Raising Third-Culture Children: The Other Side


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third-culture children, foreign service children, foreign service family, raising kids overseasMany of my fellow Foreign Service bloggers have children and are raising them in the typical nomadic FS lifestyle. Many others in the Foreign Service don’t have children (myself included) but will probably have them one day. Signing up for this lifestyle requires taking a hard look at how this will affect not only you (whether you’re the FSO, EFM, MOH or other acronym) but your children.I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the question from the child’s perspective. Or rather, from the perspective of the adult who grew up in a Foreign Service family. Since my last interview (First-Post Tips for a Trailing Spouse) went so well, I decided to ask my BFF (that is not a Foreign Service acronym), affectionately nicknamed “Todd,” if she’d be willing to answer a few questions about her experience growing up as a third-culture kid.third-culture children, foreign service children, foreign service family, raising kids overseasNatasha: Where have you lived? And can you name a favorite?Todd: Jerusalem, Ankara, Falls Church (VA), Islamabad, Cairo, and Tel Aviv.  My favorite? That’s tough. I loved each place for a different reason. I loved Jerusalem because it’s a beautiful city full of incredible history. I loved Ankara because Turkey is an amazing country with so much to see and do and EAT, and Turks are probably the nicest people in the world. I loved Falls Church because I was near all of my extended family and my bestie Kristina. I loved our house and garden in Islamabad and our family hikes in the hills right outside of the city. Cairo was one of the most crowded and polluted places but the people were so warm and welcoming. And all the sites! Talk about incredible things to see. In Tel Aviv I could walk to the beach — what more could you ask for?!third-culture children, foreign service children, foreign service family, raising kids overseasN: What is the best part about being an FS kid?T: I think the best part is getting to see so much of the world, and also getting a fresh start every few years. I loved moving to new places and meeting new people. I loved getting a new house at every post! But the adventures I went on with my family, exploring the different countries we lived in – nothing could compare to that. In Turkey we would rent a big SUV from the embassy and drive all over the country. And in Pakistan we went on a trek into the Himalayas – I saw K-2! Going to Sharm el-Sheikh and Siwa, Bethlehem and Nazareth, Pamukkale and Troy, the Sinai… All those trips? That was the best part.Oh and also, getting to go to places like France and Italy for random long weekends … If you’re already on that side of the world it’s hard to say no!third-culture children, foreign service children, foreign service family, raising kids overseasN: You probably guessed this one was coming next: What is the most difficult part about it?T: The most difficult part is saying goodbye to all of your friends and being the new kid in school all the time. Luckily, though, all of the American schools I went to were so accustomed to the waves of students coming and going, that you were never alone as a new kid. And everyone knew what it felt to be the new person so it was relatively easy to make friends. And if you didn’t, it didn’t matter that much because you’d be gone soon anyway. The 10 months I spent in Falls Church for 6th grade were probably the hardest. Being the new kid was brutal because everyone had been together since kindergarten! I was definitely the odd person out. And it didn’t help that I had just come from Pakistan. Also I was short and skinny with frizzy hair and braces — and Pakistani braces at that. (Think a head full of metal from the 70s….) Nerd alert.Saying goodbye though, that was hard. I think the most difficult goodbye I had was in Cairo. I lived there the longest out of all the posts so it was pretty painful.third-culture children, foreign service children, foreign service family, raising kids overseasthird-culture children, foreign service children, foreign service family, raising kids overseasN: You seem to have turned out OK, with educational, professional and relationship success. That’s not a question — just an observation.T: Well thanks! I think having a strong, close-knit family was and still is responsible for making me who I am today. My parents and my sister were the only constant factor in my life (besides my baby blanket that I still sleep with…I’m not embarrassed!!!!….) and we are all very supportive of each other! But I also feel like having a good set of friends to help me adjust to post-foreign service life was crucial.N: In what place you’ve lived did you experience the biggest culture shock?T: College. It was pretty easy for me to adjust to the various countries we lived in, but going to college in Charlottesville, Virginia was by far the most difficult thing for me to do. It was the first time I had to experience a new setting without the safety net of my family. Luckily, I met some pretty great girls almost immediately, so they really helped me figure it all out. I was definitely out of the loop on a lot of things… I had no idea what American Idol was or what the popular TV shows were or what music was cool, or how to use a debit card at the grocery store.  Even picking shampoo was difficult. There are so many choices in this country! But I had some good friends who didn’t make fun of me for not knowing anything.I do have to admit that sometimes when I met new people in college, I would pretend I was from Northern Virginia like everyone else. Some people were quickly turned off by my lengthy answer to the “where are you from” question.third-culture children, foreign service children, foreign service family, raising kids overseasN: One of Kail’s great fears stems from a childhood friend (an FS kid) who moved away with a rattail (when it was acceptable in some circles to don such a hairstyle) and returned years later (like high school) and STILL HAD A RATTAIL. He received an unfortunate nickname that stuck with him through college and perhaps to this day. Did you have any trouble keeping up with fashion trends/pop culture? What advice do you have for parents to ensure their children aren’t ridiculed into adulthood?T: I was lucky to have some friends and family state-side that tried their best to keep me up to date on fashion-related matters. My grandmother would go to Nordstrom and ask about the trends and then send me presents based on what the sales ladies told her! And I also got to come back to the U.S. every summer where I would spend time with an old friend (shout out to KG!) who did her best to educate me on pop culture. I remember one summer she taught me all about AOL Instant Messenger!For advice, I’d say… bring your kids back to the U.S. regularly. Send them to summer camp or force them stay with extended family. I know some families who never came back, and ended up spending all of their summers overseas too. I think those kids had a much harder time adjusting to college life back in the U.S. where they had no roots. It’s important to establish an American aspect of your identity.N: Do you have any other advice or words of wisdom to impart for FS families (with children and childless alike)?T: Explore! It’s easy to get sucked into the bubble that is the expat community… but every country has so much to offer. I am so grateful that my parents forced us to get out and meet and experience the local people and culture. My best memories from overseas are of the family adventures we would take to far flung towns and villages. It’s given me an invaluable perspective on the world and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Published by La Vie Overseas

I'm Natasha -- writer, runner and wife to a Foreign Service Officer with USAID. Current location: Frankfurt, Germany.

13 thoughts on “Raising Third-Culture Children: The Other Side

  1. Great post and great interviewee. 🙂 Loving my shout-outs, of course, but Todd provided excellent insight which I agree with wholeheartedly being a FS kid myself. My dad and I always joke that FS kids will either grow up to fully embrace their cultural upbringing and typically follow similar footsteps to a career in development or rebel and become completely domesticated (to the US, not household life, that is). Quite an interesting social experiment we’re observing. 😉

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  2. Aw I love you both! So cute and such a good idea! I got a little teary eyed 🙂 what great experiences with your family!

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  3. Very cool. I’m always worried our boys will grow up traumatized but it’s nice to know there’s hope for them and that they might turn out OK… haha I’m loving your interviews.

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    1. I’m sure your boys will be just fine! I’m glad you’re enjoying the interviews — I figured I don’t have much FS experience to write about yet, so I might as well let others share in the meantime.

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