Libby's Blog

Those Mid-October Blues

newTCKkidHey friends, it’s Cami here and it’s almost the middle of October! The thought of that makes me shudder. That’s not because the weather is beginning to cool down, but rather because I remember all too well what it was like to be a new kid in school in the middle of October.

I had returned to my passport country that very summer. By October I thought maybe I would have made a good friend. I actually thought I would have figured out this passport country by now. I was sure I wouldn’t be missing my friends in my other school nearly so much. I was positive there would be no more tears to be shed.

How wrong I was.

By October, the adventure of the new was gone and the reality of not going back to the country I left had set in hard.  When I left my old school it was painful. But nothing compared to the pain I felt in the mid-Octobers. I felt lonely, trapped and a bit hopeless. No one understood what I was going through, and even my mom and dad were getting tired of hearing me talk about the past and complain about the present. No one (including me) seemed to notice I wasn’t talking about the future at all.

No one had a clue what was going on inside of me during that time. I would go to school, smile at nameless faces in the hallway, get fairly good marks on my schoolwork and just establish myself as the new shy girl who is a little “off”. Funny thing is I didn’t feel like smiling at all. I wasn’t studying but I still had good grades (schools in my passport country were sooo easy). And people had no idea that “shy” would never be a word that would have described me back in MY home. And as far as “off” was concerned, it was this place that was “off”, not me. They did not have a clue about what was going on in the world. All they want to do is eat, shop and play video games. In my mind, no one cared about anything, nor did they have the capacity to.

Sounds pretty bleak, doesn’t it?

As I think back on it now, I sometimes wonder how I got through it. I am also reminded that the same thing seemed to happen just about every time I moved to a new place and a new school. Yet, I did make it and I usually finished my school year with academic and social success. But it took work on my part as well as effort from my parents and even sometimes the school.

So what can be done to get through the “mid-October’s” ?

For Third Culture Kids:

  1. Think back to other transitions. Ask yourself  “how long did it take me to get through the ‘Octobers’”? What did you do that helped? What did you do that made it harder?
  2. Think about what you know now about where you are and compare it to what you knew the first day of school. These are successes though it may not feel like it sometimes.
  3. Make rules for yourself such as: for every negative statement I make about the school, culture or peers, I find something positive to say.
  4. Be careful not to compare your old school to your new school all the time…especially when talking to your current peers. No one likes to hear criticism about their school, home or culture.
  5. Evaluate if the time you are spending on Facebook or Skype is keeping you from making efforts to get to know new people.

For Parents:

  1. Listen to your child’s words. Is your child more negative than positive? Are there never positive statements made? Is it time to be looking for outside help? A teacher or counselor perhaps?
  2. When your child tells you about a success during the “Octobers” this is something to celebrate.  Depending on your child’s age, gender, personality, etc., a literal celebration may be in order. At the very least when something positive is said ask them to tell you about it. Hang onto every word. By this time you need encouragement that your child might be seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
  3. Ask them to think back to when the have transitioned before. Ask them how it is different this time.
  4. If your child is not finding friends, ask what kind of friend they are looking for. It may be time for you to begin helping them find friends. Are there other TCKs in your child’s school, neighborhood, or church? Finding other TCKs is often a lifeline for Third Culture Kids in transition.
  5. Review the issues and timeline of transition. This often helps mom and dad as well as the student know things are normal and part of the predictable process of transition.

For Teachers:

  1. Mid-October is the perfect time to schedule a debrief for all new students. TCKs or not this is often a very difficult for new kids.
  2. Take the opportunity to give a writing assignment for the entire class on a topic that new students can relate to and excel in…."If I could go anywhere in the world, where would I go?", "Home is________", "The best meal I have ever eaten was..." ... etc.
  3. Mention a current issue about the country the student if from. Ask if this is new to him, and what his thoughts are about it. Make an effort to show genuine interest in the country of his heart.
  4. Be patient during this particular time of transition. Often new students get critical and begin to act out during this time. If the student is younger than university age, communicating with parents if often very helpful in developing a strategy for getting through this time.

Remember, for most Third Culture Kids the mid-Octobers are temporary, and they will get through it, but for now, it is just plain hard. As one of my TCK friends said to me just this week, this is the time of year when you not only have homesickness, but you have memory-sickness as well. And I like it and hate it at the same time...

Now I have made myself memory-sick...again! So, over to you. TCKs, how did you survive the Mid-Octobers? Parents, how did you come alongside your children in transition? Teachers and caregivers, what are some creative ideas you have used to help TCKs and other new kids at school survive their transition?



Camilla is a TCK who gets to travel with Libby Stephens. Missed her intro? Meet Cami!

