Why Traditions are Critical in TCK Schools

Category: 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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