Change the Tone.

I stopped the first little traveler mid sentence. It was the tone. There was something in the tone of the sentence that sounded a little hard done by.

“What do you mean we’re not normal? What’s normal?”

“Well, *insert eye roll* I’ve lived in six countries Mum, and I’ve been to three schools…” The tone was dramatic, a little bit how come they all got to go to the dance but I had to stay home.

I reminded her that this could have happened anywhere. That really she wasn’t quite as unique as she perhaps thought. That children of army parents and itinerate workers all have to pack up and move often WITHOUT the luxury of private schools and hotel stays.

I reminded her that she has two parents who love her. I reminded her that she has a mother who drives her to school and picks her up each day. That she is fed good quality food, sleeps in clean sheets, travels to foreign countries, learns a musical instrument, attends birthday parties on weekends and goes to the corner shop for lollies every Thursday.

And then I agreed that yes, it was hard moving around and not having continuous access to grandparents (although we probably wouldn’t have that even if we lived in Australia). I agreed that perhaps it would have been great to stay at the same school all the way through from kindergarten, or perhaps it would have been bloody awful. Who knows? Just don’t tell me you’re hard done by.

There’s a name for children of expats, they’re known at TCK’s or Third Culture Kids. There’s been books written and you can find websites to browse, conferences to attend and all sorts of material to head towards if you are so inclined.

I struggle a little with the concept of our hard done by TCK’s. Yes, we need to acknowledge and discuss that moving and adjusting is hard work. However, we also need to acknowledge that TCK’s are often surrounded by children with much bigger problems. If you’ve lived in Indonesia, India, Mexico, Libya or perhaps anywhere that ends with Stan, you’ve seen children with issues a little more serious. Problems like clean water, adequate health care, disease, and the loss of a parent. When there’s a slum at your back gate, you know, just beyond your swimming pool – it should be a little harder to complain about those first world problems.

After watching the video below, I asked the children again last night where home was. Two answered without missing a beat, home was Australia. One of them was more specific, home was at the beach house. The other, melted my heart with this:

“Home is wherever you and Dad are. If we’re all together it feels like home, wherever we are”.

I think G and I have been lucky that we’re both from the same country, the issue of where is home can be very confusing for a child if as a parent, you’re not so sure yourself. What I liked about the clip below was a lot of the kids acknowledged the good bits and rationalized the bad. Okay, so you’re not quite sure where you’re from? Well, maybe you just haven’t found it yet? The best bit is, you’re the one that gets to decide.

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  1. We are surrounded by kids and adults that have much bigger problems 🙁

    The conversation in our house tonight – was far from normal. My kids all agree that we are from Australia although we haven’t been gone long enough for them to know any different.

    To set the scene – our haus meri lost both her parents over a 10 day period 🙁 her mother died this morning and I explained to the kids that J’s mother had died too.

    Mr 6 – Very nonchalantly oh, did she die of malaria…or did she get car jacked, must be malaria as they don’t have a car.

    Me – thinking to myself – OMG what are we doing to our children, they think car jacking and malaria are normal parts of life.

    Mr 7 – visibly upset – we will have to look after J so she knows she is part of our family too.

    I have now had 2 glasses of red wine and I am breathing in and out…

  2. It always amazes me how my son takes it all in his stride. He likes it that he has a ‘different’ background at times, and he also enjoys when he is just ‘one of the lads’ at school. He does tend to gravitate to the others with some international background. When strangers hear his mixed-up accent and ask the inevitable question, ‘Where are you from,’ he has been known to answer in his sweet cheeky way, ‘the airport.’ Thank you again for your insights! I love your blog! Kathy the teawife

  3. Not sure how old your children are but there’s a great new book out by a lifelong TCK who has raised her own two TCKs. “Expat Life Slice by SLice” by Apple Gidley, who has lived in 12 countries since the age of 1 month old, and moved about 25 times! It’s a really great book because she not only talks about her experiences, but also talks very honestly about how she’s dealt with the various aspects of being a serial global nomad.

  4. It has been kind of complicated as a TCK myself to raise one of my own. I know what it’s like to feel left out of my family– having my cousins grow up with grandparents and life-long childhood friendships. I still haven’t lived anywhere for more than five years at a time in my whole life, and I have to rehash some of these pains as I put my daughter through the same paces. But at least I will understand the issues she needs to work through– finding someone who understands the TCK losses and yearnings is rare.

