Episode 113: Understanding and Ministering to Third Culture Kids with Kathy Gross and Teresa Rowland, part 3

In this third part of our conversation about Third Culture Kids, we discuss some more of the challenges and benefits of raising children overseas.

Our Guests: Kathy Gross and Teresa Rowland

Kathy Gross

Kathy (left) with our friend Priscilla (right) having fun playing tourist in China.

Kathy has taught in international schools in Taiwan and China for over 20 years.

Teresa Rowland

Teresa grew up as a missionary kid in Colombia, South America, and then served as a missionary in Venezuela. She and her husband Bill currently serve in Oklahoma where Bill is the Director of Missions for the North Canadian Baptist Association of Churches..

Recommended Books for TCK’s:



Welcome to “Books that Spark,” a podcast for parents and caregivers, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion, leading to teachable moments with our kids. Today is the third episode in our discussion of third culture kids or globally mobile kids, and I’m excited to continue the conversation with my best friends, Teresa and Kathy. So I hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion. And at the end of this episode, I want to share some books with you. I’ve had them listed in the show notes these last two weeks, and they’ll be there again this week, but I want to go over each of the books and kind of just talk about who they’re for and what audience they speak to and how they can bless you and help you. But let’s jump right in to some more conversation about what it’s like with kids growing up overseas and how we can prepare them and help them as they transition back and forth between another culture and their home culture. Teresa and Kathy, thank you again for joining us today.


I would like to mention the observation that I’ve made over time, that very often the parents will feel guilty that they’ve taken their kids to a harder place to live. Then they try to make up for it by trying to smooth out their life a little bit too much and apologizing, maybe not in words, but in their actions. And sometimes that can be a problem for the kids. And other times kids are having a hard time, and they’re trying to protect their parents from knowing what they’re going through.


Oh, that’s a good point.


And so they keep their hard times to themselves. And at some point they have to deal with it, or it just overwhelms them. There are so many good aspects about living overseas, but there are some difficulties too. And the parents, they shouldn’t maybe apologize for giving their kids the adventure; I mean, they can sympathize with them if they’re missing out on things from the home culture. But again, like we talked about, if they go home and they’re experiencing that reverse culture shock, it’s just difficult to balance. It’s worth it, but parents need to be aware of what’s going on with their kids, their thinking, and even their experiences that they try to hide from their parents so that they don’t overwhelm their parents.


Yeah, definitely. I found the most important thing I ever did as a mom was keep communication open–my kids knowing they could come and talk about anything. There were still things I didn’t find out about till years later. But overall, when there was a crisis, when there was something really bothering them, they knew they could talk to us, and it would be okay. I don’t know how we would’ve survived if they had shut down or cut us out. There were too many dangerous things that my one daughter, she’s a Daredevil, that she wound up in situations that could have been bad. Taiwan’s a very safe place overall, but she’s a little risky. Having her know that she could talk to us, even if we would go like, “You did what!?” Was really, really important and knowing how they’re feeling and what they’re experiencing, knowing if they’re being bullied or whatever. Even when we came back the same sort of thing. It’s hard as the mom not to feel defensive at times when they’re complaining about “We had to move back to the States. I don’t want to move back to the States,” — stuff like that. But every decision we made, we talked with them about it. Every transition we talked about, but that doesn’t mean they’re ready for it. It doesn’t mean they know what to expect. And so just being aware of that. I mean, they’re kids. They aren’t going to understand exactly what it means that we’re moving to a new country. So those kinds of things. And as ministers and teachers, the same thing, if we just listen, and don’t expect to totally understand everything and maybe not even have answers, but letting them share their hearts. That’s just such a vital part. And that’s what our youth minister did for my kids, and I appreciated it so, so much. He helped make the transition back to the States much better for them. It was just awesome that we had a youth minister who even thought to acknowledge that they had had this experience. And it was going to be an interesting transition for them.


Just to speak to that same thought — The attitude that the parents have is going to greatly affect their kids. I mean, if you’re excited and if you’re, I’m not saying have a Pollyanna, don’t recognize that there’s difficulties, but if you are excited, if you have a positive attitude about what’s going on, if you’re finding ways to enjoy the culture, then your kids will pick up on that. If your’re struggling, even if you’re not saying anything, it’s going to come out, and they’re going to pick up on that too. So that’s part of it, not all of it, because we all respond differently to different situations, but it’s something that can make a difference.


