I am a triangle and other tips for repatriation

Join the movement!! We have an app and a website, created JUST for you: I AM A TRIANGLE WEBSITE // I AM A TRIANGLE APP.

Tips for Repatriation Triangles Nathan Sawaya

… taken at Art of the Brick Exhibit, Singapore

I’ve been talking an awful lot to people who know what it’s like to repatriate.

I’ve also been completely hiding that part of my life from people who don’t know what it’s like to repatriate.

It’s kind of like. Um. It’s similar to, huh. Maybe you could liken it to ….

You know, I can’t think of a similar situation, experience.

Repatriation is a secret that isn’t a secret.

It’s a piece of my life that I keep to myself unless I know the person I’m sharing it with will understand.

My mom hasn’t experienced repatriation yet, but she does reintroduce herself to American culture on a somewhat regular basis, which kind of counts, plus she actively seeks out support relating to the topics of living overseas. Her post on the same topic is here, and she actually touches on the deeper side of the issue.

What I’m about to share with you is one of the illustrations that were shared at a retreat she recently went to. If you can let it sit with you a bit, it’s pretty powerful!

I might even suggest that you read it through a couple of times to absorb the concept. I’ll be honest that when my mom first shared it with me, I was almost defiant in wanting to really understand its meaning. Pretty powerful stuff!

Mom recently attended a De-Brief and Renewal Retreat by Missionary Training International for missionaries living overseas. The following is my adaptation (including my basic Sharpie drawings) of an illustration that was shared at that retreat. She found it to be a helpful tool for me as I flailed my way through repatriation and the reality that we are forever changed from our experience of living abroad.

* * *

Imagine a place called Circle Country. Everyone who lives inside of its borders are Circle Citizens. The Circle Country has very specific culture, holidays, celebrations, food preferences, a language that is unique to them as well as music, education and political categories.

Let’s also talk about Square Society.  Everyone who lives inside of its borders are Square Settlers.  The Square Society also has the culture, holidays, celebrations, food preferences (and on and on) as the Circle Country, but they are completely different.

Tips for Repatriation

One day, a Circle Citizen got on a plane and flew to Square Society.  That Circle landed squarely (pun intended) in the middle of the Square Settlers and their Square Culture.

Tips for Repatriation

Circle Citizen now lives in the midst of Square Settlers, and he or she may adapt to a degree, but will never become a truly Square Settler.  At the same time, this Circle Citizen will also start to lose a bit of his/her Circle culture.

The normal circle things start to blend together with the new square culture. The major holidays in Circle Country might dissipate a bit to allow for the celebration of Square festivals.

Favorite comfort foods that remind her of Circle Country give way to the acceptance of new Square foods.  The Circle culture never quite gives way to the new Square norms and at the same time doesn’t go away completely either.

He or she slowly – and seemingly unconsciously – evolves into something completely different. The transformation to a Triangle Tenant begins. Being a Triangle means you have some of your original Circle culture mixed with some of your newly adopted Square culture.

You are no longer 100% Circle, but you’ll never again be 100% Square. You are left – almost hanging – somewhere in the middle.

Tips for Repatriation

Now, imagine that after some time, this Triangle Tenant hops on yet another plane and returns to Circle Country.  This Triangle doesn’t revert to the previous Circle status just because repatriation has happened and he has landed home. This Triangle remains forever a Triangle.

Tips for Repatriation

I will always be a Triangle.

As I find myself back in Circle Country, the good ole’ US of A, so far, I’ve found that I am mostly surrounded by Circles. Folks who haven’t ventured too far out of the Circle boundaries. It felt good to have this validation of sorts. Someone saying “it’s totally ok that you’ve turned into a Triangle and you’ll be better for it.”

Tips for Repatriation

I still don’t quite know where I fit in. My “pointy parts” don’t blend in so well with the smooth edges of the circles. My time amongst squares leaves me with memories that will stay forever, yet there are pieces of that culture that I am thankful to not have as part of my own.

Tips for Repatriation

The description of the above piece by Nathan Sawaya, The Art of the Brick

Interestingly enough, there is a fourth shape that enters this discussion. If a child (in their developmental years such as our two youngest were), follows his or her parents from Circle Country to Square Society, he or she will become – not a Triangle Tenant, like the adult parent, but a Star. They will be a Star with multiple points of reference when considering where they are from, what they believe in, what foods they like, and how they see the world.

