Once we make the decision to have a globally mobile career, the lives of our children are inevitably changed. They become third culture kids. (A third culture kid is a child who spends their formative years in places that are not their parents’ homeland). Research has shown that high mobility, especially in the developmental years, impacts our children in both negative and positive ways. We asked Attiya Sayyed, one of our members based in South Africa about the impact of her globally mobile childhood.
- Some background on my TCK experience
My father is with the UN, and we had sporadic stays in 3 countries before I moved back to the US for my undergrad degree. Our first move was when I was 9 years old, and I was pretty excited. Before that our family had already moved frequently between the US and Pakistan and so I was not emotionally attached to the latest city we were leaving. We lived in Sudan for seven years, Egypt for one year, and then Jordan for two years where I completed high school. Although I thought I craved stability, I ended up transferring undergrad universities just after the first year.
- What is the impact of the TCK childhood on you as an adult?
I am very flexible about where to live and the amenities available. Whether it’s not finding peanut butter in grocery stores to not having electricity for hours after moving to South Africa with my husband, I am adaptable. I don’t feel an emotional attachment to places, and this allows me to be flexible and consider change as a positive. I learned that if I’m not happy with a situation (be it friendships, jobs, or where I live), I have the power to change it and start afresh if I want to since I have had to start over many times when moving with my family as a child.
Having attended international schools for most of my education, I met people from different backgrounds and religions from a young age, most of them from multi-cultural backgrounds like myself, making the experience quite normal. I don’t think I would have had this if I grew up in either just the US or Pakistan.
I tend to choose a small group of friends rather than pursue large social circles. There is more opportunity in making meaningful connections that can last beyond physically being in the same city.
- What was the hardest part of being highly mobile?
Changing schools so often was very difficult as it took a couple of months in each school to acclimate. Otherwise, I enjoyed living in different countries and traveling frequently.
- Any tips to share with parents of high mobile global families?
My mother also grew up as a TCK, so she was very understanding of me and my siblings as we changed schools. When I didn’t feel like making new friends (for fear of leaving and having to start over) she made the effort and encouraged me to attend school events, participate in activities, go on school trips, and even organize activities for me to meet the other kids in my classes. One of my best friends to this day is because my mom regularly invited another family over with a girl my age to hang out with.
Perhaps finding some sort of niche for your child could be helpful—choir, a sport, band, a language. This can allow them to meet new friends with whom they already share a commonality.
Allow your child to be sad and upset when they move. That’s just part of the process. In my most difficult move from Sudan to Egypt, I was 15. To help me transition, my parents allowed me to travel back to Sudan for a school break to visit my friends. They also bought me international calling credits, so I could chat with my friends. This made me feel much better entering a new school because I knew I wasn’t friendless.
Prevention is better than cure. Given WBG’s decentralization agenda, our children will increasingly experience lives of high mobility. Come and join us on 29th September to learn about the research Lauren Wells and her co-researcher Tanya Crossman have discovered about how to help our children flourish despite living highly mobile lives.