As Interserve’s Third Culture Kids (TCK) Advocate, I was recently challenged to reflect on the importance of engaging and effectively debriefing with children growing up in a culture which is not their own.
I attended a seminar where the speaker Ruth Van Reken, a well-respected voice in the sector, raised the point that cross-cultural organisations and oftentimes parents can overlook the needs of children in the context of living in a new culture. It may be assumed that the children are well-adjusted and adaptable but perhaps there are still experiences and emotions that have not been addressed. Debriefing provides the essential opportunity to talk about their feelings – the highs and lows of growing up as a third culture kid.
Tanya Crossman is another well-known voice in the TCK world and in her book Misunderstood, several children share their experiences and the challenges that brought. Tanya highlights the need to acknowledge that TCKs are uniquely positioned as children of parents who have chosen to serve cross-culturally and therefore need to be supported in that way.
Tanya offers a window of understanding from the perspective of TCKs, as seen in the following testimony:
“‘I love the experiences I had as a TCK – they are a treasure trove of memories. What I don’t like is that I didn’t have a choice in the matter as a kid. I always felt that it was my parents who had chosen to be missionaries and not myself… It was really wonderful to be met by a TCK worker where I was treated as a kid rather than as a missionary.’ – Karissa, 23″ (Misunderstood, pp36-37)
What TCKs need is someone to listen to them without judgment, to advocate for them and to validate their feelings – both positive and negative.
Tanya highlights something we may often forget:
“A number of MKs felt resentment toward their parents for choices made on their behalf… They may believe in what their parents are doing, think it is great, and yet have negative feelings about their experiences… They may feel guilty about these feelings, believing it makes them ‘bad people’ especially when it is felt as a religious imperative. This resentment and guilt may be buried, result in passive-aggressive behaviour or only re-emerge later in life.” (Misunderstood, p34)
So what is the role of a TCK advocate?
Essentially, to walk alongside and help TCKs debrief. This may include allowing them tosafely share their story, looking at highlights and lowlights of their experiences, unpacking feelings, as well as voicing hopes and fears for the future. This offers TCKs space to process what they’ve been through and helps make sense of their identity and affirms them as an individual. It many cases it will help bring closure and help them invest in the next season of life, whatever that may be.
Most importantly, caring for TCKs involves affirming their story – each one is valued by the family, the organisation, and by God. As TCK advocate I feel privileged to be able to help families and organisations care for TCKs better.
This blog was written by Kath, TCK Advocate.
You can find out more about her work and how to support her here.
All images are representative only.