Third Culture Kids and Resiliency
An article from Megan Norton, a Third Culture Kid herself, and now offers mentorship, advocacy, and support for kids going through the same familiar path.
Third Culture Kids and Resiliency
Third Culture Kids (TCKs) lead paradoxical lives; their global upbringing includes both benefits and challenges. In and through their international moves they can develop positive skills such as cultivate an expanded worldview, improve linguistic abilities, and practice cultural agility. And at the same time, they can also experience challenges surrounding their identity, sense of belonging, and community-maintenance. What’s true about this both/and, challenge/benefit lifestyle is that they have had a lot of practice in resilience. Resilience is a learned skill; one in which is built up through both adversity and celebration; through both challenges and comforts. As an Adult TCK myself, I believe there are five core resiliency skills learned in a TCK childhood.
Curiosity for Cultural Competence
TCKs have had to learn, relearn, and unlearn cultural norms depending on where they live. They have a lot of experience trying to make sense of the world as their norms, routines, and rituals have often morphed and adapted due to different environments abroad. In this way, they develop a curiosity to know how to act appropriately and effectively in different cultural contexts. This is a learned skill: to be able to pause in a new environment to observe and assess: what am I assuming or judging about the culture or the people here? What are the values and how do they align or not align with mine (familial, cultural, religious, etc.)? What does safety look like here (i.e., who is safe, what is safe, and how do I know)? Resilience is learned by practicing curiosity to know how to act appropriately, ask politely, and accept differences in various cultural contexts.
Control for Coping and Adaptability
I believe TCKs are resilient because they have learned to lean into the discomfort of stretching their comfort zones. From an early age they have had to regulate and balance themselves when introduced to new routines and rhythms in different countries. Resilience is produced as they have exercised the skills to adapt in transition. Understanding that they have choices in transition has equipped them with the ability to know that they are not out of control when things in their life are in transition. Because of their multiple country transitions, they know that they can control their perspective on change and understand it typically involves both the hard: fear, anger, sadness, tension and the good: happiness, anticipation, and gratitude.
Confidence and Self-Efficacy
TCKs have a sense of confidence as they adapt. Since they have had several opportunities to normalize crossing cultures and adapt to different environments, they are equipped to tolerate ambiguity. TCKs are expectant of the chaos and challenges that come with transitions and have the ability to hold space for the hard and good of it all. They have learned that being resilient means how to react and respond reasonably to a situation. In drawing upon their past experiences with transitions, TCKs are confident walking through both the messy and magic middle of change. It’s important for them and the family to reflect on what worked well and what didn’t work well so that they learn how to confidently move through future transitions.
Connection and Relationship Wealth
With frequent international moves, cultivating a sense of belonging, community building, and maintaining relationships can be challenges for TCKs. Helping TCKs to identify their relational health and wealth “anchors” with family, friends, and mentors can support their sense of belonging in many places and to many people. Creating connections and relationships is important to help TCKs self-regulate and to adjust well. TCKs are resilient in cultivating connections because they understand that shared identity can come in many ways. It’s not necessarily through common language; it could be through a common sport or other pastime activity. Because TCKs typically have multiple connections to people, they can feel a part of larger communities. They become resilient because they know they have caring relationships around the world.
TCKs have several admirable qualities and skills that they can contribute to and invest in their community both locally and globally. TCKs are relational. They are respectful. And they are resourceful. Because of their practiced and learned resiliency, they have the ability to contribute their skill sets and experiences to others. Where others may despair, compare, and wonder: “how can I enact change?”, TCKs may have the connections and the confidence to know where to begin and what is within their power to contribute to positive change. Because they have the resilience skills of confidence, self-efficacy, and curiosity, they can be more intentional with their energy to choose to make a difference in their community. Their ability to challenge with care and to act in culturally appropriate ways gives them the ability to contribute their passions, ideas, and actions in important bridge-building ways.
Resiliency must be learned and practiced. It must be encouraged and celebrated. Taking extra care to cultivate and celebrate these resilience skills in TCKs can heighten their own self-awareness that they are competent, they matter, they are needed, and they are wanted in this ever globalizing and interconnected world. Affirm their curiosity, confidence, and courage to contribute in their communities.
To find out more about Ms Megan Norton, and her services to Third Culture Kids, please see: