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St John’s International School

Third Culture Kids: Experiences of a Head of an International School

‘Does it matter what nationality your friends are?’

This question was asked to my daughter during an interview for Swiss nationality. As a family application, my wife and I were also present in the room, taking part in the interview, but this question was for my daughter to answer. She was only 13 years old at the time and the only child in the room. There was a pause as my daughter reflected carefully and an expectation in the room as the adults waited to hear that the nationality of her friends did not matter and that she could get along with everyone.

‘Yes, absolutely, the nationality of my friends matters a great deal.’

The response from my daughter caused eyebrows to be raised and negative looks to be exchanged on the interview panel. My daughter continued, ‘The nationality, background and culture of my friends is of great importance, because it is of importance to them. To understand my friends, and to be a true friend, I have to take time to find out about their culture, to learn from them and to share my own culture. In valuing my friends, I also value their nationality.’

The eyebrows that were already raised around the room, were now raised even higher, but accompanied by approving nods. This anecdote highlights for me some of the generational differences in approaching the concept of TCKs (Third Culture Kids). In my experience, children grow up finding similarities between the various elements of their heritages, whilst parents are more likely to approach inter-cultural relationships by looking for differences.

At St John’s we understand the importance of education beginning with each child’s own reality and own background. With our students coming from over 55 different nationalities, it is normal for them to have parents of different nationalities, to have experienced many different cultures and languages throughout their upbringing and to value these experiences as life-enhancing, inter-linked and enriching. We work closely with all our families to understand, share and celebrate.

St John’s recently had the privilege of watching a pre-release of the movie, ‘All of Us’ by Belgian director Pierre Pirard. It is an excellent exploration on peace and building relationships across cultural and religious differences. There is one scene in which a couple, one of whom is Jewish and the other Muslim, speak about raising their children so that their children do not identify as a 50/50 mix of Jewish and Muslim but rather as 100% Jewish and 100% Muslim. The couple also speak about how this is the lived reality for their children and there is nothing incongruent or contradictory for their children as individuals.

St John’s vision statement, in conjunction with the IB educational philosophy, drives us to engage our entire learning community in activities that lead to peace, purpose and passion. This has to begin with valuing each individual in their entirety, educating holistically and engaging with real world issues in which cultural sensitivity is a fundamental component of constructive dialogue.

More info: www.stjohns.be

Dr David Brooke, Head of School at St John’s International School