    You are absolutely right about relative perspective, though. Ever since I spent my childhood in the Philippines, I have never felt that it was appropriate to complain about any aspect of my life. I am truly one of the lucky ones, having been born into a relatively wealthy country (America.) And although my daughter has only lived in the US and Western Europe, it is very high on my list that she may witness first-hand how incredibly taken care of she is, how she lucked out as well. And I hope we can both make a difference in the world.

    • My husband was also a TCK but home by age 8 (I wonder if you guys were in the Philippines at the same time?), he then moved from state to state to state within Australia. Primary School was a different state to High School, and then he began University in another state again. When people ask him where in Australia he’s from he always says “my parents live in Queensland”. I think it’s an easy answer to give rather than the long winded version. I have the flip side, small town, all relatives on the same street, somewhere to go “home” to – but there have been times I’ve returned to my “home” and felt like I no longer belong. So should I have stayed there forever? I have no idea. I like the idea that home is a state of mind. If it feels like home – well so be it. If it doesn’t? Well then it obviously isn’t. I loved your comment. xxx

    • I do that too! I have parents of different nationalities and have lived in 5 countries (soon to be 6). I didn’t know how to answer the “home” question so just say “my parents live near Toulouse”. Makes it much easier. Being an expat kid is globally great and sets you up for life but it can be hard to move and leave friends as a kid, and now as an adult I get itchy feet and spent a long time convincing my boyfriend that a move to Asia was a good idea. Hope to then be ready to settle down once we get back …

  5. My kids always seem to turn it on when it suits –
    Mummy to kids “you girls are so lucky to see parts of the world and experience life outside your own backyard”
    Girls to mummy “we never asked to live here we want to go back to Australia!”
    Next day mummy to girls “Can’t wait to settle back in OZ and live in one house to call our home”
    Girls to mummy “Stay in one house, for how long? wow won’t that be boring, no thanks! Hmmmm – go figure!

  6. Caroline says

    A few years ago I attended a Third Culture Kid conference in Istanbul and some in the audience were very emotional about what they felt their children were missing out on. When my husband came home, I was telling him about the conference. He is Scottish and I am Australian and we both had very “normal” childhoods growing up in Glasgow and Sydney. He asked what a third culture kid was and I said “like ours – born in Vienna, school in London, Istanbul (and now Dubai and Atlanta!)” and his response “don’t they just call them lucky”.

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  8. Interesting post. I’ve never heard the term TCK before. As a diplomat’s child, who travelled the world until I was 21, I always considered myself special – and lucky. But it has taken a lot to feel ‘settled’ in my adult life. I often have ‘ itchy feet’ and feel like I’m missing out on something by staying in the same place as I have for years now. I can only assume this is due to my upbringing. I almost feel a bit imprisoned by ‘normalcy’ and staying in one place has been a challenge. I think the moving gets in your blood when you start traveling young. But for all of its challenges with moving schools etc, I believe it was a gift. I am blessed with a handful of childhood friends in foreign countries who I still see & talk to, some 30 years later. Really get a lot out of your blog, thanks xx

  9. I do believe kids (and adults!) get a lot out of moving around and the challenges it brings with it, but it does take extra work feeling settled. When I go “home” to visit my parents, I always feel quite out of place, even though I lived there until I was 17. With my husband from the other side of the world and neither of us truly sure where home is, it will be an interesting road to see how our kids handle their concept of home… Hope it’s not too completely confusing for them. Great post, as always!

