The emotional impact of a move abroad
At the age of seven I moved to Nigeria with my parents. Looking back, this move and the many moves that followed have had a huge impact on me as a person. I was uprooted and had to leave everything behind. On Friday I was still in The Netherlands; on Monday I was at school in Nigeria.
At the age of 15 we moved to Singapore. While living in Singapore, I was extremely unhappy. It was difficult for me to settle down and make friends. I secluded myself from everything and everyone. It was a very lonely period. A period in which I felt that no one understood me and I had no one to talk to. I blamed myself for feeling the way I did. I felt stuck in Singapore and wanted to go back to The Netherlands.
I started dieting. Now I know that the dieting was a coping mechanism not to feel and think about all the emotions I experienced. Eventually I was sent to a dietician. The dietician never asked me why I was dieting or even “how do you feel?” There was a problem with my weight, and that problem had to be solved. No one has ever looked at the underlying cause.
In my mind everything would be okay if I could return to The Netherlands. After two years I left Singapore, alone, and I went to boarding school. Once I was back in The Netherlands, I experienced the same feelings. I was still not happy and I asked myself time and time again:
Who am I? and Where do I belong?
Life is a struggle
As an adult, life was still a struggle. I was not happy and I did not know why. I decided to get help. It took me several years to finally find a therapist who understood what I had gone through. She explained to me that the largest part of my suffering was caused by being uprooted at a very young age. I suffered many losses without receiving any emotional guidance. There was even a name for children like me: ‘Third Culture Kids’ (TCK). Realising this marked the beginning of my healing process.
TCK loss and grief
Everyone who suffers a loss needs time to deal with the pain, mourn their loss and eventually accept their loss in order to move on. The loss of a TCK is less visible and therefore a TCK will be comforted less frequently. Parents might even get impatient with their child when they are not enthusiastic about the (new) move.
Third Culture Kids that look back often have mixed feelings about their life abroad. As a TCK you are either easy-going and it is easy for you to make friends or you build a wall around yourself to protect yourself from the pain of saying goodbye again and again.
Growing up in different cultures can be a gift but it can also be a curse. On the one hand it enlarges your view on the world and you learn a lot about other cultures and people. On the other hand, many (Adult) TCKs still struggle with the feeling “Where do I belong?” and “Who am I?”
Today I am a Transformation Therapist and I coach expatriates and their families prior to their move abroad. It is my goal to make people aware of the emotional impact that a move abroad can have on a family, partner and children. I also coach expatriates who struggle with their new life abroad.
In my experience, companies and parents underestimate the emotional impact a move abroad can have on their family. The decision to move is often made without consulting the children. Most children are confronted with a fait accompli. And even if a move is discussed with the children, the decision is often already made by the parents. I believe it is essential that parents, who consider moving abroad, inform their children in due time about their plans.
Children need time to process the news that they are going to move. It is important for the children to express their feelings and for parents to take these feelings seriously.
Solid emotional guidance of expatriates and their families contributes to the success of a move abroad. A move abroad does not have to be a negative experience; on the contrary! A move abroad can be an experience that will enrich you as a person and of which you can take advantage for the rest of your life. Parents need to explore the phenomenon Third Culture Kids. Only then parents can make an informed decision about moving and are they aware of the impact it might have on their family and can they act upon a possible situation.
A tree with strong roots can withstand the most violent storm, but the tree can’t grow roots just as the storm appears on the horizon. “The Art of Happiness” by Dalai Lama
By Anne-Marie Faassen
My name is Anne-Marie Faassen and I live in The Netherlands. As a Transformation Therapist I coach expatriates and their families who struggle with their new life abroad. My experience as a TCK has shaped me as a person and if I can help a child to speak out it will make a difference for me. For more information, visit my website www.cosmeacoaching.com
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