Counselors: be curious about their upbringing...third culture kids

Once again I found an interesting article online: "Identity, mobility and marginality: counseling third culture kids in college" by Dana Leigh Downey, University of Texas at Austin. The article mentions that it is estimated that over 4 million Americans live abroad, with over 37,000 matriculating into U.S. universities each year. Our societies are becoming more and more global. Third culture kids "experience a collision of cultures and form hybrid identities in the course of their development".

I am really interested in getting to know how many Dutch third culture kids transition from abroad to Dutch universities. Can anyone help me out? Do you know the figures? Years ago I was a third culture kid moving from Zimbabwe to the Netherlands to study. I had not heard of the term "third culture kid", I had no idea what challenges I would face, I did not know that I was a "hidden immigrant". There was no extra help from the university, no extra language help, no extra support. I was not even identified as coming from abroad.

Gaw* (2007) says that re-entry is often more challenging and unsettling than initial culture shock, affecting academic, social and psychological functioning. As with other non majority groups TCKs are less likely to seek support services on campus. "The non-linear background of the TCK does not fit the mold of the average intake form." There's a good idea here: Downey suggests that counseling centres may consider adding questions to their surveys or intake forms: before the age of 18 I lived in more than one country/culture. A question like this would help identify third culture kids. It is only worth identifying TCKs if there are people who are equipped to help them. According to Downey counselors must extend:
  • support
  • validation
  • encouragement
  • along with cultural compentence
  • and intercultural understanding
in order to assist third culture kids experiencing re-entry culture shock. That sounds too good to be true.

Gaw cautions mental health practitioners to be aware of possible misdiagnosis or incorrect clinical procedures that may result from:
  1. misunderstanding this population
  2. not accepting or validating this population
  3. assuming the TCK experience is transitory and something to grow out of
  4. assuming the assessment tools and constructs normed with the majority population will be applicable.
Nina Sichel co-editor of the collections Writing Out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids (2011) and Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Global (2004) recently wrote an article called "The Trouble with Third Culture Kids"  on Children's Mental Health Network. "So when she(the TCK) comes to you, don’t ask her where she’s from, or what’s troubling her. Ask her where she’s lived. Ask her what she’s left behind. Open doors. And just listen. Give her the time and space and permission she needs to remember and to mourn. She has a story -- many stories. And she needs and deserves to be heard, and to be healed, and to be whole."

Soon colleges and universities will start their academic year and over 37,000 TCKs will return to America to further their education. An unknown number of TCKs will re-enter the Netherlands and many other countries. What will their experience be like? Will it be different to mine years ago? Will they be identified? Will they be helped by well-equipped counselors, and mental health practitioners that have experience working with third culture kids? What was your experience like when you went to college or university?

By the way there is a new useful book to help you prepare for your transition to university. It's the book "A Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition" by Tina Quick.

*Gaw, K.F. (2007) Mobility, Multiculturalism and Marginality: Counseling Third Culture Students. Special Populations in College Counseling: A Handbook for Mental Health Practitioners(63-76).

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