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


Still that niggling feeling…

ImageI know I am happy about having settled down and lived in one city for four years now.  But once in a while, I still get that niggling feeling of wanting to jump on a plane and move to a new country!  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I know it’s important to build relationships and bonds with other people.  And I’ve said that I find it easier to do this by sticking to one place.  I think it can help in terms of support and just overall happiness levels to have strong friendships.  Gretchen Rubin wrote a book called the Happiness Project.  She explains how important friends are in life.  I read the book and I strongly recommend it.  I think it’s just a great way to be more aware of yourself and others and to not take life for granted. She also writes a great blog on how you can proactively choose to be happy by making the effort: to challenge yourself, to try new things, to put energy into your friendships, to strive for more in your career and so on.  But that’s for another post on happiness!

So yes, Gretchen, reminds us how important it is to put effort and energy into friendships and to continue to build these connections.  And in so many ways, I’m so happy with the friends I’ve made here in London.  I have an absolutely wonderful time with each of them when we go see the new movie that’s just come out at Cineworld, drinks out in Clapham Junction, birthday drinks at that busy beer garden or simply a lovely afternoon in Hyde Park. They make me laugh.  We exchange stories.  We talk about the latest issue at work or the most recent date on Tinder. I feel like I can help when they need advice. And they’ve been amazing about just being there for me. 

But once in a while, very randomly, I’ll get this strange niggling feeling of wanting to start over new. Start afresh. Move to a brand new city.  I mean, very honestly, that feeling has reduced quite a bit since I first moved to London. It happens much less often than it used to. Just once in a while.  I guess the trigger can be when I meet someone new.  For example, at a recent TCK event from the Meetup group in London, I experienced that sort of event that makes you question things.  We’re out for drinks at a lively, noisy bar in Soho.  And one of the TCKs I’ve met tells me all about how she’s thinking of moving away again for a new job, maybe New York City, maybe Hong Kong.  She’s ready for that next move.  And while I’m listening to this, I get this strange elation and energy.  And I start thinking, “ah, me too! I want to do that.  I miss it. I miss the excitement. The intensity.”  That feeling will then usually remain until I go to sleep that night. I’ll think about it. Wonder how much I want it. How much of that feeling is real.

And the next morning, it’s gone. That feeling is no longer there. And I’m again so content and satisfied of what I’ve built here and what I have in London. I know that it’s because I’ve put effort in my friendships, my career, the football team I play with on the weekends, and all the other things.  If I leave and move, all of that would go away.  And then and there, when I do a quick cost-benefit analysis, I realize that the small benefit of the excitement of a new city does not outweigh the huge cost in terms of losing the community I’ve spent so long to build, the friendships I’ve taken to form, and the professional network I’ve slowly acquired.

Will that niggling feeling ever totally go away? Ah, I don’t think so.  I mean, who knows, I could surprise myself.  Hard to erase 22 years of moving around though. How do you feel about this? Do you ever get that feeling?


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What I remember from the American International School in Vienna, Austria…


I thought I would tell you the things I remember from my time in middle school at the American International School in Vienna.  And who knows, maybe some of you will recall similar things.  I know there are plenty of AIS alumni out there so it might be fun to see what our memories are from that school in particular.

I attended AIS during middle school and two years of high school (9th and 10th grade).  There are certain images that I can still easily recall.  I remember the beautiful football (soccer for Americans out there) field we had. It was made of real grass, not that synthetic grass you find nowadays.  I remember playing teams from all over Europe on that field. We would play against the International School of Dusseldorf or the St John’s International School from Belgium.  I remember that AIS was so good at organising games and tournaments. I remember hosting a girl or two from the team that would come over. They would stay at our house in Vienna.  We would share dinner with them and breakfast in the morning. When it was a longer tournament, we would get to know them better as we would have them for the full weekend.  I absolutely loved team sports, and I still do. And I really loved moments like this.  I couldn’t wait to get onto that pitch to play with my team. 

And when we didn’t host the team, we would go over for a weekend. We would go to Dusseldorf and do the same thing. We would stay over (usually 2 or 3 girls) at one of the girl’s house from the home team. It was wonderful because again it gave you an insight into what it was like in that city.  Dinner always consisted of chatting about where we were from, what city we lived in, and finding out about the city we were staying in.

There was really something magical about those weekends. The mix of sports, friends, food, and a new city to discover. As a teenager, there was nothing more I could have asked for. 

