I found the following piece written by Ruth Van Reken really powerful. I’m curious to know what other Third Culture Kids think about it…
Due to the fact that I experienced my TCK experience of moving around every couple of years in such a positive way, I never expected it to have repercussions in my adult life. I loved moving to new cities and meeting new people. And I couldn’t be happier to have met all of those students from different cultural backgrounds as it gave me an awareness of other customs. However, as Ruth’s piece explains, TCKs tend to become detached in terms of relationships. In order to feel emotionally stable, they need to. Since classmates are constantly leaving your school and you are often months away from leaving that city yourself, you need to find a way to manage your emotions. As a child TCK, I think you do this unconsciously. It becomes natural, second nature to you. However, what happens when you grow up? As an adult, do you still stay detached from relationships? Do you ‘not care’ and remain avoidant in terms of resolving problems?
I have realized that as a result of moving and leaving cities and schools so often that I’ve always been quite detached. Although I can form close relationships with people, I always remain slightly removed emotionally, in case they leave or in case I do. It avoids the emotional goodbye. If you speak to other TCKs who have moved around often, they often agree with this.
Third Culture Kids would sometimes rather run from a problem that comes up in a relationship rather than taking all of that effort and emotional drama to resolve the issue. And maybe not all TCKs react this way; others may have learned to cope with change and departures during their childhood in a different way. However, some of us run or stay detached, and Ruth’s piece reminds us as to why we do this. It’s all about how it first started in childhood: “I used to mind when people came to our area for a short time and then left again. Then I decided not to care and I’ve been fine since then.”
I think as a Third Culture Kid you sometimes just decide to stop caring. You detach. You remove yourself emotionally from the situation. And it literally does not affect you. It’s a coping mechanism. But what’s very interesting to me is that it seems to stick long into adulthood. Do you need to consciously decide to change your behavior as an adult? Or would the coping mechanism slowly disappear over time in adulthood when you stop moving and settle down in one place?