Linguistically and Internationally Mindful

I have revisited Dana’s post Single Stories and Flipping the Script several times. It resonated with me, and I immediately knew it would be the jumping off point for my next post.

Connecting with Ellen Leou our author-in-residence

During our Diverse Voices Book Week, Ellen Leou our author-in-residence, presented a workshop to parents. The ideas encapsulated were thoughtful and thought-provoking. Ellen shared her own story that explained how she was born in California to Chinese immigrants. She grew up in the US speaking only English and subsequently married her Canadian husband who shared the same cultural heritage. They moved to Hong Kong where they are raising their seven year old daughter. Since relocating to China, both Leou and her husband have worked hard to learn Cantonese and Mandarin. They enrolled their daughter in a local school, so she would be immersed in Cantonese language and culture; they want her to know and truly understand her cultural background.

Leou used the equation of cultural identity + local inspiration to encourage parents to see that by maintaining their child’s mother tongue, and embracing both their home culture and that of their new environment they could acquire inspiration to create and tell the stories of their lives. Leou went on to illustrate her point by showing photographs of her local tea house alongside the tea house in her children’s books; to demonstrating how a person living or working on her street in Hong Kong, merged with a cultural understanding about Hong Kong helped her develop her many and varied characters in her Lulu books.

Connecting with our parents

However, the most interesting part of the workshop, was the discussion that ensued between the parents afterwards. The parents had so many interesting yet opposing perspectives on how easily their children immersed themselves in new cultures and languages, how they felt both good and bad about moving their children’s lives overseas for their own careers, sometimes intentionally seeking the cultural experience, but other times seeking promotion. They also wanted to know more about that process and how we as a school support it.

Third Culture Kids

I was able to share what I knew about the theories of Third Culture Kids. According to Ruth Van Reken, co-author of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds:

“A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background, other TCKs.”

In her book Equal Rights to the Curriculum, Ethnie Gallagher, writes at length about Third Culture Children (TCC). Gallagher states that TCC share several characteristics:

  • They are raised in a genuinely cross-cultural world.
  • They are raised in a highly mobile world.
  • The people around them are constantly coming and going from one country to another.
  • Many spend time in cultures whose people are physically different from them.
  • Many expect to return to their native land.
  • They often lead privileged lifestyles.

The first two characteristics according to van Reken and Pollock (2001) are shared by all TCCs. The others vary depending on where or why their families are living outside the home culture.

At our school, it probably would not be a stretch to say that as international educators we frequently observe that students who have moved internationally more than once;

  • Have the ability to adapt to new cultures;
  • Are more open to different points of view;
  • Are more open to new experiences;
  • Have more self confidence.

As educators, what is our responsibility to TCK?

Our role as educators is to support our students through these transitions both into and out of our school. There are many ways in which we do this both explicitly and implicitly. The majority of teachers in international schools have made that transition themselves. They have researched the many models, phases and stages of transition and know each one, be it the RAFT model or Radar and Sittig’s ADAPT model etc. And that’s definitely a start.

At ISPP, we are constantly looking for authentic connections that can be made in our curriculum to incorporate and value each student’s background, knowledge and experience. We call it international mindedness and even devote one of our four guiding statements to it:

Students develop their curiosity about the world, extend their understanding and appreciation of both shared values and cultural differences, and strive to effect positive change.

Many of the students and their families joining our community, experience culture shock, especially those that do not speak English (we are an English-medium school) or the host country language (Khmer). I see our teachers in Elementary going above and beyond every day to help these children and their families assimilate to our unique school culture.

How our teachers remain linguistically and internationally mindful


Students board the raft wearing their ISPP alumni t-shirts and are farewelled by the Director during an assembly of their peers and parents


In true PYP style, I began this post as a reflection of what our parents took away from a discussion that came about as a result of Ellen Leou’s parent workshop. This led me to take an initial action and read Ethnie Gallagher’s book to further understand the parents’ perspective. I now realise I would like to choose further action in order to both extend my own learning and to support parents as they support their children through transitions at ISPP.


Action steps:

  1. Create an additional page or section to the Parent and Student Handbook that addresses transition – one page dedicated to what parents can do and another to what our teachers are doing
  2. Talk to the counselor about developing a regular check-in system for all new students, and a checkout process for students as they leave
  3. Design workshops for parents to help them guide their children through transition, with a focus on moving back home or on to another country

With thanks to the following teachers whose blogs were hyperlinked to illustrate how we remain linguistically and internationally mindful at ISPP: Garrett Walsh, Andy McCullam, Andy Munn, Melinda MacKenzie, Emily van Dykhuizen, Julie Shaw, Lisa Caple, Maria Yates, Alison Stanton and Marcelle Houterman.


