Tag Archives: TCKs

Expat Youth Camps in Beijing this Fall

The annual fall camps for expat youth in Beijing are coming up this November. It’s a two day, overnight event for expatriate teens from around China. There are activities, worship, teaching, and a whole lot of fun with 100+ TCKs!

High School camp is for teens in grades 9-12 (approx ages 15-18) and is on November 5th and 6th. Click here to register online.

Middle School camp is for teens in grades 6-8 (approx ages 12-14) and is on November 12th and 13th. Click here to register online.

The camp fee is 500 RMB, which includes accommodation, food, and transport from Beijing to the campsite and back again.

Kids come in from around China to attend, so if you know any teens in China who would enjoy attending, pass the info along! Travel scholarships are available for families without the financial means to send kids to camp (post a comment if you want more info about that).

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Posted by on October 6, 2011 in Special Events, TCKs


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TCK Workers Retreat next week

Today’s short post is a request for your prayers. Next week in Thailand several TCK workers from China and Cambodia will meet for a thee day retreat. Several people had to pull out so it will be a small group, but with a diverse range of roles, working with youth from 5 different international churches.

The goal of the retreat is to provide a retreat space for ministers, encourage networking among TCK workers, and create a forum for discussing some of the unique needs of TCKs. Please think of the group next week and ask that there would be relaxation, connection, and stimulating conversation.


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Juggling cultures – immigrants, TCKs, and blended backgrounds

I read this article recently and it got me thinking. The TCK author considers the label “Asian American” and the way culture changes over time.

I consider myself Asian and American, but not Asian-American. What’s the difference? Asian-American is itself a culture, especially for the second-generation Asian-Americans, who are the first to be born in the United States, whereas their parents are the first generation because they immigrated there. Calling their parents non-Americans would be an insult to their struggle to adopt the values, practices, and sacred blue passport the crossed oceans and borders to obtain.

I know so many kids who can claim both “Asian” and “Amercian” for various reasons, but who are culturally quite different to each other.

I know kids who were born in the US to parents of Asian descent.

I know kids who were born in the US to first-generation immigrants.

I know kids who were born in China (for example) to Chinese parents, moved to the US where they gained citizenship, before returning to China as expatriates.

I know caucasian kids who are American citizens but who were born and raised wholly in Asia.

I know kids who were adopted from Asian countries and raised in white American families – either with all adopted siblings or a mix of biological and adopted.

All of these kids are influenced by both Asian and American cultures, but the term “Asian American” does not adequately describe them, and wouldn’t be applied to all of them.

In the past year I’ve spent a lot of time considering the differences between the “expat Chinese” kids I work with in the youth groups here. I was first intrigued to consider this following the comments of a teenage girl who had recently moved to China having spent all her time in a predominately white area of the US. She had been adopted from China as a baby and looked similar to her Asian-American classmates, but soon realised that she was missing something they had – there was a cultural difference she hadn’t expected. She found that she felt more “at home” with Caucasian American teens, even those who had lived in China long term.

I think it’s important to understand that the “Third Culture” of a TCK is not one great shared cultural experience. It is the place of overlap, where various cultures converge. TCKs are not able to relate because they have the same culture(s), but because each of them is juggling the effects of several cultures. They all live the balancing act between citizenship, familial cultures, and geographic cultures.

I sometimes think that a TCK experience (when the kids are exposed to a diverse expatriate environment) can be quite a positive thing for kids who are second-generation immigrants. It gives them an opportunity to mix with a range of people who are also juggling cultures. I think it makes it easier for them to really own and enjoy the cultural traditions of all the peoples that have affected them when everyone around them is doing the same thing. There is a freedom in being one of many.

Anyway, here are some more excerpts from Johnny C’s original article

I recall my sister once said that Americans have no culture of their own because they are just a mix of different European immigrants in one country. It is not just the fusion of cultures, it is the environment that helps birth a new culture, or in this case, cultures. Using the faulty logic of not having any culture, that means jazz music is just a mix of African rhythm and English folk music, which is not even close to what jazz is as a distinctly African-American-originated musical genre. In other words: cultures evolve. . .

