So, you’re not a teacher, but you want your TCK (Third Culture Kid) to be able to go back to her passport country for a semester of school, university, or perhaps just the option for her to live there easily when she is an adult. One of the benefits of cross-cultural life is having perspectives from multiple backgrounds, but you’re afraid your TCK is so disconnected from her passport country that she may not be able to assimilate to her “own” country.
A big part of that is language and culture. Your TCK likely picks up her passport language from you or your spouse, but not everyone feels confident teaching their child to read, or homeschooling to ensure their child has the education their passport country requires for university. If you’re not a TCK yourself, it may surprise you how much language and culture is taught by the community you live in. There are idioms that your uncle taught you, a way of behaving in certain places that you learned by being there with other members of the community: the way one behaves in school, on public transportation, in a shop, at a funeral—these things are culturally informed and taught by the whole community with a shared culture.
This may feel overwhelming as a parent of a TCK. “How am I supposed to replace an entire community of teachers for my kid?” you may wonder. Don’t worry. You can’t. And you don’t need to. Sure, you need to be intentional about teaching language and some culture, but one of the gifts of being a TCK is having an outside view of a culture that is seen as your “own.” So, do what you can, remembering that your TCK will have different struggles and advantages because of their upbringing, and that’s okay. That said, there are some ways you can teach your TCK her passport language and culture abroad.
Here are three tips to help teach your TCK her passport language and culture:
1. Take (even small) opportunities as they arise.
When your child asks why you do something one way while all of her friends in your host country do it another way, take the opportunity to explain culture. This helps your TCK differentiate between the host culture she interacts with daily, the culture of their home, and the culture of their passport country. It can lead into a conversation that teaches your child more about the values you hold as a family.
2. Small, regular lessons are better than trying to shove a bunch of information in your kids before you visit your passport country.
Say your child is enrolled full-time in school in her host country. Fifteen minutes daily of working through some free printables from Pinterest can seem like an insignificant amount of time, but if she’s getting that manageable amount of exposure, it can really make a difference over time. This is especially true if you are intentional and strategic with what you are doing with your child in those fifteen minutes a day.
Trying to do a crash-course over the summer isn’t working with the grain of your child’s brain, and ultimately won’t yield the results you or your child want. That will just frustrate both of you. Growing slowly and steadily is always best.
Once your child is able to read in her passport language, exposing her to books (and e-books) that are classics from her passport country, or history books will allow her to grow in an understanding of that national narrative and culture.
3. Prioritize. Prioritize. Prioritize.
What are the most important goals for your TCK? Is it knowing the language their grandparents speak? Is it university opportunities in your passport country? Is it life skills in a passport country? What is the importance in ratio to the learning your child needs in your host country? That ratio should show up in the time they spend learning. If you haven’t read my blog post on helping TCKs through culture stress or in figuring out how to choose educational plans for your kids, check them out here and here, respectively.
Essentially, list your long-term goals for your child in order of importance, and put the effort in. Be prepared to sacrifice to make those most important things happen. Maybe it’s worth hiring a tutor for your TCK. Maybe it’s worth changing your educational plan to incorporate more of your child’s passport language. It may even be worth moving to a city with an international school, or sending your TCK to boarding school. Do the research to find out what’s best for your family.
Remember, it is worth the investment of time and effort of thinking strategically about your kids’ upbringing. As you’ve chosen a non-conventional lifestyle overseas, your children may require non-conventional approaches to their education. And an investment in your child’s future is never a waste.
- What are some ways you are helping your TCK learn her passport language?
- How do you find balance in your family?
- If you don’t have a TCK, what are some ways that you or your kids’ can learn more about another culture?