Challenges of High Mobility and Different Cultural Exposure
As just discussed, benefits of Global Nomad experiences come along with the unique challenges of spending formative years abroad.
The purpose here is not to provide an exhaustive list of all the difficulties global nomads might encounter but to raise the awareness of parents, caregivers, and other professionals working with them. This is the first step to proactively help global nomads deal with theses challenges.
Sense of rootlessness (Schaetti & Ramsey 1999)
A problem often cited as a by-product of the global nomad experience is a deep sense of rootlessness. Global nomads typically find it difficult to answer the questions "Where are you from?” “Where is home?”. Articulating an answer is an important part of a global nomad's maturation and is facilitated when we allow a broader understanding of "home." Typically, home does not exist for the global nomad as a single place; it is not a "here or there" but an "everywhere."
Unresolved grief (Schaetti & Ramsey 1999)
“Grief is often associated intimately with global nomad relationships. Parents often try to reassure their children that they will find friends in the new location and will settle down and feel at home once again. However, when these children feel sadness, they do not need the assurance of future joy but recognition of the current reality. Allowing the tears, encouraging emotional expression and providing opportunities for family members to share their hopes and fears support global nomads in releasing their grief. When grief is accepted and allowed expression, the many other emotions associated with transitions, be they joy, fear, hope, anger, or anticipation, also can be expressed.”
Another challenge described by Pascoe (2006) is that overseas experiences make global nomads feel different. They can feel physically and culturally different in their host-country but they can also feel different in their passport country when they are with children with no overseas experience. They can appear arrogant or pretentious in telling their stories or just not believed. In a desire to fit, they can on the opposite prevent themselves to say anything about their lives abroad and face loneliness and misunderstanding especially when repatriating.
Confused sense of identity(Schaetti & Ramsey 1999)
“Global nomads inevitably are influenced by cultural traditions. As such, and particularly when they return to their passport countries, they may experience themselves as "culturally marginal". They often find themselves to be "hidden immigrants" and experience themselves as "terminally unique."
As with the experience of "home," it is important that we broaden our definition of identity. Global nomads become constructive in their marginality when they recognize and understand the multiplicity of their experience and when they have the language to communicate about it.”
A key part of TCK identity formation is the experience of the “normalization” process. This can be meeting others of similar background, or being exposed to the concept TCKs. The first time they encounter the term ‘TCK’ or ‘global nomad’ is a life changing experience for many: their experiences are named and validated (Tanu 2008).
Culture shock and reverse culture shock
While adjusting to a new host country, global nomads as well as their parents will go through the different stages of culture shock (honeymoon, crisis, flight, fit) but children might experience it more deeply as they may lack the verbal skills to express their emotions and feelings (Pascoe 2006).
Repatriation adjustment is recognized to be even more difficult than the expatriation process, especially if faced during adolescence. It is often referred to as reversed culture shock.
The key to help global nomads to successfully go through reverse culture shock is to prepare them early, before leaving the host country.
What are the challenges of parenting abroad?
Anywhere, parenting is the most challenging, yet the most rewarding adventure. Although, like any other kids, TCKs need consistent and loving parenting, challenges of living and moving in different cultures will bring additional complexities for parents.
- Lack of Family Support System And Network
One of the first challenges of parenting abroad, at least initially, is the lack of usual support network of family and close friends. Besides, parents may find it difficult to open up to friends and family in the home country, expatriate life being perceived as privileged. As for the accompanying parent (most often the wife), she may also lack the emotional support of her partner, who is frequently up to new challenges and responsibilities.
Daily life issues are exacerbated in this new environment and a feeling of isolation is quite common.
- Added Layers Of Parental Responsibilities
“Parents raising global nomads, with the unique challenges, numerous transitions, and extraordinary opportunities presented by travel, must be mindful that their job carries an added layer of responsibility from day one” (Pascoe, 2006).
In the constant flow of change of global nomads’ life, the parents are the key persons who can support their kids overcome challenges and maximize the gifts of high mobility.
In taking the responsibilities to build strong family foundations, deal with transitions and losses, meet educational needs, and prepare for repatriation while enjoying the journey (Pollock & Van Reken 2009), parents can support their global nomads to embrace their difference and cherish the blessing of their cross-cultural upbringing.
Expatriate Life Challenges
Role and responsibilities of parents can be complicated by their own struggle to deal with the many challenges of their expatriate life.
In the same way their children will experience culture shock, parents will have to face the roller coaster of emotions when adjusting in a new country.
They will also have to deal with many changes: in their job for the working parent, in their status and identity for the accompanying spouse, or in their relationship as a couple.
One other challenge is to maintain a work-life balance in the hectic expatriation life-style. Often expatriates’ jobs require traveling, time and energy. Nowhere else is the interdependence of work, life and family more enhanced than it is for mobile families (Pascoe 2006).
How coaching can support parents to turn overseas experiences in a lifetime enrichment?
Away from their own support systems, embracing new parental responsibilities and facing mobility challenges, parents themselves need support while they have to provide support to their children.
Schaetti and Ramsey have written in the May 1999 issue of Mobility that “no matter the number of expatriates services on hand, it is only by choosing to engage the expatriate experience with consciousness and creativity, from the inside-out, that an expatriate family will truly maximize the potential rewards of its international sojourn”. The authors further explain that living from the “inside out” means that families distinguish their internal experience from external circumstances, recognizing that they are the creators of the former and never the victim of the latter.
Thirteen years later, this statement is still very valid in the context of the challenges faced by global nomads’ parents.
Among the many services available for expatriate parents (cross-cultural training, support groups, counseling, etc.), only coaching offers to support parents with an “inside-out” approach.
“By essence coaching honors the client as the expert in his/her life and work, and believes that every client is creative, resourceful and whole” (ICF Code of Ethics 2007).
