Over the years, I have engaged in serious dialogs with those who believe that identity formation is set during our developmental and adolescent years, and therefore, cannot change. I am convinced, however, that with each repatriation experience upon returning from an overseas assignment, I experienced a perceptible shift in my identity – my sense of self. Don’t get me wrong, my “core” me is still there and intact.
Having formed a core identity under fairly “normative” developmental circumstances is what makes the experiences of TCAs distinctly different from the experiences of TCKs who spend their developmental years outside of their home or primary culture. Unlike the majority of their home culture peers, TCKs find themselves having the dual challenge of simultaneously living in a host culture environment, while mastering critical life cycle stages, especially their identity formation stage. I have certainly witnessed the joys and complications that a TCK lifestyle presented my children, as they experienced changing cultural milieus during their developmental stages of adolescence and pre-adolescence.
But what about Mom and Dad? Are they possibly dealing with similar dual challenges, while attempting to settle into their new environments? Can adults who have grown up in one primary cultural world before beginning international pilgrimages for the first time as adults go through an identity metamorphosis in conjunction with having lived in a cultural environment that is different from their primary culture? As a marriage and family therapist, I cannot help but ponder the effects of swirling change that exists around and within families during these international sojourns. I think that I will revisit these ponderations in a future post. Yep, I know that I also promised to continue the discussion on added factors for TCKs who are multiracial and/or are from a minority background. I haven’t forgotten!
There were times, in my sojourn between cultures, when that I felt as though I might be going through a second adolescence, as I tried to make sense of all of the new rules, struggled to figure out the “culture codes” of our host culture, and, at times, I acknowledged that I did not know the rules. On more than one occasion, I felt afraid that I might not ever learn or “get” the rules, especially in cultures that were vastly different from my traditional world. On the other hand, I loved being overseas, experiencing the differences and being challenged regarding my own paradigms regarding worldview. Each time, I came home a little different… a little changed… more informed…. and, I believe, better off through these experiences.
Although challenging, the process of identity changes as a result of overseas assignments, can also be a time of experimenting with these changes, as I choose to have a positive outlook and mindset about these inner changes that have taken place. Once I return to my home culture and settle into my new routine, I have the opportunity to survey those internal shifts, I can choose to embrace those shifts that I perceive to be conducive to my developing more of a global citizen mindset, or I can choose to integrate new patterns of being into my daily existence. “I still take my shoes off when I enter my home.” I love that I have chosen to hold close this adopted Asian custom!! I like it even more, since I recently discovered that this is a good practice if you, like me, are allergy challenged. Apparently, in that case “taking off your shoes before entering the house is a good thing!”
In what other ways might the challenges of transition into a new culture or reintegrating into your home culture might be an opportunity to embrace the benefits that comes with your expanded view of self?