Stories > Time to Shine

3 Things I Want to Tell My Third Culture Kid University Student Friends during this COVID-19 Season. It’s Time for You to Shine.

By Megan Norton, MuKappa Guest Blogger

You know who you are, you university Third Culture Kid. Or if you don’t: you’re the uni student
who grew up in multiple countries / outside of your passport(s) country due to one or more of
your parents’ career. You most likely attended international schools and when you arrived on
campus as a freshman, you were torn between going to international student orientation or
domestic student orientation. You sweat when someone asks you “Where are you from” and you
celebrate when you find someone who “gets” that home can be defined as people, places, and
possessions. This is what I want to tell you: you’ve transitioned before and it’s time for you to
exercise those “TCK” skills to help others during this season.

1. Name and Process your Losses

This is a tough time for you. There can be a few (or many!) milestones you’re sad, upset, and
angry about missing out on this semester. Residence hall parties, sports games and
championships, club events, award ceremonies, maybe even your own graduation! You’re not
alone in naming and processing these losses. All university students around the world are
processing the layered pains of unsaid goodbyes and the loss of expectations to celebrate
together. Identify those crossed out calendar events that have left you moody. You must
acknowledge and name them in order to feel the feelings associated with grief and loss. You may
be grieving the loss of gathering, touch, recognition, and late-night study sessions. You may be
grieving the loss of independence, financial freedom, and being around a community (or
household!) your age. Name the events, feelings, people, and opportunities you’re not
experiencing now and what you’re not going to experience for the remainder of the semester.

And then process. In other words: feel all the feels! Complain, celebrate, cry, repeat. You are not
the only one grieving these things; so, find a good friend to share your grief with. And when you
do share, don’t minimize your grief or minimize their grief. Don’t judge yours or theirs. Grief
must be witnessed. Hold the space and bear witness to one another’s losses. We may have a
tendency to think, “Oh, their losses in and through this transition time are far more severe than
mine.” Know that this thinking can create a shame factor because you’re ranking or comparing
your grief. And when you feel shame in comparing, you cannot engage in empathy. David
Kessler, a grief counselor says, “The worst loss is always your loss” and so you can express
empathy to your friend and they can express empathy to you, but always deeply feel and process
your own grief. Again, let me acknowledge that this is a tough time for you!

As a TCK, a significant part of your upbringing has involved cycles of grief and loss. You have
been resilient through transitions before and you have learned and grown from them. Now may
be the time to lean into your TCK skill of sitting with grief and encouraging your classmates and
friends to do the same. Prioritize your feelings and validate each other’s feelings. Celebrate what
you’re learning in and through this time as you acknowledge, accept, and normalize the grief in
this season. It’s a tough time for everyone, everywhere as we experience collective and
individual losses. Hold space to the non-linear and organic grief of this season.

2. Find Meaning and Purpose in the Now

You do you. In other words, continue to “adult” and exercise those emerging personal leadership
skills. You may not find meaning and purpose in the grief quite yet, but it doesn’t mean you
can’t practice your “adulting” skills to get things done in and through this season.

Let’s talk academics for a hot second: You are not ahead and you are not behind. You need to do
what you need to do and be ok with that “passing” evaluation. Hold yourself accountable for
what needs to be done by the end of the semester and lean into the relationships you have with
your academic advisor, deans, professors, coaches, classmates, etc. rather than referencing the
student handbook or syllabus. The rules aren’t as appropriate or as relevant at this point while
you’re completing the semester. Lean into your academic relationships in acknowledging their
showing up for you in this season and get that assignment up on Google Classroom or
Blackboard or emailed by 11:59!

What are you dreaming about career-wise during this season? Professional sectors continue to
fluctuate, evolve, and pivot. Are you tracking what your dream job company or organization are
doing during this time? Your purpose right now is to remain aware of the challenges,
opportunities, and solutions that are being proposed, discussed, enacted, and enforced in the
sector in which you want to work. Familiarize yourself with that news and consider shifts in your
career-trajectory based on what you discover. Identify people who may agree to an informational
interview with you so that you have a first-hand understanding of what is happening in the sector
in which you want to work.

Find yourself with extra free time? This is the perfect time to engage your creative interests and
to work on sharpening your talents! This is the time for you to discover new hobbies and hidden
talents. What do you like to do? What have you always wanted to try out? Develop those skills
and then audition or submit an application or try out for a club or event next semester to
showcase your new talents in the arts, music, coding, sport, etc. of your choosing. In the
meantime, maybe show us your new found self-expression outlet on Tik Tok.

Don’t be ashamed to ask for the mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, and academic support you
need now. Be patient through this time. Give yourself grace and give others grace. And keep in
mind that as an adult, you have responsibility for your actions and decisions during this time.
Sometimes we get so hung up on looking forward to or creating extraordinary moments that we
forget about creating meaning in the ordinary ones. Be grateful for these ordinary days and create
meaningful moments in them. The meaning making is in your control.

3. Lean into and anchor your Relationships

This season is not necessarily like other relational losses you’ve had in the past. Growing up, you
may have been the “leaver” or the “stayer” in friendships; in other words: you’re the one who
left your friend group because you moved or you’re the one who stayed and your best friend(s)
moved. TCKs have a “quick release” pattern when it comes to relationships; a protective coping
mechanism developed to not feel the pain of a “lost” relationship in transition. You say goodbye
and move on. You may agree that you hesitate calling anyone a “best friend” because of the
uncertainty of how long or short you will be in each other’s social circle.

University relationships can be different in the sense that your peers may be your future work
colleagues, or a connection to your securing a dream job, or perhaps one may even become your
life-partner. They are not temporal like other relationships and friendships you may have had
growing up across countries. At the very least the relationships you have formed in university are
going to be connected with you forever on Linked In. If you haven’t already, begin to consider
how your university relationships are influencing and impacting your life and vice versa. Also!
Identify your surplus of relationships: near and far, local and global! I know this is a hard time
for you, but who can you reach out to for help and to help?

Let’s consider how you can help out your mono-cultural friends right now. They need to learn
from you in how to navigate the losses and to find creative ways to connect. This is your time to
shine and pull out that phrase, “Let me tell you about the time I was living in Accra (you fill in
the city name) and had to submit my assignments online or get up at 2am to talk to my friend in
the U.S.” This time may be an opportunity to share those TCK best practices and tips in
maintaining relationships across time, space, and distance. Your purpose may be to not engage
that “quick release” response of people and place; but rather, to engage in thoughtful connection
and gratitude for your university community.

And call your parents. Don’t text, WhatsApp, email, or DM them. Call them. (Or if they’re in the
other room, go sit with them for a minute or two). Your parents are concerned about the first two
sections you just read above. Don’t connect only when there is a problem or if you need
something. They want to know about your assignments, relationships, and feelings.

In sum: acknowledge and affirm your community. In doing so, you’re realizing your sense of
belonging and cultivating purpose and meaning through this season. You’re not isolated. People
are walking with you through this time. Some ways to acknowledge them is through email,
writing a card, and hosting a virtual party or game night. Give what you can to your
relationships, and express your gratitude when they give you what they can.

In and through these three things, I want to leave you with one more suggestion: have a practice
of gratitude. It may be difficult for you to have an attitude of or for gratitude right now in and
through the losses and relationship challenges and environment changes. But your point of view
creates your reality and if you can practice being grateful for what you’re learning in this season
and for the people who are playing witness to your grief, you are creating a perspective of
cultivating meaning, hope, and purpose in ambiguous times. Don’t flood your mind with self-
criticism or worry. Name, process, feel, and heal. And as you do so, gratitude appears. You’ve
got this, friend.