Repatriation and Identity: William E. Cross

September 25, 2009

This is the last of a three part series on different theories related to Third Culture Kids (TCKs) and repatriation. Note that these are theories, not facts. As we will see, the theories all have their own merits, but they don’t always agree.

Click here for Part I

Click here for Part II

Part III

Last week we discussed Paul Pederson model, which describes five stages of culture shock. In review, Pederson suggests culture shock begins in the honeymoon phase, when a person has yet to experience culture shock, then a “cultural incident” causes disintegration or disorientation and confusion. During the reintegration stage, the individual begins to resolve the cultural dissonance. In the autonomy stage the person develops a greater awareness of herself and others, and finally reaches the interdependent stage, which consists of a new multicultural identity.

Though based on different populations, Pederson’s theory of culture shock is reminiscent of W. E. Cross’s* theory of Black identity development, called Nigrescence. The developmental theory consists of five stages:

  1. Pre-encounter
  2. Encounter
  3. Immersion
  4. Emersion
  5. Internalization

Let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between the two theories.

Pederson’s honeymoon phase, when a person has yet to experience culture shock, correlates with the Cross’s pre-encounter stage, when an individual has yet to develop an afro-centric identity. The Pederson’s disintegration and Cross’s encounter stage both involve a sense of shock and displacement, except in Cross’s model, this encounter has a racial basis. Unlike Pederson’s model, Cross includes an immersion stage, where a person immerses herself in African American culture, attempting to “embrace” the new Black identity and destroy the older, ignorant identity. We will discuss the significance of this stage to TCKs in the next paragraph. During the emersion and internalization phase (the 4th and 5th stages), an individual learns new behaviors and adopts values characteristic with being a member of Black society but develops a sense of comfort with people from all different racial backgrounds. The emersion and internalization stages align well with Pederson’s reintegration, autonomy, and interdependent stages.

There are obvious similarities between these phases, and indeed the experiences of African American and TCK young adults, except for one key phase—the immersion stage. The omission of the immersion stage may be credited to the difficulty TCKs face in achieving immersion, since strong post-repatriation communities have not existed in the United States. (Note however, that these kinds of communities are emerging, such as Mu Kappa for Missionary Kids, Global Nomads in the Washington Area, websites such as TCKid.com and certain groups on Facebook). One could ask whether successful autonomy and interdependence (Pederson’s terms) or emersion and internalization (Cross’s terms) rely on an immersion of some sort? Does the lack of immersion opportunities make finding a balanced identity difficult for TCKs? Some in the TCK community have written about an immersion experience in an affinity group or community, for instance, joining the Asian students’ association at university.

The Problem We All Live With by Norman Rockwell

Let’s see how these stages might apply to Lisa’s (fictional) experience. This is the same story, with a few additions to fit the model.

Lisa, an American, Third Culture Kid, grows up in Egypt, Morocco and France. Her mother works for the American State Department. Like her mother, Lisa feels she represents the United States, and her mother often says, “You’re an ambassador as well!”

Lisa brings peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to school and wears Old Navy jeans on the weekends; she plays softball on the school team and friends joke about her American accent. Lisa represents the United States of America abroad.

The pre-encounter stage, when an individual has yet to develop an afro-centric identity.

Lisa can’t wait to return to the United States. Finally she won’t be the foreigner anymore! Her love of peanut butter, Old Navy and softball will be the norm, rather than the exception. No one will even notice her accent. Finally, Lisa will feel like she belongs—just as everyone fits in at home.

The encounter stage involves a sense of shock and displacement.

On the first day of school, Lisa meets her classmates. One girl says, “oh, you have such a cute accent!” Lisa lets it slide. Lisa has to fill out health forms, so she tells the nurse she is 170 centimeters tall and the nurse gives her a look. Lisa turns red, but lets it slide. After a short conversation, a boy says, “you’re kind of like a foreigner!” Lisa fights back tears and wants to go back to France.

Cross includes an immersion stage, where a person immerses herself in African American culture, attempting to “embrace” the new Black identity and destroy the older, ignorant identity.

Lisa joins the French club and becomes close to international and exchange students. She spends a lot of time online, learning about what it means to be a TCK and a global nomad. She also develops especially critical views of America and Americans; whenever an opportunity presents itself, Lisa separates herself from America.

During the emersion and internalization phase, an individual learns new behaviors and adopts values characteristic with being a member of Black society but develops a sense of comfort with people from all different racial backgrounds.

Lisa often tells people she’s a Third Culture Kid, but she begins to understand that her international background does not make her any less American, but does make her different from some of her peers. Lisa realizes she has many friends from many different cliques, and begins to explore how she is similar and different to her peers. This process can be draining, but is important to Lisa.

As Lisa learns what to expect from her friends and teachers, she begins to feel connected to her school community. She understands, respects and even cherishes both her American heritage and international experiences and actively keeps connections to both worlds.

* Cross, W. E., Jr. (1991). Shades of black: Diversity in African-American identity. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.

Advertisements

Repatriation and Identity: Craig Storti

September 11, 2009

For the next few weeks, we’ll explore three different theories related to Third Culture Kids (TCKs) and repatriation. Note that these are theories, not facts. As we will see, the theories all have their own merits, but they don’t always agree.

Part IThe Art of Crossing Cultures

Craig Storti[1] uses a model of adjustment to explain how Third Culture Kids (TCKs) reacculturate. Storti argue s that all TCKs have expectations of a culture, especially what they consider their “home culture.” However when a “cultural incident” disproves their beliefs, TCKs react in anger, fear or embarrassment, which causes withdrawal and/or analysis of the situation. Slowly, TCKs develop “culturally appropriate expectations” and approach situations with new insight.

