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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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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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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?

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

 

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The TCK challenge in one word: Trust

We are delighted to share with you this guest post by Danny Coyle. Danny is an American ATCK who pastored TCKs in China and is raising 2 TCKs of his own.

I moved to Hong Kong when I was 9yrs old.  I grew up as a TCK, in a youth group and school full of TCKs.  When I left university, I became a youth pastor of TCKs for 3 years.  Now, as a father of 2 kids growing up in Beijing, I’m raising 2 TCKs.  I would say this gives me a unique perspective on TCKs.

If I could boil the TCK experience down into one word, it would be trust.  What is trustworthy? In the storms of change, where is the foundation?

For a TCK, nothing is predictable.  Relationships change, schools change.  It seems like every year there is a major upheaval, and you aren’t sure if things are going to work out favorably next time around.  In fact, they rarely do.

We develop mechanisms to insulate ourselves from the insecurity and pain.  None of the mechanisms I developed for myself were healthy.  They were all based in pride, selfishness, fear and shame.  I still deal with the repercussions of those decisions in my own life to this day.  But that’s all I knew how to do then.

Now that I’m older, I can look back on growing up as a TCK. I can look into the lives of the kids I pastored, and now my own children. It’s easy to see the message that I want all of them to hold onto for life, for dear life.

This is what I want my kids to live out loud:  I will trust Jesus with everything I am – even though I may not agree, don’t understand, no one else is doing it, and all my inner urges point in a totally different direction.

For a TCK, trusting Jesus in this way is impossible – without a savior.  Our TCKs need to know that they were not designed to endure such unpredictable circumstances.  It’s actually impossible to survive them with hearts intact.  They must trust Jesus in every way, always; he is their only hope.

In my mind, there isn’t any higher theme or higher goal in life.

If we are going to tell this to our TCKs, however, we first need to model it in our own lives.  Our TCKs are bright enough to know when we are preaching something that we aren’t living.  This message will stink like a sewer if you aren’t living it first.

And the first step to living this life of trust is recognizing that you can’t do it without a savior, either.

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2011 in Guest Posts, Leading Youth, TCKs

 

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5 Things That Mess With A TCK’s Brain: A guide to helping you relate to TCK youth

This guest post is written by Joyce Teo, a TCK from Singapore, now working with TCKs in Beijing.

A BrainMashed Joyce

A BrainMashed Joyce

5 Things That Mess With A TCK’s Brain
A guide to helping you relate to TCK youth
by an ex TCK-youth

I’d consider myself a TCK thrice removed – born in Singapore, left for Hong Kong at age six, moved back to Singapore for two years, then uprooted again and replanted in Beijing for the next seven years, then back to Singapore for three long years in university, and now back in Beijing for the past year and counting. (You think that sounds confusing, wait till you meet my friend who has lived in 9 different countries over 12 years).

Over the years I have found myself transitioning from TCK youth to TCK youth leader, currently dealing with a group of wacky high schoolers out in my old suburban home of Shunyi, Beijing. As one who has moved into, out of, and back into the TC community, I’ve come to both observe and experience the 5 main things that really mess with a TCK’s brain – or Brain-Mashers, as I like to call them. Now before I continue, let me first clarify that this list is drawn from my knowledge of living in China, and may or may not apply to TCKs elsewhere. Yet regardless of where your ministry is, understanding the phases and challenges your TCK youth go through is extremely important before any sort of real communication and rapport can occur.

1. Answering the question, “So where are you from?”

While this seems like a no-brainer to most people, throw this question at any TCK and watch his/her face go blank as his/her brain scrambles to come up with the most reasonable-sounding answer. “Well uh… I was born in Hong Kong, but I have a Canadian passport and lived there when I was three, and then I moved to China in second grade and then moved to Singapore for Middle School and then back to China for High School so uh… I guess I’m Canadian?” Now the person who asked the question draws a blank, and the TCK moves on to Brain-Masher 2.

2. Figuring out just exactly where you are from.

This probably tops the list of things that TCKs struggle with. Though many TCKs pride themselves on being skilled at adapting to any new environment or situation thrown their way, juggling multiple cultures at once – especially as a growing adolescent – inevitably leads to a case of identity crisis. This uncertainty shadows a TCK like a serial stalker, intensified with each new city or yet another year away. Where do I belong? As I start identifying with my host culture, what happens to my “home” culture?

This is particularly true when a TCK returns to his/her parent country, and realizes he/she has little to nothing in common with the culture there. Just like the culture shock experienced when they first moved into a new country, reverse culture shock kicks in upon returning home after several years away. Realizing that you’re a foreigner in your own so-called “home” country proves to be a daunting reality for many TCKs.

