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TCK Stories – Tanya Crossman

Becoming a Third Culture Kid

Our family first moved when I was eight, from one Australian city to another. When the possibility of moving to the US came up four years later, I didn’t think of it as being any different to that first move. From my perspective as a child, there wasn’t much difference in our preparation, my expectations of settling in, and support from the company. There certainly wasn’t any sort of cross-cultural preparation, or even acknowledgement that we were going into a cross-cultural setting. At first we couldn’t tell anyone, because we weren’t sure it was going to happen. My parents finally got the green light the morning of my last day of grade 8. My mum called the school to get me on the phone right before we all piled onto buses for an end-of-year picnic. I was so thankful for that call! It gave me a chance to tell my friends, take photos, and say goodbye. As it turned out, the situation changed and I ended up back at school for the first quarter of grade 9! But still, the photos I took on that last-day-of-school outing are special.

There were so many cultural clashes for my family and I upon moving to the US, but very few people around us saw the cultural gap. We spoke English (though with “cute” foreign accents) and looked similar enough. There was a subconscious expectation that we knew the ‘rules’ for life in this new context. Yet so much was different! Being a teenager isn’t easy anywhere. Being a teenager while negotiating another culture (with peers who don’t understand that’s what you’re doing) was really tough! I met really lovely people who befriended me, but I still felt confused much of the time. I found everyday life very stressful. My accent also meant everyone knew I was “the Australian girl” as soon as I opened my mouth. But even the friends who were fascinated with my language struggled to understand that there were fundamental differences in how we saw the world.

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Re-entering My Passport Culture and Moving Country as an Adult Third Culture Kid

I pinned so much hope on the knowledge that this was temporary, and soon I would be ‘normal’ again. The closer we got to leaving the US, the more excited I got. We left the dull grey of winter of New England and arrived to the deep blue skies of Australian summer. My mum took me shopping for new clothes, and in a real grown-up store for the first time! Everything was looking up. Then I started meeting people. It turned out that while I sounded Australian to Americans, I now sounded American to Australians. I also found it hard to enter into the conversations necessary to make new friends because all the stories and experiences I could share happened in a different country – which sounds like bragging to an Australian audience, where arrogance is not culturally tolerated.  It was a crushing disappointment. A year later I was doing fine, but my confidence took a blow from more than two years of cross-cultural struggle that I didn’t have a name for.

Ten years later, I was working with TCKs (Third Culture Kids) in China and started reading the classic book “Third Culture Kids” by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken. (Ruth would later write the foreword for my own book, and encouraged me to embrace my own TCK identity!) I read about repatriation and had a lightbulb moment. For the first time I understood what had happened to me! I wasn’t just weak, or stupid – I had been going through a real, and difficult, cross-cultural experience. While being a Third Culture Kid isn’t a core part of my identity, those two years had a big impact on my life. I didn’t like living in the US as a teen, and later tried to distance myself from the whole experience. Yet over time I was able to work through the negatives and gain a richer perspective. Years later, the cross-cultural knowledge I had unknowingly accumulated became very helpful! I struggled with expat life as a teenager, but as an adult, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Part of my passion in working with TCKs (Third Culture Kids) is offering resources that will help them reap the rewards of their international experiences, without ignoring the speed bumps that inevitably crop up.

Buy Tanya’s Book – Misunderstood: The Impact of Growing Up Overseas in the 21st Century!

Over 200 million people currently live abroad; more than 50 million are temporary residents, intending to return to their country of origin. Misunderstood explores the impact international life can have on the children of such families – while they live overseas, when they return, and as they mature into adults. Similarities in their shared experiences (regardless of the different countries in which they have lived) create a safe space of comfort and understanding. Tanya Crossman introduces this space – the Third Culture – through the personal stories of hundreds of individuals. Whether you grew up overseas, are raising children overseas, or know a family living abroad, Misunderstood will equip you with insights into the international experience, along with practical suggestions for how to offer meaningful care and support.

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Cross Culture Therapy offers 1-on-1 online therapy sessions to people suffering from depression, phobia, anxiety as well as to people who suffer from displacement issues associated with a globally nomadic lifestyle (i.e.Third Culture Kids – people who have grown up in a culture different to their parent’s passport culture – and Cross Culture Kids) Our sessions are conducted via Skype for a duration of 50-minutes and can be purchased in packs of 1-session, 3-sessions or 5-sessions. If you are interested in purchasing a session, click on the Book A Session tab on our menu or click here.

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