TCK Vocations & Career—Spotlight Interview with Among Worlds magazine

I am feeling very grateful to be featured for the Spotlight Interview in the December issue of the third culture kid magazine, Among Worlds.

In this interview, I talk about how I felt like an immigrant kid while going to an international school because I was Western by day and Asian by night. I also talk about how I engaged with the term ‘third culture kids’, as well as the importance of paying attention to not just the ‘movers’ but the ‘stayers’ too in international schools and help TCKs connect with the local place where they live.

I am in incredibly good company no less! The December issue of Among Worlds focuses on TCK Vocations & Careers with articles by many established writers, coaches, and so on in the TCK world. Some articles are practical and others heartwarming.

Some offer tips for TCKs looking to build their careers. These might be especially useful for younger TCKs who are just starting out or those who feel ‘stuck’ in their careers. See the articles by:

  • Amanda Bates of The Black Expat,
  • Michael Pollock who is the co-author of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds & Executive Director of Interaction International,
  • Tim Sandford, professional counselor & author of several books,
  • Jen Mohindra, a TCK coach

Other articles & poems in the issue touch upon our deeper longing for a vocation or ikigai (生きがい), as they say in Japanese, that expresses who we are.

  • Marilyn Gardner, public health expert & author,
  • Ute Limacher-Reibold, PhD, intercultural language consultant,
  • Rachel Hicks, writer, editor and poet,
  • Anna Oken, writer and poet

Hope you enjoy it!

Get a copy of the December issue of Among Worlds

How do we learn to belong?


The opposite of belonging is fitting in
-Brené Brown-

Belonging. It’s a simple word with a lot packed into it. Is belonging something that just is and can’t be changed: we either belong or we don’t? Or can we learn how to belong?

I’d say yes. The older I get, the more I think belonging is a verb and an ongoing process. It’s not an end point that we have to strive to arrive at.

Poster. TCKs of Asia presents an open forum: How do we learn to belong? Third Culture Stories from Asia. 'The opposite of belonging is fitting in' by Brene Brown. Date, time & registration link.

The good news is, I think ‘belonging’ is something that we can initiate.

But it needs regular maintenance.

The bad news is, we spend a lot of our time trying to look for it ‘somewhere out there’ as though we’re looking for gold that’s already in the ground somewhere. We fall into the trap of believing we’ll miraculously stumble across it one day and find it. And then we get frustrated when we don’t find it.

So, how do we learn to belong?

I’ll be sharing more about this topic with some of the folks at TCKs of Asia in December.

Come join us for the conversation!

Online
Saturday, 12 December 2020
9am New York – 3pm Lagos & Amsterdam – 10pm Singapore & Perth

Growing Up in Transit: The Politics of Belonging at an International School - book cover (Asian Third Culture Kids)


Paperback release this December!
Pre-order now and get 25% off!

Third Culture Kids & Parachute Kids: Building Their Resilience

Ever heard of ‘parachute kids’? Roughly defined, they are children who get dropped off in a foreign country—or parachuted in, so to speak—to further their education. The kids are usually middle school or high school aged but sometimes younger. Meanwhile, their parents fly back and stay in their home country.

So what does this have to do with Third Culture Kids?

To find out, join us at the special event hosted by the Families in Global Transition!

I’ll be co-hosting Third Culture Kids & Parachute Kids: Building Their Resilience with the wonderful super-coach, Sundae Bean of the popular Expat Happy Hour podcast.

And we’ll be talking to two experts with fascinating backgrounds themselves:

Dr. Jang Eun Cho is a former parachute kid and one of the few specialists in cross-cultural child and adolescent psychiatry in the United States. She initially had studied to be a surgeon and had already completed half her residency when she made a u-turn and became a psychiatrist.

Jang now runs Cultivate Psychiatry and is the Director of the Consortium at the Harvard Medical School-affiliated MGH Center for Cross Cultural Student Emotional Wellness.

Dr. Timothy Stuart is an adult TCK who is also mixed race. His father is Native American and his mother is Anglo American but he grew up in France and Germany as well as the United States.

Tim did his doctoral research on resilience and trauma at a First Nation reservation school and is now the Head of School at the International Community School of Addis Ababa. He also wrote the book, Children At Promise (you can find it here).


  • Listen to Danau’s interview with Sundae Bean on the Expat Happy Hour here.

The First Goodbye

Before the pandemic began, my nephew left for another country and I wrote a little tribute to him soon after. This is an edited version of two previous posts.


My nephew is aged two years and a bit. Sometimes he speaks little sentences, sometimes Frenchy jibberish.

When a plane flies overhead, he hears its far away howl no matter the commotion in the room. Ears perked up and eyes locked with yours—he gasps: ‘Awat? Kouki!’

