Ask a TCK Counselor: TCK and Non-TCK Relationships: Will They Work Out?

By Judith Hansen
Ask a TCK Academy Counselor


Dear Disconnected,

Adult Third Culture Kids and Non-Third Culture Kids Relationships: How do they work out?

  • Do you ever wonder how non-TCKs and TCKs get along much less have lasting relationships?
  • Do you find yourself jealous or slightly cynical of those who seem to have close friendships and wonder how they got there?
  • Do you question how TCKs in relationship with non-TCKs have managed to reconcile their different worldviews and ways of thinking?

I’m a Third Culture Kid married to a monocultural man…

I live in both worlds: I’m a TCK married to a monocultural man from Colorado, where we’ve raised four children, all born in this beautiful state. You might benefit from hearing how I have learned to juggle both ways of thinking, perhaps you will glean something from my experiences and observations and how my life has become richer for it.

Searching for the common thread

My basic premise is that if we, as TCKs, approach the world looking at how much we have in common rather than how much we differ, would go a long way in resolving some of our relational difficulties. We would see that everyone longs to be heard, understood, be in relationship, have friendships and feel valued. With that in mind then, as we look for opportunities to establish common ground, we will find the world to be a richer place.

Why do we fail to connect?

Many TCKs express a longing to connect, but feel they fail miserably, claiming fear of rejection and abandonment. In the following paragraphs, let us look at some practical ways to implement the ideas of connection, friendship, and relationship.

Practical ways to implement:

1. Are you judging their “narrow-mindedness“?

When we instantly judge someone because we don’t like their narrow-mindedness or because they do not appreciate how big the world is and think only of their own “petty” interests, we create an instant barrier and cease to be open-minded ourselves.

2. “You can’t understand.”

Conversely, when we firmly and stubbornly believe that no one could possibly understand us, we have already created a situation that precludes anyone entering our world.

I often think TCKs complain of Americans’ superficiality without really getting to know them as individuals. I know I did. I compared my global lifestyle to what I perceived as their dull, shallow way of thinking. On the one hand, it’s hard not to make those comparisons and complain, especially when Americans can present us with many opportunities to object to their way of thinking! At the same time, I have discovered friendships here in America that are deep, meaningful and rich.

3. Laying aside our prejudices

Granted, it took some time to develop those friendships. First, I had to learn to lay aside my own prejudices, my own knee jerk assumptions and arrogant reactions in order to listen to their hopes and dreams. I discovered that many had the same aspirations I did: connection, significance and hope for the future.

4. Everyone has something to contribute.

When we as TCKs set out to approach life with the worldview that everyone has something to contribute to our knowledge and growth, no matter how initially aggravating they may seem to us, we will find our journey on this earth much more pleasant and far less isolating.

Your turn: Can you relate?  Can TCKs and non-TCKs ever get along? Leave your comment below.

If this topic resonates with you, I would love to hear your feedback!


Free Resources:

7 Things Every TCK Should Know Download The 5-Part Mini-Course, 86 Minute Teleconference And e-Book from cross cultural expert Ruth Van Reken. Topics covered: Belonging, relationships, grief, restlessness, and developing your gifts.

How to Relate to Non-TCKs by Ruth Van Reken

Ask a TCK Counselor: “How do I settle in relationships?”

Credit: Sarah Louise
TCK Relationships: Q&A with Carmen Vaughan LCSW, a TCK Academy Therapist

By Carmen Vaughan LCSW
Ask a TCK Academy Counselor

“RELATIONSHIP RESTLESSNESS: How do I settle in relationships when I can’t stop running away?”

Dear Uncommitted,

“Settling in relationships” requires psychological work that most Third Culture Kids never learned how to do. They may never have learned the skills needed to develop emotional intimacy with another person because they never had the opportunity to know someone (outside their immediate family) on a day to day basis for more that two or three years at a time. Either they themselves or the other person had to leave for the next post before the relationship had time to evolve into something more lasting.

Making close friends or pseudo-intimacy?

The idea that TCKʼs donʼt make close friends may come as a surprise to most TCKs, since as a group, TCKʼs usually excel at making friends quickly. In the short time they have to develop the relationship, they may establish a pseudo-intimacy, based more on the looming reality that they will soon be separated than on actual intimate knowledge of each other. A corollary to this pattern of constantly moving to meet the demands of their parentʼs career is that TCKs may unconsciously conclude that their relationships are unimportant and by logical extension they themselves are unimportant. Low self-esteem is known to undermine a relationshipʼs sustainability because the couple can never establish a safe attachment bond and move onto the risky business of getting to know each other intimately.

