Admitting the Third Culture Kid

Ellen MahoneyArticlesLeave a Comment

Considerations for Admissions Officers at International Schools and Beyond

According to the late sociologist, David Pollock, a Third Culture Kid (TCK) is “a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experiences, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of a similar background.” With admission officers often being the first point of contact for new students, they have a unique opportunity to shape the adjustment experience of TCKs. So what can admissions officers do to especially support TCKs?

High mobility and unresolved grief
Some TCKs move around quite a bit. Others might only have a couple of moves under their belt, but may have attended schools or belonged to communities where a lot of families moved away from them. Either way, it is highly likely that the student in front of you has experienced a higher rate of mobility than the average child. All of this moving creates positive and negative impacts. Positively, students that are constantly negotiating new cultures may develop creativity, open-mindedness and flexibility. However, the multitude of goodbyes, if not properly managed by the adults around them, can lead to unresolved grief, transition fatigue and learned avoidance of peer relationships.
Admissions officers have the opportunity to learn how the family is coping with these challenges right from the beginning and can refer the student to counselors, mentors or
teachers in order to provide the support the student may need. Additionally, high mobility has been shown to have a negative impact on learning in particular. If an admissions officer sees that the student is struggling with unresolved grief they can alert teachers of this in order to providing extra learning support.

The power of relationships
Every admissions officer knows that relationships are critical to the work that they do. For schools with large numbers of TCKs, relationships can be tricky yet arguably even more important. As mentioned above, some students might be averse to starting new relationships because they know they will have to inevitably say goodbye again. Some students don’t get the practice of conflict resolution, trust and emotional intimacy that comes with lifelong friendships. Admissions officers can start everyone off on the right foot by demonstrating that it is safe to develop relationships in this school, that the community is trustworthy and can relate to you.

Admissions can’t do it alone.
These strategies, of course, only work if all members of the school community are playing a role in supporting the transitions of the student body. In fact, in order to create a safe community for TCKs, parents, teachers, administration and students all have to play a role in taking care of themselves and each other throughout the constant coming and going of international school life. Admissions officers can serve as excellent advocates for developing comprehensive transitions support programming within a school so that students, staff and families have the tools they need to say healthy goodbyes, grieve when they need to, develop trusting, intimate relationships and leave the school, when the time comes, in a stronger, healthier place.

This article was originally featured in The International Ideas Bulletin, the publication of choice for admissions professionals in international schools.

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