “You believe vehemently that football is played with a round, spotted ball” this doesn’t seem strange to a European and we would never put this on this kind of list. There were also some assumptions which I don’t consider TCK specific, like “You wince when people mispronounce foreign words”, this is something every multilingual does (but you don’t necessarily need to be a TCK for this!), “You have a time zone map next to your telephone” and “Your dorm room/apartment/living room looks like a museum with all the “exotic” things you have around”. This last one can happen also to people who travel a lot.

What are the main differences between traditional TCKs and European TCKs?

First, European TCKs did not leave the continent. Their conception of the world is still “huge”, they travel a lot too, but they’re not really considering an airport their home. Why? Because European TCKs or expats often take other means of transportation: the train, the car, the boat. Of course, the plane is a great solution for fast travels (business or emergencies) from one city to another. But when travelling to a countryside, the car is often more convenient.

Also, many European TCKs are simply European citizens who change country because of relocation by a European company or because of a new job in another EU country. Their motivation to lead an international life is different from the one of traditional TCKs.

European TCKs are very aware of the differences between the European cultures, even though they mainly share the same history, Europeans have a very diverse background. Moving from Portugal to Sweden can have a similar culture-shock effect like moving from Rio de Janeiro to Montréal.

I’m writing a study about European TCKs or expats who never lived outside of Europe and am collecting data about personal experiences, therefore this is also an invitation to send me your European TCK or expat stories. I will soon publish another post about more specific characteristics of European TCKs and you’re kindly invited to let me know your thoughts about this in the comments.

English: Rectified map: Languages of Europe Fr...

English: Rectified map: Languages of Europe Français : Carte rectifiée des langues d’Europe (Anglais) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Sea Change Mentoring: Symposium on Supporting Global Youth

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Ellen Mahoney, Sea Change Mentoring (©expatsincebirth)

Today I attended a very interesting Sea Change Mentoring Symposium on Supporting Global Youth “Addressing Assets and Challenges”, organised by Ellen Mahoney, CEO and Founder of Sea Change Mentoring and Board of Directors of Families in Global Transition (FIGT).

Sea Change Mentoring is an online mentoring program that helps Expat youth prepare for going back to their home countries, minimize reverse culture shock and maximize the benefits of having lived abroad.

Kate Berger, MSc Child Psychologist, Child Development Specialist and Expat-Kid Cultural Consultant, talked about “Identity, In Context: The influence of changing environments”. – A sense of self helps young people “to ground and is the platform from which they to step off to impact the world. How is a young person’s identity influenced by factors in his or her environment? Why does changing environments sometimes lead to difficulties in answering the question “Who am I?” and why is it important to support young people in this process of self-discovery?” In her speech she pointed out how belongingness is even more important for expat kids who have to readapt and learn constantly new norms. The more secure a child is, the less it is stressed and is able to develop awareness. Mindfulness and empathy play a major role in helping the children in changing environments.

Kilian Kröll, President of Third Culture Coach and Vice President on the board of Families in Global Transitions (FIGT). hold a speech about “Breaking the Mold: Identifying and supporting expat youth from non-traditional backgrounds”. Even if expat families are “traditionally identified (…) in the context of institutions, such as International Schools, military bases, embassy affiliation or missions organizations”, “many expat children and Third Culture Kids “hide” in non-traditional circumstances that prevent them from receiving vital resources.” Based on his own experience as expat child from divorced parents, attending local schools and identifying as gay, Kilian illustrated the needs of youth who don’t fit the expat mold and demonstrated brilliantly how powerful impact the expat communities have when they break the mold themselves. He also pointed out a very important aspect of expat families: the transitions of parents and children are very different.

Ellen Mahoney, Ceo of Sea Change Mentoring, did talk about “The Power of Mentoring for Third Culture Kids”. In fact, formal youth mentoring programs exist in the US since over 100 years and a lot of research has been done on “the effectiveness on mentoring teens in transition”. Globally mobile community has a lot to learn from this research and it can be vital for Third Culture Kids. Sea Change Mentoring does take these lessons and applies them “to help youth maximize the benefits and minimize the challenges of an international childhood”. She openly talked about her own experience as a TCK and her reverse culture shock. Her program is perfectly tailored for youth in transition and is a great intervention tool because a mentor can not grade a child (because he is not a teacher) or ground a child (because he is not the parent).

Sara McMickle, Counselor at The American School of The Hague did present “A Safe Harbour: Supportive programming in an international school setting”. In order to help “children, parents and staff cope with the challenges, and maximize the opportunities, inherent in the experience of international relocation and cross-cultural mobility”, A Safe Harbour is a “preeminent model in international schools worldwide for how to address the challenges of mobility at international schools. This programm supports Third Culture Kids and lessons learned along the way.