Building intimacy…

Building intimacy involves risking being vulnerable to another person and believing that person will respond in kind. Each new revelation and each experience of being mirrored and accepted deepens trust and nurtures love. All of this takes time, a commodity TCKs have had to learn to do without in making friends and finding lovers.

Are you repeating a pattern?

Another set of skills TCKS may not have at their disposal are negotiating differences, making compromises, self-soothing when feeling hurt or neglected, and feeling confident in oneʼs self-identity and resiliency. Because they have always had the escape hatch of having to move and leave friends behind, TCKs have been able to skirt many of the issues that must be resolved or at least addressed to make long lasting relationships possible. When things start to get to hard or too scary those old TCK feelings of restlessness start to stir, even when the TCK is an adult and is no longer affected by his or her parentsʼ career relocations. Repeating a pattern of avoidance in relationships reenforces the belief that one is incapable of sustaining a meaningful relationship. At this point in the process, the TCK is at the mercy of his or her self-fulfilling prophecy that a stable relationship is not in the cards.

So, how to stop self-sabotaging yourself and find true love?

First recognize that the problem isnʼt really you, but rather a lack of experience and practice sticking to a relationship through thick and thin. With experience you learn that all relationships have ups and downs and that you donʼt have to run away if things are not going as you want them to go.

You have the power to negotiate with the other person. You will not run out of things to say just because the usually allotted two or three years have passed.

Relationships evolve as the individuals in them evolve. You can survive disappointment and awkwardness and doubt and still have a great relationship. The only way to learn these things is to stick around and experience them.

Your turn: Can you relate?  Do you have any TCK relationship questions?

Leave a comment below and you could win a free 30 minute consultation. (Three winners will be randomly selected to win.)

Thank You TCK Academy!

Did you enjoy our resources and want to express your gratitude? This is the place to do it.

Or perhaps you just discovered the term “Third Culture Kids” online? Maybe from Wikipedia, TCKWorld, or TCKID? Were you grateful that Dr. Useem’s research was still available online, and you had access to free services, free resources, and free online communities?

Our Sponsors and experts are responsible for making it happen and have invested a lot of their resources and time. They range from leaders and professionals in the community like Ruth Van Reken, Robin Pascoe,  Dr Paulette Bethel, and Brice Royer, to expats and ATCKs like you, who care about the community.  Let’s thank everyone who has ever been involved!


Please leave them a short comment to say “Thank you!”

Want to become a sponsor? Become a member here. It’s a great way to support the community while investing in your education.

(Free resource) Professional website creation and maintenance

Many professionals working with cross cultural people don’t have time to maintain or handle the technical aspects of their website.
Our recommendation has always been to use Wild Apricot. It’s a powerful web-based tool designed for ease of used by non-technical people. (Do not take it on our word. Go ahead and evaluate it for yourself – open a free trial account)

Here are some details at a glance:

Price: Free with ads, or $25/mo
Difficulty level: Super easy. For non-technical people.
Free trial promotion: Yes
Description: Wild Apricot is a powerful web-based tool designed for ease of used by non-technical people.
It’s web-based software that helps you manage your:

* website & maintenance
* membership sign-ups and renewals
* member and contact records
* event registrations
* online donations, or client payments
* and lots more.

You can try it for free for 30-days. There’s no obligation, you don’t need a credit card, and no salesperson will call to bug you.


Dream job for TCKs: Travel Around Asia, Blog About Food, Get Paid $10,000

asia Want to travel around Asia, sampling the exotic cuisine of Thailand, Vietnam, China, Japan and Korea, and get paid $10,000?

It’s a dream “job” that one lucky person will be selected to do on behalf of Pei Wei Asian Diner. The chain restaurant is searching for someone to follow along with the executive chef as he travels to five countries over two weeks, looking for inspiration for new menu items.

The person chosen will taste their way across Asia while blogging and posting photos and videos about the experience. In return, they get an amazing trip and the tidy sum of $10,000. According to the site, requirements for the job are “a talent for writing, a boundless appetite and willingness to experiment with the unknown, an eye for the unforgettable image and the ability to capture it, comfort both on-camera and behind the lens, a spontaneous spirit but a grounded work ethic, and a passion for Asian cuisine.”

Think you have what it takes? You’ll need to go to the site and create an account, build a profile, and post at least one (and up to five) blog posts, plus up to five photos and one link to a video on YouTube. Five finalists will be selected in early January, with a winner picked on Wednesday, January 19. All profile submissions must be received by Monday, December 20.

Click Here to Learn More

The Joy of Belonging: 36-year old man recovered from 12 years of stuttering & depression after “making better friends”

Have you ever wondered just how bad not fitting in a group of friends can get?

