Factors Important to Successful Intercultural Adjustments – part 1

07 Mar

These 10 factors appear all over the internet – I can’t make out who first wrote them. If you know, please tell us so I can give credit where it is due!

They are interesting and there are plenty of applications to those of us who are living international lives. I would like, however, to focus on how an understanding of these factors can help us better serve the teens we work with.

I would suggest that the teens we work with will have more enjoyable international experiences if these factors are well developed in their own lives. Some develop these things naturally as a consequence of being overseas, especially in those who moved away from their passport country at a young age. That said, I think this is a great checklist. I can think of one of my kids, look at this list, and see an aspect that is missing. It gives me an idea of an area to help them grow in.

Open Mindedness: The ability to keep one’s opinions flexible and receptive to new stimuli seems to be important to intercultural adjustment.

Most of the TCKs I know are quite open minded – open to new ideas and different points of view. That said, I feel that there’s a big difference between a city kid in a big international school and a kid who is homeschooled in a remote area. The more rural kids often have a narrower view on life and, specifically, what is “right”. I feel this latter category benefits greatly from increased open-mindedness. Without it, they can be alienated from other teens, especially upon repatriation.

Sense of Humor: A sense of humor is important because in another culture there are many things which lead one to weep, get angry, be annoyed, embarrassed, or discouraged. The ability to laugh off things will help guard against despair.

I’ve seen this difference in many expats – those who can shrug of some of the irritants of the different environment with a laugh cope much better, especially long term. Life is more stressful when you let things get to you. Kids who grow up in a single country, or who are sheltered in an “expat bubble” while on assignment overseas, seem to have less issues with this. Those who move away from their passport country as a teenager, especially those with a sense of resentment about the move, often really struggle to “find the funny” in the difficult parts of their new life.

Ability to Cope with Failure: The ability to tolerate failure is critical because everyone fails at something overseas. Persons who go overseas are often those who have been the most successful in their home environments and have rarely experienced failure, thus, may have never developed ways of coping with failure.

So many of the kids I’ve worked with have a huge fear of failure. A lot of TCKs have high-achieving parents. About 80% have at least one parent with an advanced degree. Most have parents with high-powered jobs, or who do something with a different perceived worth – such as humanitarian or missionary work. Some kids internalise this, seeing it as the standard they have to live up to. The heavy school-load most take on contributes. When high-achieving kids with lots of potential fail at something, it can be devastating for them. Even with kids who don’t “fail” there is often a whole lot of pressure happening on the inside – crazy amounts of stress they’ll put upon themselves to achieve more and more.

Communicativeness: The ability and willingness to communicate one’s feelings and thoughts to others, verbally or non-verbally, has been suggested as an important skill for successful intercultural communicators.

Most of the TCKs I’ve known are quite communicative in a shallow way, but unwilling to communicate anything “real” or remotely deep to someone they don’t have history with. This is one of the reasons I believe long-term youth workers, especially in the field, make a massive difference in the life and growth of TCKs. Without the presence of trusted adults, the only confidants most have are fellow TCKs, particularly those who have lived in a similar area for a similar length of time. While I’m sure we can all see the value of this peer support, it is still a limited perspective.

Flexibility and Adaptability: The ability to respond to or tolerate the ambiguity of new situations is very important to intercultural success. Keeping options open and judgmental behavior to a minimum describes an adaptable or flexible person.

This is, I think, one of the biggest strengths of the typical TCK. While not true for 100% of TCKs, most fit this bill. It’s great for running events in China – everything changes! My first year or two I was always stunned at how well they coped with us totally changing things, and how few complaints we received from parents when events changed at the last minute.

That’s the first five factors – I’ll look at the next five in another post (click here for part 2).

What do you think? Does any of this ring true in your own experiences?


Posted by on March 7, 2011 in Expat Life, Leading Youth, TCKs


Tags: , , ,

2 responses to “Factors Important to Successful Intercultural Adjustments – part 1

  1. Tanya

    March 7, 2011 at 2:52 pm

    Just a thought to add to that last factor on flexibility – while TCKs cope with changes in schedule easily, they can be EXTREMELY stubborn when it comes to changing something they see as “tradition”. I could give you a dozen examples of that! Changing camp format, changing a youth group’s name… so much in their lives change, so when things they depend upon to stay the same change in even a small way, they often rebel quite loudly!


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