I should probably begin by explaining where am I coming from.
I am a clinical Psychologist who worked for many years as a therapist in an “in person” traditional psychodynamic setting. Ten years ago, I started my second global nomadic adventure at the time where online therapy was just an experimental idea. While this idea continued to grow, I couldn’t imagine myself working without sitting in the same room with my clients. It took me years, numerous life experiences and, most of all, overcoming my own resistance to dive into the developing world of online coaching.
Still, until not so long ago, I had my inner preference of meeting people at the same place, in the same time zone, getting a closer look, reacting with all my senses and not being nervous about losing the internet connection in the middle of an emotional session. Therefor it was very natural for me to ask clients, at the first session: “So why would you like to do the sessions online?”
The most common answer is related to language. Most of the global nomad clients who choose to work online are doing so because they can’t find a professional who can speak their language in their location. It is very understandable, crossing cultures is complicated enough; so seeking for the comfort of communicating in your mother tongue is very natural.
During this last ten years, I was forced to challenge many of my basic assumptions about the nature of helping people and the cycle of adjusting to a new culture. The language barrier was one of them.
But, what do we really mean by language?
Some time ago, during a first meeting with a potential new client, as usual, I asked about their online service preference. The client was a native English speaker, living outside of her passport country but in a place where professionals in her native language were available. As English is not my native language, it seemed to make sense to offer to connect her to some colleagues in her location. It was here, in that moment, that I learned a very meaningful lesson.
Following my offer, she explained: “ I am a ATCK (Adult Third Culture Kid). I moved around during my childhood and as a result, I chose an adult lifestyle that forces me to move around very often. Everywhere I went, if I felt the need, I contacted a professional to help me cope with my challenges at the time. They were all good but I couldn’t take them with me and they didn’t really understood my culture.” When I asked her to clarify what does she mean by “ my culture” she said: “ I want to have an emotional home that I can take with me wherever I am; one that speaks the language of the ones who cross nations and cultures, that understands what it means to transition. I picked you because you work online, you moved around and according to your bio, you know many of the places I lived in. So we speak the same international language.”
She was very convincing and she was right. A language is more than a vocabulary of words; it is a vocabulary of emotions and experiences. For her, knowing that wherever she will be, I will be available and that we both speak the language of a third culture; the language where all the commonalities of those living a global nomadic life is shared. This is our “mother tongue”.
When using the term “third culture” I refer to the term that was coined by Ruth Hill Useem, a sociologist from Michigan State University,in the late 1950’s. Useem called it “third culture or “interstitial culture”. In her work the term first culture refers to the home or passport culture of the parents. The term second culture refers to the host culture to which the family has moved. The term third culture then refers to a way of life that is neither like the lives of those living back in the home culture nor like the lives of those in the local community, but is a lifestyle with many common experiences and feeling shared by others living in a similar way.
This moment was one of many learning moments I had from a TCK. In her wonderful book: “Belonging Everywhere & Nowhere”, Lois Bushong lists her top tips for counseling TCKs:
“Listen and learn for they have much to teach you.
Do not assume anything about their world.
You are closer to their world if you view them as internationals”
I learned my lesson that day and we embarked into a meaningful journey for both of us.
An international professional path can be challenging at times but one of the big clear advantages is that you never stop learning. I embraced the online technique as the leading one in my practice as oppose to my former preference of “in person” coaching. And, when occasionally people seem to be confused with my accent and I am asked about my mother tongue, I answer: “It is complicated….How much time do you have?”
If they insist I say: “ I speak four languages but I am most comfortable in the common language of the third culture, the language of the ones that moved around.”