Photo of a toddler at an airport looking out the window at airplanes. This is his first move and first goodbye.
My nephew looking out the window at an airport

They both mean ‘airplane’. In my nephew’s toddler language, ‘awat’ is short for pesawat and ‘kouki’ is short for hikouki. The first is in Indonesian, his parent’s language, and the second is in Japanese, his grandmother’s language

So, we pick him up and dash outside to the backyard chasing the sound.

Sometimes we see nothing, and we just wait until the howl drowns out. Sometimes we catch a glimpse of the flying steel as it goes across the sky from behind the roof to behind the clouds.

At times like this, his arm is raised high and his little finger points at the sky. Still sitting in your arms, again, he gasps: ‘Kouki!’

One day last month, he fell asleep and woke up at the airport just after daybreak in another country. He and his parents were on their way to move across the Pacific Ocean. He looked out the big windows—and oh, the delight! So many airplanes, so close to him.

Auntie wasn’t there, but I could hear him squeal from across the seas.


It’s now been a couple of weeks since my nephew left Indonesia. It broke my parents’ heart and mine. We were the ones who had been left behind, not him, but we didn’t think he’d understand.

The other day, we video called him. ‘Jiiji! Baaba! Auntie!’ squealed my nephew as he called out to his grandpa and grandma in Japanese. As for me, he calls me ‘auntie’ because the Japanese version—obachan—is one too many syllables for a two-year old.

In his broken, toddler Indonesian, he told his grandparents that he wanted to come over to their house the next day. My sister, who was sitting next to him, explained that it was too far. We agreed with her.

So, my nephew asked us to come over instead. His eyes sparkled at his own brilliant solution to the problem.

But still we told him that we couldn’t. ‘Why?’ he demanded. It was still too far, we said. We would need to take an ‘Awat’ or ‘Kouki’, we explained.

He told us to take that airplane. We explained again. My sister tried too. My brother-in-law also chimed in to help.

Then, my usually hyperactive nephew fell silent. He continued to sit there, squeezed between his mother and father, on the new sofa in the new apartment. But his eyes were on the floor. He didn’t look at the phone screen again or say another word for the rest of the call.

At two and a bit, he understood neither distance nor time. What he understood was that he was there but we were not.


You may also be interested in:

‘Why are all the local kids sitting together in the cafeteria?’ Presenting at the AIELOC Conference

The Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color (AIELOC) has joined hands with Women of Color in ELT to host a free online conference on November 14-15, 2020.

I’ll be speaking on the first day on: Why are all the local kids sitting together in the cafeteria? (Saturday, November 14 at 9:30AM New York (EST) / 3:30PM Berlin / 10:30PM Singapore & Perth.)

I’ll be speaking alongside a host of selected speakers, many of whom have been advocating for diversity in the international education sector for awhile. Among those who I know or have heard of are:

Amanda Bates who is the founder of The Black Expat and hosts The Global Chatter podcast.

Jasmine Cochran who was interviewed by the BBC in the wake of the George Floyd’s death as the news and protests began affecting students in her international school classroom. She was interviewed by Sundae Bean of the Expat Happy Hour.

Dominique Blue who is an international educator and part of the AIELOC Advisory Council. She is an advocate of diversity and has been a great supporter of TCKs of Asia and the research that I do.

Daniel Wickner who is an international educator and has been advocating for the importance of affirming students’ identities within the classroom.

To register or for more details, visit the AIELOC website. Scroll down to find the speaker bios, schedule/agenda, and session descriptions for each day.

Why are all the local kids sitting together in the cafeteria?

Saturday, November 14. 9:30AM New York (EST) / 3:30PM Berlin / 10:30PM Singapore & Perth.

In 1997, Beverly Tatum wrote that, upon seeing a group of Black students on an American campus, “The question on the tip of everyone’s tongue is ‘Why are the Black kids sitting together?’ Principals want to know, teachers want to know, White students want to know, the Black students who aren’t sitting at the table want to know.” The same was true at the international school where Danau Tanu conducted her doctoral research, except the main concern was the “local kids” of the host country and the “Korean kids.” These students were seen as “self-segregating” and “not international.” But were they really?

In this session, Danau will demonstrate how the biases and prejudices held by the administrators and educators at the international school contributed to the issue of “self segregation” on their campus. The mostly white, Anglophone teachers acted as gatekeepers for the dominant culture of the school and determined who was considered “international” and who was accused of “self-segregating.” The expectation they placed on students to assimilate into the dominant school culture acted as a crucial push factor that caused students to retreat into their language groups. Danau will also show that the high student turnover rate at schools catering to internationally mobile children can further exacerbate the formation of cliques based on race or language for students who do not fit in with the dominant school culture.

Danau’s research data is based on a yearlong participant observation conducted at an international school and over 130 in-depth, ethnographic interviews with high school students, their parents, alumni and teacher.