Tag Archives: TCK

Choose Your Friends Carefully… Building Your International Think Tank

Do your friends enable you to live a life of savvy, global do-gooding? Do they inspire you? Do they hold you accountable? Are they worth the investment of your time and energy? Do they expand your vision? We are the average of the friends that we keep in our closest circle so these are questions well worth seriously considering.

At the end of college some friends and I started what we loosely called the “Think Tank”. We had all gone to college in Michigan and for a variety of reasons, about 10 of us ended up in Southern California. We would meet once a month or so and talk over problems that we were dealing with – our points of greatest religious faith and doubt, our plans for the future and our life philosophies. The conversations were something you could literally feed off of. They were absolutely superb. I left them feeling like I could tackle anything. I remember one session lasted from 3 PM to 3 AM – with 7-10 of us sitting in the same living room for the entire conversation. It was spontaneous, high energy and enthusiastic.

Since those early post college days I have moved up to Northern California but at the wedding of one of the think tank members in Newport Beach a few weeks ago, talk of the think tank resumed. Without exception, all of the original members of the think thank are still highly motivated to do oversees service of some kind and to expand their experience of the “other”.

I love this. I can’t say how important it is for me in my life to have friends that encourage the best in me. Friends like these are almost impossible to come across and when you have them they are worth keeping.

Do your natural habits and rhythms lend themselves to maintaining these kinds of relationships? If you are a world traveler, are you allowing time zones and physical distance to come between you and your maintaining these kinds of friendships? I often am guilty of this.

As a Third Culture Kid, I am used to meeting people in some corner of the world, enjoying mutually fun times and then moving on, realizing that international relationships are hard to maintain. While this is true, it does not need to define how we live our lives.

Here’s what I suggest: a regularly held accountability session with multiple close friends. I am experimenting with this in my conversations with five people: my wife, my sister, two college buddies and a designer friend. My conversations are more than just fun (or painful when it comes to admitting that I’ve slacked in some area). They keep me on track. The accountability checks are forcing me to stay on task and to maintain an open mind and a huge appetite for more than the mundane reality strewn around in everyday life.

Another tip – don’t make it too difficulty to keep your accountability commitment with friends. And also, be easy on yourself. Adherence to super strict guidelines for conversation frequency and content tends to start off strong and then crash. Don’t make the mistake of falling into that… it’s immensely demotivating and best avoided

With that said I wish you the best of luck as you build your international network of friends and fellow adventurers. There is little than cannot be accomplished if you have the right kind of support.



Bjorn Karlman

Well-Traveled, Multilingual and Clueless –Third Culture Kids Unpacked

At a wedding near LA with TCK friends I grew up with in the Philippines
At a wedding near LA with TCK friends I grew up with in the Philippines

I can go from zero to awkward, mumbling mess in no time when Western pop culture predating the late 90s is brought up in conversation. I have no clue what to say because a lot of the time, I have never heard of the actor/singer/quirky 80s celebrity of ambiguous sexuality being discussed. It is painful. I sound American. My Northern European genes make me look like I’ve got straight-laced, Mayflower Puritanical blood.  But I grew up next to sugar cane fields and coffee plantations in the Philippines and I have never seen a single episode of Miami Vice.

Luckily I grew up with other expat kids who were just as lost. We were all Third Culture Kids (we’d grown up in a culture different from that of our parents.)  Instead of being perpetually bummed about the fact that we didn’t completely fit into any culture or country, we bonded over our oddball similarities.  The transition to adulthood has changed very little so here’s my list of TCK traits:

1) Most of us speak English better than our mother tongue and are stumped if some zealous patriot asks us to recite the words to our own national anthems.

2) Whether or not we’ve ever stepped foot on American soil, our accents are often, to one degree or another, American.

3) We are flakes when it came to growing roots anywhere.  I’ve kept in touch with a number of my fellow TCKs and a lot of them have kept moving, never staying in the same place for more than a few years.

4) TMI!  We are used to sharing a lot very quickly because growing up we knew that we didn’t have much time to make friends before we had to leave again. But there is a flipside to this. Steph Yiu on denizen-mag.com puts it well:  “once you get to know us, you might find that we keep you at bay. We’re just so used to leaving (or being left by) people who are close to us that sometimes we don’t want to form very deep relationships, for fear of losing them.”

5) We were raised watching cultures clash on a daily basis so we are OK with grey areas.  We don’t expect life to be black and white.

6) We may have been mature teenagers but for some reason, we take our time “growing up” in our 20s.  For more on that, check out this article by Ann Baker Cottrell and Ruth Hill Useem:  http://www.tckworld.com/useem/art3.html

7) We are unlikely to take jobs in government or the corporate world that involve a lot of red tape/bureaucracy.  Neither do we often follow in our parent’s footsteps professionally:  http://www.tckworld.com/useem/art5.html

If you are a TCK or if you know one well and care to add to this list I’d love to hear from you.  Post a comment.  Just don’t ask me about the Jetsons.


Bjorn Karlman