Comments 7

A TCK reaches out for help. What would you have said?

I recently got this email in our Denizen inbox the other day. What advice would you have given to this TCK?

“i’m 15 just moved back from malaysia. i’m 100% american but i lived there for so long it’s home. coming back to the u.s. which some people would refer to as “my home” i now don’t know where home really is. i’ve always been familiar with that term and almost hated it because i don’t want to be labeled. but i went to a “tck” camp this summer, and meeting 20+ kids that were “just like me” was 1) completely lame and cheesy and 2) amazingly identifying hmm thats not the right word, well it was amazing and i truly FOUND myself in those people. ever since then i have been chatting and texting whenever i can with the ones that are still here but i just started at a public school. i hate it, i feel invisible there, more than i ever have in my life. i know so much about all the “transition” phases, what people will say to me, how they’ll react when they hear tck, or their lack of reaction. but analyzing it more and more isn’t helping me not feel like i don’t matter. i’m so sad and i feel like i’m living this lie. i’m looking on the internet for more tcks, writing this comment, how will this even help me?”

I reached out to the Denizen contributors and we all wrote her back. Here’s what some of them had to say. But what would you have said to her? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

From Wazha Dube:
“”I moved from Beijing to the States when i was just 16, and even though I was half-American, moving here was the biggest culture shock I’ve ever experienced. I feel that I can completely sympathize with her. I still cringe when I look back on my first years here.”

“The truth of the matter is, there’s no easy way to get around it. She’s going to have to do one of two things, assimilate or acclimate (in the sense that she always remember who she truly is but also takes on this her new life, cuz the life in M’laysia is over) and come to accept that life isn’t going to be the same in the states. She should just know that, especially at her age when everyone is going through an identity crisis, she needs to stay close to her friends and family from abroad. But at the same time don’t fight this new life, but don’t let it take her over either.”

From Alan Garcia:
“She shouldn’t have to feel like she needs to hide it or live a lie just to fit in. Just tell people the truth, and some people will be really interested in it, and others won’t be. Keeping in touch with fellow TCKs is a good thing to do, and I’m sure many of them are going through the same things so they should all talk about it. Maybe get involved some extracurricular activities, whatever she’s interested in or good at – music, sports, chess club (personal fave) etc. That’s how I started to make friends. You gotta put yourself out there and know that some people are going to really like you, others aren’t, but you can’t win them all. I don’t think she should assume she knows how people will react as well – it’s easiest to just go into things with no expectations.”

What would you have said?


  1. Kathy Hannah says

    I’m an adult TCK… and I can totally relate to this girl. I moved back to my passport holding country when I was 18 – after having spent by entire life in the Middle East. The first four years after my return were almost impossible. Instead of understanding it and dealing with it though, I buried my feelings because I didn’t know what else to do. This was way before the time of internet, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, and texting. Once we returned, we were absolutely cut off from our past. This past winter, 25 years after my return, I reconnected with friend on Facebook and the result was a psychological breakdown that landed me on medication and in a doctor’s office. It was only after I read Third Culture Kids that I really began to understand what had been going on all those years. This girl needs to know she is not alone… being a TCK is a very difficult and life-long phenomenon. I wish her all the best.


  2. Laura Henson says

    I too came back to the US after being raised in the Middle East. I was very much a loner after that, as kids in the states & I didn’t understand each other at all. I remember weeping and wishing my parents had never left the states so that I could be ‘normal’. I knew there was no cure! Now, even though I have coped w/ living here and have made a life for myself, I have rememained an oddity to those around me all of my life. I am 42! I have only just discovered the TCK phenomena in the past few months – I wish I would have known sooner. I think it is a real blessing that this young person has a label for the unique creature that is. That helps more than you can know. I thought I was crazy when I was young. My advice would be to focus on how you can direct your life in the direction you want. Start thinking about how and where YOU want to live as an adult and how you can achieve that. If you want to return to the place that has been a home to you – look at how it’s done and start taking steps. That will give you some power over your life, and there’s a good chance that your quest for education will bring you into circles of people like yourself.


  3. Cynthia says

    What I have learned is just like what most commented here you can’t hide who you are but you can’t force others to accept who you are. You are who you are and the most important thing is for yourself to know that. That’s how the confidence level is built and you need to be firm about it. There will be people who will always question your background, your identity, sometimes even make you feel stupid. But the most important thing is know that what you know is the truth and what you know is comfortable for you and not what other people say.

