Pack, purge, clean, book transport, organize, book appointments, see people for the last time. The last weeks before moving internationally after living somewhere for a while are a whirlwind. It’s very easy to fall into pushing forward with relentless efficiency, a bustle of activity where to-do lists get checked, shelves are made bare and suitcases groan with the weight of their contents. The problem with relentless efficiency is that it adds stress to the house and leaves less time for our children.

I find it easy to fall into thinking that moving shouldn’t cost any ‘extra’ time. People often continue to go to work as normal when they move house (well, maybe only a few days off) and I can catch myself deep down thinking that moving shouldn’t take time. Everything should be able to fit into evenings and weekends and the 9-5 should continue.

I don’t have a 9-5 right now, but still, I can feel a vague sense of guilt for the amount of time it takes to get our family ready for international travel. However the comparison I internally make between moving house within the same area isn’t a valid comparison to moving a family internationally.

I know that moving is a busy, wild time and so I chose Third Culture Kids as my book to read this month. I wanted something to help me guide Oscar, particularly through the transition. What is a third culture kid (TCK) though?

A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is [often] in relationship to others of similar background.

The book is about the challenges of growing up globally mobile, with frequent transitions; with relationships, sense of location, and sense of belonging being reset frequently.

Oscar is getting to the age now where he’s definitely going to start noticing the dislocation that comes from being neither fully British, Dutch or New Guinean.

There’s a lot in there. It’s a highly recommended read, but for now, the payoff has been the chapters on transition and things we can do to reduce unresolved grief as our world changes:

Think ahead

Movement from one place to another is very quick. It will take less than 12 hours to go from the UK to the Netherlands, but transition is the process of emotionally arriving – and that can take longer.
Whatever we’re gaining by moving, we’re also leaving something behind, and there’s grief in losing it. We want to try to work through that grief, and not just deny it or bury it for it to cause problems later.

We’ve been focussing on the farewell. How can we help our children say goodbye to the people, items, and places that have become special to them? What even is special to them? Oscar’s only 3 and has a limited vocabulary to communicate these things.

One fun idea we had to help connect our family to Bracknell was to bury some treasure. We’re not homeowners here, so next time we come back we’ll probably be staying in another home.
The local woods have always been a special place to me though and so we thought we could build a tradition there.

Buried treasure, should be deep enough. Hope a bomb robot doesn’t find it first.

We selected a small Tupperware container and filled it without drawings, photos and little treasures. Then we wrapped it up and went for a hike. We had Oscar pick a spot off the beaten path and then we buried it to be dug up in a few years when we next live here again.
We’re thinking we may spend 3-4 years in PNG for our coming term; it’s hard to imagine a 7-year-old and two 4-year-olds out for a treasure hunt, but we look forward to it!

On the theme of farewell, we’re finding it a tough task to convince Oscar to part with some of his ‘less important’ teddies. Turns out he thinks they’re all pretty important when it comes to choosing which ones should go into a storage box and which should go into a suitcase. No amount of “but you’ve not touched this one for a month” seems to sway him into letting go. We’re walking a delicate balance of luggage allowance vs emotional stability; teddies he knows and loves can be a real anchor.

She sits

There are still boxes to be moved, toilets to be cleaned, things to be returned, things to be recycled… The list is pretty long – but we’re trying to take time to creatively think of things we can be doing and traditions we can form to help with our RAFT building.
It’s almost time for T, think ahead, — not ‘how do we get to the airport’ but ‘what are we going to do in our first week in the Netherlands?’

The best tradition — pack the tools away into storage first so you can take furniture apart with household objects instead.

1 Comment

Lois S. · 26/11/2021 at 2:51 am

Thanks so much, Steve, for your honest look on the difficulties of third culture kids, (and their parents) in international transitions, and how to deal with them. I like what you said about “Whatever we’re gaining by moving, we’re also leaving something behind, and there’s grief in losing it. We want to try to work through that grief, and not just deny it or bury it for it to cause problems later.” I think it is important to realize that grief is just hard, and that that seeking an easy way to do this hard thing results in denial and future problems. I also like that you are seeking to establish the tradition of “buried treasure in the woods.” That is awesome!
We had friends (the Hansens) that would do the three point rotation between countries. It would have been great to have this resource back then. I also think about your RAFT analogy in connection with other grief. My mother seems to have a relatively short time left in this world, and those thoughts might be helpful for her and for us.

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