Monday, March 5, 2012

My Global Nomads

Third Culture Kids
Global Nomads
Hidden Immigrants
Trans-cultural Kid
Internationally mobile children
Missionary kids

Making a decision to live overseas for three or more years has completely different implications for adults than for children.  Aaron and I could have signed up for a MCC term before we had kids, when they were babies, or maybe we could have waited until they were older and gone to college.  But we didn't.  We wanted to have this experience during formative years for our children, so that they could understand it and remember it and it could shape their identities and perspectives on life.  

I will be honest and say that as a parent it is hands-down the most difficult decision I have made.  Comforting your child through more than a year of mourning/missing their friends, encouraging them to go ahead to school despite the fact that they cannot communicate and as a result are ignored by their classmates, explaining the reasons that teachers and others say the things they say and why it is strange-mannered to us....these are only a small portion of the challenges we have faced as a family.

And now, after they feel adjusted and loved and fully integrated into this setting, we are facing the challenge of helping them find a way to reintegrate into their "passport country" and navigate all over again.  They will have the language and more friends and family to return to.  But everyone involved in these relationships, including them, have changed.  The strangeness of culture and fitting in will be there, and likely be more painful because it is what is "supposed" to feel like home.

Children who spend a significant time abroad face many challenges...
They feel different and marginalized; "out of sync."
They can feel restless and rootless...unsettled in their relationships.
They feel emotionally detached.
The feel lonely and have complicated grief and/or anger.
People see them as different, and people in the United States don't tend to like "different."
They have higher rates of depression.

Children who spend a significant time abroad have many assets as well...
They are flexible and adaptable.
They are more likely to be multilingual and have interests in learning languages.
It is easy for them to be culturally sensitive and understand differences.
They have strong observation skills.
They are quick thinkers, they take initiative, and solve problems.
They care about global issues and have a multi-dimensional worldview.
They have a strong spiritual perspective at a young age.

I look at the faces of my three global nomads, and my heart swells with pride.  Their growth and development over the last three years has been immense.  They have astounded me with their resilience.  I respect them deeply.

I am not sure I could have discovered this without facing these challenges and working through them together.

I am so very sorry for the pain these transitions have caused them.  As a mother, I wish this pain to be gone, or to never have existed.  However, I am not sorry for the successes they have gained...the new relationships, the fluency and comfortability of a new language, the deeper understanding of and love for a new country, the questioning of the "norms" in US culture that will always be with them, the nagging to know more, to go deeper.  These are the gifts they have inherited through their pain, and for them, I am grateful.

Most of this information came from the following site.  They are lots of good resources on the web related to Third-Culture Kids and Global Nomads.


  1. i'm excited to watch them through this transition...

  2. You strengthen and nurture them and they nurture and strengthen you - and through it all, your family bonds deepen and grow. That, at least, will not change when you return "home."

  3. The adults I know who have had this kind of experience in childhood display many more of the "assets" than "challenges" you listed above. You all have grown so much emotionally, and I think it will help to carry you through what is to come next.

    Love you!

  4. Jen, I found this post particularly interesting. I only just discovered that my own childhood experiences have been defined and studied (Third-Culture Kids). This was news to me. And I think my book is actually about the subject, without me even realizing it.

    I strongly believe the assets outweigh the challenges. Ask your kids in twenty years whether they'd trade this experience in for a "normal" childhood -- you already know what their answer will be.

    On the other hand, I wish I'd known a bit more about the challenges to be expected. It might have helped to know that the more negative aspects of what I was experiencing was normal, too -- the wisdom and compassion you have about your children's unique situation is a huge gift you are giving them.

  5. Great post, Jen. The blog-lock has been broken! Good stuff to process here - both for you and all of us.