The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition

The World of the Global Nomad

This is a preview to the chapter The World of the Global Nomad from the book The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition by Tina L. Quick.
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My first adult overseas posting could have ended in disaster if someone had not forewarned me what I could expect to experience. My husband and I were preparing to move our very young family to Peshawar, Pakistan, widely acknowledged as being quite a difficult place to live, especially for women. I did a reconnaissance trip beforehand and was not looking forward to going. Somehow in all the preparations for leaving I became excited to go and was actually looking forward to the adventure. Just before our departure, a colleague of my husband turned to me at our farewell party and said, “At just about three months, you’re going to hate it there, will get depressed, and want to come home.” I was quite taken aback and wasn’t quite sure how to respond. To tell you the truth, I was a bit ticked off. How could he possibly predict how I or any other person for that matter would feel? He had just burst my bubble of enthusiasm. Before I could think of anything to say, he took another breath and said, “But don’t worry about it. It will pass and you’ll get through it.”

Thank goodness this gentleman had the foresight to let me know I could expect this to happen because when we arrived in Pakistan, it really took some getting used to. Nothing was the same. It was an entirely different way of life for us. Everything changed from the way we had to brush our teeth, to the shopping and preparing of food, to how we were expected to dress and act in public. I could go on and on, but you get the picture.

At first, everything was so quaint and different. I enjoyed hearing the sound of horses’ hooves coming down the street pulling carriages of passengers or carts of food. I loved watching the donkey carts and rickshaws, the graceful flow of women’s burkas (an enveloping outer garment Muslim women wear to remain totally covered when going out in public) and best of all, having house help. But then after some time, I felt myself getting a little blue for no obvious reason whatsoever. I tried to pull myself out of it, but I only became even sadder. Then I remembered what the gentleman had said to me. I started counting. He was right. I had been in Peshawar for just about three months. He said this was going to happen. Of course, I didn’t believe him at the time, but here it was three months and I was experiencing exactly what he had predicted. What made it all manageable was that I also remembered that he had told me it would pass. I honestly think if I had not known that, I would have packed up my children and gone home, leaving my husband there alone.

You are most likely reading this book because you are an internationally mobile young person who is about to undergo a major life transition that involves not only a lifestyle change, but a cultural change as well. How wonderful to be your age and in your position of finishing secondary school and preparing for your launch into independent adulthood. Most adults I know would love to once more be where you are right now. You have undoubtedly had one adult or another wistfully say to you, “These will be the best four years of your life.” And they have every potential to be if you are properly prepared. You are taking the necessary steps that can lead you where you want to go and these pages will help you get there.

What is a Global Nomad/Third Culture Kid?

Some of you may have heard these interchangeable terms before and know a little or a lot about their profile. Others of you may be hearing for the first time that you have a name. Sociologists call people who grow up outside their parents’ home culture or cultures global nomads (GNs) or third culture kids (TCKs). Whatever your case may be, this book is designed for you and for this particular stage in your life because your global experiences have created benefits and challenges you can build on and grow from as you transition from life abroad back to your home country or on to another host country.

International Mobility Experiences

There are three different types of experiences relating to international mobility for attending university:
(1) Repatriating TCKs,
(2) Transitioning TCKs,
(3) International or foreign students (FS).

(1) Repatriating TCKs – If you have been living in a country other than that which is stamped on the cover of your passport and are returning to that country for college or university, you are a repatriating TCK. An American TCK by the name of Rita is such an example. Her family moved to France when she was nine years old and then to India when she was 14. Rita decided to repatriate to the U.S. to attend university after graduation from her international secondary school in India. The repatriating TCK may be returning to their passport country with or without his/her parents.

(2) Transitioning TCKs – If you have been living outside your passport country but, instead of returning to your home country, have decided to attend university in another host country, you will be a transitioning TCK. You, like Theo, the Kenyan teenager I met who had grown up in Germany and was planning to attend university in the U.K., are transitioning. Your university will most likely consider you to be an international or “foreign student” (FS) because you hold a passport from another country. This might be technically accurate but at the core you are really a “transitioning TCK.”

(3) International or foreign students – If you are a student who has grown up in your passport country and are choosing to make an international move (expatriating) for the first time as you enroll in university, you will be known as an international student. Because your passport is not from the country where you have chosen to attend university, you clearly fall into the FS category. For instance, someone who has spent their entire life in China and expatriates to study abroad is referred to as an international or foreign student. In some ways, your transition is more straight forward and clearly delineated. People in your new host country will expect you to have some adjustment issues, whereas TCKs returning “home” will have very similar issues to yours but most people will not understand. TCKs sometimes fall between the cracks because universities and TCKs themselves do not recognize that they don’t know the culture of their passport country as well those around them assume they do.

