Life Story: Moving Towards a Settled Self
Dra. Rachel Cason is a missionary ATCK (Adult Third Culture Kid) born and raised in West Africa, who relocated to England – where she is now settled – when she was 16. Her PhD thesis, ‘Third Culture Kids: Migration Narratives on Belonging, Identity and Place’, based on in-depth interviews with TCK’s between 15 and 73 years from different backgrounds and countries, was submitted to Keele University in Staffordshire, UK.
At the FIGT 2016 Conference Rachel presented the results of her study, explaining how it led her to dig deeper into the TCK’s notion of identity, exploring the intersection between place and belonging through in-depth life story interviews. “Places challenge us”, Rachel says, “we are increasingly international, but we all live local lives. We have a lot to give to locals”.
Rachel’s study had two basic goals:
- To “give voice” to TCK’s, exploring their experiences in their own words, thus overcoming superficial profiling and stereotyping.
- To analyse the long term impact of those experiences on the notions of belonging, identity and place.
Place as a Resource
According to Rachel, the concept of place is especially underexamined in TCK research. Her findings show that “TCK’s develop a relationship to Place that is embedded but transitory, which can prevent them from finding Settledness in adult life.” Rachel’s research proposes that TCK’s may be understood as ‘elite vagrants’, meaning that “they frequently seek constant movement throughout adulthood”. This movement is more due to an internal compulsion than lack of financial resources like in the case of immigrants and refugees, for example.
However, Rachel points out that “Place represents resource as well as challenge”, and can be used to ground one’s life story. “Identity props such as language, food, local relationships may be employed to increase connectedness between the fragmented elements of a TCK’s history,” she explains. One the most important things we can learn from this study is that “Place has the potential to ground our histories and offer coherence to the present, thus facilitating greater Settledness of Self.”
The Life Story Project
Rachel’s research led her to create the Life Story project, “an online service that uses life story interviews as a therapeutic tool, particularly suited to expatriates and ATCK’s.” This technique can be seen as a compliment to traditional counselling, offering “empathy and expertise in understanding the highly mobile life and its cultural context,” she writes. Method based and collaborative, life story work isn’t focused on traumatic or painful events, but on the individual’s history as a whole. This enables the person to avoid re traumatisation and engage in positive change, envisioning “the benefit of the story yet to come”.
Explore Life Story:
Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere: Insights into Counseling the Globally Mobile, by Lois J. Bushong
Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress, Mary Edwards Wertsch
The Worlds Within – An Anthology of TCK Art and Writing: Young, Global and Between Cultures, Edited by Eva László-Herbert and Jo Parfitt
Writing Out of Limbo: International Childhoods, Global Nomads and Third Culture Kids, Edited by Gene H. Bell-Villada and Nina Sichel with Faith Eidse and Elaine Neil Orr