Families in Global Transition Conference

March 11, 2010

This past weekend, Liz and Laila attended the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) Conference in Houston, Texas. The conference is arguably the best watering hole for expatriate families, Third Culture Kids, sending agencies (whether they be oil companies or the navy), service providers (like ourselves and researchers to get together and discuss the latest and greatest in world of Global Nomads.

We gave a few presentations, sharing our knowledge and expertise with the wider audience. We also attended several sessions on education and schooling: educating ourselves about the latest trends in distance learning, talking to families about their particular concerns in schooling, and discussing education with teacher and counselors from around the world.

Speaking of expertise, did you know…

with over a decade of experience, School Choice International

has helped 2,700 families place 4,500 children in schools,

for over 300 companies in 46 countries worldwide.

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Repatriation and Identity: Paul Pederson

September 18, 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.

Click here for Part I

Part II

Last week we discussed Storti’s model, which describes three basic phases of adjustment after repatriation: the “expectation of the home culture,” a “cultural incident” and developing “culturally appropriate expectations.” Paul Pederson[i] expands Storti’s model by describing five stages of culture shock. (Most scholars call culture shock upon repatriation reverse culture shock, however the Pederson’s model still captures many of the nuances of the experience). According to Pederson, 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 (reminiscent of Storti’s “culturally appropriate expectations”). 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.

Girl at Mirror

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.

Culture shock begins in the honeymoon phase, when a person has yet to experience culture shock.

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.

A “cultural incident” (much like Storti’s) causes disintegration or disorientation and confusion.

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.

During the reintegration stage, the individual begins to resolve the cultural dissonance (reminiscent of Storti’s “culturally appropriate expectations”).

Lisa learns to gage 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.

In the autonomy stage the person develops a greater awareness of him or herself and others.

Lisa 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.

Finally reaches the interdependent stage, which consists of a new multicultural identity.

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.

Next week we will explore W. E. Cross’s theory of Nigrescence.


[i] Pederson, P. (1995). The five stages of culture shock: Critical incidents around the world. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.