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Tips for Third Culture Kids

September 26, 2020

Top 3 Tips for Third Culture Kids…who have just moved

Are you a third culture kid?

This post is for teens. First off, you should know I tried my best to make a YouTube video — because that seems to be the thing these days– but I can’t edit it. So until that is ready, I am communicating with old-fashioned writing.

So, here goes. I am an educational consultant, a former school psychologist (grades k-12!), and a Third Culture Kid (TCK) myself.  I was in three high schools in three countries, so I do consider myself something of an expert on this very topic.

Here are my top three tips for third culture kids who have just moved:

Tip #1 – Get involved…out of the box style

Get involved. Do I sound like your mom? Okay, pretend you only have heard this from me. But yes, this is your chance to get involved in any number of activities. There are multiple benefits here. One, you will hopefully meet people. Don’t be surprised if you only meet one or two, or even zero BFF’s. But you will be “out there” getting to know people. People in international communities are super good about including newbies and if you put on a friendly face, you will surely be invited to events and happenings where you can meet more new people.

The second goal of getting involved is to get busy. Almost any time spent out of the house, and away from the Internet and video games, is time well spent.

As far as “out of the box”… I would encourage you to look beyond what your school has to offer because that is where things can get interesting. When I moved to Oman (age 14), there were exactly 9 people in my sophomore class. 3 girls, 6 dudes. The girls were great and I also made friends with the girls in grade 9. But the teeny tininess of the school forced me to also look elsewhere for activities.

For example, I got involved in the local stables and a Dutch girls’ field hockey team. I don’t remember meeting any BFF’s in either activity, but it gave me somewhere to go, something to do, and new social groups. I learned I loved riding and was lousy at field hockey.

If you have an interest for which you can not find an outlet– make one! Interested in working with a charity or costume design?? Reach out to local embassies, international schools, even Facebook, and I will bet you find a few others who would love to form an interest group.

I won’t get too much into this because I think the point is obvious. But you know how they say you are what you eat? Well, that’s true but what’s more true is you are who you socialize with.

Tip #2 – Choose Your Friends Wisely

In other words, yes, you are new and have no friends. But never, never compromise on your standards to make friends. You will find others with whom you connect. Until then, don’t feel like you have to hang out with, well, losers. Friends should lift you up and inspire you– make sure you choose them wisely!

Tip #3 – Develop Strategies For Bad Days
Third Culture Kids

This is probably the most important advice I would like to impart. When you have a bad day, the worst thing to do is to retreat and isolate in order to avoid your problems or ruminate (go over them again and again in your mind). This means disappearing into the Internet, losing yourself in movies, wasting away while playing video games. It’s one thing to cultivate alone time– I am introverted and I get the value in this. But, we must be our own best friends and monitor ourselves for when restorative alone time becomes trying to escape my problems time. Other signs of bad days common in teens: overeating, under-eating, severe irritability and moodiness.

Having any of these symptoms is totally fine and normal. It is what you do about them that makes all the difference. The number one thing to do is reach out. A school counselor, trusted teacher, parent… I would recommend a peer, but sometimes they are going through the same problems, so they may not be able to provide best advice.

When I was a school psychologist, I often had small groups of friends stop by for a chat and I loved that. They got to learn from each other, as well as have a check in with me. If you are reluctant to approach a counselor, see if a friend will accompany you.


Finally, if you have a question for me, please reach out!

What’s your favorite tip as a transitioning TCK teen?

Disclaimer: This advice is for general consumption and not a substitute for professional mental health advice. If you or someone you know is experiencing extreme distress, seek professional medical and/ professional mental health advice immediately.

4 Responses to “Tips for Third Culture Kids”

  1. Jo Parfitt says:

    Great writing style, Michelle. I’m not a TCK and I already moved with my TCK teens, who are now grown up, but I really enjoyed reading this. Great wisdom.

  2. Nancy Black says:

    Dear Michelle,

    Great tips Michelle !! Even though you said your tips were just for teen TCKs, I found your wisdom applies to adults who may or may not be TCKs when adjusting to another country’s culture. As a mother with young children, I finally began to meet people when living in Australia, when I volunteered with the US Consular Agency in Adelaide Australia.

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