There was something else I remember about AIS.  I remember the hallways. I remember them because in the American International School of Johannesburg, where we had recently arrived from, they had hallways outside because the majority of the school was outdoors (well, besides the classrooms of course!).  The climate was so good that you would walk around outdoors from class to class. And eat outside on the tables that were set on a hill (but that’s for another post!). And maybe that’s why those hallways in Vienna seem to be fixated in my mind.  I can still see the lockers.  There were people from every nationality in those hallways. You would mostly hear English, but sometimes you would hear German or French or Korean.

I also remember the International Food Festival at AIS.  Basically, the parents of the students would cook food from their ‘native’ country, and they would bring it to school on one special evening.  On that day, we would have amazing food from different countries.  It was so hard to choose. Everything smelled amazing. And because it was all home-cooked food, it had that wonderfully authentic feel to it.  I remember my mom (whose Belgian) would always make crepes (married to a French man; she had to learn how to make crepes!).  They always sold ridiculously quickly.  You could choose all kinds of toppings: Nutella, sugar, butter, lemon, cinnamon and the list goes on.  After a while, she started bringing maple syrup.  Proper international school parent, you know there’s going to be an American student who will want maple syrup.  I guess crepes can be compared to pancakes, well, at least to some. We might offend the French saying that!

Something really special about International Schools.  I can’t wait to hear what you remember from your experience at International Schools.  What are your fondest memories?  Oh and if you’re trying to figure out what that scrumptious looking chocolate cake is in that picture, it’s Sachertorte from Cafe Landtmann in Vienna.  I would kill for one of those right now!  That’s a whole other post! Everything I loved about Vienna…Wiener schnitzel anyone?


Where are you from?

How many times have you had that question? I think this topic has been done again and again. But I think the reason that it’s been covered so many times by third culture kids and global nomads is because it happens so frequently in our lives, and it always takes us 20 times longer to answer the question than anyone else.  And we either feel uncomfortable or arrogant in answering the question.

I think we (TCKs) all have that little 1 minute speech memorized by now.  I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly trying to shorten it.  Because I just always feel that it sounds so pompous: “My dad is French; my mom is Belgian. But I’ve never lived in either of those countries. I was born in Tokyo, moved to Dusseldorf, Johannesburg, Vienna, Hamburg and then did my undergrad in the US.”  And I have no desire to sound arrogant about it. There’s no reason to be.  I mean, come on, the majority of us (TCKs) only traveled around the world as a result of one or both of our parents’ jobs. It’s not from our own risk-taking behavior.  What are you going to do as a kid? Say no? Question it? Why would you? You’re five years old. And after the first or second move, it becomes so normal, that you never really feel the need to question it. I wasn’t bothered. I absolutely loved it.  If I had the choice to do it again in the exact same way, I would. 

This is why I don’t think people should be impressed by our ‘where are you from’ response. I’m much more impressed by people who say they’ve traveled since they left their parent’s house.  Living somewhere for six months, a year, in a foreign country on your own. That’s amazing.  It means that you were willing to take that risk. To go off on your own and see where it would take you. Not following the regular path of uni and that full-time job. No, you chose to pack your bags and not stick to what everyone else expects of you: your friends, your professors, your parents, society in general, really.  I’ve met people who have traveled a lot since they were 18, and they’re always surprised when I say how fascinated I am by that.  It’s a completely different thing.  Yes, I’ve lived in different countries. But that was because my parents moved around. And, well, after I continued moving around (Boston, Auckland, London) because that’s what I knew.  I loved getting out of my comfort zone. But I had years of practice.  I’m more interested by those people who didn’t do it when they were growing up and yet have this yearning and curiosity for different cultures (purely from their own interest).

And that’s why, I don’t think it’s ‘impressive’ that we, TCKs, have lived in all of those countries.  Our parents were impressive, maybe. As they took that risk, to be expats, to intentionally move to another country and have to learn a new language. To learn new customs.  But us?  We just followed.

This is why I try to shorten my spiel when I’m asked where I’m from.  I’ve tried only saying “French-Belgian”, but it never works. They’ll just ask me why I have an American accent.  Which, to be fair, I completely understand. If I heard someone with a British or American accent, of course, I would just assume they’re from the UK or the US.  Why would they be from Europe?  I mean, I get it, all of my cousins and extended family on my dad’s side have such a thick French accent when they speak English.  So immediately when you meet a French or Belgian person, you think they should have that sort of accent when speaking English.  It’s misleading.  How do you feel about all of this?  Are you also constantly shortening your response to the question ‘Where are you from’?


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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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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?

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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