Let’s apply this theory to a (fictional) story.

Lisa, an American Third Culture Kid, grows up in Egypt, Morocco and France. Her mother works for the American State Department. Like her mother, Lisa feels she represents the United States, and her mother often says, “You’re an ambassador as well!”

Lisa brings peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to school and wears Old Navy jeans on the weekends; she plays softball on the school team and friends joke about her American accent. Lisa represents the United States of America abroad.

Storti argues that all TCKs have expectations of a culture, especially what they consider their “home culture.”

Lisa can’t wait to return to the United States. Finally she won’t be the foreigner anymore! Her love of peanut butter, Old Navy and softball will be the norm, rather than the exception. No one will even notice her accent. Finally, Lisa will feel like she belongs—just as everyone fits in at home.

Being measured at schoolHowever when a “cultural incident” disproves their beliefs, TCKs react in anger, fear or embarrassment, which causes withdrawal and/or analysis of the situation.

On the first day of school, Lisa meets her classmates. One girl says, “oh, you have such a cute accent!” Lisa lets it slide. Lisa has to fill out health forms, so she tells the nurse she is 170 centimeters tall and the nurse gives her a look. Lisa turns red, but lets it slide. After a short conversation, a boy says, “you’re kind of like a foreigner!” Lisa fights back tears and wants to go back to France.

Slowly, TCKs develop “culturally appropriate expectations” and approach situations with new insight.

Lisa learns to gauge when her friends are interested in stories from her time abroad, and when she meets someone who doesn’t seem interested, she can usually engage them in a lively conversation about baseball. As she learns what to expect from her friends and teachers, she begins to feel connected to her school community.

Next week, we’ll look at Paul Pederson’s five stages of culture shock.


[1] Storti, C. (1990). The art of crossing cultures. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.


Handling Repatriation ~ Ideas for TCKs

August 28, 2009

Today, Boston College had an orientation specifically for Third Culture Kids (TCKs). Expatriate kids are finally getting the attention they deserve! I was delighted to give the key-note address. I presented some findings from my research on TCKs, which explores the factors that affect psychological well-being, but also some personal stories and some food for thought.

I’d like to share a few of the take-home points. These do not come from research or statistical analysis, but are ideas that I have been thinking about for a while.

Treat repatriation like an assignment ~ What would happen?Coming Home?

Third Culture Kids are great at adapting, except, it seems, when it comes to repatriation. Psychologists, sociologists and anthropologists all suggest that the heavy expectations of going “home”—only to find a place does not feel like home—can make repatriation very hard. I’ve often wondered if TCKs would fare better if they treated repatriation more like an assignment, even if only as a mental tool to deal with difficult situations. Maybe it would be easier to use the adaptation skills they learned on previous assignments to deal with the move. If a TCK expects Americans to be “foreign,” would it be as difficult to make friends? Of course, all the issues would not disappear (i.e. people might still wonder why he or she is using “lift” instead of “elevator”), but maybe a TCK would not mind quite as much.

National and Communal Identity ~ A Matter of Perspective

There are two aspects of identity that I’d like to highlight: nationality (in the sense of national identity) and a sense of belonging (communal identity). Obviously the two concepts overlap; nationalistic people are probably more likely to feel a sense of belonging to their country. For instance, during the last election, I was proud to be an American and felt a strong sense of community with Americans living in Canada. However, national and communal identity CAN be mutually exclusive.

arra_pic

Third Culture Kids may have a strained relationship with their national identity; I’ve interviewed TCKs who express feeling especially American while abroad, only to feel completely foreign in the United States. Some continue to call themselves American and really believe so, while others only call themselves American only because “it’s the easiest answer that raises the fewest questions.” Sometimes it helps to take a different perspective on national identity—some of the interviewees refer to themselves as TCKs or Global Nomads, or simply say, “I’m nationally challenged… because Americans seem to like the ‘challenged.’” They have a positive view of their background that takes into account their international experiences. A TCK’s national identity may take time to develop, and that’s okay! Chances are, their sense of national identity will be a much deeper one than most.

Regardless of their national sense of identity, TCKs can still feel a sense of belonging in their community through their religious beliefs, leisure activities or sports clubs. In this high-tech age, courtesy of Facebook and DIY websites, there are even online TCK communities. (In the past, finding a TCK community was especially difficult; after repatriation, TCKs spread out and often become invisible, or “hidden immigrants”). Finding a community, a group of people with a shared interest, can help a TCK settle in and give them a support network. The point is not to connect with other Americans or non-Americans, but to connect. At the end of the day, we are all people.

Seeking help

TCKs might need extra support, and this is nothing to be ashamed of. By the time a TCK is 19, she or he will have had more than a lifetime of experiences to absorb and process. It’s not going to be easy. More and more, counselors and advisors are becoming aware of TCK issues. TCKs should not be afraid to use counseling services offered at universities and colleges to help deal with any issues they may face.

Every person takes a unique journey… You might as well enjoy yours!

TCKs have amazing opportunities to experience the world, traveling, understanding new cultures and gaining different viewpoints, but all that can be hard to remember during difficult times. Take time to remind yourself of the good times you’ve had abroad and the benefits you’ve reaped from living a global life.

~ A special thank you to Laura Saylor and Boston College for inviting me to speak! ~