In the process of growing up we all learn basic social and cultural survival skills. The TCK often learns these skills in more unstable circumstances and sometimes in rather painful ways. They learn quickly that it is to their advantage to be a keen observer of their environment. Knowing what is going on around them and figuring out why it happening that way, is key to their survival.
There are many first-hand accounts – some comical, some more tragic – told by TCKs of learning the hard way. Through these learning experiences they know that every culture has unwritten rules which can determine whether one is accepted or rejected in a new environment, for example, going to school with either a shiny briefcase in hand or with a backpack slung over your shoulder. Equally they learn that some behaviours and actions are acceptable in some cultures but definitely not in others, where they might in fact cause offense. Conscious and unconscious mistakes in observing social rules, such as informal greetings or the way one eats, can send unwelcome messages to individuals seasoned in the new culture.
Through these experiences most TCKs have learnt that barging in is not always the best way. Standing back, observing, and collecting data on ‘how things are done around here’ is a lifesaving skill that many TCKs have the privilege to acquire. But many take this skill for granted, or are not even aware that they have it and how to actually use it. TCKs/ATCKs can often be seen using this skillset to assist and guide others in effectively managing cultural differences whether in the workplace or in more of a personal setting. On occasion these simple, yet powerful observational skills can ‘save the day’ or even ‘save the contract’.