I am currently on the job hunt and have been thinking through some of the typical questions that get asked in interview questions, “what are your strengths and what sets you apart from others?” I had the typical answers on the tip of my tongue, I’m passionate, hardworking, and a self-starter. And I thought, most people are.
It seemed like such a generic answer. And it was. I stumbled through those key phrases and then thought about a Facebook post that I had recently written about the perks of being a part of two worlds. In my post, I shared a photo of me as a third or fourth grader passed out on an airport chair on one of our long hauls from the U.S. back to Papua New Guinea. That picture came to mind and I recognized my ability to adapt and be flexible in any situation.
#1 We are flexible and adaptable: As a third culture kid, whether you were a missionary kid, military kid, or a business kid, we had to learn how to be adaptable and flexible. Because of our parents’ profession and vocation we had to move to a new place, fit into a new school, make friends not to mention adapt to a new country and culture, and possibly learn a new language. Anyone of these things on its own would be a hard adjustment.
But it’s an integral part of my life so I never recognized the resilience it took to keep going with the flow, adjust quickly, and adapt to my new environment.
Stop, pivot, and adapt
In the professional world, things go wrong, right? It’s bound to happen. A vendor doesn’t come through, the press release you sent out has a tiny typo, or the COVID-19 pandemic forces you to work from home, and adjust your schedule drastically. This is where you as a TCK could thrive. You’re used to it. At a drop of a hat you have to stop, pivot, and adapt. As hard as loss or change is we are forced to move forward.
Don’t forget to take the time to grieve
A pitfall to being a TCK and being able to be so flexible and adaptable is not allowing yourself to slow down and sit in loss. With the constant moving and changing its easy to skip over the process of loss and grief. It’s so easy to move on to the next exciting thing, believe me, I’ve done it over and over again. Having moved around so much, lose friends and make new ones, I have always felt like its just a part of life. But it’s so important to grieve healthily.
#2 We can communicate across cultural and language barriers: Throughout my formative years, I moved back and forth from the United States to Papua New Guinea and back again. We traveled through several Asian countries and Australia on our way to our destination but I never spent more than a few days or a week in those places. As an adult, I began traveling and spending more time in places like Peru, Mexico, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Japan.
In those countries, even with language and cultural barriers, I was able to navigate the cultures and feel at home. Strange right? Not really. As a TCK, whether you grew up in one country or multiple, you learn to pick up on cultural and language cues to fit in and immerse yourself into the culture. And you learn to do it quickly. And although each country and culture is different, diverse, and unique there are underlying similarities that allow you a global citizen to relate and communicate.
I was able to connect with people I’d never met before and understand them regardless of the language that was spoken. When in Peru with my husband’s second family, even though they spoke Spanish I understood and could follow the conversation. Not because I understood the language but knew how to be with people and could engage them.
In the business world, the same principals apply. Whether it’s interacting with different people of different colors, cultures, languages, classes, or creeds or if its shifting based on industries or field or to adapt for your various audiences or stakeholders, this skill is essential.
I think communicating across cultural and language barriers is about knowing people and loving and meeting them where they are at.
One size never fits all
Although I’ve felt like I can communicate across most cultures and language barriers I have met certain people and interacted with certain cultures that don’t fit into the mold or my perception of that person or culture. And the same goes for business. We always have to leave room for growth and understanding. We have to allow our perceptions and understanding to change and adapt depending on our environment.
We can’t say we know it all, there’s always room for growth.
#3 We are open-minded: Being a TCK I have had the privilege of rubbing shoulders with people of all cultures, backgrounds, and walks of life. I have done crazy things and had amazing, fulfilling, exciting experiences. Through all these experiences I have been grateful for my ability to be open-minded about anything and everything.
It could be something as small and silly as trying a new bizarre food or being open and accepting of unconventional and innovative ideas. I can easily visualize and embrace ideas that are a little out there because I’ve had the privilege of thinking outside the box. You have to when your entire lifestyle is unconventional.
In this day and age, more people are moving and living in new places and adapting to new environments, so Millenials especially have the skill to be open-minded and accepting, but it can still be a hard concept for most people to grasp.
As a TCK being open-minded means going with the flow not just accepting “the new.” Let me define it a little more. Going with the flow doesn’t mean being chill and saying yes to everything, though I do that a lot. My husband always asks me where I want to eat. And I’ll genuinely say anything is fine. There’s meme’s out there about the girl that says that but then says no to every suggestion thrown at her. I genuinely mean that everything is fine, not because I don’t have a favorite place to eat but because I enjoy spending time with my husband and the details don’t matter.
I want to clarify that its not about being woke and accepting just because its the thing to do. Being open-minded is about meeting people where they are at and accepting them and ideas for their true value. Not the face value.
This gift comes with its downsides as well. Because I am open-minded, I can also be very easily swayed and indecisive about things that matter. In a professional setting being open-minded could be translated as passive and timid.
I am grateful to have married a very assertive and confident man, who has pushed me to stay open-minded but also be assertive about my opinions and be decisive. It’s helped me grow professionally because I can lack the assertiveness to make a decision.
Being aware of these character traits has helped me reflect and grow personally and professionally. In the past, I’ve looked at my identity specifically as a third culture kid as a hindrance to landing a job. I didn’t grow up in this area or I don’t have a ton of job experience. I didn’t realize that my upbringing can help propel and prepare me for the professional world.
Do any of these strengths and their pitfalls resonate with you? Are their others that have helped or harmed you in the professional world? Send me a message on Facebook, Instagram and via the website and share your experience.