18 Responses to “Linguistically and Internationally Mindful”

  1. I absolutely loved reading this post on so many levels. The fact that it highlights how unique our students are, coming from a myriad of cultural and linguistics backgrounds, but all living and working together in ‘an international space’ (I have added it as an example of our students’ background in the SPELTAC course materials). The fact that you share your thinking and learning in relation to our visiting author and the discussion that took place at the parent workshop- and the action resulting from that. But my favourite part of your post is how you have curated so many different REAL examples of how we are linguistically and internationally-minded in the school. If this isn’t an example of how powerful blogging for learning can be- for ourselves and others- I don’t know what is!

    • Yes, yes ,yes and to your last statement – totally!
      And we have YOU to thank for that, Marcelle!
      THANK YOU! 🙂

    • Paula Baxter says:

      Marcelle, as I shared in the staff meeting this afternoon, as we worked towards developing our philosophy about writing, I really do feel proud of my posts here on this site, that I am able to reference other teachers’ learning in their classrooms excites and energises me. And of course, following on from our feedback workshops of last school year, I thrive and derive encouragement from the feedback I receive from my peers at the school, and beyond. To circle back to the focus of staff meeting this afternoon, my early own early writing experiences were not all that positive, and perhaps had my teachers given me a purpose for my writing that meaning and afforded me an authentic audience – both of which I am enjoying with SPELTAC, then perhaps I would have thrived as an author.

      I hope that all of us at ISPP are learning more about these two important components and giving that to our students to best support them as authors of their time.

    • Tina says:

      Paula, I have enjoyed reading your blog post especially how you highlighted on Ellen authentically showing parents how important it is to embarce the cultures their children are growing up in as well as maintaining their mother tongue. I felt inspired to read more especially on the TCK topic as it resonates with me by being a teacher and a mum of TCKs. I read bits of the book “Global nomads, third culture kids and international schools” by May Langford.

      “For the benefit of others embarking on international careers, parents are also writing about the reactions and behavior they can expect from children of all ages, while offering strategies to helping them.“ (Mary Langford)
      Maybe this is something we can find ways of implementing in our school? May be start a platform for exiting and incoming families where they would share suggestions of things that helped them settle faster and suggestions for improvement? I like the idea of dedicating a page to transition.

      Some sources from Mary Langford’s book also advise parents on how they can positively interact with the school and what expectations they should have of the school.
      A research was done by Gordon and Jones (undated), which comprised of over 300 women from many nationalities on childrearing abroad. Their discussions centered around the importance of flexibility, the linguistic abilities of the children, the heightened importance of the nuclear family in the absence of traditional support systems and a discussion about the challenge of putting down roots. Gordon and Jones also discuss the problem of guilt where the parents struggles with moving abroad burdened their children. One mother was quoted to say, “We move from country to country because we accept the idea that it’s an aspect of todays world and, even so, of tomorrows world, but we baulk internally at uprooting our children. We lament the distance that separates them from the rest of their family and fear they will grow up rootless and lost with no sense of place or belonging… and cause them irreparable harm.” So in as much as we try to help our students transition, we should also reach out to their parents, particularly the stay home parent. I was one of those mothers when we moved from Tanzania to Vietnam and would have appreciated to find some sort of support in place in our new school or even a blog post to interact with like parents.

      On the other hand, as teachers of these internationally mobile students, we need the understanding that they come with different characteristics and needs. They need support while trying to build new relationships, dealing with peer pressure and in overall dealing with just being ‘the new kid’. At ISPP, the orientation program and buddy system help children feel welcome which sees them start to make connections and build some friendships. I wonder what more we can come up with, may be involve students in coming up with this new transition page?

  2. I think it’s a brilliant idea to dedicate a page to “transition” as it reassures parents we’re aware of how important it is to make this as smooth as possible for everyone!

    These incredible third culture kids…I’m so envious of them but also can’t imagine how it is to pack up your life and move to another country! I couldn’t give enough high fives to them for doing it…I mean, transitioning to a new school in your own town/province/country is a big thing…transitioning to a new school AND country? Well, that’s just unfathomable
    (for me, as a Canadian born and raised in Canada with pretty solid Canadian roots that stayed planted until I was 22).
    The students we teach are the true definition of ‘adaptable’.

    Adaptability – isn’t that what the whole theory of survival of the fittest is based on? Murphy’s Law?

    You’ve got an incredible staff of inspired educators from all corners of the world and it’s definitely worth pointing out that they’re making these tough transitions for kids (and parents) go as well as they possibly can! I think that’s gotta say a lot to the parent community and it’ll also promote the kindness and open-mindedness within the parent community too – like the Japanese mothers who were super keen to help out the new student in my class.

