Southeast Asia Globe - - Education In Southeast Asia - WORDS BY EUAN BLACK PHO­TOG­RA­PHY BY JEREMY MEEK

Alyssa has not lived in her home coun­try for more than three years, but the 13-year-old still speaks with an Aus­tralian twang.

She moved to Eng­land with her mother and brother when she was ten years old af­ter her mother took up a job at an English state school. A year later, Alyssa was on the move again, this time to Switzer­land, where she picked up a smat­ter­ing of French and bonded with other chil­dren liv­ing sim­i­larly tran­sient lives. Two years later, Alyssa again had to say farewell when her fam­ily moved for a third time in as many years, swap­ping the or­der of Switzer­land for the frenzy of Phnom Penh.

“I had a lot of friends stay­ing for one or two years and then just go­ing be­cause they needed to,” Alyssa said dur­ing a con­ver­sa­tion at her new school, North­bridge In­ter­na­tional School Cam­bo­dia. “I still keep in con­tact with them, but when they moved away, I don't know, it [was] like los­ing some­one; you just get used to it, I guess.”

Alyssa is a third cul­ture kid (TCK), a term coined by so­ci­ol­o­gist Ruth Hill Useem in the 1950s based on re­search that re­vealed peo­ple liv­ing for sig­nif­i­cant periods of time in a cul­ture out­side their orig­i­nal home had a ten­dency to form a cul­ture dis­tinct from both their home and host coun­tries.

The cul­tural aware­ness TCKs ac­crue through early ex­po­sure to mul­ti­ple cul­tures holds them in good stead for in­ter­na­tional ca­reers in a world de­fined by the rel­a­tively free move­ment of goods, ideas and peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to

In the third cul­ture kids’ world, grief is of­ten not recog­nised or dealt with as the losses are of­ten hid­den

re­cent re­search con­ducted by Ibraiz Tarique and Ellen Weis­bord from New York's Pace Univer­sity. How­ever, the tran­sient na­ture of their ex­is­tence means many lack a sense of be­long­ing and, like Alyssa, are forced to say good­bye to friends more than they would like. If left un­ad­dressed, these is­sues can man­i­fest them­selves in anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion in later life.

Ruth Van Reken, an ‘adult third cul­ture kid' (ATCK) and co-au­thor of Third Cul­ture Kids: Grow­ing Up Among

Worlds, char­ac­terises the ex­pe­ri­ence of chil­dren like her as a dou­ble-edged sword.

On the one hand, she says, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing dif­fer­ent cul­tures leads to “com­fort­able­ness with cross-cul­tural in­ter­ac­tions, of­ten mul­ti­ple lan­guages, 3-D aware­ness of the world and friends in many places and from many back­grounds”. On the other hand, mov­ing fre­quently gives rise to iden­tity strug­gles, as TCKs lack full own­er­ship of any one cul­ture, and chronic grief due to ex­pe­ri­enc­ing re­cur­ring loss.

“Af­ter liv­ing through so many cy­cles of sep­a­ra­tion and loss from friends, fam­ily and places they love, the ac­cu­mu­la­tion of loss is high and, wher­ever there is loss of some­thing you love, there will be grief,” Van Reken told South­east Asia Globe.

“But in the TCKs' world, grief is of­ten not recog­nised or dealt with as the losses are of­ten hid­den. Also, of­ten there is no per­mis­sion or time to deal with [loss], be­cause oth­ers will point out the bless­ings of their lives. TCKs

The best ap­proach is to let the third cul­ture kid lead

the way in what they want to share with

their peers

know this is true for the most part and so to say there is loss feels al­most dis­loyal,” Van Reken added.

For­tu­nately, the strate­gies needed to pre­vent the cu­mu­la­tive loss from de­vel­op­ing into long-term, un­re­solved grief are rel­a­tively straight­for­ward. In lieu of a per­ma­nent ge­o­graph­i­cal home, TCKs are more likely to de­rive a sense of be­long­ing from re­li­able re­la­tion­ships than an affin­ity to any one cul­ture. Es­tab­lish­ing strong fam­ily tra­di­tions, for ex­am­ple, is an ef­fec­tive method of re­duc­ing the com­mon stresses as­so­ci­ated with liv­ing a TCK life­style, ac­cord­ing to Van Reken.

“But, above all, learn­ing the stages of nor­mal tran­si­tion and the com­mon re­sponses to each, as well as the strate­gies for how to deal with the chal­lenges of leav­ing, can go a very, very long way to pre­vent long-time grief from oc­cur­ring,” Van Reken said, go­ing on to elu­ci­date on the the­ory of tran­si­tion de­vel­oped by the late so­ci­ol­o­gist David Pol­lock.

Ac­cord­ing to Pol­lock, who co-au­thored Third Cul­ture

Kids with Van Reken, stu­dents need suf­fi­cient time to tie up loose ends (rec­on­cil­i­a­tion); thank peo­ple that may have helped them (af­fir­ma­tion); say good­bye to friends and places (farewell); and men­tally pre­pare them­selves for the move ahead (think des­ti­na­tion) to pre­pare for a smooth tran­si­tion.

Schools also play a ma­jor role in this process, which need not be trau­matic, ac­cord­ing to Lois Bushong, a fam­ily ther­a­pist based in the US who wrote Be­long­ing Ev­ery­where and Nowhere: Insights into Coun­sel­ing the Glob­ally Mo­bile.

“[Schools should] tap into the knowl­edge of the TCK of the worlds they have lived in or vis­ited… yet be care­ful so as not to set up the TCK as a ‘teacher's pet' or a ‘know it all' and thus alien­ate the TCK from their peers,” said Bushong. “The best ap­proach is to let the TCK lead the way in what they want to share with their peers.”

Given most in­ter­na­tional schools tend to have a cul­tur­ally di­verse set of teach­ers and stu­dents and ex­pe­ri­ence high turnover rates, many aca­demics view in­ter­na­tional schools as a third cul­ture in them­selves. Con­se­quently, at­tend­ing in­ter­na­tional schools helps TCKs de­velop a more deeply rooted sense of be­long­ing.

“It's a chal­lenge but it's also an op­por­tu­nity. They have such a broad life ex­pe­ri­ence and global per­spec­tive, but that can some­times over­whelm other stu­dents,” said Dave Reed, sec­ondary school coun­sel­lor at North­bridge. “It's about get­ting TCKs to share what they've seen with­out creat­ing an ‘us' and ‘you' men­tal­ity be­tween in­ter­na­tional and lo­cal stu­dents.”

For Reed, a global shift to­wards ‘con­struc­tivist' teach­ing ap­proaches, which place greater em­pha­sis on stu­den­tled learn­ing, has en­cour­aged TCKs to ques­tion their cul­tural as­sump­tions in a way that helps them de­velop the aware­ness and crit­i­cal think­ing re­quired to get the most out of their var­ied ex­pe­ri­ences.

“One of the key con­cepts that we teach through our pro­gramme is per­spec­tive. If stu­dents can ap­pre­ci­ate that there ex­ists a va­ri­ety of per­spec­tives, that leads to a greater level of un­der­stand­ing” said Reed.

By recog­nis­ing that their opin­ion is just a per­spec­tive too, Reed said, TCKs can chan­nel their ex­pe­ri­ences into “huge so­cial cap­i­tal” that could help open doors later in life.

Dave Reed, the sec­ondary school coun­sel­lor at North­bridge In­ter­na­tional School Cam­bo­dia

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