Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Travel Tuesday: The Challenges of Being a Third-Culture Kid

A third-culture kid (or TCK) is a child who has spent a significant portion of their childhood living outside his or her passport country. My three oldest children definitely qualify as TCKs. I did not learn about TCKs until we lived in Riyadh. Learning about this concept helped me tremendously. But I wish I had known about it while we lived in Sweden.

Today I came across some school papers from 2008-2009 when my oldest son was in 3rd grade. As I looked through the pages, I realized that he was experiencing classic symptoms of being a TCK-something none of the adults involved recognized and consequently were not able to help him adequately.

At the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year, we were still in the middle of huge transitions. We had only been living in the United States for 9 months-after spending 5 1/2 years in Sweden. My children hadn't eaten Kraft mac and cheese, sugar cereal, or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They hadn't even seen television commercials for several years. They had grown up in a dual-language environment that was culturally diverse.

Moving to New York was a profound shock for all of us. We went from an apartment to living in a house. We drove everywhere in New York instead of biking or taking public transportation. The kids movements and freedom became greatly restricted. In Sweden, they had been allowed to visit friends and go places without an adult hovering around them. In New York, the kids always had to have an adult with them when outside. The cost of living was also a shock. Even though my husband received a much bigger salary, we were very unprepared for the high cost of rent, utilities, and general living expenses. Our world shrunk because along with the higher cost of living, free activities were pretty sparse in the area.

Additionally, as I tried to reconstruct our lives, finding all the doctors I needed to manage my health conditions was difficult. I neglected finding an endocrinologist and so my thyroid health spiraled downward causing severe health challenges. I would eventually enter a pretty terrible lupus flare and then become pregnant. 2009 was a intense difficult year filled with health challenges, school challenges, culture shock, and a horrible battle with our landlord.

This is just the outside stuff. My son had left all his friends the year before, all that he knew and was familiar to him. At the beginning of 2008, he went to two different second grades--one in Wyoming and then the one in New York. We hobbled along at the second school. But third grade proved to be exceptionally difficult for him.

In coping with his stress he started to chew non-food objects like pens and papers. This bothered the teacher and principal so much that he was referred to the psychologist. I received many complaints about my boy that year as he struggled along, trying to find his footing, friends, and stability. Despite my efforts to keep things stable at home, my health had spiraled out of control. Even though we tried not burden our kids with what was happening, the truth is that we were all impacted by what was happening.

I wish that I had known the challenges that TCKs face as they struggle to adapt to new environments. I wish I had been able to educate the school staff about what we were facing as a family in adjusting to being back in the United States. I wish that the teacher would have seen how hard we were trying as a family and how we just didn't have the resources at that time to do better. I wish someone would have loved my little boy at that school and understood him and his needs better.

As I think about that time and how my children were affected by circumstances beyond their control, I am grateful for their resilience. I'm grateful for what we've since learned. My boy (and really all the kids) adjusted and adapted. They are bright, kind, and interesting boys. I know more now and have the resources, tools, and skills to better help my kids adjust.

The paradox of life is that we all exist in a state of duality. Most of our experiences couple the bad with the good. Being a TCK comes with some remarkable gifts and experiences but it is coupled with loss, pain, and suffering. Most of the time I focus on all the great things we've experienced but sometimes, the hard stuff rears its ugly head and I have to deal with it.

What are some of the dualities of life you have noticed?


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