As a Third Culture Kid and activist for the Asian-American community, I’ve grown to love them and have a special place for the Japanese-American and Chinese-American communities. When I look at these communities and at the Third Culture Kids, I feel what we have in common is both the struggle for identity and acceptance. Second-generation Asian-Americans in the 1980s and 1990s really had a lot of trouble wondering just who they were, with parents imposing old values onto them, being raised to be individuals with American perspectives, yet being seen as forever foreigners by their fellow citizens, to the point of being denizens.

Third Culture Kids would be lucky to have this, because at least the Asian-Americans have a place to call home, even if their neighbors don’t welcome them wholeheartedly. One day, they can dream of being accepted as fellow Americans in spite of the prejudices felt, but us Third Culture Kids usually need to be told that we are TCKs before we can establish a community of sorts, and even then, what draws us together besides our common experiences?

As Third Culture Kids, as global citizens, as individuals, we need to think of new ways to define and redefine ourselves. A fellow TCK, Brice Royer, told me that he doesn’t define himself based on his ethnicity, his nationality, or the country he lives in, but by the values and dreams he has; and the people he calls his own are people who share those values and dreams, not passports or ethnicity. . .

Culture is not an exclusive club that one can not partake in just because of race or nationality, nor is it something we should shun or see as something the allegorical Other has that makes us different from them. It is also not something that limits us, it is a set of guidelines and foundation for values, morals, practices, norms, ideas, and more. It changes over time, and it has a personal element to it which is why people call it “their” culture as something they can call theirs like a prized possession, for it is a part of how they define themselves. Here’s something we often forget: we can choose whatever we want to follow. We don’t have to do things because everyone else does it or our parents tell us what we have to do. But it is something to celebrate when you understand just what it means to you, which is hopefully more than just the skin color you were born with and the stuff your parents and society tell you to follow.

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Posted by on September 26, 2011 in Expat Life, TCKs


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A window into a TCK experience

I read a great post on 8Asians over the summer. The author is a TCK, and he talks about his TCK-ness being what defines his identity, rather than passport or country he lives in or accent he speaks with. It is a great window into a TCK experience – one of many different TCK experiences. Read the full article here.

Here are a few quotes from the article…

I don’t feel this sense of being torn between my Asian heritage and my American culture–I belong to both, yet feel connected to neither.

I love this. The author is comparing a difference he perceives between immigrant culture and a TCK perspective. The second-generation immigrant often struggles to find an identity that combines the culture of their parents and the culture they are living in. It seem that for some TCKs there is less of a struggle – that it is okay to be both at once. Perhaps this is because when TCKs grow up in international communities, this both-and identity is normal. Others may try to label them, but within the TCK community it is fine to claim several different cultural/geographical identities.

Here is one of the best descriptions I’ve read of the struggle to answer the seemingly simple “where are you from”:

As a Third Culture Kid, asking us “Where are you from?” usually ends up in either spouting off a mini life story and explanation, followed by an assertion that we’re not weird–or by a confused look and awkward search for words. Does it mean what my ethnicity is? Where was I born? What school did I go to? Where did I grow up? Where do I get my accent?

This is a lovely, whimsical description of a TCK world.

We didn’t know that a visa was a credit card when we came to the U.S. for college, we drunk dial friends internationally, we memorized the different time zone differences so we knew when to contact our friends, we don’t feel the need to be American or any other citizenship, and we talk about traveling to different countries like they aren’t far-off, exotic lands, but just other places that are as easily accessible as a simple bus ride to the other side of town.

When the world is home, nowhere is exotic – but there is always another corner of home to explore.

Related article: Nathaniel compares working with TCKs in Cambodia to working with Chinese-Australians in Sydney.


Posted by on September 8, 2011 in TCKs


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Adjusting to a college roommate

Just a short post today to point you to a great article called “5 tips for surviving the worst roommate ever”  by Kristina Grappo, a TCK who recently graduated from college. It has some great advice for teens starting college and learning to adjust to living with a stranger.

