Preparing Your Global Nomad for Transition to University

[pullquote align=”left”]For students who have been living outside their home countries, the transition for college/university is a double adjustment.[/pullquote]Not only must they adjust to their newly found independence, but to a whole new culture as well, for even their home country will be foreign to them in many respects. This comes as quite a shock to students who regularly returned “home” to visit family and friends and thought they knew their passport country well.

Third culture kids (TCKs) or global nomads, children who have spent a significant part of their developmental years outside their parents’ passport culture, have typically lived highly mobile lives, some moving as often as every two years or more. They have crossed cultures regularly even if it was just to go from host country to home and back again. What results is a cultural imbalance and rather than being in the mainstream of any of the cultures that have influenced them, they end up in the margins of each of those cultures. This international lifestyle creates unique challenges for TCKs that often are not realized until they step out of that highly mobile third culture – the expatriate culture.

What are some of the challenges global nomads face when returning home for university?

– One day they wake up to the fact that they are different from others. This commonly takes place upon repatriation or transition for college or university when they are suddenly surrounded by those with whom there is no common or shared experience.

– While they know a lot about other places, peoples, customs and languages, they know very little about their own country and culture. They may feel estranged for not knowing pop culture, dating etiquette, and other social conventions everyone expects they should know. As a result, they often feel like misfits, unaccepted, misunderstood and alienated in the very place they call “home.”

– The transition itself is a major challenge for all first-year college students, but even more so for the global nomad who is doubly impacted by the cultural adjustment. They will experience quite an array of emotions that, while unsettling, are actually predictable and normal.

– Many TCKs arrive at university not owning the practical life skills they need to take care of themselves. On top of trying to settle in to their new surroundings, they are faced with learning simple activities of daily living such as banking, taking public transportation, doing laundry, using the postal services, driving, and others.

– The inability to connect with their domestic peers is a major concern for TCKs. They may be looked upon as arrogant or privileged when simply trying to share their life stories. Home-country peers who cannot grasp the TCK’s experiences may appear inept, immature, or even insulting as they struggle for an appropriate response to someone whose lifestyle has been beyond the scope of their imagination. It becomes an uncomfortable situation for both sides.

How can parents help prepare their students for university transition?

– Having a name for the lifestyle they have lived helps them understand that it is not them, as people, that are different but their life experiences. Introduce them to the terms “global nomad” and “third culture kid.”

– Students need to treat their home country the same way they would a foreign one. Approach it with a tourist mentality. Encourage them to attend their school’s international student orientation. They may find they have a lot in common with other internationals and may even meet up with other TCKs.

– Research has shown that people who receive training before making an international relocation have a much smoother adjustment. Understanding the stages of transition will help students anticipate and manage the change that goes with them. Look for resources that will prepare your student for the transition such as books or re-entry workshops.

– Teach your children the practical life skills they will need before they leave home. Parents need to intentionally instruct them and it’s never too early to get started.

– Lay out your expectations ahead of time – expectations concerning academics, finances, communications and behavior will reduce the number of unwanted surprises later.

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