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Third Culture Kids, Uprooting Your Tree

Since long before the conception of the term Third Culture Kid there have been many metaphors for the cross-cultural lifestyle, especially pertaining to the way in which it moulds a young child’s identity. In my opinion, no metaphor is more poetic in its description of the problems associated with Third Culture Kids than that of The Uprooted Tree. I feel that it is especially suited to the parents of a Third Culture Kid or young expats who are about to start a family because of its clear symbolism. The metaphor identifies missing pieces that are quite easy to translate to the TCK experience. With the knowledge that this metaphor brings to the person reading it, he-or-she will be able to combat the hardships of TCK life and hopefully make it easier for themselves and others to achieve greater clarity and emotional stability.

So imagine the newborn child as a tree. When it was conceived it was but a seed in the ground and when its stem broke through the soil it was born into the world. For the first few weeks it basked in the sunlight of early spring and an occasional rainfall would soak the earth and allow its roots to grow. Then imagine the tree being uprooted and moved to a different garden. At first it would take some time for the tree to get used to its whereabouts. The soil might have a slightly different acidity and the climate maybe different too; perhaps it is standing in the shade of another tree. Over time it would get used to the new environment and its roots, split in two by the move, would start to mend. They would even begin to search the soil for nutrients and learn to communicate with the trees around it.

Third Culture Kid Tree

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Now imagine this tree being uprooted and moved to yet another garden. Naturally the process would start all over again. At first the tree would be weak. Limp leaves would dangle off of tired branches and bark would peel from the trunk like flakes of skin from the scalp of an old man. But as time passes, the tree would get stronger, the leaves would turn green and the branches would become sturdier. On the outside everything seems fine, but beneath the surface there is something missing. The tree would have had its roots cut for a second time, and would still be looking to connect to the roots it left behind in the two other gardens. What is more, it would be afraid to go deep into the ground in case it gets uprooted again. So this time, it avoids the moist, nutrient rich soil further down and stays in the shallow earth, waiting for the next move.

I think this metaphor perfectly encapsulates the Third Culture Kid lifestyle and the instability associated with it. By reading this, one can see why many TCKs suffer from depression and anxiety. During childhood this instability is felt but not dealt with because the child accompanies the parents in their careers. The issues become more prevalent however as the child gets older and most TCKs who seek therapy for depression are in fact, Adult Third Culture Kids. Their depression is most often caused by a conflict between an urge to belong and an urge to explore (itchy feet) as well as their identity being weakened by too many sources of input. Again, I think this metaphor explains perfectly what affect this type of lifestyle has on children. Modern society has made it harder for us to stay in one place, and experiencing new cultures is very exciting as well so I by no means discourage it. But to parents who are about to embark the journey, or are well on their way, I hope you this metaphor will give you some insight and allow you to think about ways to counteract this instability.

Philip Andersson

Life Coach

Cross Culture Therapy


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Philip Andersson – Life Coach

Philip Andersson is a life-coach who is currently studying to become a psychotherapist. He treats people suffering from depression, phobias and anxiety. Having been raised in Hong Kong and having lived in England and Japan as an adult, Philip also treats people who are overcome with feelings of displacement and rudderlessness associated with a global-nomad lifestyle such as Third Culture Kids, Cross Culture Kids, Migrants and Asylum Seekers.

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