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01/11/2011Why third culture kids need corporate support
Companies increasingly are realising the importance of Third Culture Kids (TCKs) in the success of their executives’ international moves. If the children experience a difficult transition, life is miserable for the whole family.
The good news is that organisations can provide services that facilitate successful adjustments. The cost of sending an employee and family on international assignment is substantial. For a minimal additional investment, corporations can provide pre- and post-assignment cross-cultural development programmes that reduce the stress of the move and meet the family’s needs.
Specifically, such programmes help the family to understand the leaving process, the new culture(s), how to conduct themselves (socially, in business, and in daily life) more effectively in the new location, and how to manage culture shock and adjustment.
Cross-cultural programmes offer knowledge and support to the third-culture child. Many relocation companies contribute to the family’s international success by offering packages and programmes to the new assignee and family.
It is up to employers to promote the value of this to employees and their families, and to encourage them to make time for the training in the hectic schedule of an overseas move.
The employer’s organisation needs to support all the family members through the adjustment phase, which can take up to 18 months. The follow-through and tracking after the move is very important. Counselling services, coaching, mentoring, and, ultimately, a repatriation programme are other valuable options for third-culture children and their families.
Future of the TCK
As Anne Edelstam wrote in her 2004 global nomad article, “to be like a chameleon is a good tool to adapt to different cultures but it might become a burden when not knowing which culture is one’s own. I don’t think we global nomads can adapt to just one culture and stick to it. It will be a mix of everything.”
So, whether the international child is referred to as a third-culture child, a global nomad, a TCK, an expatriate, or a global soul, his or her shared special feature is the ability to compare international and local issues.
These articulate, adaptable, and well-educated international individuals have the potential to be our future politicians, diplomats, multinational executives, journalists, government employees, and educators.
Thomas Wolfe said, “You can’t go home again.” Well, in many ways, third-culture children carry their many homes with them at all times. This can give them a deeper understanding of international issues, including human rights.
They certainly have a different perspective from their mono-cultural peers. As a global community, we can and should celebrate their cross-cultural insight and find ways to incorporate this invaluable knowledge into our personal and professional lives.
Ingredients for a successful transition
Research has proven that if the spouse (partner) and children are content with the international move, the likelihood of a smooth transition and successful adjustment and assimilation increases by orders of magnitude. Planning and preparation do help—families either can be accidental global citizens or well-prepared sojourners.
Children need to be informed and included in the decision-making process regarding the overseas move. The age of the child is significant. Adolescents are a particularly challenging group. Initially, most teenagers will be very upset, angry, and sad about the impending move. Honest communication and respectful listening to the TCKs’ concerns are of utmost importance.
Stage 1: Saying goodbye.
Naturally, parents want their children to be happy, but first they need to support and validate them in the sadness of goodbye. The way you say goodbye fundamentally affects the way you enter your new home. Parents need to assist children to figure out how best to exit their old home. A plan can be constructed to say farewell to friends, family, school, and (do not forget) familiar surroundings. The goodbye is important, but often is overlooked in the frantic activity involved in planning for the new home.
Stage 2: Entry and transition.
The transition stage often is chaos. The known environment has been left behind and the new home is totally strange. Many emotions, ranging from fear to excitement, swirl within the third-culture child. There are many times when he or she will feel the need to put on a brave face, especially when entering a new school. This serves a purpose, but it also masks the true feelings of isolation as the TCK is defining new boundaries, discovering where home is, finding new friends, and trying to understand the new culture. The list of change is endless. Invariably, the global nomad constantly is grappling with the question, “Who am I?”
Lesley Lewis is psychologist, coach, and trainer for Culture3Counsel Ltd., Hong Kong, CHINA. She can be reached at +2523 7370 or 2877 7191 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission of MOBILITY Magazine
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