Spring has arrived and many families are now planning their summer holidays.  There are only a few more weeks before school has finished and suitcases will be packed.  The months of July and August will be spent visiting family members, attending camp, summer school or traveling to exotic countries.  At the end of the summer, most people will return to familiar surroundings: home, schools and old friends.  This would be the normal pattern.

Living overseas brings many opportunities and options.  Some of us live in a city like Hong Kong for 3 years; 10 years and other families have been expatriates for over 20 years.  But at some point

21831543 - family ii  - a wooden doll family is walking in single file

21831543 – family ii – a wooden doll family is walking in single file

the majority of families will say “good-bye”.  “It’s Time to Go!”  Some people will be excited and thrilled at the new prospects of moving; others will find the move difficult, untimely and disruptive.  The nomadic lifestyle continues having many benefits but certainly some challenges.

If your family is now in the process of moving, there is a sense of chaos surrounding the move:  when will the packers be coming, sorting through items to ship and deciding on furnishings that will be left behind, will we move to a hotel for a few days before the departure date.  The lists are endless – closing bank accounts, paying your taxes, visiting old favourite haunts and trying to see places that were always on the list of things “to do” and “see” but never quite made the time.  How will we ever get everything done?  Some how in the limited time frame, the miracle happens and the checklist becomes smaller and smaller.

The last and most important part of the departure actually occurs when the decision to move has been finalized.  How will I say goodbye?  An empty, sad feeling arises from within.  All the friends, colleague, club members whom I won’t see on a regular basis are part of the leaving process.  It is overwhelming for adults and for your children.  Too often parents minimize this transition period and make comments, “Oh your new home will be so much better”; “you will make new friends within a matter of days, so don’t worry”; “your new schools has so much more to offer than your last school”.  This is normal, as parents want their children to be happy and adjust quickly into their new home.  I sometimes feel mom and dad define the transition stage as “jet-lag”.  Everything will be normal within a matter of days.  This is not the case.

Think of the letter ‘U’.  The top left hand side of the letter is our present everyday living routine.  All of a sudden the decision to leave – relationships start to change, walls are build to protect ourselves from the emotional roller coaster ride of saying goodbye and a new focus of the new home, new job, and new schools occurs.  The “exiting” needs to be healthy as we move down the letter ‘U’.  Everything is changing – but – THE WAY YOU SAY GOODBYE IS THE WAY YOU WILL ENTER INTO YOUR NEW HOME.  Everyone concerned needs to say goodbye in a health and positive manner.  The secret to success for the whole family is how do we want to say our farewells; which people are most important to spend quality time with before leaving; do we want a party; small dinners.  Please make a complete photo album of your old home.  It will be reminiscent once you arrive in your new home.  Yes, I did live in Hong Kong.  Keep relationships alive by emailing to people, telephoning old friends and family and make return trips – if possible to the old home.

The definition of Third Culture Kid (TCK) is:

“A Third Culture Kid is an individual who, having spent a significant part of their developmental years in a culture other than the parents culture, develops a sense of relationship to all of the cultures while not having full ownership in any.  Elements from each culture are incorporated into the life experience, but the sense of belonging is in relationships to others of similar experience.” (Pollack & Van Reken)

“A young person who has spent a sufficient period of time in a culture other than his own resulting in integration of elements from both the host culture and his own culture into what we have called a ‘third culture’.”

I prefer the term Culture 3Children.  Their lives circulate around the world mobility.  Whether they are saying hello or goodbye to new/old friends, teachers, neighbours, there is a constant fluidity of movement. It is important to build a ‘RAFT’ according to David Pollack and Ruth Van Reken (The Third Culture Kid Experience Book).

R = Reconciliation:  a need for good closure leaving their old homes

A = Affirmation:  tell people how important they are and relationship matters

F = Farewells:  say goodbye in a special way.  Parents assist your children with the farewells.

T = Think Destination:  talk about the new destination – the pros and cons of the new home; what to expect; the new school; new friends

Parents try to maintain a sense of balance for your children through the adjustment and transit process.

Points to Consider for Parents:

  • Companies need to help their employees move into new cultures, especially with their families.  Encourage cross-cultural training for the whole family.  ‘Education Research’
  • Companies can be changing their minds all the time – one month moving; one month not announced over and over again = kids get angry = insensitive and we are moving because of your company?
  • Parents help your kids move, relocate, and accept and work with them on being TCK.  The majority of parents are not TCK’s; perhaps it is hard to identify with your TCK.  TRY!
  • Have your kids speak of the expectations of the ‘new’ home.  With any move everything seems exaggerated.
  • Most important that mom and dad work together to assist themselves and family (great time to fight).
  • Parents step out of your own culture, make friends with host culture.  We need as adults, to cross over the line: learn the customs and language, socialize – what are you showing your children?  Role models – most adults don’t step over the line.
  • If your children are graduating from secondary school – the issues:
    • The rites of passage points
    • Everyone is leaving is normal for TCL’s but parents will eventually leave as well
    • Make sure they say goodbye in good fashion; keep contact; visit the country they are leaving again
    • They are entering unknowns:
      • Cultures
      • University/work life
      •  New people
      •  New places


    • Some kids are happy about leaving, others saddened.  May have delayed reactions.
    • Kids who stay and attend local universities, work, take a gap year have to deal with the fact that everyone else is leaving.
    • Home is all the places they have lived.  High mobility is their biggest issue.
    • Acceptance
    • How they leave is important.
    • Parents must look at their own parenting style when living out of home/passport country.  You are usually using what you learned from your parents, others, books.  Some of your behaviors don’t fit to work in the culture you live in and with your TCK’s.
    • Try to understand some of the cultural parenting styles.  Your kids socialize with so many nationalities.  Why are these kids acting the way they do?
    • Parents understand and talk to your kids now about where they are headed over the next few years.  TCK’s often are dissatisfied in careers and want to be more mobile.
    • Where is home? How do they define home?  It is their definition, not yours.
    • Great understanding of the world, people, places.  See and know more than most people of culture and why people do what they do.
    • ‘Everybody always leaves me syndrome’ – teachers; friends; teams break up.   Make it real.  This does happen and it is hard.
    • Help them grieve.  Some of their greatest challenges may be with unresolved grief or delayed grief.

Culture 3 Children need support an open communication with their parents during this adjustment time even though it is a hectic time.  Moving is never easy. Be available and put time aside to speak with your child.  The final stage of the letter ‘U’ is moving up the right had side of the letter and reaching the top. The new home, a new chapter begins and life takes on a new perspective.

Good luck and enjoy your new home!