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PPWR Reflections 2017: Does Growing Up in an Expat Majority Country Change the TCK Experience? - Mariam Ottimofiore

28 Apr 2017 4:07 PM | FIGT Blog Editor (Administrator)

The Parfitt Pascoe Writing Residency (PPWR) is a partial scholarship for the FIGT Annual Conference that encourages development of writing and blogging skills. Recipients received: free tuition for eight online learning sessions with Jo Parfitt on how to write articles for a global market and get them published; mentorship; editing support; cross-publications; ebook. 

2017 PPWR recipients: Jane Barron, Tone Delin Indrelid, Mariam Ottimofiore, and Sarah Stoner. Congratulations!

Starting today we will showcase the winners' writing and reflections on this year's conference. Next week we will be adding a writing contribution from another PPWR 2017 recipient! 

We start off with Mariam Ottimofiore. 


Does Growing Up in an Expat Majority Country Change the TCK Experience? By Mariam Ottimofiore

I recently attended the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference in The Hague, in the Netherlands, where I listened to Dr. Anne Copeland from The Interchange Institute share her fascinating research on Third Culture Kids (TCKs). The title of her talk immediately caught my attention: Do TCKs Have Unique Skills? The Childhood Experience of Being Different and Its Impact on Expatriate Living

According to Dr. Anne, the experience of “being different” came along with skills such as having an “expanded worldview”, “good observational skills” and the ability to see “two sides of a situation”. All of them are skills which serve well when TCKs transition into adulthood. I thought back to my own TCK experience of growing up with my Pakistani parents in Bahrain and the United States and couldn’t help but agree that it had prepared me for my subsequent moves as an adult. 

But her talk immediately made me ponder an important aspect of my current expat life in the Middle East:

How does growing up as a TCK in an expat majority country change the TCK experience? How does raising two TCKs in a country where they are in the majority affect their TCK experience?

Whereas my childhood experience of growing up as a TCK made me feel different, my children’s experience of growing up in Dubai does not make them feel any different. In fact, they feel just as ‘normal’ as the next person. The reason is because we are currently living in a rather unique country; a country where expats make up the majority of the population. In the United Arab Emirates, the local Emiratis make up only a small 11% of the population, whereas the expats make up majority of the 89-90% of the population. 

My TCKs are growing up in Dubai surrounded by other TCKs. They are growing up thinking it’s normal that everyone is like them, with multiple nationalities, speaking two or more languages, and with multiple homes around the world. It is the norm to ‘go home’ for their summer break, which means a different country. It is the norm for them to celebrate ‘international day’ at school, because every kid comes from a different country. It is the norm for them to grow up in a multicultural, multilingual melting pot of identities and accents. Living in an expat majority country is normalizing the TCK experience for my kids, which means that when they do return to their passport country (Germany), they will struggle to adapt to a monocultural society.

So, if they don’t feel any different, do they still develop the skills Dr. Anne mentioned in her talk? Do they still build resilience, become adaptable and foster empathy for others? What are the similarities and differences between them and the traditional TCKs who grow up in a country where they are in a minority? 

Just one of the questions FIGT has left me pondering this month. 

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Thanks Mariam for your insights and contributions to the FIGT community! 

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