Katherine Fortier, Child and Educational Psychologist, talked about her experience with 363 children from 24 schools in “International Education: Great fish in little ponds”. Some globally moving parents choose an international school when posting outside their home country. Kathrine Fortier showed brilliantly the risks and challenges inherent of this kind of decision that are not immediately apparent. Especially the high expectations seem to be a major issue. Kathrine did introduce some of the key protective factors that help many students thrive as well as risk factors that lead some students to flounder. For example, she pointed out that less movings are beneficial for the accademic success of Third Culture Kids and expat children and she emphasized the need to build bridges with the parents’ help in order to support the children to perform better.

Josh Stephens, Director of International Development at ArborBridge speech “Where to Next? College Applications and the Expat Kid” was about the application process to American universities. It is the most complex application process in the world. Choosing among 4,000 different colleges doesn’t make it any easier and for many TCKs this process can be even “more challenging, as students prepare to settle in the US and choose, perhaps for the first time, where they want to live”. In his talk for professionals who work with TCK’s and expats who are not familiar with the current state of university applications, he provided a very important overview of the US application process with special attention to the unique challenges that students face when they apply from overseas.

Upcoming events of Sea Change Mentoring in The Hague area:

Monday 14th October 2013, 18:00-20:00 at The American School The Hague

Lecture: “Global Success: Preparing Expat Youth for Adulthood

“Having an international childhood has many advantages, and a few challenges here and there. In order to be successful, young people must find ways to make the most of the experiences and skill-sets picked up in this global life while learning to recognize and prepare for some of the challenges they may face as they transition to adulthood.”

Participants will:

  • Learn how to make the most of the experiences and skill sets picked up in an international childhood. Including:
    • The positive attributes of the expat youth/third culture kid profile
    • How to connect these attributes to what universities and employers are looking for
    • How to choose the right university and thrive once there
  • Learn how expat youth can manage and/or minimize the difficult aspects related to the transition into adulthood. Including:
    • The challenges of the expat youth/third culture kid profile: reverse culture shock and other issues like restlessness and difficulties in relationships
    • Key strategies that parents and teens can use to manage those challenges
  • Learn how mentors can help expat youth through this transition and how Sea Change Mentoring works
  • Network with other participants to help strengthen a supportive community around these matters
  • Connect with a number of related resources

(cfr. © from The American School of The Hague)

Thursday, 17th October 2013, 19:30 to 21:30 at Van Hogenhoucklaan 89

Workshop: Resilience for Global Teens

Ellen Mahoney will join Passionate Parenting for an evening workshop for parents and teenagers looking at the skills teens need to succeed in work and life and how to help them develop these skills.


Please note that excerpts were taken from the handout of the Symposium and are © Sea Change Mentoring.

Review: “The Illusive Home” by James R. Mitchener

In The illusive home, James R. Mitchener gives us a very personal insight into the life of a real Third Culture Kid. He has first hand knowledge of what global moving and a life spent in different cultures means for TCK’s who are “cultural mixing pots, have grown up in so many vastly different worlds that the country from which we hail has no meaning beyond the fact that it’s the place that our passport says we belong” (p.1)

He talks about what “home”  means for a TCK, who “adopts fragments of every culture” and make them his own.

James R. Mitchell highlightens the important and sometimes painful aspects of transitioning for TCK’s, based on his own experiences. He describes the huge adaptability and mobility of TCK’s, their “ability to have an incredibly detailed understanding of new and unique cultures” (p.16) and why adaptation is their “most desirable quality” (p.17), that makes them into “creatures of culture” (p.18).

He also discusses why the definition of TCK should be more diversified because of many different kinds of TCK’s existing nowadays.

If you are a TCK, a parent of a TCK or an ATCK, The Illusive Home will resonate to you.

Growing up as a Third Culture Kid can be terrifying, but it is also rewarding and exciting: “In my eyes, despite how broken parts of my life have become, being raised in the places I’ve lived and having taken in so many cultures is the single greatest thing that has ever happened to me” (p.13).

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A few days ago, James R. Mitchener did publish a great post about the definition of TCK’s, called “Defining a Third Culture Kid” on his site “Third Culture Kid Life“: a must read for every TCK!


FYI: The common definition by David C. Pollock of a “Third Culture Kid”:

A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background. (David C. Pollock)

But please read James R. Mitcheners detailed definition of TCK’s in “Defining a Third Culture Kid” (cfr. above)