Here’s her 5 tips, short-form:

  1. Always be honest.
  2. Always be willing to compromise.
  3. Don’t be afraid to get an RA involved.
  4. Don’t stoop to their level, no matter how tempting it might be.
  5. You’re in college now, so unfortunately, that means you’re an adult, and you have to act like one.

There is some great advice in here, definitely worth checking out – you may find it gives you ideas on how to counsel your teens who are just starting college. Here are a few especially good bits:

Confrontation is uncomfortable, and always a bit scary, but it’s like cleaning: if you do it a little at a time, it’s so much easier. If you wait till it’s a huge mess, then it becomes a big task that you never get around to, and then it just stresses you out.

Being an adult means dealing with your problems head on, and doing it with as little conflict as possible. One of the best things anyone can learn is confrontation is NOT conflict – it actually helps to avoid it!

Always take the high road, try to be as patient as possible (even when it might be really hard), but most of all, don’t let that weird roommate disrupt your college experience, distract you from academics and other important university activities, and ultimately destroy what is going to be a truly awesome experience. Take matters into your own hands, be proactive, and do what you need to do to make sure these four years are going to be the best of your life.

The bottom line is that these should be some of the best years of your life, but only if you make them so!!

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Posted by on September 2, 2011 in TCKs


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I live overseas so I understand what life is like for a TCK. Right?

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.

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Posted by on August 25, 2011 in Leading Youth, TCKs


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TCKs, ATCKs and TCAs – what’s the difference?

There are so many TCK related acronyms. Sometimes it seems like they could all be lumped together. There are important differences, however, that are important for those who work with TCKs to understand.

TCK – Third Culture Kid
This is a person growing up overseas – this is the acronym we use most here.

ATCK – Adult Third Culture Kid
This is an adult who, as a child, spent a significant amount of time living overseas. They are grown up TCKs.

TCA – Third Culture Adult
This is a person living overseas long term, who moved away from their home country as an adult, but don’t immigrate.

So why do we bother making these differentiations? Aren’t they similar experiences? It’s all about people who live overseas long term, right?

Yes and no. There are certainly overlaps in the experiences of TCKs, ATCKs, and TCAs, but there are significant differences as well.

TCKs are well aware of their between-worlds status. Sometimes it feels like they fit in everywhere and nowhere. We’ve written a LOT about TCKs here – if you’re not familiar with the term, check out this post.

TCAs also live between worlds – they aren’t a part of the host culture, but they no longer fit in properly in their home culture. The big difference here is that TCAs grew up in their home culture – they understand that culture, they have a deeper affinity to it than a TCK would. They have childhood experiences and a sharing in the pop culture of that time. They do not have the issues that come with a childhood between worlds.

Speaking of childhood experiences and issues, that’s where we need the term ATCK. An ATCK is grown up. They don’t consider themselves to be TCKs – that was a long time ago, and now they’ve settled into life. ATCKs who settle in their home country especially may distance themselves from the TCK label. Regardless of their adult life, however, their TCK childhood is part of who they are. ATCKs who settle overseas (and there are a lot of them) may not seem any different to their TCA peers, but they have a different heritage, and draw from a different set of experiences.

These three terms are like a set of overlapping circles (venn diagram style) – there are places of shared experience, and areas in which their experiences are different. TCKs, ATCKs, and TCAs all have international experiences that shape them and influence their sense of identity. Those shaping experiences and influences mean they will often feel at home with people in their own category – that’s natural, as they have something important in common. It’s like coming across someone from the same hometown, or who went to the same university, or plays the same unusual sport – there are things common to you that most others won’t understand.

I have seen a lot of chatter on the internet about whether these labels are positive or negative – whether they are helpful or harmful. While I understand the desire to avoid stigma, I think that these labels are helpful, as long as they are used to breed understanding and not to clump a bunch of people together and say they are the same – that’s just stereotyping. Within all three categories there is of course huge variety – people with wildly different experiences, and who have responded to them in very different ways.

A sense of belonging is something that many TCKs/ATCKs/TCAs struggle with – feeling like they belong in two or more places, but belonging nowhere at the same time. These terms identify the place where an international person belongs, regardless of geography. In the end, isn’t it nice to belong somewhere?


Posted by on August 18, 2011 in Expat Life, TCKs


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