Can Never Be... (Parts 1 & 2)

Part 1

Perspective one says… 

We were never meant to be normal,

Not with the lives we live 

Our tongues are coated in languages

Our skin in passport stamps 

Our hearts are strung to a map 

Tethered forever to the goodbye and plane tickets 

We were never meant to be rooted, 

Not when we were born to have wings stitched onto our backs

Our bodies forever branded with the sky 

Airports become as familiar as the places we’re supposed to call home

“Where you from?” is as hard a question to answer as calculus is with a first-grade education 

“Where is home?” is like asking which strand of hair I like best

There were too many, are too many, will be too many… to call home… 

Home is a figment of our imagination, 

“Home is where your heart is” equals to folklore we grew up with

Our hearts have been shattered and scattered across a globe

We can never be normal

Not with the lives, we are living 

Our footprints mark the miles between countries 

Our wings mark the oceans crossed

Our incredible inevitable crazy lives 

Mark only those who live in memories

We can never be normal 

Wishing to be is a long… almost… forgotten dream

We will never be… “normal”

Our paths were chosen before we knew “Yes” 

Wings stitched before we knew “No” 

Goodbyes and plane tickets tethered before we knew “Stop!”

Hearts strung before we knew “Please!” 

Skin stamped and tongues coated before we knew… “Ok… ” 

We… can never be…

Part 2

Perspective two says… 

We were never meant to be normal

Our tongues are coated in languages

Our skin in passport stamps 

Our hearts were made for this chaos 

Tethered forever to the adventure and high wind turbulences

We were never meant to be rooted  

Not when we were born with wings protruding from our backs 

Airports become a familiar harbor 

We are from everywhere and nowhere 

A piece of our heart remains in each country we’ve traveled to 

The trail markers of our lives 

We can never be normal

Our footprints mark the miles on maps  

Our wings mark the oceans feet could never cross

Our incredible inevitable crazy lives 

Are burned into our brains

Lasting till dust returns to dust 

We will never be… “normal”

Our paths take us in a thousand different directions 

We never saw coming  

Our wingspan is half the length of our courage

Our adventures are written in a blank book

The turbulence is a victory cry in sign language 

Our hearts are made resilient 

Our skin is begging for stamps 

Our tongues are already learning 

We are incredibly inevitably crazy

Isn’t it extraordinary… how we… can never be…

Resilient TCKs

Our FREE parent chronicles  are written by adult TCKs, and every issue includes unique insights into your kids’ lives and their experiences. Sign up for our Parent Chronicles to receive exclusive activities.

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RESOURCES, TOOLS, AND COMMUNITY FOR PARENTS OF THIRD CULTURE KIDS

(So you can be confident you're not screwing them up!)

Ever wondered how your third culture kids can become as resilient as Elastigirl from the Incredibles? We definitely have! No matter how hard we try to avoid it, hardship such as loss and grief is inevitable, especially for a TCK. At KLDSCP, we believe that a TCK’s resilience allows them to thrive in even the most precarious of circumstances. We’ve found a few tools to be especially helpful in empowering kids to build resilience and process tough experiences well, and we hope you find success with them, too:

  1. Acknowledge past losses and prepare for future ones, no matter how big or small. If a TCK wants to work through hard emotions and experiences, we dive into the mess with them. If they are grieving the loss of something relatively small or inconsequential, we give that equal airtime. We discuss past and current losses insofar as they are part of their stories, and teach them the tools to say healthy goodbyes. Talking about loss helps us process our experiences and avoids unresolved grief further down the road, resulting in a greater ability to recover after future losses, a.k.a. resilience.

  2. Give them language. A big part of helping TCKs learn resilience is by talking about emotions. Learning to express both negative and positive emotions is key to living a life of resilience. We aim to continue to expand your TCKs’ emotional vocabulary and teach them to identify their feelings!

  3. Make connections. Friendships for children and teens teaches them essential life skills, such as empathy and compassion. Because of a TCK’s highly mobile lifestyle, making new connections can sometimes feel hard or scary. It is essential to encourage TCKs to remain present and make friends, even if it is only for a week; value the practice of learning how to connect with others around us, even if it means risking another goodbye.

  4. Be an example. Tell your own stories and share appropriate emotions with the TCKs in your life. Hearing others’ experiences helps TCKs understand that they are not alone, and feel connected. Feeling connected is an essential part of building resilience.

