How to Support Your Child Through Transitions: Part One

This article was written by Mrs. Linda Bloemberg, Concordia's MS Counselor. 


May 17, 1997. I distinctly remember deplaning onto the tarmac and a wave of heat and humidity stole my breath away. At that time the arrival process was very different at Noi Bai airport, but the innate ‘strangeness’ I felt may sound familiar to many of you. I had two small children (ages two and one) and a husband sick with Dengue Fever. We got dropped off in the Old Quarter and our adventure began. There are many, many stories from those early days. Ones of joy and ones of absolute frustration. There was so much that we did not know and just did not understand.

Over the years I have begun to understand that regardless of where a family lands (Vietnam or Ecuador or Holland), the process of transition is the same. Whether Hanoi is your first overseas experience or there have been too many to count, there is a transition process that both children and parents experience. Understanding these stages helps to normalize this process. 

What are the stages of transition?

1. Comfortable/Settled Stage

This describes where you are prior to your move. You feel settled, comfortable, know where you belong and how you fit in with your group of friends. Students are attending school, know their routines, have friends and are involved in their community. Adults also have predictability. They know the stores to shop at, how to travel and where to get the best cup of coffee. You know your way around and where to find things. You’re familiar with the customs and traditions of the community and life is predictable.

2. Leaving Stage

A decision is made and there is a move in the future. This could be immediate or a year in the future. Maybe it was a personal choice or maybe someone else made the choice for you. The mental preparations (and sometimes the practical) begin. You may feel initial shock. You also start to pull away from people and things. Sometimes you are not even aware you are doing it! There is a wide range of emotional responses that can include excitement, anticipation, anxiety, denial, anger, sadness and more.

3. Transit Stage  

This stage begins after you leave and arrive in your new country. It’s challenging at first but gets better as you accept and become part of your new community. It can be described as a stripping away of all that is familiar. It is a stage marked by contrasts and comparisons as we experience multiple cultures one-after-another. Some normal reactions are being more self-centered than normal; reacting out of proportion to circumstances; forgetting to take time to establish normal routines. It can also be a time of excitement and new opportunities. It is not unusual for students to struggle in their transition into a new school community and this can often be seen in their initial grades as they adapt and adjust. For some, it may be a time of confusion, loss of self-esteem, sadness and  depression. But don’t give up! 

4. Entering Stage

This begins the day we consciously decide we are going to be present in our new destination. We choose to honor the past but not live in it. Things become less chaotic and more predictable as we make the decision to engage in this new community. You’re starting to learn from others what is culturally okay and what is not in your new country. You slowly start to feel  accepted by others and are making new friends. This stage can still be marked by extremes, loving our new home one day and being overwhelmed with homesickness the next.

5. Re-Engagement Stage  

By now, you’re back to your old self once again and you’re feeling comfortable and part of the community. This may not mean that you like everything, but there is an understanding of why people do what they do. We may still have moments of feeling different or alien, but in this stage we feel settled again.

It is important to realize that these stages do not have set durations and each family member can experience them at different times and in different ways. It is possible to go back and forth between the stages as well. This is not a nice and neat process and it can be fairly messy. But, it is very important to remember that it is completely NORMAL.

Stay tuned for Part Two: All About Third Culture Kids (TCKs)

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