I am a TCK.
TCK stands for Third Culture Kid, a person who spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents' culture, according to American sociologist David C. Pollock.
In Japan, we call TCKs "Kikokushijo." Literally, it means "returnees from a foreign country."
I was born in Japan and moved to the U.S. before I turned a year old and moved back to Japan when I was 8.
To me, moving to Japan wasn't a return. It was a move to an unknown territory. It was a culture shock.
In Japanese schools, you take off your shoes at the "getabako" (shoe box at the entrance of the school) and change into "uwabaki" (indoor shoes). Nobody raised their hands in class. I remember I was the only one and wondered why no one else ever knew the answers. I quickly learned that standing out wasn't cool in the Japanese kids' world.
I tried to figure out things by observing what was going on around me. The only people I spoke Japanese to in the U.S. were my parents, so I used the vocabulary my parents used. Not cool in kids' world. I listened very carefully and learned the kids' language.
I was afraid to ask questions. I wanted to blend in as quickly as possible and didn't want my new Japanese classmates to know that I didn't even know the basics. I was afraid to be "not cool."
Trying to figure out by yourself will only get you so far. I learned my lesson pretty quickly.
Everyday, I would run home from school. One day, I ran home as fast as I could. I got to the front door. It was locked. I rang the doorbell. My mom opened the door a split second too late. I wet my pants. UGH! How embarrassing!!!
My mom asked me why I didn't go to the bathroom at school. My answer was very simple: I couldn't figure out where the bathroom was so I would hold it all day. I was too shy to ask.
Next day, my mom wrote a letter and asked the teacher to show me where the bathroom was. Guess where it was? It was right in front of my classroom. Duh! Right in my face. I couldn't read the sign in Japanese.
From that day, my life in school became so much better. I didn't have to worry about going to the bathroom. I could relax. I could focus on class and having fun with my friends, rather than worrying about needing to go to the bathroom. For an 8-year old, that was a big stress factor.
I learned to observe, take actions, ask questions and ask for help.
This is an 8-year-old's story, but the same things happen to adults in a different scope when they move to a new country with a different culture. Even worse, adults don't have their mom to help them out.
Adults are expected to start delivering results the day they arrive.
Are you an expat sent to a new assignment overseas?
Do you feel you are not performing as well as you want to?
Are you struggling with working with colleagues from different cultural backgrounds?
Do you face challenges managing a global team?
I can help you to perform better in intercultural environments and work more effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds, schedule a Clarity Call to discuss your challenges and how we can work together.
Nozomi Morgan, MBA, is a certified Executive Coach and the Founder and President of Michiki Morgan Worldwide LLC. Addition to coaching, she speaks and trains on leadership, career, professional development and cross-cultural business communication.