We both considered the white button-down shirt as I held it up for inspection. It (like almost everything else in the trendy clothing store) was made out of an inexpensive grade of cotton, required daily ironing, and would undoubtedly shrink the first time it we washed it. All this for only $29.99.
“I know it’s kind of expensive, but can we get it Mom?” my sweet 17-year-old daughter pleaded.
We raised our now bilingual daughter abroad, which helped her land a great job at a nearby hospital. This was the type of shirt she needed for her position, so even though she and I usually hunt for bargains, I bought the shirt.
Our children spent their formative years in Costa Rica and have both grown into thrifty, empathetic, confident, and bilingual teenagers. They’re TCKs!
TCK: Third Culture or Trans-Cultural Kids
According to the website, TCK World:
“A TCK is an individual who, having spent a significant part of the developmental years in a culture other than that of their parents, develops a sense of relationship to both. These children…who live abroad, become ‘culture-blended’ persons who often contribute in unique and creative ways to society as a whole… A TCK can never change back into a monocultural person. Parents of TCKs can return ‘home’ to their country of origin, but the children, enriched by having shared life in their formative years with another people, will find characteristics of both cultures in their very being. Acceptance of this fact frees TCKs to be uniquely themselves. In fact, TCKs have tools to be the cultural brokers of the future.”
Our children were five and seven when we moved to Costa Rica, and we’ve found this glowing description of TCKs to be spot on.
Let me share a little of what it was like raising our children abroad:
During our first couple of months in Costa Rica, we helped our kids make the transition into the schools (where the majority of courses were taught in Spanish) by providing some language tutoring. This tutoring, combined with the daily immersion at school, helped our kids quickly become fluent in the language and flourish in their studies.
All of the schools our children attended (both private and public) did not have air conditioning – just ceiling fans in various states of disrepair. Fortunately, our kids had no memory of air-conditioned modern classrooms in the US, so they contentedly considered each day’s weather conditions (even in the jungle) as just what to expect that time of year.
Most people in Costa Rica are rarely in a hurry, so our children became incredibly patient. Like the Ticos (the preferred term for Costa Ricans), they would wait without complaint in the inescapable hour-long lines at banks, government offices, or utility companies. This was even more remarkable because cell phone use is not allowed inside of banks, even to play a game.
Instant gratification is unheard of in Costa Rica, and Ticos understand that life is rich and should be savored. It took a while for us to learn how to slow down and “smell the roses,” but our children were oblivious to the stateside stress that still occasionally impacted us, and happily embraced each day as it came.
Days unfolded slowly in Costa Rica. My friends and I visited in rocking chairs while our children played for hours in the yard. Like most kids today they enjoyed some electronic gaming, but our children were equally happy outside exploring and playing active games with their friends. The lack of malls and theaters nearby prompted imaginative play and a willingness to help in the garden and kitchen. Going to see a movie in a theater was a special treat saved for our infrequent trips to a bigger city.
Trendy clothing and gear was simply not available where we lived in Costa Rica, so our kids weren’t aware of current fads or “must-have” items like their counterparts back home. Because electronics were prohibitively expensive, we never had the latest technological gadgets, but our kids never felt deprived. They simply did not know anyone who had or used the most recent technology. What they were lucky enough to own was perfectly adequate.
Our children ate locally grown organic fruits and vegetables harvested from our garden, or readily available in town. They helped collect eggs from the neighbor’s chickens and drank fresh milk delivered by the local dairy farmer in his little pickup filled with metal milk cans. Having access to such an array of delicious fruits and veggies, our kids learned to make great food choices, often choosing a sweet and juicy mango over a candy.
Our kids shared a room in our 400-square-foot, simply furnished, two bedroom home. They spent time with friends who lived very different lifestyles. Some of their friends lived with multiple extended family members in very modest, open air, 300-square-foot homes, while others lived in spacious, air-conditioned mansions, overlooking the ocean. Regardless of where they found themselves, our kids were always comfortable and content in any environment.
During our seven years in Costa Rica, we lived in four different small towns where everyone seemed to know each other (or were often related). Ticos treat every child as their own, so we were blessed with a “village” of kind, loving, supportive “family members” who also kept an eye our children.
Once our kids got a little older, it was wonderful being able to confidently let them hop on the local bus with their friends and go down to the beach. Violent crime was practically non-existent in the communities where we lived, and news (gossip) traveled fast in our “village.” Whenever our kids were out of sight, someone would invariably be “watching“ them and later mention they’d seen them with their friends enjoying an ice cream, or walking along the beach.
Returning to the USA
We decided to move back to the US three years ago, so our kids could attend high school and college here and experience their home culture for a while. We’re confident the time spent both here and abroad will inform their decisions and give them significant advantages in the future.
Here are just a few of the benefits our children enjoy as a result of living abroad (in no particular order):
1 | Our children have befriended many kids in the large public schools they attend in the US. I believe their ability to make friends and enjoy friendships with kids in different social circles, is a direct result of growing up in Costa Rica. As bilingual TCKs, they’ve become better listeners, are more empathetic, and communicate much more confidently than many of their peers.
2 | Studies have shown that being bilingual keeps you alert and improves your listening skills. You follow social cues more closely, which helps you figure out which language to use, with which person and in what setting. By the way, it is also said to improve memory, help you multitask, solve puzzles, make decisions, and stay focused.
3 | Now that both of our TCKs have entered the workforce, their ability to speak two languages and their broad cultural exposure has given them access to more – and better – employment opportunities.
4 | Our kids now recognize, and are often turned off by, the materialistic world they now inhabit and I’m proud to report that they often search out bargains without my prompting!
5 | They are incredibly patient, and seldom flustered or fearful.
We – like thousands of other expats with well-balanced, confident, kind, bilingual, and fairly fearless children – believe the advantages of raising a TCK almost certainly outweigh the disadvantages.
My husband and I are incredibly grateful we had the opportunity to raise our children abroad. We all learned numerous impactful life-lessons while living in Costa Rica, lessons that will serve my children today and in all the days to come.