Third Culture Kid Dating; adults who have spent their developmental years outside their parent's culture

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Stop running TCK. Build, Learn, Create.

Life Coaching.  I had laughed at the concept when I had heard it first from a friend (as you read in my last post).  I thought it was all about giving people advice, telling people what to do.  Should anyone be so arrogant to think that they should be giving life advice in that way. And more importantly, I thought coaching was about helping people who were too lazy to do it on their own, fight, work harder, make it work.  It turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Coaching is about never giving advice.  How does it help the person you coach? Well, it’s all about asking that person questions. And active listening.  The people who wanted coaching were not lazy or a lost cause!  They were often incredibly motivated and driven people who had reached a point where they needed help to reach their next goal or dream. So for example a person who wanted to complete a challenging work project more quickly.  Or a person who was spending 70 hours at work a week that they could not find the time to work out and stay healthy.  Or someone who was starting a small business and wanted to launch 2 months sooner and learn how to be even more productive.

The coaching training I went through consisted of a very methodical model called the GROW model.  You can find out more on The Coaching Academy’s.  Basically a person comes to you with an issue or a goal they want to reach. Through the model, you ask them questions to determine a measurable and specific goal. You then move on to find out where they are currently in terms of that goal, what they have done up until now to reach that goal and what their current obstacles are.  Through more questions, they find options of how they can reach that goal.  Finally, through more questions, you uncover their first step in their action plan in reaching that goal.

I had found a way to help people.  And through the training, I had also learned how to reach my own goals more quickly.  I learned that it was not enough to have dreams. You need an action plan for each dream. I know, I know, it sounds so methodical.  But trust me, it works.  Without a concise list of  steps to reach a goal, it will remain a dream.  Through concrete and tangible mini-steps forward, you can make your dream a reality.  In my next post, I will explain how I changed one of my dreams into an action plan.  Without running away.  By building, learning and creating.


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Do I move to a new city or do I stay and choose to settle down?

As I explained in my last post, after two years of working at Bloomberg in London in Account Management and Sales, I realised the role was just not a good match for me.  I felt I had to be pushy in terms of getting a meeting with my clients and then continue building that relationship through emails, what felt like forced phone calls, and more face-to-face meetings to get the sale.  It just wasn’t me. It felt like I was going against my personality.  I wanted to help people. I wanted to listen to them and find out how I could help.  I just didn’t feel like I could do that there in a sales position.

In the previous post, I described how I reached the point of considering moving to a new city.  Making a fresh start. That has never felt scary for me, as I’ve done it so many times. I’d even say it feels more normal than sticking around in one place, as you know as a TCK.  Although I was able to see myself getting a job in New York City, San Francisco, or Sydney, I wondered if my decision to move would be for the right reasons. What would it bring me?  Excitement.  The unknown. A new city to discover.  A challenge as I would be starting a new job.  Yes, it would definitely bring me all of those things.  But was that really what I was looking for? Was I not just running away from the problem at hand?

Little by little, the more I thought about it, the more I realised I was not in the search of a new city or of new people. Instead I wanted to figure out what I wanted to do as a career.  And moving to a new city would have been escaping that issue and not taking the time and effort to resolve it.  Did I want to continue working in the corporate world? Did I want to work in a small company?  Did I want to go into a completely new field? I had no idea in what sector or in what role I wanted to work. And I was no longer willing to settle for a job that I didn’t like and that was not the right fit for me.  So in the next 12 months, while I was still working hard at Bloomberg, still travelling 9 business days a month to Paris to see clients, I started networking.  More specifically, I emailed my contacts on LinkedIn who I hadn’t spoken to in years. I found out what they were doing, what their job entailed and more importantly what they enjoyed and despised about their jobs. I did the same thing on Facebook, messaging friends I used to know in Johannesburg, Vienna, Hamburg…  Finding out their path up until then.  Asking them what they loved about their job and why.