I received a very moving email from a member from our non profit community TCKID, a 36 yo man who suffered from over 12 years of stuttering and depression because of a lack of belonging. His stuttering “gradually got better” after he made better friends.

He’s not the only one, I have talked to a few dozen people with similar stories who are suffering in silence.

You can read his story below:

Hi Brice,
Hope you can understand my English, It’s what I learned by myself so I hope everything is understandable.
I think my story is maybe a bit different because there are 2 other factors in my life that makes my life even more difficult.

You may reconsider your promise of reading every email if they are all this long

I lived in Oman, Irak, and Saudia Arabia with my parents up until I was 13. I loved it there. I can’t Imagine a better childhood than the one I had. That is the first 13 years. The rest was not a pleasant experience to say the least.

I never went to school when we lived in the Middle East. All studies were done via mail and came from the ministry of education in Belgium. My mother was also my teacher… if she had the time that is.

My fathers career was the bigest focus of my mother. I can remember that she was always preparing some big party to get my father introduced to the write people. So many times we were left wandering on ourselves, wich ment no school at all and that was fine for me My mother also had a very different idee of how to raise children. She believes in a free way of raising children. Wich in many ways ment ‘no’ upbringing. A child can only develop it’s natural capabilities if it’s not suppressed by adults she thinks. In theory this sounds very good but in reality there are many drawbacks. I didn’t know what it’s like to listen and do what an adult tels me. And on top of that I have ADHD wich my mother also refuses to give me medication for because se believed that this would also surpress any natural development of a child.

At age 13 we came back to Belgium.

So there I was in Belgium in a real School (even a boarding school!) for the first time in my life. Here all of a sudden I had to listen to what adults told me to do.
You can imagine it didn’t go well and I hade real problems to fit in. I had been kicked out of 7 schools when I reached the age of 18. The day I got the be 18 was also my last day of school, with no degree whatsoever.
The only job I could get back then was working in a factory. That also didn’t went well.

I think I must have worked in at least 20 different jobs by the time I was 24 and I was feeling deeply depressed.

From the time I was 13 when we came back to belgium I had begin to develop a speaking disorder, apparently because I couldn’t handle everything. When I was 24 I stuttered so bad that I could hardly speak anymore. Today almost all of my stuttering is gone as I began to think a lot and understood from where it was all coming and starting to accept things for what they are.

Back when I was 24 the internet was starting to develop. I saw a big opportunity here in designing websites, creativity had always been my biggest capability. Designing websites was so new that there was no degree for this so me not having one I hoped wouldn’t be that much of a problem. I talked it over with my father and he also believed it was a good idee. He bought me an Apple computer I couldn’t afford myself back then but it was the computer you needed to have to do graphic design work. I also stopped working in the factory’s and I got my self a licens to work as a freelancer. The beginning was far from easy, I had to learn everything myself and I didn’t have any money. But I hanged in there and it did work out in the end.

Today I work as a senior Motion Graphic Designer at Brussels. I’m a full time freelancer at this company for the last 5 years, I have a really nice income and I work for mayor international clients. I worked really hard to get this and I’m good at what I do so I should be happy where I ame now. But I’m not. I want to walk away from it all and do something else. And this isn’t the first time. Back when I was working in the factory I was also a semi profesional snooker player. I put years of hard work in my snooker, but when I started to get really good at it I walked away from everything and start to do something completely different. Same with the job I have now. I’m going to walke away from something I worked so hard for to do something completely different I know nothing about. Now I want to start up a small company that designs and makes leather laptop sleeves and bags, and I know absolutely nothing about this leatherbag business.

It may seem strange and foolish to leave everything you worked for and are good at behind, but this is what I know and in a strange way I feel familiar with, this is what I always have done.

Except that it’s painful because it’s something I worked so hard for. I still cry sometimes that I left my snooker and never looked back to it. And I aslo cry now that I realise I’m going to do the same again with my present work. But if I stay and do where I ame now I’m unhappy to.

I’m a bit afraid to seek contact with other TCKA people because what if I can’t even relate to these people? Many things I read on the website I do relate to. But for me it doesn’t stop there. There are 2 other big thing wich causes a lot of problems for me in fitting in, making friend and keeping friends I think. It’s not having a proper upbringing by my parents together with having ADHD. It’s like our family lawyer once sad to a friend of mine when he was talking about our family, ‘the mother can not be tamed, and the children, they are like wolfschildren’. He didn’t say it in a bad way. But I think his observations are right. So maybe it’s not only me who has it difficult in keeping friends, but it’s aslo true that it’s not easy to be a friend and stay a friends with me for other people. I think many times people don’t know what to think of me, they don’t seem to be able to get a grip on me an place me.

