When I was 14 my family moved “home” from France. We moved to Michigan, a state I’d never been to before. We’d been overseas for two years, after living most of my life in Virginia. But to most people, being stateside at all meant we were home.
Sometimes, when TCKs come “home” they meet other MKs through their parents’ friends. Military Brats might move to a base where other kids have lived overseas (or at least moved a lot). I was a Corporate Kid. My dad’s company sent over a relocation expert to talk to my sister and I about moving back to the US. Her advice: Don’t talk about our experiences in France much, if at all. “People will think you’re bragging,” she said.
I took that advice to heart, probably much more than she meant me to, certainly much more than I should have.
International communities often bond quickly, knowing that every year friends will move away and more people arrive. Nearly everyone knows what it’s like to be new. But there was no community like that waiting at my American high school. Most of them had known each other since childhood. To gain friendships, I had to break into well-established groups. Finding somewhere to sit at lunch felt like asking the whole table on a date!
Throughout the rest of high school, I rarely talked about my overseas experience. Other students knew where I had moved from, of course. Some students called me “Paris” for my three years there. But people didn’t ask about life in France, so I never shared.
Not talking about my experience in France became so ingrained in me that when it came time to write my college essays, I completely ignored that part of my life. The thing that truly set me apart from other students, the thing colleges like to see—a personality, a unique story—I swept under the rug. So I didn’t mention living in France or how it shaped me in college essays. It wasn’t a conscious decision. I hadn’t shared my memories of France for years. I was still trying to be “just like everyone else.” Unfortunately college applications were not the place to try and fit in.
I didn’t get into either of my top two schools.
Thankfully, a fantastic school did accept me. Perhaps they had an admissions counselor who saw my transcript from France and knew there was more to my story. However I got there, being on a campus where everyone’s background was different was exhilarating for me. I loved meeting students from all over with so many unique experiences. I still poured out an awkwardly-long explanation when someone asked me where I was from (“Virginia…Michigan? Um, I moved around a few times…”). To my surprise, I found other people who had a hard time with that question, too!
College is where I heard the term Third-Culture Kid (TCK) for the first time. When I talked to other TCKs, something clicked. While no one had the same experience, other TCKs understood mine. Finally I felt that I could own and tell my story. And that was exactly the kind of healing I needed.
Resources for repatriation:
Going Home When Everything Has Changed from The Culture Blend
For Teens, It’s a Tough Transition from The New York Times
9 Tips for Making Reverse Culture Shock a Positive Experience from Small Planet Studio
Preparing Kids for Furlough from Our Goodwin Journey
What is your favorite transition resource? Are you an adult TCK? Were you encouraged to share your overseas experience? How have you helped your TCKs through reverse culture shock?