  5. Listen to their stories! When TCKs get to tell their stories, they can make sense of their world and connect with those who listen their life journey—even if they’re just 5 years old. Processing their experiences through reflection and sharing develops their emotional resilience as they continue on their paths. Wait until next month where we will dive more into personal storytelling.


Listen

Josh Sandoz is an adult third culture kid and Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in working with TCKs. In this podcast you will hear more about Josh's story, challenges that TCKs face, and how you can help your kids develop emotional resilience as they grow up in between cultures.

TCK Heroes

Our FREE parent chronicles  are written by adult TCKs, and every issue includes unique insights into your kids’ lives and their experiences. Sign up for our Parent Chronicles to receive exclusive activities.

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RESOURCES, TOOLS, AND COMMUNITY FOR PARENTS OF THIRD CULTURE KIDS

(So you can be confident you're not screwing them up!)

What makes a better story than a character being plucked out of their culture and sent on an extraordinary adventure where they meet different and lovable characters along the way?! You can use music, movies, and TV shows as tools to help the teenagers in your lives process their experiences and become more self aware. The really cool part is that a lot of stories use third culture kids (sometimes without even realizing it!) as their heroes and heroines.

In the movie Guardians of the Galaxy, the main character, Peter Quill, happens to be a TCK. Peter was born on Earth, and when he was about 10 years old, was snatched away to grow up in space. The movie fast-forwards to when he is an adult, and we see him on an alien planet, surrounded by others who are unlike him. His “family,” friends, and even enemies not only look different, but belong to different cultures than he does.

We watch Peter face classic TCK situations:

like when his humor fails to come across properly…

...and he attempts (and sometimes fails) to get others around him to appreciate the aspects of his passport planet that he does.

Sometimes people think he’s a little strange…

…and we see him face challenges that are familiar to our own TCKs, such as accumulated loss, feelings of loneliness, and unresolved grief.

Get the family together to watch this film and talk about the similarities and differences between your teen TCKs’ experiences and those of Peter Quill and company.

Understanding Your TCK

Our FREE parent chronicles  are written by an adult TCK and every issue includes unique insights into your kids’ lives and their experiences. Sign up for our Parent Chronicles to receive exclusive activities.

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RESOURCES, TOOLS, AND COMMUNITY FOR PARENTS OF THIRD CULTURE KIDS

(So you can be confident you're not screwing them up!)

Since our world is an ever-changing one, it is important to define the term TCK. In the new edition of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, authors Ruth Van Reken and Michael Pollock present an updated definition that might be a little bit different than the one you are familiar with:

A traditional third culture kid (TCK) is a person who spends a significant part of his or her first eighteen years of life accompanying parent(s) into a country that is different from at least one parent's country(ies) due to a parent's choice of work or advanced training.

Mixing blue and yellow paint is a common way to explain what makes third culture kids unique. This is a fun, messy activity we do with your kids! Blue represents a TCK's passport country, and yellow represents the country they have spent time in, or their host country. When these colors blend together, it makes green. Rather than losing either color, a new color is created. The same thing happens when a child moves from the United States to Kenya, for example: a new, unique culture is gained!

Each TCK is a different shade of green depending on how much they are influenced by their host and passport countries. However, a unique quality TCKs possess is their ability to relate to one another, no matter where they are from or what their shade of green. Whether TCKs grow up in South Korea or South Africa, whether they are missionary or military kids, they all share this commonality of "being green."

How do people who have grown up on opposite sides of the world find themselves becoming best friends, you ask? Find out next time as we explore the unique pieces that make up this third culture.


WATCH

What better way to explain what a TCK is, then our good old friend, Buddy the Elf! In the movie Elf, Buddy is a quintessential TCK. Too tall to be an elf, but different than other humans, he has to try to figure out how he fits into the busy metropolitan life in New York City. Check out our blog post for discussion Q's, and theIMDB page for parental advisory content and plot details.

The Odyssey and the Third Culture Kid

The ‘Ship of Theseus’ thought experiment is one you are probably familiar with, at least in one of its many forms. This is the question of whether a ship that leaves home and has had all of its component parts replaced during the journey will return to its home port as the same ship. Can we call it the same ship? Or can we not? One of its corollary forms is the modern scientific ‘myth’ that the human body replaces every one of its cells every five or so years. I’m not sure if this has been refuted yet, but my guess is it probably will soon. It is my firm and unshakeable belief, however, that no one on earth is more attuned to the terror of this scientific possibility than the Third Culture Kid. 

