On TCKs and friendships

Do Third Culture Kids really make friends faster than regular kids? What helped me settle in when we moved?

I had a chance to chat with some TCKs about friendships. As always, such conversations and the flurry of thoughts and memories they trigger need to be digested...hence, this blog post.

"TCKs make friends quickly" or "slow cooker"?

There's a notion that TCKs, having moved around so much, learn as a survival technique how to make friends quickly.

It's probably true to an extent, although I suspect TCKs might get better at making superficial friendships quickly but keep their cores well-protected. It's that core that gets hurt and raw with each good-bye, after all.

I always found making friends the most daunting and painful part of moving, and "making friends quickly" would be the exact opposite of how I experienced my moves, from elementary school through to high school.

I'm a "slow cooker" (thanks to a fellow TCK for that expression!): I need time and the sharing of common spaces and daily experiences before I can get comfortable with people. 

And it's only now, in my 40s, that I think I've finally gotten over my dread of meeting new people and feel I can at least carry on superficial conversations even with people I don't know so well.

While it might be my personality irrespective of TCKhood, I've always felt that there's a barrier between myself and most other people. And it makes me act superficially nice with them, no matter how much I might actually and sincerely like the other person and want to be "real" with them.

...Which is the more the reason why I treasure my close friends and husband, with whom I don't feel this barrier.

(For some mysterious reason, with some people, I feel immediately comfortable. And it has nothing to do with whether they're fellow TCKs or not. Must be animal instinct 😁)

Finding my group

The absolutely worst part about US middle and high school for me was lunch time. That was when it would be painfully evident whether and where you fit.

It's really just like you might see on American TV shows: you have your tray (or lunch bag) and stand there at the edge of a big cafeteria, scoping the room out and trying to figure out with whom you could sit.

Sooooooo many social cues you have to understand in that moment! 

When you're so alone and so exposed!

Whom do you belong with? Who's your tribe? Where do you fit (if at all) in this social space?

Even now, picturing it in my head makes me feel panicky! 😂

As the new foreign kid, I felt lost without my group. I hated feeling unanchored but couldn't figure out how to join the school's well-established cliques. Most of the kids in school had been together all their lives. I had no idea how to break into such groups. (I was amazed later when other new kids would blend right in. What was the difference, I wonder? My foreignness?)

Thank goodness for ESL class—at least there I could meet with other kids from abroad, the outliers.

And once I could befriend (latch on to!) one person, we could then collect a few others like us to form our own group.

Those friends were mostly other international kids; it was rare for me to become close friends with an American kid (although I do have 2-3 American friends who are "kindred spirits" and whom I treasure to this day).

So yeah, that was my formula for surviving school: find one friend and then create a group of my own from there.

Looking back now, I think I never did fully fit into "American" life. 

You'd think I was pretty well integrated—I spoke with a purely American accent, I acted reasonably American, I could follow and make cultural jokes and references.

And I thought of myself as pretty integrated too. 

I mean, if I didn't think of myself as a reasonably American teenager, what was I? I certainly wasn't Japanese enough to qualify as being "real Japanese" (I didn't really understand how the Japanese socialized either—that was something I had to learn in my 20s).

But maybe that feeling of discomfort, the difficulty relating to the typical American kid—those were because I never lost my foreignness despite the superficial adapting.

I don't know where I'm going with this 😅 but it's interesting to reflect back and find some insights into what I thought I already understood.


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