Always moving around, coming and going? Does that always feel good, or is it not all it’s cracked up to be?
From the outside the constant coming and going of the TCK lifestyle looks amazing and people often say “you are so lucky, I wish I had your life”. Yes, it has great benefits; exciting experiences, exposure to diverse cultures, learning new languages, new smells, new sounds, and meeting new people. But there is a flip side, as the TCK lifestyle can sometimes go hand and hand with a great sense of loss.
Every time you say goodbye – to a person, to a place, to an experience, to life as you have known it for a while – you leave behind a part of you, friends, acquaintances, memories, pets, routines, favourite foods and so on.
When the time to say goodbye is imminent you begin your ‘transition’ consciously or subconsciously.
Your coping mechanisms kick in and you start to distance yourself from everything and everyone around you, protecting yourself from the real feelings that you do not allow yourself to feel. Those staying behind mirror your behaviour, making you question “was it all really that amazing, were they true friends?”.
Instead of analysing and understanding what is happening you move to the next place leaving everyone behind – and yourself – in denial. In a new location your life begins again from scratch; new house, new cultural rules, new faces, new friends, new school, new language, new routine. It’s all new. AGAIN. It is like you are a child once more, having to learn everything from new.
Hofstede (2001) depicted the stages that an individual goes through when they enter an unfamiliar environment, in four distinct phases: euphoria (also known as honeymoon); culture shock; acculturation; and adaption (stable state). Movement through the phases depends on the individual and is not time specific.
This is tough. It challenges who you are, what you know, and your beliefs. It also challenges your self-esteem and confidence as you will probably get things wrong (or at least you think you will), nobody in your new country knows you, your accomplishments, your talents, your history, or your diverse experience. You are an outsider and a nobody. This difficult period can lead to darker places of loneliness, resentment, and anger, but remember we TCKs were looking forward to leaving and jumping to the next adventure in a new place, so expectations are also shattered.
To cope with Hofstede’s phases of adjustment, it may be beneficial to be aware of and understand the five stages of transition described by David Pollock in the 1980s: Involvement; Leaving; Transition; Entering; and Reinvolvement. If we are aware of these stages we are better equipped to deal with them; they do not pop up and surprise us and our expectations are set differently.