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Posted On: 23 August 2017 12:00 am
Updated On: 12 November 2020 02:17 pm

Third Culture Kids: A difficult journey, but a great destination

ILQ Staff
ILQ Staff
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(Photo credit: Compass International School)

By Simon Porter

Children who have been brought up in a number of cultures other than their own are often referred to as Third Culture kids (TCKs). They are, in many ways, the ‘global’ children we aspire to have. They’re at home in any situation, well-travelled, multi-lingual, able to interact with a wide variety of people from a wide-variety of backgrounds, adaptable, and easily able to assimilate into new situations. However, it’s often forgotten that the journey to becoming a TCK is a long and fraught one – filled with traumatic changes in school, country, friends, and environment. Is it any wonder then that literature tells us TCKs are more prone to suffer from depression, and the more frequently they change schools, the more likely this is?

As a parent of three TCKs myself, I count 5 schools in 5 very different countries, including a return to one country, adding up to 6 moves. My own personal experience is that acclimatizing to a new school and new country can take at least 6 months as students go through a process of forgetting the culture they’ve just been living in and getting used to new cultural norms. During that time, your child is liable to feel alienated, homesick, fear, and stress as a result of their drastic change in circumstances. This culture shock can obviously also have a drastic effect on their progress at school.

(Photo credit: Compass International School)

How can we help our kids adapt to these changes, so at the end of the 6 month settling-in period they’re happy and functioning well in their school? Having survived this 6 times, here are a few things I think you can do to help your child;

  • Get them into a regular routine as soon as possible, especially when it comes to bedtime.
  • Allow time to settle in to school. It’s clear that they’re going to be unhappy for quite a while, so you need to support the school as they, in turn, help your child to settle in.
  • Get them doing their familiar activities as soon as possible. If they play an instrument, make sure they get in the school band; if they play football, find them a team.
  • Ship the pet dog/cat/fish…
  • Encourage them to invite new friends to the house.
  • Find a local sports team to support – especially here in Doha where professional football is safe and free!
  • Give them your time; read with them, ask them how their day was, pick them up yourself from school etc.
  • Be patient and show that you love them.

Finally, remember that the end product is worth it. As Anna, a TCK explains, “I am free like a bird. I can live where I like. Be with whom I like. Say what I want.”

Simon Porter is Director of Learning at Compass international School, Doha. To find out more about Simon and Compass International School, click here.

If you’ve gone through similar struggles with your children settling into a new school environment abroad, drop us a line in the comments below and let us know how your family coped with the adjustment. Also, don’t forget to give us a like and a share – it keeps us going!