Repatriating for tertiary education
Repatriation with older children who may be returning home to finish high school or begin their tertiary education can be more complicated. Megan Norton is the founder of Intercultural Transitions, a consultancy that specifically focuses on this life stage in a Cross Cultural Kid (CCK) or Third Culture Kid’s (TCK) life. She facilitates workshops and training for both university-bound students and their parents to process how to talk about identity, how to build community, and how to set realistic expectations in university. Megan offers some advice for repatriating kids for tertiary education:
Talk about the meaning behind sacred objects
‘Transfer cues’ or ‘sacred objects’ play an integral role in transition, and are an especially useful tool for children of all ages going through the repatriating process. Transfer cues may include special toys or even mundane objects that mean something or represent a friend or family member who is special to your child. It’s important to have conversations with children about the meanings behind objects because they may symbolise friendships or important places.
I remember one counsellor telling me that a parent was throwing out a bag of rocks her teenage daughter had collected. When the daughter saw that, she screamed, "No! My friends!" A bit concerned, the mother asked why those rocks were her daughter's "friends." The daughter explained that the rocks represented each one of her closest friends from school. Understanding this, the mother instructed her daughter to write the name of each friend on a different rock with one word to describe that friend. These objects that children hold onto represent more memories and feelings than any photo or souvenir could hold. It's important to have this continuity during repatriation or another international move.”
Find ways for holistic closure
For teenagers, closure needs to be as holistic as possible: for the body, the mind, and the soul. A teenager should have the freedom to choose how to say goodbye to friends and places.In my experience, having a ‘spa retreat’ with girlfriends has been a holistically beneficial way to process the transition phase in being surrounded by friends and in practicing self-care. Likewise, practicing different mindfulness techniques such as yoga, meditation, and relaxation podcasts, can help teenagers to intentionally reflect on the transition process. It’s also wise to explain to teenagers how communication and ties can be maintained once in the new country. Social media platforms are perfect for family members and friends to sustain globally active and interconnected lives.
The “transition from secondary school to university is one of the most challenging for an expat dependent because it’s the first move without the family unit. Without that support system, the university-bound dependent needs to build a sense of personal identity before the first day of school. Sacred objects play an important role in allowing your child to feel that they’re taking their memories and unique identity with them back to their home country.
Once back ‘home’, be prepared for the reality of being a hidden immigrant
One of the key misunderstandings CCK/TCK parents and international schools have about this transition is that it will be ‘easy’ for the CCK/TCK student since they have transitioned their entire lives.
This is an issue many repatriating TCKs face and that there’s an expectation for the university to help out with the transition. However, this is often too late. I argue that the work needs to be done in secondary school. The student needs to do intentional self-reflection and some ‘pre-thinking’ about how he/she will talk about his/her upbringing and what he/she would like to be involved with at university.
Look for a school or university with an international flavour
Finding a school or university with an international flavour is important. Growing up global then moving to a small town where no-one has travelled much can be a tough move for your child who is used to a more international environment. A university or college with an international student body will help your child find people he or she can relate to. The international aspect is important. Stephen Danilovich was born in Belarus but grew up in Canada, the US, Kazakhstan and Iraq before moving back to Canada. “My main issue is finding like-minded people!” he says, “Unavoidably these end up being other TCKs and world travellers - they all have that empathy and open-mindedness that grease the wheels for any interactions you have with them. You may not be able to talk local sports or politics with a TCK, but as a rule of thumb, they make that extra step to see your perspective - which means so much.”
International tertiary institutions will also be used to dealing with students with diverse backgrounds, although successful repatriation depends on both institutional and personal preparedness. Emerging adult CCKs/TCKs have several skillsets that should be highlighted in academic and professional conversations. First and foremost: adaptability. This skill can be applied to multiple situations and be (re)framed in different ways such as skilled at perspective-taking, has a high tolerance for ambiguity, is able to shift behaviour in different contexts. In having the understanding of skillsets and behavioural traits, a CCK/TCK teenager can demonstrate intercultural leadership skills and cross-cultural sensitivity markers. Again, this naming requires intentional reflection and the ability to develop a strong sense of personal identity.