Amy Noble and Jordan Crowther are Third Culture Kids who had anything but easy transitions during their first year of college.
“I completely lost all sense of home,” Noble says about her arrival to Colorado State University.
Crowther remembers, “I was so excited to come back ‘home,’ but it turned out to be really hard.”
Noble, the daughter of two Americans, was born in Australia and moved to Northern England as a young girl. Despite having a United States passport and being raised in an American household, Noble never lived in the United States before her freshman year of college. For Noble, England is home.
I completely lost all sense of home.”
Born in Sanford, Colorado, Crowther left all he knew when he relocated to the Netherlands with his mother at age twelve. Spending seven years in the Netherlands, Crowther acclimated to Dutch culture and attended an international school where he socialized with other culturally mobile students.
I was so excited to come back ‘home,’ but it turned out to be really hard.”
Their multicultural experiences gave them strengths that are shared among most TCKs. Adaptability, independence, intercultural sensitivity and close family bonds gave Noble and Crowther a leg up over many of their mono-cultural peers.
Hardships for college TCKs
Crowther and Noble faced many of the common challenges TCKs face as they straddle culture. A sense of rootlessness, elevated insecurities and a difficulty building relationships are obstacles the two face.
Third Culture Kid Erik Vyhmeister outlines a similar experience of culture shock, a lack of connection with others and masking his differences in his Ted Talk.
Shauna DeLuca, Assistant Director of Global Co-Curricular Initiatives, states it is “super challenging for these types of students to return home.”
Super challenging for these types of students to return home.”
Before the start of the fall semester, the two dealt with similar obstacles during the administrative process.
Incompatible education systems, extensive forms and time zone differences made it extremely difficult for Noble and Crowther to complete their college applications and paperwork.
“Everything was such an ordeal. It made me second guess my choice to come to CSU,” Crowther says due to his unique circumstances.
It made me second guess my choice to come to CSU.”
Attempting to reach the university, Crowther spent hours on hold with the admissions department and was constantly transferred between staff members.
Universities provide services to domestic or international students. TCKs do not fit completely in either category. They fall somewhere in the middle of the two in an often unrecognized population of students.
Noble struggles when it comes to connecting with American culture and people. She experienced culture shock since “absolutely everything is different” between American and English culture.
Adjusting to a new culture
Nonetheless, Noble fully submerged herself in CSU and began making friends during her first semester. She attributes her well-rounded upbringing and self-awareness to allow her to relate to lots of people she meets.
Despite Noble and Crowther having the ability to make friends, a deeper connection was missing since mono-cultural individuals cannot relate to many of the aspects that define a TCK.
Being hundreds of miles, states or even oceans away from family members made them feel isolated and alone from anyone who understood their diverse upbringing.
Crowther feels stupid or “out of the know” when he misses cultural norms that all of his friends and peers have grown up with. With an American appearance and voice, others are confused when he does not understand slang or pop culture references.
With a foreign accent, Noble’s voice gives her an excuse to miss cultural cues that highlight the fact that she does not belong. When she meets someone new, answers where she is from or is caught defying cultural norms she usually pretends to be fully English for simplicity.
After receiving emails from CSU faculty members reaching out to TCK students, some of these issues were alleviated.
A community of support
In an initiative to make TCKs feel welcome and connected to the CSU community, DeLuca and Jody Donovan, Dean of Student Affairs, spearheaded the effort to meet the needs of TCKs on college campuses.
Donovan hopes to “make this invisible population more visible” at CSU by embracing their hidden diversity and bringing internationalization to the thousands of other students at CSU.
Noble “cried during the first focus group” when she realized there were others who finally understood her and could fully connect with her background. “I thought I was the only who felt like this before meeting this other group of students,” Noble says.
I thought I was the only one who felt like this.”
The new resources for TCKs at CSU “bring light to issues, not only I, but so many students face,” Crowther describes.
Now, Crowther, Noble and several other TCKs are forming a student organization where the population of global nomads can connect with one another and better serve the needs of their community.
In a globalizing world, the number of culturally fluid individuals is growing. There are over 280 million TCKs across the globe.
Lack of TCK resources at most universities
Noble’s college search was led by finding universities that complemented her diverse personal and educational experiences. Out of 14 schools considered, CSU is the only school that remotely met her needs. Still, Noble exclaims, “nobody had a clue how to help me.”
The American Foreign Service Association states “Few colleges are aware of third culture kids or have programming to support them.”
Change is as simple as starting a conversation with this hidden population.”
DeLuca came across a small handful of other American universities that offered programs to support cross-cultural students. When she contacted the institutions to learn about their efforts, all of the programs had been suspended. Lewis & Clark College, Beloit College and the University of Puget Sound are some of the universities that reached out to TCKs at one point in time.
The school is developing a fully cohesive movement to ensure a smoother transition and enjoyable college experience for those with a global perspective.
For Donovan, “Change is as simple as starting a conversation with this hidden population.” She hopes universities across the United States and the world will begin to adopt programs for TCKs.