A memory of poignant immediacy to me from my late childhood is watching the movie Cast Away. It is the story of Chuck Noland—a bit of an obvious play on ‘no land.’ He becomes adrift, cast away from the mad whir of modern life and happiness and into the slow, violent slog of life on an island in the Pacific after surviving a plane crash. His job before the crash was delivering packages; he was the means by which the world stayed connected and whole. All that he has now to get him through are the memories of his fiancé Kelly and a mysteriously winged package that comes in with the tide one morning and is addressed to somewhere very near where he lived back in the real world. He is determined to return the package some day. 

It was either my sister or someone else who first pointed out to me how the movie contains absolutely no orchestral music before the moment when Chuck has finally, after four long years, fashioned a raft and left the island. It’s only after he has cleared the worst of surf and climbed the worst of the waves, as he’s rowing out to sea, as the thrill of making it off the island begins to suddenly fade, and he looks back towards his home of the last four years, that the music comes in strong. The movie’s first moment of truly crippling pathos is not when his plane goes down, nor even when he returns home; it’s only when he has to say goodbye to his adoptive home, his second, alternate home, that the movie watcher is struck by the emotional complexity of his situation and the depth of the alienation the castaway feels and is about to feel. 

The moment of most impressive relevance to TCKs in the movie, however, is when he arrives back home. Chuck’s first encounter with human life after his four years on the island is the jarring blast of a massive cargo ship’s horn. This is our first sign of trouble. The rest of the movie—and it’s quite a hearty chunk of time—slowly, brutally details all of the important changes since the beginning of Chuck’s alienation. His beloved Kelly, after years of searching and mourning, has remarried their dentist and, even though she loves him still and seeing him again is traumatizing and wonderful, cannot just simply abandon her family for Chuck. So, all that’s left is the anonymous, winged package. 

The Odyssey tells the same story. 

‘Nostos’ is the term scholars use to identify the motif of heroic return to home by sea. The Odyssey is an epic poem participating in that genre as well. Odysseus’ heroism is defined entirely by his desire and ability to return to Ithaca and retake his place as King, husband of Penelope, and father of Telemachus.

It’s entirely about a man trying to return home and being crushed by the change when he does. Odysseus’s Penelope is true to him, but his son has become a man, the suitors have all but exhausted his material possessions and food supply, and Ithaca is in a state of political unrest. The saddest moment in the very long poem, however, is when Odysseus returns to his father’s house after killing the suitors and in lieu of a warm, tear-filled, heart-felt reunion, refers to himself for a second time as simply “Nobody.” What was before a simple trick to make his way out of the cyclops’ cave has now become his identity, which is exactly the lack of an identity. 

Is he the same man he was before?

There seems to be something that has changed within him as well. When he visits the Underworld, Tiresias prophesies over him that he will never find true rest in his life, that his return to Ithaca will not be permanent. Not only has Ithaca changed entirely, but so has he. He cannot come home because he is not himself and home is no longer itself either. Though there is hope, both at the end of Cast Away and The Odyssey, the hope is no longer for a return to what once was. The hope is for something else, something new, to become desirable, not for the desire of something old to be fulfilled. 

As an overwhelmingly emotional 13-year-old boy who had just himself moved across the Pacific Ocean (from the Philippines to the States), Cast Away hit far too close to home. What was supposed to have been my home, my place of nationality, the location of my blood-family, turned out to be something entirely foreign and terrifying to me. And leaving the island in the Pacific inspired in me feelings I had certainly never felt before, like hearing a song that made you sadder than you ever could have thought possible. 

Now, as an adult, studying English literature, in the security of a home, The Odyssey only really speaks to me in faint whispers. It only really evokes a shadow of the emotions I felt as a young teenager. But I’m haunted by the impermanence inherent in the message: that the only hope we can have is for something we have not had before. And moreover, in the Christian cosmology, there is a theological truth to that. We should not hope for the happiness of this life, and there will be no remembrance of things past in the world to come. 

But I do not think the emotion is less important, theologically or otherwise. Of what purpose are feelings for lost things? Why would God give us such stark nostalgia for the lost things of the world if heaven was not in part interested in the restoration of lost things, namely the innocence of the world that was the Garden? We are all spiritually adrift, and what is the resurrection but the restoration of a lost life?

And for the TCK, these ‘stark nostalgias’ are only stronger reminders of this. We are given, like Chuck and Odysseus, the gift of understanding the poignancy of lost things and, consequently, a more personal understanding of the need for restoration and return.