Let’s be honest: sometimes TCKs are hard to talk to. Our lives are peppered with un-relatable anecdotes, travel across borders is as commonplace as a trip to the grocery store, and we are often behind the curve on pop culture. It’s what makes us special snowflakes, but it can make us confusing as well. So here’s a tool to for our non-TCK friends and relatives—a guide of sorts: 5 ways to respond to the ups and downs of TCK conversation. If you’re reading this as a non-TCK, congratulations, you’ve made a step in understanding this hidden culture!
Scenario 1: You’ve encountered a TCK and in conversation you’ve discovered they haven’t seen a quintessential classic movie from childhood, like Goonies or Star Wars (yes, those people exist). Or they’ve never heard of a famous band or actor. Don’t say: “OMG, I can’t believe you have seen/heard of that!” Instead, introduce them to this pop culture phenomenon by saying,
“It’s amazing! Next time we hang out we will watch/listen to/experience this thing together.”
Instead of building a wall of differences, this allows you to share your culture with them.
Scenario 2: Craziest vacation stories are being shared around the dinner table. A death-defying Grand Canyon trip, camping in Yosemite, a politically-minded tour around DC, and a jungle surviving training exercise in the tropics…wait! What!? That’s right, your TCK friend has just shared a travel story no one can relate to. Don’t say: “That’s crazy, Kevin! Why would you even want to do something like that?” This is not a question that encourages an answer. It’s a way to shut Kevin down. Instead, try:
“Wow! What kind of stuff did you learn?”
This way Kevin feels heard and appreciated. Plus, you’ve shown interest in him and his home. Trust me, a little goes a long way.
Scenario 3: You’re dating a TCK, and it’s great! They’re cultured, get along with your family well, and can romance you in many languages. It’s never boring. But, he’s really—I mean really—touchy-feely with his friends and family. Don’t say, “It’s weird how you interact with you family and friends; it’s, like, too affectionate.” You’ve just made him feel wrong somehow. Instead say:
“It’s great how close you are with you friends and family. How did you reach that level of affection?”
You’ve acknowledged that you’ve noticed the closeness but you’re allowing them to share that part of themselves with you.
Scenario 4: Your TCK friend is seriously crying about saying goodbye to someone they’ve known for a month, a week, or less. Don’t say: “You barely know them, I think you’re overreacting a bit.” Whoa! Yes, to you it might seem extreme, but to them that person represents the many goodbyes they’ve said in their lives—too many to count really. Instead say,
“You really connected with so-and-so. Tell me about your friendship.”
Here you are not belittling their emotions, but instead trying to understand where they are coming from.
Scenario 5: Your TCK friend bursts into your room. Their parents are flying them and a friend home to their former host country for a holiday, and they want you to come! Don’t say: “Sorry, it’s a really busy time for me.” Instead,
Experiencing someone’s home with them is a great treasure, and they are asking you to share that with them. GO!
And, this is essential: don’t complain about this country to your TCK friend. Save that for your mom when you get home. Eat everything; experience everything; don’t be controlled by fear. It will change you and your relationship with your friend.
If you take these principles and apply them to your conversations, you will ask thoughtful questions and open doors for connection. Thank you for loving the TCKs in your life so well!