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Global-Minded Education: A New Currency for the 21st Century

TCKsIt was a busy week. After several domestic flights this week, I was on my way to South Korea. It was busy in my brain as well. One of my trips this week took me to a private high school in the Midwest of the United States. It was a super two days filled with all sorts of brain stimulation.

One day was spent with international students and host families as they began the new school year. The second day was spent with the faculty discussing what it means to have a global mindset in the 21st century and how this affects not only third culture kids but their mono-cultural counterparts as well.

The world is getting smaller by the day. No longer do we have to wait for “snail mail” - I think I may have posted all of two pieces of mail last year! Even communication across language barriers is instantaneous thanks to Google Translate or other tools. News on the other side of the world affects us immediately. And of course international mobility shows no sign of slowing down! In fact, the United Nations reports that in 2010, 214 million people were living as expats around the world. TCKs are growing in number daily and entering into mainstream life in cultures throughout the planet.

All the sudden, TCKs and mono-cultural kids are facing some of the same intense global issues. No longer can anyone afford to stay mono-cultural in their thinking.

Here are some of the issues that urgently require global discussion in our schools:

1. Planet management

    Global warming
    Recycling and renewable products
    Conservation of natural resources

    2. Social justice
    Human slavery/Human trafficking
    Human rights

    3. Advancements in science

      Effects of increased autism
      Global diseases
      Aging population

      4. Technology
      Social media as mainstream
      Advances in communication technology
      Role in Government

      5. Political systems

        Current and projected
        Conflict and resolution
        Emerging countries
        Power shifts
        World economics

        6. Global belief systems

          Living in harmony
          Tolerance without compromising one's own belief system

          Global competence in these areas is no longer a “nice to have”. It is a requirement for success in the 21st century. Educational systems cannot afford to be culturally bound if we truly want to prepare TCKs or mono-cultural students to be global citizens. Specifically, as educators, caregivers and parents of TCKs, we can no longer afford not to think globally for the sake of our children’s future.

          What are some of the practical ways you as educators, caregivers or parents are shifting your education mindset in a shifting world?


          Photos by Khalid Ahmadzai, used with permission.

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          Why Traditions are Critical in TCK Schools

          TCKschoolchoirCelebrating traditions is very important in the TCK school.  Why are traditions so important? And who are they important to? Here are some thoughts I have had after observing a number of international schools over the years.

          Traditions: festivals, graduation, trips, music performances... are important to your students; though they may not realize it until years after they have left your fine institution. I have had the pleasure of talking to many Adult Third Culture Kids who fondly remember traditions of their overseas school.  Traditions are also important for current students, before they leave school. If you have ever tried changing a tradition in the TCK school it might at times feel like student revolt:
          "Hey, what are you doing? This is my school you are changing!"; "Hey, I have been here longer than you have Mr. Teacher or Ms. Administrator, three years… who are you to change the traditions of my school?"

          Traditions are also important for the school’s staff given the perpetual change within the TCK school. Often student bodies and staff turnover reaches 30% and higher yearly. The “constants” in the overseas school are relatively rare.  Sure, the grading system, the curriculum and vision statement remain fairly stable but often the very carriers of tradition move on and sadly take traditions or their meaning with them. And while an environment of “newness” and “freshness” can be exciting and motivating, it is the constants – the traditions we have- that help keep the overseas school grounded.

          Interestingly, parents are also highly protective of school traditions. Traditions allow for parental pride as they see their children taking part in such an elite and selective school. More importantly however, for many overseas families the international school is the main source stability in the midst of the chaos of transition. The traditions of the international school give a sense of security for their children at a time when parents may be asking themselves if they have done the right thing by taking their child away from “home”, family and friends in their passport country.

           As a passionate advocate for Third Culture Kids, I believe traditions are critical for several reasons:

           1.   Traditions foster stability.
          In the midst of the eternal changes that the international school faces, traditions are reminders that things are as they should be. Regardless of a new student body and staff turnover, there is a sense of the familiar and in spite of all the change, the “school” remains the same. What a great thing to offer our student bodies and families who seem to be all too familiar with the uncertainties of change and transition.

          2.  Traditions create a sense of belonging.
          Traditions help both students and staff develop a sense of belonging within the international school. It doesn't take long for staff and students to take on traditions as their own. This develops in them a real sense of ownership and commitment to the overseas school. This loyalty is often seen for decades in the lives of alumni across the globe.

           3.  Traditions allow TCKs to move forward.
          Traditions are a sort of right of passage for the future.  It’s about thinking back to be able to move forward. The senior trip, the prom or the graduation ceremony are all traditions seen as “must haves” in a school. They mark a time of transition while at the same time reflecting sameness. It is often the school traditions that our students relive in their minds as they think back to their time in the overseas school or as they begin to close out their education at our schools.

