Three kinds of people with whom TCKs often find friendship


In the conversations I’ve had with adult TCKs, the presence of a meaningful friend or group of friends was an important factor in smoothing out the turmoil of an intercultural transition, particularly repatriation. If the TCK did not have access to a person who could become an essential friend, the intercultural adaptation process was reported as more difficult and often longer.

Categories of friends:

Meaningful friends tended to fall into one of three categories, in the adult TCKs I have interviewed. One category is members of the TCK diaspora.  TCK researchers often comment on the instant connection and affinity TCKs feel for one another when meeting for the first time, even if their host cultures were very different. Having so many common points of reference within a group creates connection and connection breeds friendship. (Speaking personally, this was how I met my best friend in college. She was a student worker in the financial aid office of our college and saw in the database, that I had received the same missionary kid scholarship she had received. The first week of school, someone in our philosophy class had suggested we all get lunch together and my soon-to-be-best friend was in the same class as I. Over lunch, she leaned across the table to me and asked, “So you’re a missionary kid too?” If she hadn’t said, “too”, I probably would have given her a well-practiced cutting look and sharp reply, since I was in the throes of intercultural transition and hating every moment of my life at that time.  I will always be eternally grateful to her for her bravery in that moment that enabled her to look past my porcupine self and add that “too” to her question.)

Another category where TCK find meaningful friends is people from other cross-cultural backgrounds, such as international students or perhaps a migrant community from a recent host culture.  Both migrant communities are familiar with cultural transitions and may be more accepting of the TCK’s inherent cultural differences, since migrant communities are often marginalized by the majority demographic.  (Writing from a personal experience again, when I transferred to another college to finish my degree, my best friends were the international students. I have enjoyed many a homemade curry from my Sri Lankan and Indian friends, while they tutored me in physics – my high school science background was virtually nonexistent – and I edited their English papers for more academic American-sounding prose.)

The third category where TCKs find friends is mono-cultural friends (i.e. friends who don’t have a cross-cultural or TCK background) who have some sort of international interest or perspective. This may be a family member who married cross-culturally and for whom the new friend feels a particular fascination.  Or it may just be someone’s personal interest in travel, experiencing other cultures and leaning other languages.  These nascent friends may regard the TCK as a role model or an object of benign envy, “You’ve lived everywhere! I’m so jealous!” This third type of friend often gives access to other circles of potential friends for the TCKs. However, this third category of friends tends to be the most difficult ones to find because most people are not that interested in the world outside their local or immediate context.