[31 Days] Day 22 Join

It’s Day 22 of the 31 Days in the Life of a TCK series! Welcome! You can find more info on the series here.

Today I am very excited to hear from Rachel Cason, an adult TCK, in her last year of Ph.D studies on the impact of the TCK experience on identity, belonging and place. She has settled in England since her ‘re-entry’ from West Africa at 16, is divorced, a mum to a three year-old drama queen, and engaged to a vicar-to-be. We work together at Euro TCK, and it’s great fun to share TCK knowledge and jokes while planning conferences, strolling through the English countryside, or drying dishes for 100 people.:) 
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I spent a good number of my teenage years haunted by ice-breakers, and other “joining-in” games that enforced “fun”. 
For an introverted girl, worn out and intimidated by the regular meeting of new people, they were a nightmare to be avoided at all cost. 

Yet, when I returned to England at 16, after a childhood of transitioning between the mission community in West Africa and my “home” city in England, my strategy of “sitting it out” started to wear thin. 
Up until this point, furlough years in England were defined by minimal engagement with my passport peers, with me “joining in” only as much as was necessary to disguise the disinterest I had in their “parochial” lives. 
After all, we were from different worlds, and our collisions tended to feel like year-long ice-breaker scenarios, ended only by relieved goodbyes and plane journeys.

Upon arrival in England at 16 however, the return was more permanent, and no planes beckoned me towards an exit sign.


It was an English teacher who unwittingly issued the challenge to “join in”.
Chatting in class after a long dry summer, she bemoaned the death of a much loved fig tree from her garden due to the “drought”. 

At her words, and thoughtless misapplication of the word “drought”, I was rendered mute by my outrage.
Somewhere in the eye of the storm of my own emotions, a little voice whispered, “You can’t stay angry forever at people for simply not having had your experiences. If you are going to survive this, you are going to have to learn to like these people.”

I suddenly realised I had grown up appreciating the cross-cultural ability of learning to value the worldviews of people from various tribes in the Sahara, yet somehow assumed that I could dismiss the cultural worlds of middle England.


My doctoral research interviewing over 60 teenage and adult Third Culture Kids suggest that the struggle to “join in” is fairly universal. For those with highly mobile histories, investment on a local, or even national level is a challenge.
 There may even circulate the assumption that doing so would suggest stagnation; that “joining in” locally implies a loss of a global imagination and narrowing of cultural interests. 


I want to suggest, however, the restlessness and rootlessness experienced by many TCKs could be most effectively countered through local investment.
After all roots are organic, they can be developed and deepened through practise, if we only have the imagination and will to “join in”. 


How did you experience “joining in” when coming back to your passport country?

Author: Katha von Dessien

Teacher. Believer. Third Culture Kid. World Traveler. People Lover. Writer.

12 thoughts on “[31 Days] Day 22 Join”

  1. No worries, there's more info on the “TCK” page. Yes, school is definitely a place where we all need to muster up courage to join in, and it's so easy to just drop out…thanks for coming by!

  2. Definitely so true! We don't have the right to judge other people's difficulties, even though it's sometimes hard to understand…thanks for visiting, Sara!

  3. Yes, I know this feeling…I hope that I might keep things I have learned abroad and not just fall back into old comforting routines…Hope you settled back in well!

  4. I had to look up what TCK was (lol).

    I am NOT a TCK, but I still know that “joining in” difficulty well. My experience is that most middle school students feel that at some point – the not quite belonging or faking it to belong. I think you're right, though, local investment is key for all of us at whatever point in life we're passing through.

  5. While I can't relate to the concept of feeling culturally out of place (I've lived in basically the same culture my whole life), I can definitely relate to the feeling of being out of place and needing to be brave enough to overcome my fears and biases and “join in” with the group I find myself feeling out of step with. It's not an easy thing to do in any situation.

    This is the first time I have ever encountered the term “third culture kids” and it is fascinating! I have long loved learning about other cultures and languages, so this right up my alley. I am definitely going to bookmark your blog so I can come back and read the rest of your series later. Thank you for sharing this story and thanks to Rachel too!

  6. While not a TCK, I have certainly experienced living and visiting other cultures and growing up in a subculture in the US, plus living in five different regions of the US in my first 16 years). Maybe this experience explains why I don't 'join in' or 'buy in' very easily to any community. The longest I've lived-in one place is for eleven years, about 14 years into our married life. My husband's passport country is Cuba, but he left at the age of three and has lived in a variety of countries before becoming a US Citizen in 1988. Moving around a lot doesn't bother him, either, and he also takes a long time to 'join in'. We've probably passed this trait on to our children.

  7. Very interesting. This is completely out of my world experience, but I love reading blogs that open my eyes to different world views. How I can relate is that when we were foster parents, at times I would attend events with other parents and I would feel out of place and out of sorts. I was dealing with these fantastically difficult life situations and kids who had been through such tough experiences, and I would become resentful of the other parents who didn't have to deal with these things. I really like what you wrote — you can't stay angry at people simply for not having had your experiences. I've also come to learn that hard is hard is hard. Everyone has a different “hard” but it's just as difficult to them. It's judgmental to assume one type of problems is more ethically tough than another, as much as it seems to be so.

  8. When I was deployed and would go on fb I would get frustetated with people being in their own world. When I returned home I was overwhelmed by how much we have in America. It is hard to remember all the details, but it was an adjustment.

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