Whether you’re going back to school or it’s your first time in a new school, you’ll be meeting new people. It’s very exciting during the “get to know each other” phase, but sometimes we forget that we come from a very different world than most – not everyone has lived in three countries before they turned 18. So, here is a short list of dos and don’ts for making new friends while not coming off as being too boastful about your international lifestyle.
1. Don’t give everyone you meet your life story. Most people will feel put off by being overloaded with information they may not have cared to know about. Let them learn about you at their own pace. Not everyone needs to know your life story or your history within 10 seconds of meeting you. You don’t go around asking people where they were born, their ethnicity, where they were raised, or what their nationality is, so why should you elaborate on each of these topics?
2. Don’t force people to try to understand what being a TCK is. Don’t expect people to understand the concept of a “Third Culture Kid” immediately – it takes time. Not everyone needs to know you are a TCK, and telling them your life story or explaining the TCK lifestyle to someone who does not know you will confuse them. Once you are a friend, feel free to dive into the concepts and open up about your childhood.
3. Do make friends who are not TCKs. Part of moving between cultures is the ability to appreciate different cultures. If you just stick to the international bubble, you are still in a bubble, cutting yourself off from potentially enriching friendships and relationships. Enhance your experience by being open-minded and meeting lots of different people.
4. Do take the time to try to understand others. If you expect your newfound college friends to understand your unique TCK background and experiences, then you should also take the time to understand and appreciate their background, too. The TCK experience exposes you to more experiences than a typical person would have experienced by age 18, but other backgrounds are equally as valid and interesting as yours. And remember, there will always be cultural differences, but being respectful transcends culture.
5. Don’t close yourself off from others. There is a time and place to share yourself. It doesn’t have to happen immediately, and some friends only begin to understand what a TCK is after knowing their TCK friends for a long period of time. Don’t get discouraged and start closing off – it will take a while before your circle of friends understands your background.
6. Don’t wait for people to come. You don’t lose anything from initiating a conversation, and many great friendships and wonderful marriages started with an introduction. All it takes is a simple hello. Also, leading the conversation allows you to define yourself on your terms instead of letting someone ask you where you are from.
7. Do check out different student groups. People with shared interests typically find similar values or more shared interests. Some of my closest friendships came from going to clubs like Model United Nations or Parkour Los Angeles. None of those friends are TCKs, but investment in the student group caused us to be heavily involved in each others’ lives and create long-lasting friendships. Take a moment to check out the student activity center on campus and bulletin board postings to see what’s going on at your school.
Also, if you can’t join them, beat them to it and make your own group. Whatever interests you have, from playing video games to going out and eating dinners while talking about politics, there will be people who will come and check out your group. You will get the opportunity to create your own community and environment that draws like-minded people your way.
8. Do remember that you are never alone. No matter how lonely or misunderstood you may feel, it’s all part of the process of life: going through new phases, experiencing different environments, exploring yourself and seeing what lies ahead of you. Every time you think, “I’m alone and nobody understands,” realize that there are hundreds of people who feel the same way. So check out my.tckid.com, talk to people here at Denizen and put yourself out there. Many TCKs are discovering new friendships from finding each other on blogs, message boards, Facebook groups and many more.