  10. Wonderful movie, will have to show to my kids. Can’t wait to see what they say (though I have to say I hate the term TCK – the guy saying it should at least be TCA’s for “adults” gets it, you can’t condemn these people to be kids forever). Husband and I are German-American, kids born in the U.S., except the one born in Singapore, and living in South Africa…

  11. I’m Welsh but haven’t lived in Wales for 20 years. My husband is English. Our kids were born in Qatar, speak Spanish really well and are about to move to Dubai. My son supports Liverpool football team (he’s been happily indoctrinated by his dad) and England for football but supports the Welsh rugby team. He’s fascinated by the fact that he was born in the Middle East. What is home? Who knows? I know that my children are happy and have the benefit of clean water and loving parents, shelter and good food and that’s a lot more than many other kids on this planet. Like you, when we move to Dubai we will have our summer home, in Spain, so still not technically home but a place we enjoy and love and easily accessable for friends. we only live once and we are gifting our children with rich life experiences – it’s up to them when they’re adults whether they want a ‘home’ for their adult lives or if they want adventures around the world too. In our ever changing world who knows where our children may end up – we know as their parents that as long as they are happy and safe, we will be glad for them to make the best of their own lives.

  12. Cathe, Clown and Clan says

    My husband is a clown with Cirque du Soleil and we have been travelling the world for 8 years with 4 children. My youngest was 2 when we started and it is all he knows. We move cities and sometimes countries every 6 weeks. That is a lot of packing and letting go. My children have amazing stories that they associate with each place. Some scary, most endearing. They have been schooled on site next to the Berlin Wall, in the rooms of the Royal Albert Hall and in the athletes marshalling room at the Soeul Olympics Stadium. We are now touring South America and they have decided to start Distance Education online with Australia which we run from a small demountable room next to the Gold and Blue Chapiteau. They are just as excited about this as any of the previous locations. It is difficult though when it comes to putting away their school bags etc., my youngest recently was heard to say, “which cupboard are we using this city?” Mum to sum.

    • Wow, what an amazing story! I never reflected on the life of a clown’s family but I suppose you have to make do just like everybody else. Every six weeks sounds tough, but then again maybe it is even a quicker way to make everyone realize that home is where your loved ones are, and that other things such as house and possessions are not nearly as important. Maybe we all are way too hung up on “which cupboard we use for the schoolbag”:-)

  13. My husband and I (US citizens) both grew up as TCKs ourselves (30+ moves, 6 countries in Asia and Europe and 10 US states), and both of us agree that ‘home’ was always wherever our parents were. Neither of us have a ‘home’ per se – our parents – now retired – all live in places we have never called home. We don’t even have a home state – we just tell people where we lived before we moved to Seoul when they ask. When we started our family, we intended that our own children would have the stability and sense of rootedness that neither of us did, but we only made it just past Son#1’s 7th birthday in the same town before we moved to another state. We still thought we were doing well – our children had only moved cross-country 3 times, and all on the same continent – until we got the chance to head back to Asia last year. Our sons – who have grown up moving – but not as TCKs by any means – were old enough to actually appreciate the opportunity to live abroad and have thoroughly enjoyed it – something that their TCK parents did not always do!

  14. I’m new to expat life and I’d never heard of TCKs before. I always thought being brought up as an expat could only be positive, however after watching this and reading some comments I feel sad for my children too that they might feel they don’t really have a home or belong anywhere, or miss out spending time with the grandparents etc.

    There are many children in the world with much bigger issues, however it is all relative, so I do understand why some may feel hard done by, as they might not understand the bigger picture!

  15. Wow, I’m really amazed by the amount of comments you’re getting on this post. Amazing. I’m glad you are raising awareness about TCKs. You know on one hand kids are really privileged living this kid of lifestyle (I did too, born in Zambia, lived in Malawi and Zimbabwe) and then moved to the Netherlands. I do think it is important that kids are told what TCKs are. You know there are challenges now but the greatest challenge is moving to your “passport country” and forming your own identity. In her book “Letters never Sent” by Ruth van Reken she describes the problems she had at 40 years of age due to her childhood. The great thing is that there is lots more information now, blogs, websites, books and research but still…

  16. Hey Kristy,
    Great site! Keep it up,

    Let us know if you ever feel like doing a guest post. We’re always looking for new writers.


  17. I am a TCK, mother to a TCK. Growing up I felt guilty much of the time because we lived so well with beggars outside out doors. I went through culture shock on more than one occasion and tried to get used to people always wanting to touch me. I would not trade it in for anything in the world but it does have it’s unique problems that should be acknowledged. My biggest challenge was re-patriating and trying to adjust to a more settled lifestyle. I found it very difficult. When I found Ruth van Recken’s book Third Culture Kids, my whole life changed. I knew I was not the only person in the world to had the feelings I did.

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