In 1970 Madeleine Lenagh leaves her country of birth to escape the tensions of her home life. She settles down in her adopted country, troubled by emotions of the past. As family secrets emerge, Madeleine seeks to find her true self and makes peace with her former life. Through this courageous and honest book Madeleine hopes to help others who are struggling to find their soul’s path.
It happens every year about this time. Hundreds of thousands of students head off to be launched as a young, independent adult at college/ university. Wise counselors and administrators at international schools around the world are learning to make a big deal of this transition for their students who have grown up globally, and so they should. Their life experiences have been very different from most of the peers they will be surrounded by on their college campuses and they need to be prepared for how that will impact them.
The globally mobile life style of global nomads/ third culture kids (TCKs), as we refer to them, brings with it a plethora of gifts, skills and benefits including a broad world view, languages, and cultural competencies. But, as with anything, there is a flip side to moving across cultures during those critical developmental years (birth to 18). There are unique challenges TCKs must face on top of the usual transition issues they share with their domestic peers when entering college. There are four major insights that can help TCKs as they transition out of the expatriate culture.
TCK IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT
Dr. Barbara Schaetti, who has done extensive research on TCK identity development, explains that, particularly upon repatriation, TCKs “wake up to the fact that they are different from others.” She calls this an “encounter experience.” If they understand it is their international experiences that make them different they can come to grips and be comfortable with their differences.
Every first year college student is making the transition to a new life stage as an independent adult, but global nomads and foreign students have the cultural adjustment to make as well – even the home country culture can be foreign to TCKs. Understanding what takes place in each of the stages not only prepares them but helps them appreciate it is normal and temporary.
Involvement Stage – this is life as the TCK knows it. She is involved in the community, has friends, roles, responsibilities, and feels a sense of belonging.
Leaving Stage – begins the moment she is aware of an upcoming change. For the college-bound TCK this could be from the time she is making college visits to application time or to the decision time. There is a separating and distancing from roles, responsibilities and relationships. There are mixed emotions – sadness mixed with anticipation.
Transition Stage – starts the moment TCKs arrive in their new environs. This stage is characterized by chaos. Everything is new and different. There are no routines or structure in place.
Entering Stage – begins the moment the TCK either consciously or unconsciously decides she is going to settle in and become a part of this new place. Feelings of vulnerability, self-doubt, anxiety, and ambiguity may still be hanging on from the transition stage, but she is committed to sticking it out and making it work.
Re-Involvement – when the TCK realizes, usually after a long school break, that this new place feels more like home. She has relationships, roles, and responsibilities and feels affirmed once again.
The high mobility lifestyle of a global nomad means there is a lot of separation and loss. When we lose people, things and places that are important to us we need to grieve over them. Allowing grief to run its course is considered ‘good grief.’ When TCKs can put a name on their loss, spend time with it, and mourn over it, they can come to closure and move forward. Being intentional with their good-byes helps confront the losses.
The most common complaint of TCKs at college is feeling as if they don’t belong, don’t fit in, can’t connect with their peers. There are many reasons for these disconnects – having no point of reference for one another, lack of shared experiences, they build their relationships completely differently – but they need to find commonalities. They can be reminded that they are all going through the first year experience together.
THE GOOD NEWS
Not every TCK is going to have a difficult time making the adjustment to college/ university. In fact, because they are used to change they often tend to fare better than many of their domestic peers. But for those who are not prepared it can be difficult to recover from the unexpected challenges. Advance preparation can significantly ease the adjustment process and allow these wonderfully gifted students to use their international experiences to make the most of the college years and beyond.
*Suggested reading on TCK identity development can be found in Raising Global Nomads, by Robin Pascoe.
By Tina L. Quick. author of The Global Nomad’s Guide to University Transition.
She took the words right out of my mouth. We laughed. Then five minutes later I finished her sentence. Then we laughed again and really made eye contact.
This wasn’t an old friend – someone I’d known since childhood and with whom I’d shared countless hours (although those women do exist in my life). This was a new person. A new person who lives like me (here and there and everywhere) who just happened to be one of my friend soul mates. She is a person who, if I were to have stayed in one place, I never would have met. Ever.
That always kind of scares me. What if we had never met? What if someone else had taken my place? What if someone else were to have taken hers in my heart?
Of course, after almost 20 years of going from home to home, I know there’s nothing to worry about. We would have met, or not, but one thing is certain, we would have both found other soul mates. We each have found other soul mates. There are a lot of us.
