Location: Portland, OR
Dates: Aug 2015 – May 2016
Third culture kids (TCKs) are defined by Denizen as “people who have spent a portion of their formative years (0-18) in a culture different than their parents’.” The first culture is the parents’ culture, the second culture is the host culture, and the third culture is the amalgamation of the two cultures within the individual.
Say, for example, that there is a child born to American parents. When the child is 8 years old, the family moves to China:
- First culture: When he goes home every day, he enters an American “culture bubble.” He speaks English, celebrates American holidays, watches American TV, and follows American customs. His parents teach him American notions of what is proper, polite, and important. As he matures, he internalizes deeper aspects of American culture, such as notions of justice, courtship, religion, and social hierarchies. Is he culturally American?
- Second culture: When he goes outside, he enters a Chinese “culture bubble.” He speaks Mandarin, celebrates Chinese holidays, watches Chinese TV, and follows Chinese customs. His friends, teachers, and mentors teach him Chinese notions of what is proper, polite, and important. As he matures, he internalizes deeper aspects of Chinese culture, such as notions of social hierarchies, religion, courtship, and justice. Is he culturally Chinese?
- Third culture: The reconciliation of these two clashing cultures can take multiple forms. He could reject one culture and embrace the other, alienating one of his social circles. He could code-switch, adopting different personas depending on the cultural context. Or he could combine the two cultures, accepting and assimilating until it becomes a unique cultural identity. As Pollock and Van Reken (2009) put it, he “builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership of any.”
TCKs come with their own set of pros and cons. They may be able to speak three different languages, yet not know how to use a dishwasher. They may be able to quickly adapt to a new culture, yet be hesitant to develop deep relationships. They may have an expanded world-view, yet be confused about where their loyalties lie. When they repatriate to their passport country, it is clear that they need a support network to help them adjust and make like-minded friends.
The Lewis and Clark College TCK Program
Lewis and Clark’s TCK program was started in 1992 by Greg Caldwell, then-director of International Students and Scholars. Caldwell not only recognized the need to support TCKs already attending Lewis and Clark, but also wanted to encourage more to come. Over the years, the TCK program has grown to include a TCK Intern, an advisory board, workshops, and regular events. Some professionals regard Lewis and Clark’s TCK program as “the gold standard for TCK programs in the United States.”
At this point, I guess I should tell you that I am a TCK myself. (Surprise!) I was born in the United States, but when I was seven, my mother rather abruptly decided to teach in Kyrgyzstan. So after I finished first grade, we packed up all of our belongings, bought a new map that actually had Kyrgyzstan on it, and boarded our plane to Bishkek. From 2001-2012, my mother and I moved to five different countries, and I ended up graduating from the International School of Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia.
Needless to say, the international and TCK programs played a large role in my decision to attend Lewis and Clark. I attended International Student Orientation (ISO), lived in the multicultural dorm, and, of course, joined the TCK Club. It was nice to be around people with similar life experiences and interesting stories to tell, and by the end of freshman year, I had made many new friends.
At the beginning of sophomore year, I volunteered to help welcome the new international students at ISO. As the school year got underway, I decided to join the TCK Board and help organize events. I really enjoyed the responsibility involved, so I became the TCK Intern my senior year:
I. Publicity and Event Organization
My first task was to make sure new students knew about TCK Club and Board. I worked at ISO, welcoming new TCKs, making sure they settled in, helping them meet new friends, and raising awareness about our club. I also set up a booth at Pio Fair, an event which allowed new students to sign up for clubs. Finally, I organized our first event and invited Nancy Singleton Hachisu to come teach club members how to make healthy Japanese food.
Once the initial publicity was complete, my second task was to reassemble the TCK Board. It was important to have the TCK Board fully staffed to allow me to delegate tasks and keep my workload manageable. Many of the prior year’s board members had either graduated or were no longer committed, meaning that I needed to find replacements. I accomplished this by recruiting freshmen students I had met at ISO, at Pio Fair, and who visited our office regularly. I am proud to say that one of my recruits was last year’s TCK Intern.