          Does your school have any creative traditions that promote stability, a sense of belonging and a way for TCKs to move on? If so, I’d love to hear what you are doing! Tweet me: @Libby_Stephens or drop me a line!

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          Beautifully international schools

          The international school takes pride in the number of nationalities enrolled. That number is usually listed on the website. The school profile highlights the cultural diversity and often the flags of all the nations represented are seen in the auditorium or gymnasium.  International schools encourage participation in Model United Nations and at the same time they are careful not to regard one nation as better than another.

          I have been thinking a lot about that recently. One of the great challenges of the international school is how to help students maintain, or in some cases develop, a sense of healthy pride and loyalty to their nationalities without looking down on another.

          I visited a school not too long ago that had a club established for this very purpose. It was called the Culture Club. They met twice a month during the lunch break. Each time they met a meal was shared representing the country or culture they were discussing that week. Many of the students even dressed in the style of the country. If there were students in the club who were citizens or had ever lived in that country, they took the lead in educating the rest of the members about the culture and facilitating a captivating conversation. I looked around the room and a sense of pride rushed over me, not that I had contributed to their lives, after all I was only a visitor. The pride I felt was one of hope and delight to have the privilege of taking part in a meal with young people who loved their own countries but also had a deep respect, acceptance and curiosity for all the nations of the world.

          What a simple thing these kids put together for the Culture Club…and yet I believe it will have long term ramifications in their lives. Can you now imagine with me a school that does this sort of thing school-wide?  Imagine a school where it is intentional to create an “intenational-ness” not only in the environment of the school, but in school-wide curriculum, in each classroom and within each student. That love of one’s own nation coupled with deep respect for others would in a sense be the permeating ethos of every aspect of the school.  I believe it is the desire of every international school to create just that, but my question is …is it really being done?  I am convinced that being an international school and being educators of Third Culture Kids requires that all must be done to enhance the international nature of our schools and provide opportunities for these students to become the best global citizens they can be. What can you do to make that happen?

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          Helping your students bridge the gap

          articlesI had an interesting conversation with a TCK university student the other day. She was reflecting on her first days in an American school. She arrived in the 10th grade. As she told stories of the cultural blunders she made, she laughed robustly, but quickly added that those days were some of the most difficult of her life. She said the 10th grade was a replay of the movie “Mean Girls”. My heart immediately began to sink for her as I recalled Cady’s first day of school in the US after spending almost all of her life as a TCK in Africa.

          The movie shows Cady’s first day as a nightmare. After nearly getting run over by the big yellow school bus, Cady (played by Lindsay Lohan) makes blunder after blunder until she finally gives up and spends her first lunch break in the girls’ bathroom stall. Extreme? Just Hollywood? No, I have known TCKs who have done just that.

          I asked a group of 3rd graders at a TCK school in South Korea what their favorite time of the school day was. Their response: a resounding “lunch time and recess!” “Why?” I asked. “Because I get to be with my friends.” Then I asked when the worst time of the school day is when you are brand new to a school. You can guess their response. With sad looks on their faces, ”lunch and recess”. Most TCKs clearly remember being the new kid at a school. And just as it was difficult for Cady in “Mean Girls”, it was a painful adaptation for these 9 year olds.

          It has been my experience over the last several years after visiting countless international schools, that the TCK school has a handle on the “new kid in school”. After all, international schools are pros at admitting new kids and transferring kids into the system. Leaving those international schools is sometimes a different story. Results show that academic preparation by international schools is for the most part fantastic, and hopefully a “farewell” process is in place. But I wonder if there is enough (or any) emotional preparation for entering the next school. Are we helping our students develop the skills to build an emotional bridge between the old and the new? We must be teaching our students not only how to say “goodbye” but also to say “hello”.

          Here are just a few suggestions to help your students bridge the gap from school to school:

          1. Help your students normalize the grieving process. For middle school and high school students, it often benefits the student to understand how grief works, and to know the cycle of grief especially as it plays out in the stages of transition.
          2. Suggest strategies for working through the first week in the new school, including determining a safe person to talk to. Suggestions may include a parent, a friend, a trusted teacher or counselor from the school they left.
          3. Ask what he/she has enjoyed in the school they are coming from and help to find out if the same things are offered in the new school.
          4. Have your student reflect back to when he/she was new at your school…”How did you feel?” “How do they feel now about your school?” “Why and how did your feelings change?” Help the student see the connection between the experiences.
          5. Ask , “If a new student was to come to this school today, what advice would you give them?” Ask if he/she is willing to follow the advice just given when going to the new school.
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