I’m an observer and a thinker like may TCKs. Maybe a bit to much of a thinker because the outcome is many times not that pleasant. Thinking a lot develops very strong believes, principles and values. This is fine, accept I also think it’s this that makes it very difficult for other people to stay friends with me. I can easily make friends with Belgium people but after a period of time I can’t stay friends with them.
Many times it comes to a confrontation I’m so deeply hurt in my believes, principles and values by these friends that I can’t be friends with them anymore. The person in question does not even understand why. Not all people think as much as I do and are therefore many times unaware of what they are doing and why I can’t be friends with them anymore.

This makes it very difficult for me to have a feeling of home.

For me home is not a physical place. I feel home wherever I know there are people who truly care about me and I about them. Home is a constancy in your life wich you know is always there no mater what. But I can’t find constant friends, they always come and go. Therefore It’s difficult to have a real feeling of home.

My stuttering began when I was 13.

At first it was not so bad and I could keep it much under control so people wouldn’t notice it. As adapting and trying to fit was more difficult each year it got worse. I remember when I was 16 a teacher in class asked a question to me. It was really simple, everyone in the class knew the answer and so did I but couldn’t say the word. The teacher waited for the whole class hour for me to say the answer. I sat there all this time in my seat with everyone in a painful silence waiting for it to be over. It was only at the last minutes I couldn’t take it anymore and I broke out in tears.

When I was around 18 it was again more easy to keep it under control when I felt a bit better because I made some friends here in belgium who I had a nice time with, even if it was only on a very shallow level. It was a few years later when it went very bad when I started to realise that I had no education what so ever and that it was not going to be easy to get out of the life I was living. The friends I had were all doing drugs and so was I. The older I got the more I started to have difficulty what I was doing and the people I was associating with. I was 24. So I cut them of in my life all at once. This was very hard, it was a time that I had no friends what so ever. It was also the first years as a freelancer and in the beginning I had no experience and no or very little work. All of a sudden I also had to talk to people with I higher education and I felt very much inferior to them. I remember those years very well because at one stage it was so bad I could hardly speak. I felt very unhappy and depressed. When I was talking I was thinking about these things that made me feel depressed and it made my brain and talking organs completely out of sync.

The next years my stuttering gradually got better as I made some new and different friends than I had before.

My work as a freelancer also started to go very well, and when I was around 30 I was working for all the big clients I always believed I had the capabilities to work for.

Today I think people who know me can still recognize some stuttering, but it’s more a habitual left over.

If I really wanted to I could speak without stuttering but I don’t care that much anymore. When I was younger I felt very ashamed for it but now I don’t anymore, and with that thought it gradually went away.

Getting older makes you accept things more like they are. I’m 36 now.

Lately I feel that some of my stuttering is coming back a little bit from time to time because I’m very much in the same situation as I was so many years ago when I was doing it so much. I feel again very restles because of all the changes that have happend lately and are going to come. Like before I felt that a lot of people I was friends with were not really my friends and I had to break with them. But a very few are still there this time, so it’s not that bad. Also I realised that the job I worked so hard for is coming to an end and that I have to leave it behind in search for something else. But also this is not the end because for each loss there is place for something new and different. It’s still hard because you step in the unknown and you don’t know what it’s all going to lead to but then you realise that you have been here many times before. It doesn’t give you any guarantees but it helps.
Of course Brice you have my permission to share my mails if it can help people.

(Video) 10 Years of Research on Belonging

10 yrs of research on the topic of “belonging”. An important topic that every Third Culture Kids can relate to.

Dr. Brené Brown is a researcher professor at the University of Houston, Graduate College of Social Work, where she has spent the past ten years studying a concept that she calls Wholeheartedness, posing the questions: How do we engage in our lives from a place of authenticity and worthiness? How do we cultivate the courage, compassion, and connection that we need to embrace our imperfections and to recognize that we are enough — that we are worthy of love, belonging and joy? Brené is the author of I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power (2007) and the forthcoming books, The Gifts of Imperfection (2010) and Wholehearted: Spiritual Adventures in Falling Apart, Growing Up, and Finding Joy ( 2011).

About TEDx, x = independently organized event

In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. At a TEDx event, TEDTalks video and live speakers combine to spark deep discussion and connection in a small group. These local, self-organized events are branded TEDx, where x = independently organized TED event. The TED Conference provides general guidance for the TEDx program, but individual TEDx events are self-organized. (Subject to certain rules and regulations.)