Ok, so no one sent in any specific questions about expat kids’ issues. Or TCK issues, that is. I’ve just started reading a book which calls expat kids TCKs, third culture kids*.
It’s quite enlightening because by rights I must be one, though I’m not sure I can relate. Delayed adolescence? What-ski?? I totes don’t have that. Maybe now that I’m in my thirties it wouldn’t apply to me anyway.
It also doesn’t apply to my little tots because they’re way too young to be affected by, or even notice, our moves, but even if it’s not directly relevant to my life, I think it’s a fascinating text for me; and v useful for deepening my expertise as a burgeoning psychologist (pre-qualification/ training).
It was Clara, of course, who recommended the book to me, and although she is more “officially” the expert, my take has at least as much clout (possibly more?), given that I am fully immersed in the expat lifestyle, whereas she is just in the UK.
Anyway, so, because Mummy’s aqua aerobics group hasn’t made my blog go viral (I should join LinkedIn: that’s supposed to be really helpful. I went to a totes inspiring talk about it where the lady said, “I can make more money, but I can’t make more time”; OMG that’s so vital and so true!!), no one has written in with questions about the issues faced by TCKs.
So I mailed Clara about my disappointment, and she said she has a few points in mind from her own childhood which might “resonate” with expat kids. Ok, Clara. Not sure “resonate” is a word that’s down with the kids, but let’s give it a go.
As a big Oprah and Vanessa Feltz fan, I aim to conduct my interviewing style in a similar vein. I intend to be objective, but challenging, and not shy away from difficult questions.
Discussion Point 1. “You’re So Lucky”
EJ: So, Clara, you said that an issue for you growing up as an expat kid was being told you were lucky. Being lucky is awesome. How was it an “issue”?
C: I don’t want to over-use the word issue, but I would like to talk about the impact adults’ words have on children and young people. When I mentioned this idea to you, what I wanted to share is that when I was growing up as an expat kid I was often told how lucky I was to be moving around so much because of all the experiences I had access to, the different languages I learned, and the people I met. In one sense, now as an adult, I don’t dispute that those things were valuable, but…
EJ: I know! So valuable!! Max is only 6 and he has lived in 3 countries, travelled to 15 countries across 5 continents (he and Milly have frequent flyer accounts with 3 different airlines; mini miles! So cute!!), and has a v good foundation in Mandarin.
Of course, we have friends whose children who are bi or tri-lingual, but they have parents of mixed nationality, so that’s a bit of a cheat really. I don’t think that counts in the long-run. Plus, I’ve read online that children who learn too many languages before the age of 10 end up going downhill later at university. They are statistically proven to be less likely to get into Oxford or Harvard. Jack of all trades = master of none.
Anyway, sorry, what were you saying, Clara?
C: The point I wanted to make was that as a kid, people at home kept telling me how lucky I was, and the difficulty for me was that I didn’t feel lucky. To me, this was the only life I knew. I only knew about going to a new school, learning my way around the place and making new friends, which wasn’t all that easy, finally feeling settled and happy, and then one day suddenly being told that we were going to leave in a few months. I knew about loss.
EJ: But then you got to go to a whole new place!! How exciting! I mean, Clara, you lived in some really great places. You’ve been to like hundreds of countries! You must’ve lived in at least 10. And you speak TONS of languages. You’re seriously lucky. Come on!
C: I’m not saying I’m not blessed. My point is that people kept telling me how lucky I was to have all these experiences, but I didn’t feel lucky. The problem arises when we tell a child or young person how they should feel; and expat children, or TCKs, are often told how lucky they are, which creates an internal problem that looks like this:
I feel sad about losing my friends from my last country.
I miss my family from home.
I need to start again in this new place.
I am constantly being told how lucky I am, so I must be lucky.
This must be good.
But it doesn’t feel good.
So, there must be something wrong with me.
This is the thought process I experienced as an expat adolescent. I was only able to process it many years later, and Pollock and Van Reken’s book was a big part of that of that processing.
EJ: Clara, that sounds so painful, to be misunderstood like that, and to think that it was your fault. I’m just so happy that Max and Milly are such well-adjusted little people. Well, Clara, THANKS FOR YOUR THOUGHTS. Until next time, on the Skype Couch with me, Emma-Jane.
If anyone “resonates” with what Clara said, or even doesn’t resonate, I would love to hear from you.
* Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken