Transition Seminar 2011

Category: Third Culture Kids

kids_rock_2Some years ago when I first joined the staff at an international school, the Director declared to all of us “newbies” that at the end of the school year he wanted us to be “good and tired”. Well I was, and I am again this week. Only this time it is after only one week. I am exhausted but feeling very good.

I have just returned from seven very intense days at a Transition Seminar with 36 High School and University aged Third Culture Kids returning to the USA after living internationally most of their lives. Take a quick look at the countries these kids lived in: Brazil, Chile, Mozambique, Indonesia, Philippines, Kenya, Japan, Italy, Romania, France, Germany, Spain, Papua New Guinea, United Kingdom, Hungary, Madagascar, Turkey, Ukraine, Cambodia, Niger, Guatemala, Paraguay, Ethiopia, Mongolia, Malaysia..and these are the countries most recently lived in!

When the kids arrived on Saturday, very few knew each other. By the end of the first evening they interacted as if they had known each other forever. And when they left on following Friday, it was pure anguish. In seven short days they had become family.

Most didn’t want to come. Parents had pressured them. As one of them told me on Friday…”Why would I want to come to a place where I meet people for one week and then say goodbye?” Yet at the end of the week most said they would have not traded this week for anything.

Why? What made the week so powerful? I think the answer is a bit complicated yet quite predictable:

  1. All of the students were Third Culture Kids.
  2. With the exception of one or two, all had returned to North America within the last 2 months.
  3. The grief of losing what and who they had left was fresh.
  4. It had been a while since they had been with their TCK culture group.
  5. They were finally with a group of people where they did not have to explain themselves. What a cocktail for intensity!

You may be wondering what we did for an entire week. In our seminar sessions (yes we had school) we talked about everything from identity and temperament to the practical issues of life in the USA and Canada. We interacted on a very emotional level about grief, and discussed the stages of transition. We even had a cultural day out followed by an in-depth debriefing as to how they saw their new host culture.

But the best times, no surprise, were just hanging out….telling stories to people who will listen, and saying nothing yet being understood.

 There were 2 particular sessions that I enjoyed.

One was about grief. I hesitate to say I enjoyed it. It might be better said that the Grief session was so intense and painful that it was soothing. To be in the room where there was so much raw emotion was humbling. Though I personally know the powerful emotions that come from the loss of people and places, it was hearing their grief that moved me to tears. The words and expressions of grief made that meeting room in the mountains of Colorado a holy place.

group_2_bThe other session I enjoyed…and this one has no mixed feelings at all…was one where the kids identified characteristics of the Third Culture from their perspective. The kids were divided into groups and given a short block of time to write down as many TCK characteristics as they could think of. While the lists were not exhaustive (not nearly enough time), they were amazingly insightful. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Language learners
  • Better at relating to adults than to mono-cultural peers
  • Chameleons
  • High hopes but low expectations of friendships
  • Never know who to cheer for in the Olympics
  • Broader definition of “fun”
  • Lives between cultures
  • Home is people
  • Adaptable but unable to belong
  • Home is everywhere you are and where ever you’re not
  • Totally Confused Kid
  • Sense of belonging is in not belonging
  • Hard to define self
  • The experience (of being a TCK) is like dating someone you know you can’t marry
  • Used to not being understood
  • Know the world but not my country


I could go on and on. Their insight and turn of phrase was fantastic. These kids never cease to amaze me.

 The nights were short - after all there were too many stories to tell, fun to be had, and tears to be shed to allow for eight hours of sleep.

So I left the week sleep deprived and exhausted. Yep, “good and tired”…and looking forward to next year when I can do it all over again.

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