Once the board was assembled, we could get to work. I set a weekly meeting time, and we began brainstorming ideas for our biweekly events. I collected these ideas, ran them by Brian White, the Director of International Students, and began to compile a schedule for the year. To make these events happen, I worked with offices on campus, delegated tasks to board members, managed reimbursements, and coordinated publicity. In retrospect, we could have done a better job with publicizing our events, as we suffered from chronically low attendance.
Some of our events included:
- Study breaks around finals
- Cross-cultural simulations
- TCK Sunday Sundae Funday
- Mocktails and Mock Tails
- Pumpkin carving on Halloween
- Farewell Dinner for international students and TCKs around graduation
- …to name a few!
II. TCK Symposium
In terms of importance, attendance, and budgeting, the TCK Symposium was our biggest event of the year. Planning began months in advance, and it was largely unsupervised because Brian was out of the country recruiting new students. I worked with the board to determine a theme, keynote speaker, and panelists. We also worked to arrange venue reservations, guest lodging reservations, event logistics, flight reimbursements, publicity, and catering.
We wanted to explore the relationship between TCKs and volunteerism, so we invited Marilyn Gardner to be our keynote speaker. Born in the U.S. and raised in Pakistan, Gardner is a nurse that has been heavily involved in humanitarian efforts during the Syrian and Iraqi conflicts. She told many stories, some funny and some sad, about how her upbringing pushed her into nursing and how that led her to refugee camps in Jordan. We also had three panelists who shared their experiences with volunteering. Our symposium was ultimately a great success, with more than 70 people in attendance.
III. Language Partners Program
While it was important for TCKs to have a sense of community, I didn’t want that to be the only defining factor of the club. Instead, I wanted to use the TCK Club as a means of providing value by bridging the gap between American and international students.
I contacted Academic English Studies (AES), the department responsible for teaching English as a second language. From my own experience, I knew that the best way to learn a foreign language was to speak with native speakers as often as possible. I pitched the idea of a language partners program, which would pair international students with native English speakers. The head of AES thought it was a good idea and agreed to help publicize it to her students. The TCK Club was responsible for publicizing it to the native speakers.
I was personally responsible for making each pair. I made an online sign-up form that specified each participant’s preferences, such as gender and meeting times. Since many of our international participants were from the Middle East, the gender preference was particularly important to ensuring the program’s success. I realized early on that everyone’s schedule was very different, so to preserve my own sanity, I made partners responsible for arranging their own meeting times. I would periodically check in, and if it wasn’t working out, participants could request a new partner assignment. Overall, more than 50 pairs were formed through the Language Partners Program.
IV. Budget Management and Solicitation
Our budget was provided by the Associated Students of Lewis and Clark (ASLC), our student government. We received a budget of $2,200, half of which was eaten up by the symposium. I was responsible for managing the budget, which meant keeping brainstorming sessions on track and making sure ideas didn’t get too expensive. I was also responsible for getting reimbursements approved, which included reminding board members to bring me their receipts, filling out forms, and giving them to the ASLC Treasury for processing.
Toward the end of the year, I solicited the following year’s budget from the ASLC. To get the same amount of money (or more!) the following year, I was advised to spend as much of the budget as possible. Considering my frugal upbringing and the fact that I was paying for this wastefulness with my tuition, this aspect of the job was honestly not my favorite.
Legacy and Conclusion
At my freshman ISO, I told all of my peers that I wanted to leave my mark on the college, and I guess this was my way of doing that. Through this role, I learned a lot about leadership, organization, and managing workloads. I maintained the role’s existing structure by directing the board and organizing social events. I also added a new aspect to the club by creating the Language Partner Program. All in all, the TCK Internship was one of my favorite jobs, mainly because I was given so much responsibility and freedom. If you would like additional information on my responsibilities, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or contact me privately.