Looks like an easy question, doesn’t it? But for a Third Culture Kid (TCK) it is actually a very difficult one. Every year when a new school year starts my 12 year old daughter comes home and is very upset. She complains that she doesn’t know what to answer when someone asks her where she is coming from…… Some say she is German, because that’s where my husband and I are from and that is what her passport shows. But some say she is Japanese, because that’s the place where she is born. But she also feels very Australian, the place where she started school and made so many friends. Sometimes she says she is German, but when she is being asked where exactly in Germany she is from, she again doesn’t know what to say. She only lived in Germany for two years….. So, how can she answer this easy question?
During my training I came up with the idea to use the model of a german Communication Psychologist to tackle my daughters problem. Friedemann Schulz von Thun (Miteinander Reden3, 1999) developed the idea of an Inner Team. That means that everybody has different voices inside themselves. These internal voices are having a conversations and trying to find a solution of a certain problem. The voices are standing for the feelings or impulses someone has and should be translated into actual thoughts. To make it a little easier it is useful to name those internal voices. In my daughters case, there is “the german girl”, the “japanese girl” and the “international girl”.
Then there is a leader. The leaders task is to listen to all the internal voices, doesn’t matter how silent or loud they are. He tries to lead the team to a solution of the problem which is supported by every team member. That also means to negotiate with the team, because most of the time it is impossible to find the perfect solution. The leader can be described as the voice which expresses the feeling of the Inner Team. You wouldn’t say “We think that….” to explain what you internal voices decided you usually say: “I think that…”. This is the leaders voice carried to the outside.
To make it the whole concept easier to understand Schulz von Thun uses drawings with little pictures of the internal voices.
So, what do we do with this? First I tried to find out what voices are inside my daughter, how does her Inner Team look like. She obviously had “the German” inside her. The voice who identifies itself with her parents and their country. And then there is “the Japanese” because of the birth country and “the Australian” because of the place she loved the most. But there is also “the international girl”, the voice of the TCK living in so many different countries and loves to be with kids from different nationalities. Furthermore there is “the lost one”, the girl who doesn’t know where she is from, the one that feels a bit lost in this big world.
The leaders task is now to find a way to make every of those internal voices happy. He leads the internal conversation of all the team members. Allows them to express themselves and tries to organise the answers to find a solution of the problem which is acceptable for every member of the inner team. During this process it helps to write down the conversation of your internal voices with all its “but’s” and “if’s”.
For my daughters issue, we didn’t find the perfect solution, but we could clear the chaos of all her internal voices. For her there is not just one sentence that should be used every time someone asks her where she is from. For her it also matters who is asking. If it is just a question in a small talk conversation she could just say she is German and every team member would be happy with it. But if she talks to someone she really likes and wants to become friends with, my daughter could explain that she is born in Japan but visited schools in Australia and China and her parents are German. That she is more of an international girl with a german background. So you can see there will never be just one answer and this is a really good thing because my daughter has the choice what to say to who and can choose how much information she wants to give to someone. And since she identified all her inner team members it is not a big issue anymore to explain where she is from.