The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition

Relationships - Past, Present, and Future

This is a preview to the chapter Relationships - Past, Present, and Future from the book The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition by Tina L. Quick.
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In almost any discussion with TCKs the subject of relationships comes up over and over again. It is a feature on chat room discussions at as well as in any casual or formal TCK get-togethers. Relationships are an important part of our lives. We thrive on the sense of belonging which results from connecting and interacting with others. Understanding some of the issues that surround TCK relationships will shed some light on why it is such a hot topic.

Bows in a Box

The above analogy was given to me by a bi-national TCK who was born in and spent her lifetime in her father’s passport country but was attending college in the country of her mother’s passport, very near to where her maternal grandparents lived. She left behind a lot of history including a serious relationship she chose to end before leaving. She was struggling in her ability to move ahead and get settled in her new surroundings.

I have a life motto I have learned to live by through all of my family’s transitions that I would regularly share with others and remind my children of: “If you are not having fun, it’s your own darn fault.” One hard-liner TCK makes her own rendition of it by saying, “If you’re not settling in, it’s your own fault.” While she is trying to say that you are responsible for making the adjustment and that it is necessary to take some risks to do it, she also concedes to the fact that there may be certain barriers to settling in. One of those barriers is the strong ties mentioned above, particularly if there is a romantic relationship you have left back home. If part of your heart is still at home, it is difficult to truly want to belong in this new place.

These two students are not saying you have to sever all ties to your past; just be aware of how you can continue to cherish them while moving forward rather than living in the past, i.e. tie them in a bow, place them in a box, and keep them with you. It is possible to make new friends without being disloyal to your old friends. Hopefully, they are all doing the same thing wherever they are now. When you come together you will continue to have that unique relationship that belongs to the history you have shared in your host country.

Long Distance Relationships

While there is no easy way to handle romantic relationships that you do not want to release, there are ways to move forward while staying connected to your shared past. A Lebanese student at a U.S. university shares his personal story:
Maintaining a long distance relationship is never easy, but perhaps even less so in college and university. After all, this is the time of life when you are expected to experience new things, grow, experiment and have fun. Regardless of how committed you both may feel, it still takes an extraordinary amount of energy and steadfastness to deal with the issues of jealousy, trust and intimacy that will undoubtedly surface.

Have Some Guidelines

Other students who have been in similar situations suggest that you and your boyfriend or girlfriend work out the rules for the relationship before you leave for college.
  • How often will you call each other? And who will initiate which calls?
  • When is it off-limits to call? For instance, calling every half hour on a Friday night isn’t going to build trust. It just breeds suspicion and insecurity if your partner doesn’t pick up the phone.
  • Be honest with each other. If you are going to be out on the weekend when you would normally speak to each other, tell your partner ahead of time.
  • Talk about how you will stay exclusive and still meet and interact with other people.
  • Think about how you can create an active social life while remaining faithful to your boyfriend or girlfriend. One way to do that is to socialize in groups rather than one-on-one.
  • Have an accountability partner with whom you can talk over problems and temptations. It is best to have someone of the same sex to serve in this role as accountability partners tend to become close friends which could be very threatening to your original boyfriend-girlfriend relationship.

If It Doesn’t Work Out

If you or your partner finds that, despite all efforts to the contrary, an attraction to another person has developed, don’t be too hard on yourself. If you’ve given it your best shot, let it die a natural death. After some time and more distance, the two of you may find that you will be able to remain good friends down the road.

Superficiality of Home-Country Peers

‘Shallow’ is a word TCKs use with regularity when speaking about their home-country peers. They find their peers are difficult to get to know, appear to be immature and may even be considered boring as we heard from Jennifer in Chapter 1. Just as people who have never lived abroad have difficulty understanding you because they have no frame of reference for you, the same could be said for you not having a frame of reference for them.

The Transient Community

TCKs grow up in highly mobile, transient communities where people come and go all the time. They learn to make friendships quickly. They have to. They never know when they may lose their best friend…again. So when there is a new kid at school, other children reach out to them, broadening their circle of friends in case a few get relocated on the way to graduation. As a result, TCKs tend to be very welcoming people. Students entering international schools often speak of how warmly they were greeted and how quickly they felt a part of the community.

TCKs Relate Differently

TCKs innately delve into deeper levels of relating to each other so they can quickly determine if there may be a connection with this new person. Unlike less traveled home-country peers, who historically have time to wait and see if there is a connection, TCKs don’t have a lot of time. It’s not surprising the student newspaper of my daughters’ international school is called Carpe Diem (seize the day).
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What else is in the chapter 'Relationships - Past, Present, and Future'?

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Interacting Successfully

Using Facetious Humor

Home-country peers tend to use facetious humor to get to know you. They really are not trying to be disrespectful or ignorant when they say things like, “So did you ...

More Alike Than You Think

What is important to remember when dealing with home-country peers is that in many respects they are just like you or anyone else. You have more in common than you ...

Meet Them Half-Way

Keep in mind that, through no fault of their own, students really can be geographically ignorant. Many students in the U.S. never have a world geography course, so they truly ...

Listen to Their Stories Too

Just as home-country peers need to understand you in order to accept you, you need to make an effort to understand them. Be genuinely interested in other people’s lives. Listen ...

Give It Time

It may take time to build relationships with home-country peers. Try not to judge them as they could very well turn out be your best friends later on. This is ...

Wrong Impressions

A word of caution must be inserted in this subject of finding friends. Because TCKs appear more worldly, mature for their years, refined, cultured and intelligent, they sometimes find that ...

Social Acceptance

Everyone worries whether they will be liked or not. Those first few weeks at college or university will be fraught with concerns like, “Am I talking too much or too ...

Finding Friends

Looking into the semester abroad student’s journal during her Entering stage reveals that she has discovered what it takes to be socially acceptable and how to look for the good ...

Limitless Possibilities

The possibilities for finding friends on your college or university campus are inexhaustible. Friendships may be forged by being involved in sports, clubs, theater or singing groups, community service projects, ...

Orientation Opportunities

Your first opportunity to make friends quickly will be at orientation activities. At new student orientation, everyone is on equal footing. Most first-year students will know few or no other ...

International Orientation

When I speak to students at international schools, I highly encourage them to attend International Orientation. Some of you will be tempted to say that you are an American, Canadian, ...

Outdoor Orientation Programs

More and more schools are offering outdoor orientation programs such as the one my daughters went through which took them hiking, canoeing or rock climbing for four days in the ...

Groups and Clubs

There will be literally hundreds of activities, groups and clubs you can join to find people with similar interests. Chances are that if you have a hobby or favorite past ...

Finding Other Internationals

Another way TCKs can find people they have something in common with is to join the international clubs and activities on campus. These are great places to find people who ...

The International Bubble

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Maintaining Identity

Sometimes TCKs feel like they have to change who they are in order to fit in and find friends. Whether it was real or perceived, Brent certainly felt pressure from ...

To Thine Own Self Be True

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Share Your Experiences

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Finding Belonging

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TCK Communities

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Online Communities

Online communities like are growing by the day. There are many out there. You just need to know where to look. TCKs come from many backgrounds depending on the ...


"Tina Quick's initiative and book is a brilliant revelation of the phenomena of Third Culture Kids and their many challenges..."

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