By now, you know what a Third Culture Kid (TCK) is.
It’s highly possible TCKs are all around you. They are the expat kids, military kids, missionary kids, navy kids (because, why do they have to be called brats?), but also sons and daughters of immigrants and refugees. Spouses, classmates, penpals, cashiers and presidents.
Whether they be that new kid in your university class or your daughter-in-law who grew up internationally, here are some great ways to care for them.
1. Show that you’re truly interested
Ask good questions about your TCK’s past, inviting them to share parts of their story as you get to know them. Ask follow up questions, showing you truly are interested in what makes them them. Nobody knows how to answer vague questions like: What’s Pakistan like? Rather, try a pointed but open-ended question, honing in on your TCK and their experience. What was the hardest thing about living there? What was your best friend like in Pakistan? What’s the best / worst thing about being here? And once you know them well, ask questions about them like you would of every friend. A friendship can’t survive on the novelty level forever.
Because often they don’t feel understood.
2. Be your TCK’s cultural interpreter
Especially when they find themselves at the beginning of their transition to another culture, help your TCK navigate the terribly choppy new waters. One incredible friend did this for me after being away from the US for no less than twenty years. She quite naturally grabbed my hand and took me to a party and ordered the trendy drinks the moment she saw I couldn’t. She warned me never to eat at local all-you-can-eats and where to find the awesome deals. She was a safe place because she wasn’t afraid to laugh at her own culture. And she never let me stand alone.
Because, often they just want to belong.
3. Introduce your Third Culture friend, for crying out loud!
In a similar vein, find a creative way to pre-empt the awkward introductions for your TCK in new group settings. Plan to introduce your friend, not making too much or too little of their story. TCKs don’t want to be the performing seal. But many of them do long for bits and pieces of them to be known. How many times would I have loved someone to introduce me the way only one friend ever knew how: Hey, you’ll get along with my friend Esther. She lives in Denver but grew up in France and is a total word-geek like you! Instantly, the awkwards vaporized into thin air. I was situated without sticking out like a sore thumb (wait till they here the whole story, later!), and even connected with someone. I was different yet I belonged.
Because they often loathe the question “where are you from?”
4. Help them create a multicultural tapestry all around them
Find an authentic food item or prepare a dish from a place they miss. Find music, a novel, a special item from their country. Not all TCKs are multilingual, but if yours is, gifts in the language they speak, speak to the soul. Other gift ideas might include a map and tiny sticker dots to encourage travel or how about a lovely coffee table book from the places close to their heart. And when they end up having babies, encourage them to create a multicultural world all around their children too.
Because they often miss the places where they have left parts of their heart.
5. Give them the gift of memories
At a going away party, or when they move on, give them a scrapbook or a photo book featuring the people they loved and the places they loved to meet. Or, get the group to give them a parting gift: words of wisdom, a signed traveler’s moleskine notebook, a checker board of self-portraits or meaningful words. These are the types of presents that are priceless to most Third Culture Kids.
Because they often find their sense of belonging in people rather than in places.
6. Help them process and explore their emotions
Over time, you’ll find out where your TCK is in their transition. Personally, I love referring back to Libby Stephens’ guide on the evolution of the Third Culture Kid. Help them process their current stage by unpacking each emotion right to the end. Validate their feelings instead of trying to offer quick fixes. It goes beyond saying – listen more, talk less.
Because they often need YOU to help them process their experience..
Featured image courtesy of Valentina Storti