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Third Culture Kids in love: MaDonna’s story

Welcome to part two of the TCKs in love series. Join me as I interview MaDonna, who was raised in small town America and has been married to her German-Taiwanese Third Culture husband Uwe for 18 years now (wow!). Today, MaDonna is raising her own teenage TCKs in Taiwan.  Over to you, MaDonna!

Tell me a bit about your upbringing and how you met your spouse!
I grew up in the state of Missouri, which is almost the center of the US. I lived in a small town which was surrounded by fields and livestock. Very rural. My German husband grew up in Taiwan. He attended an American school, so has an American accent. We met while working in China as teachers at an international school.

How long have you been married?
18 years this July!

How has your relationship been impacted by its cross-cultural nature?
Uwe is a Third Culture Kid. He does have some German in him and we think he’s becoming more German with age. Haha. He is also a mix of the other cultures, but you can’t compartmentalize him – it’s just who he is. If that makes sense. So, I’m not sure how our relationship has been impacted by the cross-cultural nature, but maybe I can safely affects the extended family. They love/like him and vice versa, but because of the vastly different backgrounds it’s a little hard to relate on both sides. He did not grow up in a farming community and they know nothing about Asian culture. It isn’t a huge thing, but it is something that I have observed. It has helped that they have come to visit us, though, so the great divide isn’t as large as when we first were married.

Tell me about a time you had a cross-cultural misunderstanding or differences in opinions. How did you work it out?
I’d say most of the misunderstandings happened early on in our marriage – which is probably like for many marriages since two people are learning to live together and have different opinions about the ways things should be done. The one that I remember that has changed my baking process still to this day. Americans tend to have really sweet desserts – probably too sweet, but I didn’t think about that until Uwe pointed it out to me. He asked if I could cut the sugar in my recipes by at least half. I had never thought about changing the recipes, but I tried it and you know what? It was fine, the Chinese people liked it better, and it’s healthier, right?

What is one great way for a spouse from a monocultural background to better understand his TCK spouse?
1 – Read Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds by David Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken. A new version is coming out soon with part of the revisions done by David’s son, Michael Pollock.
2 – LISTEN to their stories. Ask questions about where they lived, their friends, etc.
3 – Travel to the places they lived if possible. Go to the class reunions to meet these people they went to school with. More great stories will come out at these events, trust me.

Uwe and his sister growing up in Taiwan
Uwe and his sister growing up in Taiwan

 
What has been the best part about being married to a TCK spouse?
It has helped my raise our TCKs – to understand it better for their sake. Also, I’m much better at navigating airports as I had a very good teacher and guide. Haha.

What has been one of the greatest challenges about being married to a TCK spouse?
The urge to move every 2 years, even if it is just to a new apartment within the same city. Or change the furniture completely around every 6 months or so.

How do you keep your cross-cultural marriage from being a constant fight of my upbringing vs. yours?
We talked about a lot of these issues before we were married – and our parents actually raised us about the same way, so it hasn’t been too big of an issue for us. Communication is a key to any marriage – not that we have it perfected, but it does help when we talk through issues and try to come to an agreement that works for both of us.

What is your best success tip for marriages like yours not to only survive but thrive?
DATE NIGHTS! No business dates or what we call “shop talk” (we work together). Just talk about what is our dreams, plans, kids, but sometimes work does come up. 😉

Do you have any kids? How old are they and how does your cross-cultural marriage affect them?
I have three kids, ages 15, 13 and 12. I think it has messed up their math. And our youngest believes she is half American, half German, and half Chinese (she is adopted from China). But, seriously though, I think more of their issues are Third Culture related than cross-cultural related. We live in Taiwan now, so not getting to see the extended family as often is hard for them, for all of us.

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Have your respective parents embraced the cross-cultural nature of your family?
Yes
What are some recommendations you have for young people who would like to be in a relationship with a TCK? Or tips for TCKs who would like to be in a relationship with a person from a monocultural background?
I think the late David Pollock gave me the best advise when Uwe and I were dating. I was so scared because every example that David gave in his seminar was a  monocultural marrying a TCK and how miserable the couple was. I had a chance to speak with David and ask him if we had a chance of success if Uwe and I were to get married. His response was simply: “Every marriage is difficult because men and women are different. As long as you both work at the marriage, then yes, it will be a good marriage.” I think that was some good advice.

Thank you so much, MaDonna for all the time you took even while being sick in Taipei to share your experience with others! Head over to RaisingTCKs.com to read more about MaDonna’s journey in raising teens in Taiwan. If you missed Part I in this series, you can read Niger TCK Suzanne’s story here!

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Pssst – are you a Third Culture Kid in love, a married TCK or a brave monocultural married to a TCK? I am collecting some data for a workshop I am hosting for global caregivers on how TCKs can have great marriages. The giveaway is now closed but I’d still be really grateful if you could fill out  this little survey!

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