Stop! Listen. Do you hear that sound? With the exception of the Cicadas singing their Summertime chorus in the trees outside my window, I can hear it…Silence. For the first time in 8 weeks, Silence reigns in my house and my office because the Summer holidays are over and today marks the beginning of the new school year for most students here in Australia.
How different this “first day of the year” is from last year. On this day last year, my teenage boys began their first day in their passport country, passport city and new school. Having lived a significant part of their developmental years overseas, they were embarking on a whole new world. Today, this journey begins for many other Third Culture Kids (TCKs) who have either repatriated or moved to a new country because of their parents’ work. As an Educator, Global Mobility Advisor and Mum to 2 TCKs, here are my 3 main tips for supporting your TCKs through the challenges of transition in the school environment.
1. Knowledge is Power:
Understand the transition cycle and have your TCK become familiar with it too. My previous post, “Are You Settled Yet?” outlines this in detail. By becoming familiar with the process of transition (and it is a process, not an event), you will find that it eases the emotional and mental stress because you know that the thoughts, feelings, physical ailments and spiritual questions are normal – all part of the challenge of transition.
2. Be Your TCK’s Advocate:
Both of my boys walked into their new classes last year looking Australian & sounding Australian when they spoke so it was easy for their teachers to assume that they had grown up in Australia, attended the local school and had innate knowledge of ‘all things Australia.’ The facts, however, reflected something entirely different.
As an Educator for the past 22 years and a parent for the past 16, I have been on both sides of the teacher’s desk on many an occasion and now, more than ever thanks to technology, we are able to partner together to bring out the best in our students and children. From this perspective, I sent an email to each of my boys’ teachers briefly explaining their background. I included the facts – where they had lived and where they had attended school, the style of learning they had been immersed in, the fact that they would have gaps in their learning, particularly with regard to Australian history, geography & events along with cultural and social nuances. It was important to me that they also knew that each of my boys have significant knowledge about Asia. I encouraged the teachers to use them as resources in this area and to keep the lines of communication flowing when gaps appeared so we could work together to close them. The replies I received from the teachers were outstanding! The most common comment was, “Wow, I would never have known! Your son looks and sounds Australian. Thank you so much for sharing this with me.” On a few occasions I received replies that included, “I know exactly the journey your son is on. I lived overseas as a child/adolescent too and remember the challenges with coming back home.”
3. Keep It Real:
The facts are that moving is regarded as equally as stressful as death and divorce and repatriating is regarded as the hardest of all international moves. Transitions are hard! You will have good days and bad days. Throughout it all remember that your TCKs are watching you so model realistically. What do I mean by this?
A. Grieve well – don’t deny your own grief “for the sake of the family.” Allow family members to see you have that bad day. By doing so will allow them to be real and work through their emotions too.* That wise old bear, Winnie the Pooh says it best, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
B. Communicate – prioritizing family mealtimes was one way that proved beneficial for our family. By sitting around the table each night, we heard about each other’s day – the best, the worst and the hilarious. We quickly realised that we were all on the same journey of working through the challenges of transition and it was very encouraging. We celebrated the triumphs, worked through the challenges and laughed at the hilarious moments together. If your child is in Boarding School, the dinner table conversation isn’t possible and talking over the phone can be difficult (particularly if you have a teenage son…). Text messages can help here – keep it brief to ensure you get a reply! Skype or FaceTime may be your new best friend if your TCK is chatty.
C. Focus on the individual – remember that first and foremost your TCK is a Human Being – it is just his or her experiences that are different. When encouraging your TCK, focus on their individual characteristics, their personality and their abilities – all reinforced by your family values. By doing so you reaffirm who they are as a person – a unique individual. Now, more than ever, it is vital that we as parents (and Educators) focus on these elements because research shows that Generation Z will have 5 different careers, 17 different jobs and 15 different homes.** Change will be a big part of their lives so they need to know who they are as an authentic person in order to adapt to change and live successfully amidst the chaos of change.
By incorporating these 3 main tips for supporting your TCK through the challenges of transition in a new school environment, you will be placing them (and yourself) in a position to succeed – in this transition but also all transitions they will experience in their life.
* Tina Quick 2010
**Mark McCrindle 2015
Image Credit: New Beginnings