A 'third culture kid' reminisces

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A 'third culture kid' reminisces

Back when I was hopping from country to country during my young and tender developmental years, I didn't know that I was a "third culture kid" - nor did my parents. We moved countries 9 times in 15 years.

The epiphany came when I was attending a luncheon meeting at the Seoul Club, where David C. Pollock, the author and consultant on "Third Culture Kids," was invited as guest speaker. Third culture kids, as I learned that day, are children who grow up in a culture other than that of their parents' home country, that is, the country that they will one day return to.

As I jotted down the do's and don't's given in the luncheon speech, I realized that for a couple of people who didn't even know they were raising 5 third-culture kids, my parents did a pretty good job. On the Pollock scale of third culture parents, I'd give them an 8.9 out of 10. Merging Mr. Pollock's advice based on his expertise and my parents' own recipe for home-baked kids, I came up with three basic things that a parent should keep in mind to help make the experience of being a third culture kid even better for their children.

First of all, while this experience is supposed to be enriching for your children, you shouldn't ask too much of them. Most parents I've met and talked to, especially "first-timers" with relatively younger children, seem to have great expectations of their children growing up to be multilingual with intercultural interaction skills.

While it's fine to have high hopes for your children, don't let this be an additional burden on them. In fact, you should demand less of your children than you did back in your home country. Even if it's out of concern for them, refrain.

Remember that your children are having a hard enough time adjusting to their new environment without you encouraging them to do more.

Don't force them to learn the "native" language if it's not necessary. Sure, it's a great opportunity for them to learn Korean - but it's also a great chance for them to develop allergies to foreign languages. Your children will learn Korean if they want to, when they want to.

Second, show commitment in your own words and actions to the reason your family is here, to the culture and to the people - if that is what you want your children to do. One drawback of having been a third culture kid, according to Mr. Pollock, is a lack of commitment. Why bother making an effort when you'll be leaving in a year or two?

I myself found that all the small reasons I enjoyed living in the countries I lived in were the same reasons my parents enjoyed living in them. Like the guy with the accordion who came to sing under our window every week when we were in Portugal. I don't remember Portugal. I was 2 when I moved there. I just have faint but fond memories of the accordion guy because my mom has them, too.

The same applies the other way around. Every complaint you make about the new country - "Doesn't anyone know how to drive in this country?" - gets your children to thinking maybe adjusting to this new environment is a needless effort.

Finally, Mr. Pollock mentioned that a third culture kid's sense of home is in relationships, not in geography. And it is the relationships within your family that take on a totally new importance.

By taking your children out of the social context in which they would "normally" have grown, you have made yourself almost the only provider of values that your children can identify with and look up to for help. Koreans here are not going to understand your children. And believe it or not, neither will the "folks back home."

Your children rely on you, and that is why absolute trust is necessary. Don't tell your children that the teddy bear is packed in one of the boxes that are soon to come - when it's sitting in a dustbin somewhere. Show your children that they can trust in you. And trust in them.

by Lim Ji-su

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