Commonality in the Experiences

While you may have different backgrounds and experiences, what you all have in common is each of you is making a cross-cultural transition for university. While most of what is discussed throughout these pages is particularly focused on GNs/TCKs who are going back to attend university in their passport culture, I invite those of you with slightly different experiences to apply the principles of each story to your own life as well. While the majority of my examples are taken from TCKs who have repatriated to the U.S, the scenarios are applicable to most any TCK returning to his or her home country.

Not Fitting In

Internationally mobile young people often grapple with certain issues that those who have been born and bred in one country may not experience, such as, “Where on earth do I belong?” This can be an especially tough question when you are supposedly returning “home.” After years of answering the question, “Where are you from?” by stating the country written on your passport, you may feel like anything but that nationality when you return. You may feel more like an “international student.” Even though she was fluent in French, Rita said she didn’t feel very French, and she certainly wasn’t very Indian, but once back in America, she didn’t feel at all American either.

The Good News

Rita’s experience is not unusual. After having lived a most interesting and rich life outside their passport culture(s), when TCKs repatriate, it takes a while to feel as if they fit into what is supposed to be their own culture. The good news is that research has shown that people who receive cross-cultural training and preparation shortly before or after their international relocation have a smoother transition (more on this in Chapter 2). This holds true for you when you repatriate, transition or expatriate for university. Knowing what to expect, appreciating that your responses are normal, and having tools and strategies for dealing with the change will keep the roadblocks and unwanted surprises to a minimum. Let’s look at such an example:

As a result of attending the Transition/Re-entry Seminar Leslie settled into her new surroundings extremely well. She says,
Leslie is now in her third year at college. She has become a counselor at her university’s International Orientation program, and is highly involved in the International Club on campus.

A Double Adjustment

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What else is in the chapter 'The World of the Global Nomad'?

Why a Cross-Cultural Childhood Matters

Some of you may be thinking about adults who move to a new culture for the first time and how difficult that is. So why don’t we make a big ...

Belonging to the Third Culture Tribe

What is the Third Culture?

People ask all the time, “What exactly is the ‘third culture’?” Social scientist Ruth Hill-Useem coined the term “third culture” in the 1950’s when she went to India for a ...

The Expanded Definition

Dave Pollock, interculturalist and founder of Interaction International (an organization dedicated to being a catalyst to help all organizations who send families with children overseas know how to do it ...

What Does it Mean to be a Third Culture Kid?

Whether you are a student, a parent, an educator or a counselor, if you have not already done so, I would highly recommend that you read Pollock and Van Reken’s ...

The Basics

If you have only now discovered that there is a vocabulary, a language, and in fact, a culture for the lifestyle you’ve been living, then what follows is, for you, ...

Cultural Confusion

Another ‘”a-ha” statement that strikes me from Pollock and Van Reken’s “purple book” is this: ...

Two Realities of Being a TCK

Pollock and Van Reken definitively state that two basic realities shape the formation of a TCK’s life: ...

Internationally Mobile Childhood: The Plus Side

I often like to ask TCKs I am working with to brainstorm about the gifts, opportunities or benefits they have gained from their international lifestyles. The obvious ones come ...

Cross-Cultural Skills

Because many TCKs have been educated alongside children of other nationalities and races, they understand that friendship extends past all traditional racial and cultural boundaries. They come to appreciate diversity ...

Observational Skills

TCKs are like cultural chameleons – they wait and watch to determine which cultural color they must turn into in order to fit in. The power of observation is a ...


Surviving chronic change can bring resilience. The typical TCK experience means repeatedly having to cope with new situations. This is one reason many TCKs actually manage the university transition better ...

Social Skills

On the one hand, TCKs can appear to be socially slow during their chameleon stage. On the other hand they can be very socially competent and confident, particularly in comparison ...

The Flip Side

At this point you may be thinking, “She’s way off target. She’s not talking about me.” Just like anyone else TCKs respond to a given situation in a variety of ...

The Emotional Toll

What follows are some of the responses TCKs have brainstormed to the question, “What are some of the down sides of a being a TCK?” ...

Arrogance – Real or Perceived

Sometimes a TCK will admit to and throw the word ‘arrogance’ into the mix. This can be real or perceived. Real arrogance is when they forget that their cross-cultural lifestyle ...

Experience versus Identity

You are a global citizen, global nomad, third culture kid who has adopted languages, customs, and belief systems of other cultures in addition to those of your home culture. They ...

TCKs as a Sub-Group

In her circuit of domestic and international speaking engagements, Ruth Van Reken was consistently having people come up to her after her talk and saying things like, “I have never ...

Changing Cultural Boundaries

Prior to World War II: ...

Cross-Cultural Kids

Lisa and others like her are what Van Reken has defined in the 2009 revised edition of Third Culture Kids as “Cross-Cultural Kids” (CCKs): “A person who has lived in ...


"I wish we had this book when my kids were trying to figure out which country to go to for..."

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