I was quite surprised to find out that the vast majority of the people I spoke to did not like their job at all. They were mostly in their mid-twenties and still figuring out what they wanted to do themselves. Many were staying in a job for the money. Some were too afraid to make a move when they had already worked their way up the career ladder in their current company.  Quite a few told me they didn’t like their jobs, but hadn’t gone further to figure why or what to do about it. They were content with the status quo. It meant not having to challenge their situation and allowed them to feel safe and secure.  I understood this. I just was too restless to be able sit quietly for the next couple of years in a job that I was starting to strongly dislike.  I wonder if that has something to do with us being TCKs… Forever restless.

Speaking to people about their careers and finding out what made them love it and hate it helped me figure out what I liked and didn’t like.  Some of the frustrations they brought up I could completely relate to whereas others were factors that would have bothered me less in a job. I started reading a fantastic book on how to figure out the kinds of jobs that suit your personality and your core strengths. Unfortunately, it’s written in French (as a Third Culture Kid you probably could have seen that coming).  I’m sure there are others though in English that have the same purpose!  I would highly recommend the book : “Pour quel metier etes-vous fait?” by Gerard Roudaud. You can find it on amazon by clicking on the following linkétier-êtes-vous-fait/dp/2759014916.

After completing a questionnaire, it gives you recommendations of the style or kind of job that would be right for you.  Basically, it allowed me to narrow in on what I wanted in a job and determine what my core strengths were. Through the questionnaire, I learned that I would fit in well in a job whereby I was helping others, teaching or managing people.   It confirmed that I was not interested in competition (ironically the job I was currently in was highly competitive) and did not like confrontation.  It allowed me to gain a better perspective of my strengths and weaknesses in the workplace.  It was incredibly useful in terms of the decisions I made very soon afterwards.  As Dr. Ruth Useem found in her research, more about this in my previous posts, TCKs find it harder than others to figure out what job or vocation they want to be in. If this is your case, I would highly recommend this sort of book.  It will make things clearer.  Allow you see what we sometimes is so difficult to uncover on our own.

Whilst reading the book, I continued meeting these people I had contacted over LinkedIn and Facebook. I would meet them for coffee and drinks and started realising the kinds of jobs I definitely did not want. On one of these coffee dates, I found out that a friend of a friend had taken up Life Coaching.  When I first heard about it,I thought geez, that’s such an emotional and ridiculous profession. I mean come on, they can’t seriously think they will be able to make money out of that.  Eight months later, I had signed up to qualify as a Personal Performance Coach and an NLP ( Neuro-linguistic Programming, an approach to personal development and psychotherapy) specialist at the Coaching Academy in London  In my next post, I will tell you why I chose to do this qualification while I was still working at Bloomberg, and more importantly what it led me to figure out.

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Do Third Culture Kids or Global Nomads Experience a Prolonged Adolescence?

As mentioned in earlier posts, Dr. Ruth Useem did research on third culture kids by collecting 700 questionnaires from TCKs living in the US. Through her research, she found that Third Culture Kids had a ‘prolonged adolescence’:  I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by that before reading more into it.  Basically, she found that after moving around so much, a TCK in his or her late teens and twenties is out of ‘synch’ in comparison to non-TCKs of the same age.  This is when TCKs try and figure out their career, their social network,  and whether or not they want to settle down into a relationship.  Dr. Useem explains that Third Culture Kids usually take longer to make up their minds in terms of the job they want, the person they want to be with, and the friends they want to surround themselves with.

Do you feel that this is true?  I am torn about this finding.  I think that quite a few people in their twenties are trying to find the right job that fits their personality and values, TCK or not.  I thought that’s what your twenties were for?    Also, don’t non-TCKs also question settling down, especially in their twenties, when they are still figuring out their career and trying to work up that ladder?  Is this truly TCK-specific? Or is this twenties-specific?