There are a million things one could build their identity on, but these things eventually change – best friends move, parents relocate, teachers’ contracts expire, mentors leave… What happens when all the things you’ve framed your identity and purpose around suddenly disappear? A ginormous Brain-Masher that may result in you backpacking to Tibet to “find yourself” (true story). That is why I strongly believe that a primary life lesson TCK youth should learn is to base their identity on the One that never changes.

3. Having to explain that China is, in fact, not in Japan.

For people who have grown up in one place their entire lives, the perceptions (or rather, misperceptions) of other countries can range from Pretty-Close to You-Really-Need-To-Get-Out-More. TCKs often have to deal with stereotypes and misguided conceptions of their host countries when explaining “So where are you from?” (see Brain-Masher 1) to non-TCKs. “No, I do not ride a panda to school.” “Yes, we do have toilet paper in China.” “No, it’s not mandatory to learn kung fu.” “Yes, my English is indeed, ‘very good’.”

Growing up in multicultural communities endow TCKs with a broad worldview, and frustrations often arise when it comes to explaining their differences to others who may not share the same open-mindedness. This again leads to communication barriers and a sense of isolation, especially when TCKs leave and trade their TCK bubble for a community in which the majority shares a single hegemonic culture.

4. Having to explain that yes, we have a driver and three ayis, but that’s only because we live in China.

Many are quick to label international-schooled TCKs as spoiled, rich brats with personal butlers who never worked a day job because their parents spoon-fed them their whole lives. But if you ever plan to work with these TCKs, you’re going to have to understand that even among TCKs within one country, there will be TCK subcultures and sub-subcultures (e.g. international-schooled TCKs vs home-schooled TCKs vs MK TCKs etc). Granted there will be some TCKs born and bred to become expat pricks, but that does not mean that being in a big obnoxious international school will invariably churn out a big obnoxious TCK.

For many international school TCKs, their “luxuries” stem from company expatriate packages which aim to compensate for respective inconveniences the families have to face as part of living overseas (e.g. living in a third-world country, being away from family, security etc.). For them, the lifestyles they’ve grown accustomed to in their host countries vary significantly from that of their parent country. Sure, every other family may have an ayi (domestic helper) or a masseuse who comes to your house twice a week, but that’s only because you’re living in China where labor costs are next to nothing. For my family at least, we would never be able to afford this same expat lifestyle back in Singapore (see Brain-Masher 5).

Understanding your TCK youths’ backgrounds (why they moved, parents’ jobs, previous places they’ve lived etc.) lends a better understanding of the various issues they face and, hopefully, eliminates some of the pre-conceived negative biases of TCKs.

5. Adjusting to life outside of the TCK world.

No one stays a TCK forever. When a TCK hits that imminent age of 18, all bets are off. That great expat family package? No longer covers your medical insurance (though your younger siblings still count). Your flamboyant en suite bedroom with a Jacuzzi and heated floors? Shrunk to a dorm room you now share with your eccentric college roommate. Goodbye ayi and private driver, hello public transport.

I dub this the Shunyi Bubble Effect – a phenomenon many of my own friends are all too familiar with (Shunyi is the name for an area north of Beijing dominated by the expat package set). Lifestyles aside, TCKs who leave are faced with yet another enigma – social support. Sure, high school kids leave home for college all the time, but most of them do so with an entourage of the same high school friends who may very well end up in the same college. Transitioning to the next chapter of your life isn’t so bad when you have familiar faces for support right? Not so much for a TCK. A third of your social group ends up in the US. Your best friend is now in London. Your other best friend is now in Australia. Another friend has decided to take a gap year and help breed baby turtles in Indonesia.

Just like Brain-Masher 2, the drastic changes that accompany a TCK’s transition out of the TCK bubble can have significant impact on TCK youth. And scrambling to get back in or recreate the bubble may not be as straightforward either. Like trying to join a Chinese society only to be reminded that, despite living 9 years in China, you are in fact not Chinese (as did one Sri Lankan friend). Or to “show up for International Students Orientation but get barred from entering because you have a US passport”, as did another friend.

Working with mashed brains

Culture shock, reverse culture shock, identity crises, confronting misconceptions, and dealing with ever-changing environments are just a few of many things that mess with a TCK’s brain. The thing is, most TCK youth probably won’t admit that these are the things that bug them till they’ve been away for long enough and come back as ex-TCKs. Or they aren’t aware that these are the things that WILL bug them once they leave the TCK bubble, be it as a high school senior or a college freshman or a returning TCK.

This is where TCK youth workers come in, to better equip these TCK youth for a life away from the comfort of a world so unique to the TCK community. Hopefully this article helps you better understand the areas in which your youth are struggling. Better yet, talk to them and ask them what their Brain-Mashers are!

 
 

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