3 Things I Believe as a Third Culture Kid (Yes, I’m jumping on the bandwagon!)

In 2009, Tarak Mclain was interviewed by the NPR radio station for their ‘This I believe’ series. In it, he reads a list of 30 things he believes, pulled from a full list of 100 he constructed as a six-year-old. It’s worth a listen. Humbling, is one word that springs to mind. My favourite from his list?

I believe we can make peace.

More recently, Frigerio and Roberts, mentor and protegée with Sea Change Mentoring, wrote a blog post entitled, ’15 things I believe (as a Third Culture Kid)’, inspired by Tarak’s original piece. And so, they inspired me. Though I’ve abridged my list to just three.

My favourite from Frigerio’s list was;

I believe that the cure to boredom is realizing that in just being alive and conscious gives you the power to make exciting choices.

While this belief is certainly empowering, it’s not always easily apparent in the lives of my clients. Very often, my clients are Third Culture Kids who are feeling either choiceless, backed into a corner by career or family or just the creeping stagnation of everyday life, or overwhelmed by apparent never-ending possibility.

Many TCKs grew up in organisations that made a lot of the family’s decisions for them, to a greater or lesser extent. Postings, timing for leave, visits ‘home’ and educational options were all arenas that the sending organisation had a vested interest in, if not direct control over. For self-directed expatriate families, external authorities are yet necessarily referenced in decision-making processes; job opportunities, length of contract and visas all come together to limit as well as facilitate the experiences of growing up as a TCK.

A complex relationship with decision-making can develop, the absence of external limits (in the absence of an organisational or familial determining structure) can render us overwhelmed. On the other hand, the experiences of regular transitions, over which we had no control, can reduce our ability to expect much linear cause-effect relationship between our decisions and our outcomes. In other words, ‘It doesn’t really matter what I decide on, something will interrupt to change it anyhow’.

And yet, I’m with Frigario. I believe that we do have the power to make exciting choices, and that if this isn’t our current experience, a visit to our life history could help us to feel more empowered. 

Belief #1: I believe that making peace with the past can bring us peace with our selves, and empower our choices.

Of Robert’s list, my favourite phrase was:

I believe that experiencing and exploring the world is the best education.

This is such a TCK ideology:) And I believe it to be true. However, for many of my clients, their current backdrop for growth is the local, rather than the global. When life, family or career demands that our global experiences take pause, it is worth remembering that the corner of the world we are currently inhabiting is World too. And it also has the potential for experience and exploration. Especially when, for the TCK, change is Home, and settling is the uncomfortable Other.

Belief #2: I believe that it is possible to approach both the local and the global World in a spirit of exploration, and that this is the key to settledness of Self. 

Through my academic research, personal observations and work with Third Culture Adult clients, I have come to see our sense of Self as a ship, loaded with resources to see us through our journey.Ideally we want to feel well prepared for the journey ahead, using our capacity well, monitoring and maintaining our equipment so that, through appropriate self-care, we can make the journey smoothly.

However, the journey does not simply depend on our vessel being managed well in the Present, for it is borne on by the Past that has brought us this far already. The tides beneath us, propelling us forward can remain unseen, and yet the better we understand them, the more prepared we are to navigate them.

Sailing my ship

Belief #3: I believe that the key to a confident future is a sympathetic understanding and cooperation between our Past, the flows carrying us onwards, and the Present, the Self we are resourcing, investing in, and keeping sea-worthy. If we can get Past and Present to work in peaceful harmony, we can sail into that sunrise ahead, excited rather than fearful about what lies ahead.

So I guess Tarak was right. I believe that as TCKs we can make peace with our Past, live peacefully in a local and global World, and integrate our Pasts peacefully into our Presents for a joyful Future. I believe we can make peace too.


  1. Dan Elyea says:

    Thank you for sharing these concepts, Dr. Rachel. I’m used to zooming through most of what gets posted on the Internet, but your pieces require slow, careful reading. Still making peace . . .


    • Dr. Rachel Cason says:

      Thanks so much for reading, Dan! Hope it’s not too heavy to read… I’m more of an essayist than a blogger really 😉 But really appreciate you stopping by!

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