The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition

Insights and Tools

This is a preview to the chapter Insights and Tools from the book The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition by Tina L. Quick.
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Who Am I?

TCK Identity Development

Remember the story of my middle daughter, Katrina, whose first English homework assignment back in the U.S. was to write about who she was? She ended up sobbing as she stared at the blank piece of white paper in front of her. “I don’t know who I am!” she blubbered out over and over again. My heart broke as she grappled with who her international upbringing had made her.

All the time we lived overseas my children would answer the “Where are you from?” question with, “I’m American.” Now that we were back “home” America didn’t really feel like home. Switzerland felt more like home, but she couldn’t say that she was Swiss. Because TCKs build relationships with all the cultures they live in, they don’t feel they have real ownership of any. They feel more like they belong everywhere and nowhere concurrently.

When I read Dr. Barbara Schaetti’s addendum, “A Most Excellent Journey” to Robin Pascoe’s book, Raising Global Nomads, I felt like the light bulb finally turned on in my brain. I got it! Up until three years ago when reading Dave Pollock’s and Ruth Van Reken’s Third Culture Kids book I had been one of those people who suffered from what Dr. Schaetti explains as “terminal uniqueness syndrome.” I knew I was different but couldn’t understand why.

I was so struck with Dr. Schaetti’s TCK identity development model (adapted in part from William E. Cross Jr.’s seminal research on identity development), I feel compelled to share it with every TCK and ATCK I meet. It is so profound and yet the concept is so simple, I feel that every TCK needs to hear and understand it in order to grow from the third culture experience and appreciate the person they are because of it.

(Dr. Schaetti’s work, including Phoenix Rising, A Question of Cultural Identity can be found online at

Dr. Schaetti defines the term ‘identity’ as “simply the sense of who each of us is.” The development of identity is “the search for congruence in our sense of who we are.” In layman’s terms we could say it is achieving harmony in who we believe ourselves to be. She explains, and I summarize very briefly, that you, as any human being, are trying to sort out who you think you are as compared to who you thought you once were, and you compare that to what others believe you are and what you strive to become. In order to accomplish this, you are constantly exploring different groupings and deciding your relationship to those groups. As you go through life, things happen that bring particular groups and your place in them to your conscious awareness. For instance, early in life you may discover that you are a female but you don’t consciously consider that it is a part of the gender grouping; you are light-skinned but you don’t consider the race grouping; or you are Christian but you don’t consider the religion grouping.

As you move through life, your attention is brought to more and more different groupings and over the course of months or even years you explore your relationship to those groupings. This begins in earnest in mid to late adolescence. Understanding your relationship within and among many different groupings that come into your conscious awareness gives meaning to who you know yourself to be.

The TCK Identity Development Model

I was recently speaking with Carla, a bi-cultural ATCK who had spent the first seven years of her life living in Peru. Her mother was an American and her father was an Italian who was born and raised in Peru. He spent one year of his life as a small child living in his father’s hometown in Italy learning the language. While I was telling her about Dr. Schaetti’s TCK Identity Development model she said, “I remember what it was like when I went through each of those stages as you were describing them to me.” I asked her if I could use her story to help bring this model to life for you.

As an aside, Carla mentioned that she mostly looks like her mother, who is Irish and that is the one side of her that she has not yet fully explored. She says, “I’ve realized that generally when I’m in Peru, I’m American; in Italy, I’m Peruvian; in America I’m Italian and this is mostly because my husband is from Florence and I have maintained that connection with language and culture.”

We will follow Carla on her identity development as we look at the five stages of Dr. Schaetti’s TCK Identity Development Model:
1) Pre-encounter
2) Encounter
3) Exploration
4) Integration
5) Recycling


Pre-encounter is the stage before the most profound, identity-shaking Encounter stage. Schaetti explains that in this stage TCKs are just living their incredible but usual international, cross-cultural, highly mobile lives, not understanding how that lifestyle is shaping who they are.

At some level they may already sense that they are a little different from friends and relatives who stay in one country all their lives. It becomes normal to be different. They really don’t know any other way to be.

For Carla, Pre-encounter was going on in Peru. She was living in a bi-cultural home in a country that was neither that of her father or her mother. She had extended family there with her and she most likely did not appreciate that this was a somewhat unusual way to live for most Americans or Italians.


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What else is in the chapter 'Insights and Tools'?


Once TCKs realize they are different they naturally go into a period of Exploration to try to understand why. They get their hands on books like Pollock and Van Reken’s, ...


Identity Exploration can go on for months or years, as in Carla’s subsequent trips to Peru and Italy. Once TCKs understand who they are and how their international life experience ...


Global nomads will often have another Encounter experience, probably not as intense as the first one but an awakening that will once again lead to self-reflection. They will engage in ...

Knowing the Language Helps

As a result of her research and conversations, Dr. Schaetti found that people who had relatively easy identity Encounter experiences related to growing up globally were introduced to the ...

Third Culture Person Reacculturation Tool

Dr. Rachel Timmons, Associate Professor of Education at California Baptist University has developed a tool I give out to every student who attends my “Transitioning Successfully for University” seminar. Ever ...

The Purpose

Dr. Timmons explains that there are three reasons why an international such as you should make use of a transition rubric: ...

The Tool

On the following page is a small sampling I have pieced together from Dr. Timmons’ reacculturation rubric to give you an idea of its usefulness. It in no form reflects ...

How to Use It

The rubric is best utilized over a period of time, allowing for growth and development as time goes on rather than as a one-time application. I tell students to take ...

Challenging the Fossils

A rubric helps shed light on where you might be stuck. If you see an area where you might not be moving ahead in the transition process from one culture ...


"This wonderful book appears six months too late, as my TCK son has recently gone to university and he and..."

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