    With that said, it is not easy living with that because repatriating is tough and to try to fit in is even tougher. I’d say, don’t. Don’t try to fit in. Ignore those that want to try to hurt you because of you are and cherish those that accept you for who you are. There aren’t many that appreciate who you are but be patient, because they are out there. Just keep an open mind and an open heart. Get your TCK fix once in a while by connecting with others online or find local TCKs through various TCK community websites.

    Sometimes only just by talking to a TCK online can really make a huge difference.


  4. Margie says

    One thing I learned to do (this was way back before anyone had even coined the label of TCK) was to ask lots of questions to those around me – be interested in *their* lives. I tried to find out what they wanted to do with their future – whether it be with regards to their career, place of abode, family, etc., etc.

    Showing genuine interest in someone else usually takes the attention away from you, and most everyone likes to have someone (like you) interested in who they are. It may take a while, but they will eventually return the favor – and start asking about your life. By this time, you will (hopefully) have established the foundation of friendship with them – and the info you give them will not cause the glazing-over-of-the-eyes response.


  5. Fabian Lezama says

    Listen, it’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, it’s nothing you should want to hide. Now, I don’t mean you should go about shouting “I’m a TCK and you’re not!” either, but treat it as something very special you have, you’re little treasure. When asked, “where are you from?” say something like “I’m a global citizen” and watch as people stare at you like you just said you’re a superhero. It’s funny, it’s something interesting, experiment with it, but most of all enjoy it. Understand that your position as a TCK is very special, you have something to teach by decree of the path your life has taken, you have a story to tell that is worth listening to. Friends come and go, whether you hop from one continent to another every 5 years or not, but that doesn’t mean you should be afraid to reach out to people, or to let people reach out to you. I’m 19, I spent the first 10 years of my life in Malaysia, I know what it means to suddenly find your self in the kind of jungles American public schools can be, I know it’s frightening. Being a TCK has a special advantage; we are more perceptive of the way people interact. Why? Because we have witnessed more than one way society can function, so we can define interactions by comparison. What does this mean? Well, whereas you can say, “how curious, people here tend to do this or that, but people over there did this or that” people who have lived in one place their entire lives have nothing to compare to. You think American kids notice the absolute ridiculousness of the separation of clique’s during lunch hour, the way I’m sure you have, the way I did? They don’t. It’s always been like that for them, they have nothing to compare to. You’re mind is open, their’s has yet to be opened. You can help them, just tell you’re story. “I feel like I’m living this lie..” Girl, you’re living more of a truth than they are.


  6. Oh I wish I could hug this girl! She’s “me”! I’m 43 now and I am a TCK — no one ever told me about TCK’s and I only found out recently. If someone had told me years ago, my life would have been much happier, much better, much sooner.
    Here’s what I would say: Keep your TCK chin up sweetheart! You are more special than you know. When people around you in the States try to “subdue” you, and oppress you for who you are, you tell them that you are TCK and you pity them for their mono-cultured, narrow minded, backward plight. And keep being a TCK. Come to the internet and talk to all of us, other TCK’s. You are BEAUTIFUL!


  7. Chin up and head high – you know more about the world than most non-tck americans in this century probably will.

    At least that’s how I felt when I moved to the US. And while true, I had a hard time figuring out that the “know-it-all” gets really annoying on people’s nerves, and that high school sucks no matter what country you’re in. (Trust me on that one – French high school and American high school? people are just as vicious and shallow.)

    But when I got to college, people were curious about the world as a whole – and that’s where being a TCK becomes really fun. High school’s a time for people to try to define themselves, and fail. Absolutely utterly fail. But, being a TCK you’ve most likely already matured past the high school era, and that sets you apart.

    Being set apart in high school sucks, for the most part. But there are perks: you don’t get in trouble when the parties get busted by the cops, you don’t develop bad speaking habits (thinking mostly of the valley girls here, that, like, speak like they can’t, like, hold a conversation), and you’re a little more ready for college when that time comes around.

    If you’re lucky, a few other people will be like you, TCK or no, but a little more mature, and able to truly comprehend you. Most people will tell you that everyone in high school is in one group or another, but that’s just not true. Some people transcend groups, some are just completely outside the system entirely. Those are the people worth approaching, they won’t assume or dismiss, and if friendships develop, they’ll last a lifetime.

    You know the saying “if life gives you lemons, make lemonade”… I think there’s a missing part: “if life throws rain at you, put on a poncho”. Whatever bad times you’re having, even if they seem like they’ll last forever, just imagine that you’re in the middle of a storm that can’t keep up that badly forever.

    As for the rest, you’ve got us to turn to if you have questions, troubles, or simply a need to talk. Even if I type a lot, I try to listen at least as much 😉


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