    #kindness #open-minded #adaptable 🙂

    • Paula Baxter says:

      Thank you Melinda for your thoughtful feedback. I certainly appreciate that we have a most enviable team in the Elementary, and that we all work together to ensure that our students, no matter their stage of transition, are supported, scaffolded, nurtured and embraced at ISPP.


  3. Heidi says:

    As an international teacher and mum to TCKs, this post really resonated with me. I understand the push and pull factors the parents describe but do worry about how grounded my children will feel in their own lives. I will definitely look into Ethnie Gallagher’s book.

    • Paula Baxter says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Heidi. I know that as both an educator and a mum of third culture twin boys that you are always aware of and referring to the most current research. From where I’m standing, you are a pro on all levels. Ethnie Gallagher’s book is well worth your time. I will also share with you what I put together for our online parent/student handbook in case you are able to use it or ideas from it in any way at your school.

  4. Liz Ford says:

    Fantastic blog post Paula – despite being quiet (and my next post is coming!!) I am keeping up with the readings and this and Dana’s both go me thinking about how we should be meeting the parent community more. I am going to get hold of the Ethnie Gallagher book for sure and can recommend ‘Managing Diverse Classrooms – How to Build on Students’ Cultural Strengths’ by Rothstein-Fisch and Trumbull.
    And I love the idea of adding a transition page to our Parent handbook!

  5. Paula Baxter says:

    Liz – do we have this book in our Knowledge Centre professional collection? Sounds good, would love to review it. I am also reading Welcoming Linguistic Diversity in Early Childhood Classrooms which is also giving me other and new insights.

  6. Liz Ford says:

    I have it now (Gallager’s book)!! ISPP is referred to in the book as an example of good practice. It has given me a lot of food for thought.

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  9. I enjoyed reading this post very much as I have worked with TCKs for many years now, teaching outside the USA. I personally think it is the greatest gift a parent can give to his/her child-the opportunity to learn from cultures other than their own at such an intimate level when living abroad.

    I have recently had conversations with my father, who is a Norwegian national, about why he never took the effort to teach my brother and me the Norwegian language when we were children (I asked!). He claims to this day that he wanted us to be “American”, in “every way possible”. Understanding what I do now about his background before coming to California, I cannot judge his decisions. BUT, I think this unfulfilled wish of mine made me the international traveller I am today, a teacher who has tremendous respect for families who raise their children to be bilingual, or more!…Incidentally, when I spent a year in Norway as an adult, I realized everyone speaks English…and they want to practice it all the time. I did manage to pick up some simple phrases! Many Norwegians I met claimed their language “wasn’t important on the world stage”. Food for thought as I encounter students in school whose first language is one not spoken by large numbers of people, globally speaking…..

    Your post brings up the point of how we in international schools support TCKs. So important to revisit this question. As I kept thinking about this big idea, I was reminded of a student in my current grade 5 class. Tyler’s parents are South African and Australian. He was born in Cape Town and spent his first years there, learning and speaking Afrikaans and English, side by side. He then lived in India, and now Mongolia, where is learning Mongolian as his third language. Tyler has really come into his own this year, but struggles a bit socially, trying to find a place to fit into, a group with which to identify. Our school has a fair percentage of non-host nationals, but no one who speaks Afrikaans as a first (dual) language. I am happy to say that one of the ways we support TCKs new to ISU is quite simple–fostering a welcoming feeling from day number 1, constantly sharing our experiences being “the new kid”– adults and students alike. We’re all in this journey together. The difference is I chose to move to a country other than “my own”. The children I teach didn’t. Hearing about these journeys also benefits our Mongolian students, who are eager to share their cultures and language with us.

    A few other points you mentioned really stuck with me. How important it is to pronounce a child’s given name correctly! Especially my Mongolian students’ names can be tricky for a Westerner to pronounce…many times practicing after they recorded their voices at the beginning of the school year! Many shorten their names, but there is nothing worse for some children than having teachers constantly mispronouncing their very symbolic identity. Recently, student led conferences were conducted, and many students and parents opted to speak in their first language–what a joy to listen to! True and free expression! Throughout Exhibition and students researching, some chose to read in their first language. One such example was Keigo. His issue for inquiry was GMOs–tough for a grade 5 student. He found much of the material available too difficult in English so of course, I encouraged him to switch to Japanese. What a difference in his level of engagement and overall understanding.

    My final thoughts go to your reflections, Paula. As I will be leading Primary Student Leadership next school year at ISU, I am considering a “Transitions” team. These students, with the help of staff and parents, can perhaps make a booklet of places in Ulaanbaatar for services; they can host get-togethers/meet and greets at school; they could organize play dates; and as you mentioned, help the school counselor perform check-ins and check-outs as students transition in and out of the new school community.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this post.

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