Coaching empowers parents to find their own answers and solutions and in many ways, can support them in their overseas adventure. Some of them are explored in the next sections.
Coaching encourages consciousness and creates self-awareness
By offering resources and sharing success stories, the coach can raise mobile parents’ consciousness that their kids are now part of the “global nomad” tribe. They can invite them to learn more about the global nomads profile and the benefits and challenges of international mobility.
Conscious of “both sides of the coin” parents can pay more attention to their children’s own experience. They can choose to stop their “automatic pilot” and actively listen to their kids. Being mindful during family time, they can acknowledge and nurture benefits brought by the experience overseas, they can also recognize behavior changes and search for the underlying issues. The coach will support them to identify and implement relevant and creative strategies to address these issues.
Coaching will also encourage parents to reflect on the purpose, goals and priorities in their life abroad. It will support them to identify their family values and empower them to live by them. By creating self-awareness, coaching increases the ability to respond to situations instead of reacting, it fosters proactive parenting.
Coaching supports parents in discovering and embracing their new responsibilities
Once parents decide to move their family into cross-cultural situations, it means that they have decided to raise TCKs (Pollock & Van Reken, 2009).
The coach will support parents to explore the responsibilities coming with TCKs upbringing and find personal strategies and action plan to endorse them. Pollock and Van Reken have suggested five main areas of actions to support global nomads:
- Building strong foundations: The coach will support parents in exploring the family culture and traditions to identify routines and rituals to carry-on and create continuity despite international mobility. Parents will be encouraged to put in place empowering structures (sport, playgroups, planning, etc.) for themselves and their children
- Dealing with transitions: Transitions are recognised to be very overwhelming periods. On a practical side, planning and breaking-down “to-dos” into baby action steps will relief pressure and stress. The coach will support parents in the process of creating an action plan with timelines. He can also play the role of an accountability partner. On the emotional side, the coach will actively listen and acknowledge difficulties like fears, stress, and culture shock.... He will accompany parents in identifying and implementing strategies to overcome difficulties while growing in the process. With a positive outlook, he will encourage, support and enthuse parents to move forward. In the stressful periods of transitions, the coach will engage parents in reframing perspectives and focusing on the positive outcomes. It might be useful for the coach to be familiar with the model of the Five Emotional Stages of the transition cycle developed by Pollock (Pollock & Van Reken 2009, pp 66-73).
- Meeting education needs: parents will be encouraged to investigate the different options and make decisions in line with their values and priorities. The coach can also offer informative resources about the different educational systems specificities
- Enjoying the journey. “One of the best aspects of a TCK lifestyle is the fun it can be. Having fun in the journey is another great way to tie the many elements of a TCK’s life together into a cohesive whole that is essential for building a strong sense of identity” (Pollock and Van Reken 2009). Global nomads’ parents, in the setting of overseas living, are the main role models for their children. If they don’t enjoy their experience it will most certainly impact their children’s experience. Coaching will support parents to go through their own challenges (culture shock, work-life balance, marriage issues etc.) to remain loving and caring parents and to hold a positive attitude. Encouraging parents to shift disempowering perspectives to more empowering ones, or reframing perspectives from a different angle will definitely help parents to see the positive side of most stressful situations. Inviting parents to deal with the small day-to-day inconveniences with humor will impact their kids’ own perspectives.
- Preparing for repatriation. The key is to prepare global nomads ahead while still in the host country by acknowledging their belonging to the TCKs/global nomad tribe and allowing time to process grief of the overseas experience. Listening to parents’ fears and hopes, the coach will encourage parents to do the same with their children. He will invite parents to celebrate global nomads’ lives as cultural “tapestry” and encourage them to build on and use the cross-cultural skills they have learnt. The coach will also engage parents to think about closure and how they can walk their kids through healthy goodbyes.
Turning challenges into strengths is a blessing for the future of global nomads. Enriched by their cross-cultural upbringing, global nomads will enter with confidence adulthood as global citizens.
Coaching is an effective approach to support global nomads’ parents turning challenges into lifetime enrichment for their children.
Children’s upbringing abroad can be the most exciting and rewarding experience but also the most challenging one leaving painful memories. Whether the rewards or the challenges predominate will depend on the awareness of the parents, their commitment to their responsibilities and foremost, the support that they will have.
The coach, through an inside-out approach, an unconditional support and creative resources is an ideal partner for the journey of the global nomads’ parents.
Coaching for global nomads’ parents is an effective method and should be largely advocated and offered to mobile families in the different stages of the expatriate life cycle.
Pascoe, R., (2006). Raising Global Nomads – Parenting abroad in an on-demand world: Expatriate Press.
Pollock, D. C., (1998), in Bowers, Joyce M., ed. Raising Resilient MKs: Resources for
Caregivers, Parents, and Teachers. Colorado Springs: Association of Christian Schools International, 1998: 45-53.
Pollock, D. C., & Van Reken, R. E. (2009). Third Culture Kids: Growing Up
Among Worlds. Boston: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
Schaetti, B. F. (2000). Global Nomad Identity: Hypothesizing a Developmental Model. Ph.D. Dissertation in Intercultural Communication.
Schaetti, B. F., & Ramsey, S. J. (1999). The expatriate Family: Practicing Practical Leadership. This article was originally published in the September 1999 issue of MOBILITY, the monthly magazine of the Employee Relocation Council.
Schaetti, B. F., & Ramsey, S. J. (1999). The Global Nomad Experience, Living in Liminality. This article was originally published in the September, 1999 issue of MOBILITY, the monthly magazine of the Employee Relocation Council.
Tanu, D., (2008) Global nomads: toward a study of “Asian” Third Culture Kids - presented to the 17th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia in Melbourne 1-3 July 2008.