The Teen's Guide to Grounded Cultural Identity

How to Stay True to Yourself and Your Diverse Cultural Perspective when Adapting to Familiar Environments


This month, I’m excited to introduce you to Dr. Constantina Kass, a licensed school psychologist who has been working with third culture kids adapting to life abroad and at home.


I met Dr. Kass at the TCK conference in D.C. in late February 2020 and was excited about her work with students, a topic about which I’m frequently asked. Dr. Kass is embarking upon a new program to develop cohort groups of teens to support their transition journeys - as they discover and solidify their identities and values while acclimating to new environments, which could be familiar in some significant ways like language and cultural norms but radically different in many others. This is a topic that we also discuss in our workshops and one-on-one sessions, so I wanted to bring in her expertise on this collaboration.



Today we’ll be discussing identity formation and adaptation. As you know, maintaining our identities as we grow even in something as mundane as a romantic relationship can be daunting. For expats and returnees, moving into new cultural contexts means understanding and adapting to these environments, a situation that can stunt identity development or result in such vast changes that navigating “home” can feel like a challenge.


CHALLENGES TO IDENTITY FORMATION WHEN CONSISTENTLY EXPOSED TO DIVERSE CULTURAL CONTEXTS:


Children who move from place to place are exposed to new, diverse contexts, often resulting in open-minds and a great deal of curiosity. This willingness to learn and adapt while a great strength can also impact our sense of self and identity as we grow. We may not see ourselves as belonging to any one place or group. Or we may consistently see ourselves as apart from other groups - the feeling of being an outsider or loneliness that we might be at a loss to explain.