I mean, yes, personally I went through this sort of thing.  (Although I still maintain that a non-TCK could go through the same pattern).  It started during high-school. I was sure I wanted to work hard and make something of myself in the corporate world. Even though I had no idea where or for what company yet, I was ambitious and ready to work my butt off to get to the top.  I went to Business School in Boston where I did a concentration in Finance.  With this, I decided I would apply to banks and some other corporations in London.   Not surprisingly, I was jetlagged for both my first and final interview at Bloomberg.  Although, let’s be honest, as TCKs, we are very familiar with jet-lag, from traveling to and from places visiting family or old friends.    So I did my best to overcome the fatigue and managed to get a job in Sales and Account Management at Bloomberg in London.  Up until that point, I’d say this was maybe un-TCK if we believe Dr. Useem’s view of a prolonged adolescence to be  true.

I loved working at Bloomberg for the first two years. The company was diverse, international and very young at heart.  Since the clients were from banks and asset management companies all over the world, Bloomberg needed people working there who spoke those different languages and could easily adapt to different backgrounds.  During my time there, I met some wonderful people.  I was working hard and traveling three weeks a month to Paris to see clients.  The challenge and stress of working in financial services was exhausting but also thrilling.  However, after two years, I realized I didn’t like the sales role. You had to impose.  I wanted to help people and listen to their problems.  And although sales was partly about this, it was also about imposing your time, your presence and your product.

I would say that this was when I got into what Dr. Useem calls a ‘prolonged adolescence’.  I was trying to figure out my passion.  I didn’t want to feel as if I was wasting weeks, months of my life. I wanted to do something that was meaningful to me.  I had no idea where to go from here.  What would feel rewarding?  What was important to me? What did I want to spend my time doing?  I had never had to think about what I wanted to do. I had always sort of known where I was going. And now I was lost. Confused. And scared to leave a path that felt safe.   Was it time to move to a new city again? Would I be escaping and avoiding the issue altogether?  Catch my next post to find out how I figured the next part out and started feeling more settled (well, as settled as we can be as TCKs…).

Map with pins - TCK

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What is it like for a non-TCK to date someone like us, TCKs?

For a non-TCK, how is it dating a TCK?  Is it intimidating? Fun? Frustrating?  I would love to find out what you think.  At Denizen Magazine: they asked a number of non-TCKs to reach out about what it was like dating or being married to TCKs.  Have a look at what they came up with : !

I have a constant urge to move and try new things. I get bored quickly and find that I need to constantly challenge myself with new projects.  I wonder what that must be like to deal with on the other end. I think it can be frustrating from our point of view, as we don’t always feel fully understood, but maybe it’s just as hard on the other side.  Do they feel the pressure to learn to speak (one of) our native language (s)?  Are they fearful that you might just get up and leave one day?  Are they fascinated by your differences in opinion? Or are they sometimes sick of the difference?  Do they get annoyed with your constant comments about how it is not necessarily like that everywhere else?  We don’t know the TV shows they mention. This means they have to give us a history or explanation of the story, the characters, and actors involved.  Do you know the TV Series, Only Fools and Horses? No? Yeah, neither did I.  This must get annoying for a non-TCK; we never know what they’re talking about: that cool band from the 90s, that hilarious tv show.  For us to be able to partake in the conversation, they need to explain it to us, before they continue to further comment about it.  How irritating must this be for them?  You know that moment they get so excited because The Vaccines are playing at that open festival in London? And you look at them with a blank stare, wishing that band name would suddenly mean something to you. But it doesn’t. You have no idea what they’re referring to. All you can think is how strange it is that a band is name after vaccination!  Come on. This must get tiresome for them!

So after thinking about it, I realize it could actually turn out to be exhausting dating a TCK!  That’s right. They thought it would be fun and games with us. It might be more work than fun!


one stick figure

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Dr. Ruth Useem’s Research on Third Culture Kids: “TCKs 4x more likely to get a Bachelor’s Degree”!