What I hear you saying, and what I’ve always felt, is overall I think having children grow up bilingual, trilingual, multicultural is way more positive than negative. However, every situation has positives and negatives and preparing for those the best we can, keeping communication open and letting our kids be honest with us, even when it’s painful, really does make a difference. Would you say that’s about right?


That sounds right to me.


I think both of my kids would say that they appreciate the experiences they had growing up overseas. I know that I did. It was different, but it was good.


And I loved growing up overseas, even though it didn’t happen until I was like almost 40.


I did too. I loved it the whole time we were there. Just another side note as an educator, children who are bilingual tend to do better overall in all the subjects, they have found that when your brain learns different languages, it helps your brain become more, I guess, elastic more open to more information and children tend to do better in all the subjects when they know more than one language. And I just think that’s fascinating and awesome.


And living overseas, you have such a broader worldview. And so I think that helps the ability to learn and see things from different perspectives and appreciate history, geography, all these other things that are language, all these things are so important.


And being able to have a conversation with someone that has a completely different worldview than you do. We don’t always have that skill here in the States. My kids can talk to someone who completely disagrees with them and still be friends and have a great conversation. I love that about the whole expat experience.


I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today. Listeners, if you have a question for Kathy or Teresa, the best way is to put a comment in the blog notes for the podcast. After the show notes, you can add comments. And we will respond to your questions. So feel free to put those questions in the comments. We would love to share more of our wisdom.


Thank you for letting me talk about it. It’s still so close to my heart.


Thank you. Because it’s who I am. It has shaped who I am, and it’s an important part of my life.


Yeah. I love that.

Now, I wanted to go over the different books we talked about in the show notes. So let me share with you about these different books. I listed several books, but I want to talk about, first of all, the picture books that are going to be really wonderful for your younger children. One, I just love is A Fish Out of Water. And this one is by Hannah Flatman, and it’s a wonderful book illustrated by Rekha Salin. And this is an adorable book. It’s a kind of an analogy, parable type of story. And it’s really great. And then we have Adelina Aviator and it’s a really cute story about going into missions. Both of these are Christian books. Both of them are really wonderfully done. And then you have The Kids’ Guide to Living Abroad, which would be for your children as well who are picture book age and a little bit older. This is written by kids who’ve lived overseas. It is put together by Martine Zoer, and my daughter has an entry in the book. So, of course, it’s really special to us, but it’s a great book that just shares different kids’ perspectives of living overseas. And then How Far Do You Love Me? by Lulu DeLacre. And this book is not about moving overseas. It just goes around the world, and it talks about love. I think it’s a really special book that your kids would enjoy, especially as they’re getting ready to move overseas or if they’ve lived overseas. I just think it’s a really wonderful little book, and it’s an opportunity to talk about the world and to also just confirm the security your child has in your love and in your family. And then there’s several little books, and I’ve got a couple listed: Jamie and the Big Move by Jana D. Wingels. And this one is a little workbook that your child can use if you’re getting ready to move. But it’s a really good little book. And then Kids on the Move: A Relocation Workbook is also available, and you don’t have to be moving overseas for this one. This one’s appropriate for moving next door. And then we have Slurping Soup and Other Confusions. And this is for your little bit older child who’s getting ready to go overseas and learning about different cultures. So this one’s for the, you know, middle grade, and your younger kids who are reading age would enjoy this one.


Now for your middle schoolers, high schoolers, young adults, there are several books written specifically for them. We have At Home Anywhere, Faith On the Move is specifically about going into missions, but one is called Finding Home, and this one is written for the middle schooler, high schooler, or young adult who is a third culture kid and trying to adapt to life and how they see life. There are several books that speak to that age, but also are effective for adults and parents ministering to third culture kids. Arrivals, Departures, and the Adventures In-Between is a very wonderful book. And this one I really think would help a therapist. If you’re working with third culture kids and want to know how best to minister to them, this would be a good one. How to Raise Confident Multicultural Children, of course, is written for the parent. I’m from…Earth: How Understanding Third Culture Kids Can Connect a Divided World — This book also is written for adults and it’s a great concept, a great viewpoint. Third Culture Kids: A Gift to Care For by Ulrika Ernbik — This one is written for those who are ministering to the kids, and so this would be great for a minister if you’ve got third culture kids in your church. And then there’s Third Culture Kids Growing Up Among Worlds. And this is like one of the most famous ones by David Pollock, Ruth Van Reken, and Michael Pollock. This book is written for anyone: teacher minister, parent, young adult. This is an excellent resource, and it will help you to understand what you are going through. If you’re a third culture kid or a third culture adult or globally mobile adult, or if you are trying to minister to them, it will just give you insight. We talked about the first week that we had this interview, that when I first met Teresa, I thought she was strange because she was just different culturally. And I didn’t understand what it meant to be a third culture kid. And then I met my husband and we became good friends, but he would mess up idioms. He wouldn’t know about things I would talk about like, I’d talk about maybe a cartoon show I watched as a child, and he’d never heard of it because he grew up in Venezuela and Singapore. He didn’t have the same experiences I had as a child. And I didn’t understand the differences there. It was almost like I had a friend who was not from the United States because he had never lived here till college. And so, you know, just having that understanding helps you to realize they’re not strange. They just are culturally different. It’s been an adventure to marry him and have best friends who have lived overseas and to raise my own kids in a different culture. It has enriched our lives. It has been a blessing, and it’s such a unique opportunity to carry God’s word to the world and to see the world through different eyes. And so I encourage you if you have the opportunity to travel or to move overseas, that it’s a very positive experience overall. And I hope these books bless you and help you as you minister to third culture kids.


