Last week I discussed some of the different labels for people with international experiences – TCKs, ATCKs, and TCAs.
In international youth work, we see a range of international experiences among the youth leaders. Some are ATCKs now living in a new country. Some are new international-ers, on a short term contract or studying abroad. Some are true TCAs, having lived overseas so long they don’t really fit in at home anymore.
Most people who haven’t lived abroad long are quickly able to realise that they don’t understand what it is like to be a TCK. They can see the differences in the teens’ experiences to their own. The best youth leaders in this situation set about listening and asking questions and learning about the experiences of the teens they work with. The ones who will do this, acknowledging what they don’t know and willing to learn, often become great youth leaders much appreciated by their teens.
When I first started working with TCKs, this was me. I had lived overseas for 18 months. I had an open-ended plan regarding China – no plans to leave, but I didn’t intend to stay forever. I loved the youth group as soon as I first visited. I soon realised that while there were certainly similarities to working with kids at home in Australia, there were differences as well, and I began to learn how to adjust to a different sort of teen – what did they need from a youth leader? What could I do to best help them?
That was 6 years ago. I’ve now lived in China for 7.5 years. I’m settled here. I shipped my things from Australia. I still have no plans to leave, but I gave up the “one day I’ll go home and be normal” plan I’d assumed for my life. I am a TCA – I am not Chinese, can not become Chinese, but while I am definitely Australian, I don’t really fit in there anymore. I feel like a visitor when I go there – which I am. If I were to go back to live in Australia at some point in the future, it would be an international move to a new place, rather than returning home.
As I’ve come to this point, I’ve seen a temptation to identify more with TCKs than I did in the beginning. I start to think that I understand their experience. I can swap old China stories with the kids who’ve lived here *forever*. I can join in conversations about which are the best/worst airports in Asia and why. I know what it is to be far away from friends/family, to go “home” to a place that is both familiar and uncomfortable, to get back to Beijing with a sigh of relief.
While there are overlaps between my TCA experience and the TCK experiences of the kids I work with, I have recently realised that I must be careful not to go too far with this.
As a TCA, I have chosen to live overseas, away from friends and family in Australia. A TCK has not chosen their life – it was chosen for them.
My childhood was entirely Australian. While I may be able to understand some of the international experiences of the teens I work with, I will never know what it is to spend my childhood abroad.
As a TCA I have an emotional resonance with my home country developed before I came to China. An Australian TCK’s connection to Australia will be very different to my own – they don’t share the pop culture references. They experience Australia through visits to grandparents and Cadbury chocolates.
Not all TCKs live in the one place – many move from place to place. While I moved several times as a child/teen (6 schools in 2 countries/3 cities from K-12) I will never understand what it is to grow up in a country-hopping family.
My international experiences are an asset as a TCK worker. I want to be careful, however, not to lose what I had as a new youth worker here – that sense of not knowing, not understanding, and desiring to learn from and about the teens I work with.