During the Families in Global Transition Conference (see my previous article ‘FIGT (Part 1)’ to read more about it here), I attended Chris O’Shaughnessy’s session, “Changing our Concept of Home to Find Hope.” Ready to cover his session as a Writer in Residence, I sat down among the audience with my laptop. I was prepared to take notes but was completely unprepared for how his session would impact the way I view friendships.
Our ‘Hopeless’ Generation
Chris O’Shaughnessy spoke about the impact of social media on current friendships and the importance of vulnerability on relationship development. Using personal stories of his life abroad, O’Shaughnessy described community. He then highlighted current research that shows the decline of interdependence as the use of social media rises. “We don’t need each other as much as we used to,” he said. Although he continued to stress that social media isn’t bad, he reminded his audience that it can negatively impact the way we interact with those around us.
O’Shaughnessy stated that this current generation many times feels “hopeless” because they lack community. They have learned to create a virtual community with no vulnerability or accountability. While the need for interdependent relationships is increasing, our culture’s emphasis on independence blinds the upcoming generation from seeing it. The modern community is the number of friends on Facebook or the number of people following my tweets. Because of the superficiality of these relationships, people still feel lonely and disconnected. “If we are too scared of invading someone’s privacy and connecting,” O’Shaughnessy said, “there are no conduits for hope to flow.”
TCKs as Conduits of Hope
O’Shaughnessy then began to share how TCKs could become conduits of hope for our generation. The TCK experience has awakened within us an awareness of our need for community. Feeling displaced and lonely evokes the need and increases our ability to build interdependence. Difficult separations and unexpected losses generate within us a longing for community. TCKs know what it feels like to be the new kids. We have been uprooted from community after community. We know the pain of goodbyes. But, according to O’Shaughnessy, these challenges result in a unique gift:
“The well-adjusted TCK has the unique ability to build relationships wherever they are.”
I left O’Shaughnessy’s session, thinking critically. During my family’s transitions between Japan and America, I struggled to build community. But as I continued to reflect, I realized that I still do now…eight years later. My fear of building a new community despite language barriers and cultural differences was startling. I saw areas in my life where I was refusing to use my TCK skillset. I was choosing ‘how’ and ‘when’ I wanted to build ‘my community.’
Questions began to surface. “Am I well adjusted?” I wondered. “Can I build relationships anywhere with anyone?”
Because I currently have a strong TCK community, I wondered how we connect so deeply even though we only see each other once a twice a year. I realized that when my TCK friends come together, we are hungry for community and truly recognize our need for deep friendships. The isolation and loneliness we feel while living abroad creates within us a strong desire for face-to-face relationships. We recognize the hope that comes from building deep community because of the losses and transitions we face. Because our time together is short, we choose to openly connect on a deeper level.
This community comes from vulnerability and sharing each other’s life stories. Listening well and asking hard questions is one of the lessons I have learned while living abroad. And just as O’Shaughnessy described, my TCK community naturally connects this way.
I am beginning to see how TCKs can truly become “conduits of hope.” What comes naturally to me with other TCKs should be transferable with each new community and setting. Because I am a third culture kid, I have a different skillset. The question is my willingness. Am I willing to engage and build community in each new place? Or will fear of rejection prevent me using my skillset to connect with others?
In the end, O’Shaughnessy’s session challenged me to re-examine my own friendships, to be vulnerable, and to build community no matter where I am.