The list of “10 Factors Important to Successful Intercultural Adjustments” have been around the internet for a long time (if you know the original source, please let me know so I can give credit!) In part 1 we looked at the first five factors and how they apply in a TCK context. Now let’s take a look at the second 5:
Curiosity: Curiosity is the demonstrated desire to know about other people, places, ideas, etc. This skill or personality trait is important for intercultural travelers because they need to learn many things in order to adapt to their new environment.
I see this in a lot of TCKs. They put a high value on unique experiences. They have been to crazy places and done crazy things and this awakes in them an appreciation for learning in a hands-on way. It’s not true for all, but for many – and it certainly helps with the adjustments required for yet another move. One caveat: I don’t see many TCKs have this same curiosity/desire for learning when they repatriate. Many TCKs end up looking down on their passport country for all that it lacks, compared to the experiences of their previous host country/countries. Perhaps this is something to keep in mind when preparing TCKs for repatriation, and after they return – to encourage them to awake this sense of curiosity about their new home.
Positive and Realistic Expectations: It has been shown frequently that there are strong correlations between positive expectations for an intercultural experience and successful adjustment overseas.
I definitely see the correlation between “positive and realistic expectations” and a kid’s adjustment to a new place. MY question is: how do we help TCKs develop these positive and realistic expectations? Especially in regards to an upcoming move, or repatriation? I think it is important not to encourage a rose-coloured glasses view of their home country, to help them accept that the move may be difficult, that adjustment will take time. How do we do this in a way that produces positive expectations, though, and not negative ones? How do we help them see the positives to moving without setting them up for disappointment when the transition isn’t totally smooth?
Tolerance for Differences and Ambiguities: A sympathetic understanding for beliefs or practices differing from one’s own is important to successful intercultural adjustment.
This is a classic TCK attribute. Most TCKs are good at accepting and interacting well with people who have wildly different lives. That said, we have probably all come across TCKs who have chosen cultural isolation. These are generally older kids who resent being forced to move to a different place against their will. While some are softened by the interesting new experiences available to them, others reject these opportunities and stay trapped in their resentment.
While I think it is important to help validate their feelings, and process the emotions that come with an international move, I think youth leaders also have an opening to expose them to positive aspects of their host culture. We can help grow their exposure to and understanding of different beliefs and practices. Modelling this “tolerance for differences and ambiguities” may be the most helpful thing we can do.
Positive Regard for Others: The ability to express warmth, empathy, respect, and positive regard for other persons has been suggested as an important component of effective intercultural relations.
I think this is true for any person in any place. “The ability to express warmth, empathy, respect, and positive regard for other persons” is a human skill, not just something important for those on the move. It will improve your communication in all contexts, not just interculturally! Again, though, I think it is important for TCK workers to model these qualities, especially when we are interacting with the host culture. Especially in countries where there are strong service industries (where kids see us dealing with waitresses, drivers, maids, hotel staff, etc.) the way we treat people will have a strong impact on the kids we work with. They need to see us expressing warmth, empathy and respect to those who serve us. They need to hear us speaking on the host culture with a positive regard.
A Strong Sense of Self: A clear, secure feeling about oneself results in individuals who are neither weak nor overbearing in their relations with others. Persons with a strong sense of themselves stand up for what they believe but do not cling to those beliefs regardless of new information, perspectives, or understandings which they may encounter.
I believe this is the most difficult factor on the list for TCKs. While adult expats have the chance to develop a strong sense of self in their home culture before heading out onto the international stage, TCKs are already out there while they are developing their sense of self. A lot of TCKs struggle with the question “who am I really“. They can be chameleons – not false, but shifting to fit different situations. Their identity can be fluid – they will talk, act, and describe themselves different depending where they are and who they are with. It’s not that they don’t have a personal identity, it’s just a less clear and direct process than for their monocultural peers.
As youth workers, I believe we can help by encouraging TCKs to ask questions – helping them share differing opinions, express doubts, process contradictions. I don’t believe we should be telling them who they are, and how the world is. Rather we should be there to help them to process the world they live in and find their unique place in it.