Dr. Ruth Useem spent a great deal of time researching the effects that third culture kid experiences has on them as adults.  You can find out more about her in my previous post!  In one of her research studies, she collected 700 questionnaires from adult TCKs  In this sample of adults, “82 percent lived abroad both as pre-teens and teenagers” (Useem & Cottrell, 1999).  They found that in the majority of families, the primary employee was the father. 

They also found that 81% of adult TCKs had a Bachelors degree.  Useem and Cottrell also found that a great number of these adult TCKs had changed majors two to three times at university.  Some dropped out of university to take up an opportunity that arose.  They go on to discuss how adult Third Culture Kids never fully adjust, instead they adapt to the new community or find niches to settle into.  From the answers they collected, they learned that we as TCKs do not want to be encapsulated.

I found the following quote they used to describe adult third culture kids so accurate: “Their camouflaged exteriors and understated ways of presenting themselves hide the rich inner lives, remarkable talents, and often strongly held contradictory opinions on the world at large and the world at hand”.  I think this is so true. We have had to adapt so much that we can mold quite quickly into the setting or group of people we are with.  However, this can also cover up a great number of aspects of our personality, thoughts, and opinions.   Is it perhaps true then that we can only show our fullest and most complete self with our family and perhaps others like us?

world map

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Who coined the term Third Culture Kid or TCK?

I recently stumbled upon the ‘founder’ of TCK research, Dr. Ruth Hill Useem.  You can find the full article on the TCK World website  She did a Phd in Sociology, Anthropology, Social Psychology, and Psychology in 1947.  She moved to India with her husband John Useem to conduct research and returned a second time with her three sons to do a study on overseas Americans.  It was from this research and these life experiences that they coined the term ‘third culture’ and later ‘third culture kid’.  She started publishing her research on third culture kids in the 1960s.

Dr. Ruth Useem did research on expat populations and overseas communities.  She travelled to over 70 countries to do her research on TCKs.  She has worked on or helped contribute to 30 different doctorate dissertations on third culture kids.  Her main focus was looking at the impact that living abroad as children has on them as adults.  Her findings were fascinating and more of her reports and articles can be found on the TCK World website.  On one project in particular, she collected 700 questionnaires from adult third culture kids ages ranging from 25 to 90. Each questionnaire consisted of 20 pages of questions, which shows that she collected a great deal of information from these Adult TCKs!  In the next posts, I will bring up the findings she came up with when looking at adults who had spent the majority of their developmental years outside their parent’s culture.Image


Dating as a Third Culture Kid. Would dating a TCK be the best option for you?

What do you think? I know that for friends or acquaintances, when I meet someone who has also moved around during their childhood, we straight away have a connection.  We can talk about the experience, the cities we’ve lived in, international schools, the lack of friends we are still in touch with, and all the rest!  I have to say it’s been quite rare for me to meet Third Culture Kid guys.  And on the rare occasion I have met TCK guys who could have been potentials for dates, and by that I mean attractive, my age, and charming…  Well, they were quite arrogant.  Ok, I am generalizing, and I have definitely not met enough TCK guys to even make a point of this. But that is only because those are the ones I’ve come across.

When I was in Boston, I would go to bars and pubs and meet American guys, mostly guys who had spent their whole life in Boston or Providence, and there would be either of two reactions. The first was a fascination for my background. They found it exotic, sexy, different, the unknown for them.  And to be honest, this is not that appealing, as we know, as TCKs that we don’t feel ‘exotic’; we are who we are, fair enough different but not ‘exotic’.  ‘Sexy’- well, that’s subjective ! And the second reaction is complete disinterest.  You know that look of ‘oh right’ and then the ‘turn around’. Too different. Not that cool. And I don’t want to make the effort to care.  Let’s be honest. That kind of guy might act like that with all girls, TCK or not.  But since I often had this reaction, I started feeling as if the two were connected.  What would you say? Do you feel the same way?  Do you get the same reaction when you answer their questions about where you’re from and they find out you’re a TCK?Image