Thank you for joining us for “Books that Spark,” a podcast, celebrating books, that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion as we disciple our children and help them follow Christ with their whole hearts. If you would like to connect with me, you can always reach me at terriehellardbrown.com. You can email me at contact@terriehellardbrown.com, or through my website you can also reach out. If you have any questions or comments about the discussion we’ve been having, please feel free to put comments on the show notes. There’s a place you can comment after the show notes, and we would love to answer your questions. We do respond to every comment, so please feel free to do that. If you’re getting ready to move overseas and you have any questions, we would love to share what little bit of understanding we have with you. If you enjoyed these interviews, please like and share them. We appreciate it. It helps others know we’re here, and we will be back to our more normal way of doing this podcast starting next week. We have an interview with an author, and you will be blessed by her story. We just thank you for being here. We appreciate you as our listeners, and feel free to comment and ask questions. We answer every comment.

Links to Recommended Books:

Adelina Aviator by Jessica Vana

Arrivals, Departures, and the Adventured In-Between by Christopher O’Shaughnessy

At Home Anywhere – Six Proven Expat Secrets for Making Yourself at Home in Any Foreign Country by Rob Robideau

Faith on the Move: A Devotional for MK/TCK Teens in Cross-Cultural Transition by Interaction International

Finding Home by Rachel Jones

A Fish Out of Water by Hannah Flatman, illustrated by Rekha Salin (Christian picture book for young children – I really love this one)

How Far Do You Love Me? By Lulu DeLacre (just a great picture book about family, love, and geography—not strictly a TCK book)

How to Raise Confident Multicultural Children: Ideas and Practical Advice from Diverse Professionals for Even Greater Success Raising a Bilingual and Multicultural…  by Elisavet Arkolaki and 9 more contributors (this has more of a textbook feel to it with essays from 10 contributors).

I’m from…Earth?: How Understanding Third Culture Kids Can Connect a Divided World by Carissa Gobble

Jamie and the Big Move: A Story to Empower Kids Coping with Change by Jana Dietsch Wingels

The Kids’ Guide to Living Abroad by Martine Zoer, Illustrated by Michelle Christensen

Relocation Workbook: Kids on the Move by Leah Moorefield Evans

Slurping Soup and Other Confusions by Tonges, Menezes, and Gemmer Emigh

Third Culture Kids: A Gift to Care For by Ulrika Ernvik

Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds by Ruth E. Van Reken

Your Host: Terrie Hellard-Brown

Terrie Hellard-Brown writes and speaks to help children and adults find God’s purpose and plan for their lives. She teaches workshops and writes devotional books, children’s stories, and Christian education materials.

Her podcast, Books that Spark, reviews children’s books that spark imagination, emotion, questions, and discussion leading to teachable moments with our kids. Her podcast posts each Tuesday morning.

Her blog posts discuss living as a disciple of Christ while parenting our children. She challenges us to step out of our comfort zones to walk by faith in obedience to Christ and to use the nooks and crannies of our lives to disciple our children.

Terrie uses her experiences as a mother of four (three on “the spectrum”), 37 years in ministry (15 in Taiwan), and 32 years teaching to speak to the hearts of readers.

Her motto is “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be WONDERFUL” and keeps her childlike joy by writing children’s stories, delighting over pink dolphins, and frequently laughing till it hurts.

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