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TCKs, Grief, and Transitions

TCKs, Grief, and Transitions

With great opportunities and experiences as global nomads, we also experience great losses. Third Culture Kids (TCKs) are youth who live a large part of their lives in countries or cultures that are different from their passport country. Many of our students have been living abroad throughout their lives and often struggle with knowing where ‘home’ is. There are benefits that come with being a TCK and there are challenges, as noted in this article. One of the greatest challenges that is soon coming up is with transitions and loss. As we enter our fourth quarter of the school year, most students and families know if they are staying in Kenya and at ISK or leaving after this school year. It is common that we lose one or two dear friends with every school year that ends. When these changes happen, we can experience a great sense of grief.

Unresolved grief is a common challenge faced by TCKs. When TCKs make a move, they begin to grieve the loss of their homes, their friends, their lifestyles, and most importantly, their identities. Each time a child starts a new school, or in a new place they need to define who they are, and who they want to be, and need to take time to find people they can feel connected and comfortable with. Many grieve the ease of their past relationships and homes as they take time to discover the nuances and hidden cultures of the new environment. If there were some things left unsaid or undone in the previous school, grief can last longer and insecurities can arise in the new school. This is why, with these transitions, it is important that we remember to do the RAFT if we are leaving and RAKE if we are staying. 

R-Reconciliation: Some of us have experienced relationships that have not gone so well. Perhaps we had friends that we were close to but there was a conflict or drifting apart that has left some unease in your life.  This is a time to forgive and to make it right. We encourage students to write a letter, an email, or perhaps go in person to let someone know that there are no hard feelings as they move on. This can free up grieving or angst in the future.

A-Affirmations: Leaving is an excellent time to be grateful and express your thanks to the people who made your time in Kenya easier or better. Write a note, invite them over, and verbally let them know how much you have appreciated their friendship, help, or guidance while here.

F-Farewells: Physical goodbyes are very important, especially for children when leaving a place behind. It is time to say goodbye to your favorite places and activities around Nairobi and Kenya (take one more trip). Time to say goodbye to your favorite restaurants (plan a special meal there for one last time). Saying goodbye to people can be one of the most important pieces of a healthy transition, so plan a goodbye party for your friends, families, and for your children to say goodbye. You want to be sure to send your personal contact information for the families and friends left behind.

T-Think destination: Once you have planned for the farewells and thank yous, you are more ready to research about the future destination. Sit with your children to look up the school, the neighborhood, the restaurants, and fun activities to do in the new place. This can be the fun part and build some excitement for the future opportunities that lie ahead.

Here is an excellent resource for those who are staying. If we support our children (and ourselves) through the transitions that happen, we will feel healthier, happier, and more ready for what the future holds.  

For more information about how to support TCKs, check out this article.

The ISK Counseling Team