Child STAR

Robin hat Rawson SquareWhen I was seven years old, my mom left my father (and my brothers and me). That summer, I went to visit her in her new home: Nassau, Bahamas. I had already visited Nassau when I was three years old, on a cruise with my family. My mom had been told that she was going to die, so she wanted to give us a happy memory. And it was.

But she didn’t die.

And I think that made her re-evaluate things, which is why she left.


Anyway, I’m back in the Bahamas, visiting Mommy in her apartment on Jerome Avenue with giant plate-size spiders on the walls, sand in the parking lot, playing with the local neighbor kids from across the street, and having a lot of fun.

Then I come back to Missouri and begin second grade.

At Christmas, I go back to visit Mommy and she’s in a nicer apartment in a complex near Fort Montagu. She has a cat and the neighbor kids are English. I pick up their accents and start calling my mom Mummy. This time when my visit ends, Mummy asks me if I’d like to stay and go to school here. I’m having fun so I say yes!

img069I get to go to private schools instead of the public one back in Missouri, my classmates are a mixture of other foreign kids and local Bahamians, as are my teachers (Mrs. French taught French, even though she was English), the letter Z is now Zed, and Mummy has transitioned from an English pronunciation to the Bahamian Mummy.

img070We loved our life but the Bahamas was about to become independent from the British Empire, and mom was concerned about potential political unrest, so we returned to Missouri. I began fifth grade back in the same public school with the same classmates I had left behind three years earlier. I had changed, but they hadn’t. I didn’t know how to describe what happened until many years later when I accepted a job teaching English in rural Japan.


In junior high I resumed my French classes (since US public schools don’t teach foreign languages before then) and traveled with the French Club to Quebec. But I missed the excitement of experiencing a new culture from within, so I applied to be an exchange student in high school. I was accepted and sent to Brasil to live with a host family. At our pre-departure orientation we learned about culture shock when entering a new country, and counter culture shock when returning home.

AHA! That’s what had happened to me in the Bahamas! Now I get it.

When I got home from Brasil, I think I already knew I was an intercultural junkie. When I started college (two weeks behind because I had still been in South America), the work-study manager chastised me for not coming to Freshman Orientation before the semester began. When I told her I had been overseas, she immediately decided I should be assigned to the foreign language department as an English Tutor for International Students.

And so I was taking French class, confusing it with the Portuguese I had learned in Brasil, teaching English to Japanese girls, hanging out with the international student crowd, and I decided to move into the dorms so I didn’t have to drive home every night just when things were starting to get fun. And I ended up with a Thai roommate and a Thai boyfriend to boot.

During this time the college was implementing a lot of changes. They opened up a campus in Leiden and then Vienna. With everything that was going on, I decided to change my major to the new International Studies major and take advantage of studying at one of the new campuses in Europe. I had wanted to go to Leiden because it was cheaper, but Vienna had the classes I needed for my new major. This time I felt like an old pro and was ready for culture shock. Again my classmates were a mixture of foreigners and local students.


jukuAfter college, one of my Japanese students told me about another classmate who had opened an English school in his town in Japan. He was looking for a native English speaker to teach in his juku. I had met him and of course I wanted to visit Japan since I’d heard so much from my Japanese students, so I applied and he sent me a ticket! I was pretty isolated because it was rural Japan, but I learned about an American Center two hours away and I took the train to check it out. I spoke with a woman and got a copy of their Expatriate Newsletter and she invited me to their get-togethers. Expatriate? I had heard that term in Vienna, but didn’t think it applied to me. But Vienna was more cosmopolitan and had a lot of people from all over. Here in Japan it was me and LOTS of Japanese in my small town. Does that mean I’m an ‘Expat’?

AHA! That’s what I was in the Bahamas! Now I get it!


Several years after returning from Japan, I came across an article about a book written by Ruth Van Reken called Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds .

She describes what happens when children are relocated into a new culture:

Third culture kid (TCK) refers to children raised in a culture other than their parents’ (or the culture of the country given on the child’s passport, where they are legally considered native) for a significant part of their early development years]. They are exposed to a greater variety of cultural influences. For adults who have had this experience as children, another term used is adult third culture kid (ATCK).

TCKs move between cultures before they have had the opportunity to fully develop their personal and cultural identity. The first culture of such individuals refers to the culture of the country from which the parents originated, the second culture refers to the culture in which the family currently resides, and the third culture refers to the amalgamation of these two cultures. 


Ok. Third Culture Kid sure sounds like me. . .

AHA! That’s what I was in the Bahamas! Now I get it!


More recently, I’ve learned yet another term to describe what happens when experiencing a new culture. That article explained the change that takes place when people live in another culture, described here by Naomi Hattaway on her blog:

Imagine a place called Circle Country. Everyone who lives inside of its borders are Circle Citizens. The Circle Country has very specific culture, holidays, celebrations, food preferences, a language that is unique to them as well as music, education and political categories.

Let’s also talk about Square Society. Everyone who lives inside of its borders are Square Settlers. The Square Society also has the culture, holidays, celebrations, food preferences (and on and on) as the Circle Country, but they are completely different.

One day, a Circle Citizen got on a plane and flew to Square Society. That Circle landed squarely (pun intended) in the middle of the Square Settlers and their Square Culture.

He or she slowly – and seemingly unconsciously – evolves into something completely different. The transformation to a Triangle Tenant begins. Being a Triangle means you have some of your original Circle culture mixed with some of your newly adopted Square culture.

 (Excerpt from:

Tri.ang.le. Ok, like a TCK, but an adult.

AHA! That’s what I was in the Bahamas! Now I get it!


But, as I just learned last night, reading a post by Naomi on Facebook, there is yet another term to describe children who have been culture shocked/expats/TCKs/Triangles:

Interestingly enough, there is a fourth shape that enters this discussion. If a child follows his or her parents from Circle Country to Square Society, he or she will become – not a Triangle Tenant, like the adult parent, but a Star. They will be a Star with multiple points of reference when considering where they are from, what they believe in, what foods they like, and how they see the world.

They will always be Stars.

(Excerpt from:

So, now I’m a STAR?!!?

AHA! That’s what I was in the Bahamas! Now I get it!



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