You know that question where they ask which 10 people, living or dead, you would invite to a dinner party? I love that question. Since becoming an expat I play it in my head. Only instead of famous people, I list all my soul mates from all over the world. My big fantasy is that their paths could cross. That they would know each other. That they would make new soul mate friends with a person they would never have met in the real world. But, of course, they will never meet because some people’s paths will indeed never intersect.
Is this a good fantasy or a waste of time?
Perhaps if I were rich, it would be a good fantasy. Maybe I’d hold a lottery and the top winners of the drawing would earn an all-expenses-paid trip to a Caribbean island where all of my soul mates would get to know each other. Maybe we’d plan yearly trips to New York City, or Paris, or Hong Kong where we’d shop and eat and drink and laugh and cry knowing that we were meant to be together all along. It sounds slightly overindulgent just to think about it. Pure fantasy.
Then again, maybe it’s simply a good mental exercise.
I don’t find I’m longing for the impossible. I know that I can probably never make this happen. But what I do find is that this leaves me hopeful for the relationships that are yet to begin in someplace new. Finding these friends opens my eyes. It makes me look at people and see who they are – the parts they hold close and the parts they lay all out. It reminds me there’s potential in every person. Honestly, it reminds me that there’s potential in me. Bad days will come, but we’re no less worthy of being seen. Of being loved. Of being someone’s new soul mate.
So as we keep rolling around the world, each new home provides the opportunity to connect and to find someone who truly “gets” us. It ends up being not just our world that gets bigger, but our hearts too. We open them up so wide to take in all these new people. And the wider and fuller and more colorful our hearts become, the more room we leave to gently sooth the ache of goodbye when it comes.
When it always comes.
by Jodi Harris
Although US tuition fees are some of the highest in the world, ($20,000-$60,000 annually), – it’s not quite the insurmountable hurdle you’d imagine. There are ways to afford the fees.
Most US colleges have to raise funds through charitable donations from current and past students, as well as large corporations and government subsidies. Many therefore, have large endowment funds and can offer financial aid to international applicants. There isn’t an over-arching organization governing these scholarships, but there are many web sites with information, and individual college web sites give details on what they offer. (The term “bursaries” is rarely used by US colleges.)
The US education and college “app” (application) system is very different from what many international students may be used to. Experts advise international students to allow 18-24 months working back from the date they want to start college. Although it seems like a lot of time, applicants need to-
Research the colleges that might suit them. (I strongly advise widening the net and looking at more than just the well-known Harvard/Yale/MIT options). There is no over-arching body such as the UK’s UCAS so students must wade through individual college web sites.
- Look for financial aid, if needed. As mentioned, it is out there but finding it and submitting the paperwork adds a considerable amount of time and effort.
- Take the standardized test (ACT or SAT) that most colleges require of international students. This is a timed, multiple-choice test and is quite different from anything British students are used to. British applicants compete against American high schoolers who have been practicing these tests for months, so test prep is a must.
- Have test scores sent to the colleges they are applying to, which can take a month or more.
- Have high school information sent to colleges. Teachers are asked for fairly in-depth reports* on applicants and some US colleges require applicants to use a Credential Evaluation service to compare foreign academic scores.
- Have financial (ie. bank) information sent to colleges to prove ability to pay for the first year. (This would include any scholarships that are awarded.)
- Fill out the application form(s). This takes more time than most foreign students realize. Most colleges require at least two personal essays, which should be proofed by at least one other person. Students are selling themselves to colleges so this essay cannot be rushed off in one draft.
- Apply for a visa. Students can only apply for a US student visa once they have finally committed to one college. This college initiates the paperwork for the visa request so students holding multiple offers cannot proceed until they make a decision.
- Apply for housing, send in doctor’s form etc. Once a student has a confirmed place at a US college there are many steps to complete before being able to attend. Choose and pay for housing, submit physical reports from the local doctor, register for classes and, in most cases, attend the International orientation session.
*Because of the amount of input required from teachers and other school staff, I strongly suggest that students with “sketchy” relationships start mending some fences, pronto!
It can be daunting to even consider applying to a US college, and expensive if you feel the need to hire a consultant. However, with sufficient time, it is possible for students (and their families) to undertake the whole process themselves.
To help international applicants manage the US application process (including deciding whether it’s even feasible in the first place), I have written ‘The Stress-Free Guide to Studying in the States; A Step-by-Step Plan for International Students’, which also has a Facebook page for questions and further information.