Tips for TCKs Transitioning to University

Here are some great tips for your TCKs as they look toward transitioning to University or careers back in their passport cultures. Guest Post by International Speaker, author, and TCK Christopher O’ flamingoes, standing out, crowds, taking flight

If only there was another word for university that began with a ‘t’ – it would have made for a fantastically alliterative title…

For people who are often well acquainted with change, the move to higher education can sometimes be more challenging than expected. But there are some things you can do to help ease the process along and add the experience to your repertoire of successful transitions.

CULTURE: Bear in mind that along with shifting location, focus, and where you lay your head, you’ll be entering into a new culture. While some moves come with very obvious cultural shifts (different languages, styles of dress, etc.), often a move to higher education can be overlooked as a cultural transition. Many end up returning to their country of origin for university, or perhaps the language and other outward appearances might not be that drastically different from a culture you’re already familiar with – but don’t be fooled: it is a cultural shift. Treat it as you would a move to any other foreign country and keep your eyes and ears open to observe the language, customs, and values around you.

INTRODUCTIONS: For TCKs, the question, “Where are you from?” is sometimes an awkward one… it’s just not as straightforward an answer as people may be expecting. Do they mean where you were born? What nationality you have? Where you last lived? Where you lived the longest? Where your family lives? For some, each of those questions has a different answer. That question is going to be asked a lot as you meet new people in college… so rather than dread it, make a plan to answer succinctly. The Ten Second Response As Valérie Besanceney says in her book, B At Home, Emma Moves Again: ‘You should be able to give someone all the information they need to know within ten seconds. If they’re truly interested in the rest of your story, they’ll ask. If not, why waste more time explaining yourself?’

DETAILS: One of the ways we build and strengthen relationships is through stories. We share our story, we learn other peoples’ stories – it’s all part of knowing someone and being known. One potential struggle for TCKs is that certain details of our stories may be un-relatable or misunderstood by non-TCKs. For instance, having grown up in Europe, I was able to go skiing in the Alps relatively easily. When meeting friends in the US when I began college, I tried to join in with a group talking about their skiing escapades. I was trying to connect on the topic of skiing, but they heard the locations (Austria, Switzerland, etc.) and thought I was trying to out-do them or show off. It may be helpful to initially edit out location or other details that may sound extravagant to people who don’t know your whole story. That’s not to say you have to hide who you are, you just have to build context so that the details of your experience aren’t misconstrued and get in the way of the more important business of sharing common interests and experiences.

COMMONALITY: Speaking of common interests and experiences, don’t let the fact that you’re a TCK make you feel alienated… by others, or by your own doing. Growing up among worlds may be different than growing up in a more mono-cultural atmosphere, but you’re still a person sharing the same needs and basic wants as everyone else. It’s helpful to see ourselves and those around as pictures in need of proper zooming and cropping. If we zoom in too far on ourselves we’re alone in the picture, seeing nothing but our own uniqueness. If we zoom too far out, we’re lost in the crowd and can’t appreciate our individuality. There’s a proper balance that allows us to share the frame with others (seeing what we have in common and to share in community), and appreciate our own individuality as well. Be careful not to see yourself as so unique that you cast yourself into loneliness.

At our core, we’re all humans dressed in personality, wrapped in beliefs and values, and baked in culture.

arrivals, departures, TCKs, third culture,

Christopher O’Shaughnessy

International Speaker and author of

Arrivals, Departures and the Adventures In-Between

Available in paperback and as an eBook on Amazon and Apple’s iBooks Store.

Order his eBook from Amazon or AmazonUK.


For my review of Christopher’s book Arrivals, Departures, and Adventures In-Between, click here.

Delana H. Stewart

Read more articles on The Education Cafe for and about third culture kids.

Education, Homeschool, Gap Year

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2 thoughts on “Tips for TCKs Transitioning to University

  1. Pingback: Who Moved My Cheese? | The Education Cafe

  2. Pingback: Adventures In-Between | The Education Cafe

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