They will always be Stars.

Tips for Repatriation

What do you think, folks? Does this help to put into real terms what it’s like to enter and re-enter different cultures? What tips for repatriation would you offer? I’m happy to be a Triangle and all shapes are welcome at the playground, but it’s nice to have some solid ways to view the process of culture adaptation and what it does to a human being.


News Flash!

We have become a MOVEMENT!! Sign up for our newsletter, visit our I Am a Triangle website or join our online (and in person!) community, I Am A Triangle!!



If you are repatriating to the United States and want to be put in touch with a real estate agent who truly understands your family’s needs, please reach out and I can help! Having been in your shoes, I have collected a network of agents and relocation specialists in most every location who TRULY step alongside your family to help you settle, flourish and thrive!

Visit my site 8th & Home or email me: naomi@8thandhome.com



    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    CommentLuv badge

  1. turquoise says

    It is very hard to adjust for my child (eleven) we returned back to use and he is sinking- the school does not want to understand that even though he looks like everyone (for the first time in his life) he is not. The teacher won’t help him or even communicate to us. two weeks ago now He said he wanted to “kill himself” he is ELEVEN! the teacher did not call us but called her psychologist who then called parent THE NEXT DAY- because in her expert opinion said- “there is no concern” even thou in five weeks of school he turned in zero work and the teacher still refuses to communicate! We are “coddling parents and our son needs to learn to grow up and act like an adult”. aaarrrhrhrhrhh frustration!!!!!! max!!!! and I have an M.Ed in Multicultural Education- I get it! this website confirms I am not the crazy one here! I wish all principals had to travel and live outside a comfort zone for a few years to relate to diversity! thanks for your post and comments.

  2. debra says

    I remember this post . I stumbled across it signed up and suddenly within 24 hours there were hundreds of people following…..thank you for this. I am moving back to the US after 4 years in Italy. I will be welcoming two new babies into my family. Two of my four children are giving birth within two weeks of each other in the same city……my family is calling me home. I am ever grateful for this group

  3. Rita Marr says

    I love your word pictures……I am returning after 18 years serving in Mexico. I didn’t have to go overseas to be smack in the middle of unreached peoples… speaking some 30 something different dialects! I have many times used the analogy that our home church…. sending church….is like a giant puzzle. We are one of the many pieces of that puzzle BUT our shape has changed. The piece is no longer missing but doesn’t fit back into the puzzle! So….here I am… wondering…. waiting for our next step. Waiting on the Lord to show me what is next. In the meantime…. I am resting and refreshing in Him

  4. Vicki Daly says

    Having chosen to spend two fairly large blocks of time in both the States and Santorini, repatriated back to Australia with the impact of the spiralling economics of Greece I have to say that nearly 3 years on I’m still struggling to find a comfort zone as a quasi star. I totally agree with the description of being a triangle/star although I would love to hear how others have coped , as older nomads. I think with business not only stretching its boarders, but also necessity of employment opportunity will only make these issues more common place and divisive for communities and governments needing to respond to our needs, especially with refugees and other people transplanted for all sorts of reasons.


  5. Natalia says

    It’s very refreshing to read this article as I have never read anything like this before but it absolutely resonates with me and I’ve never been able to put it into words aside from feeling that I don’t really fit in anywhere yet can fit in everywhere. I was born in Poland but immigrated to USA when I was an infant. I was never truly American or Polish growing up. Then I moved to Australia in my adult life and have been here for over 4 years. Every time someone asks me where I am from I don’t know how to respond as I don’t know where I belong. I can’t say Aussie because I sound American, and so forth.
    Thank you for reaching out to us triangles and stars and allowing us to know we aren’t alone and how to manage fitting into this very large yet such small word.

    • Vicki Daly says

      Hi Natalie

      As an Aussie triangle/quasi star, having chosen to live in both the States and Greece, but having repatriated back some 3 years ago, I have to say I feel more like an alien here than I ever felt abroad, but I’d be interested how you perceive Aus., wherever you are, country or city, as I feel like I may just be living in the wrong place, not necessarily the wrong country.

      I hope you have found plenty to keep you interested and met some kindred people, wherever you are in this arguably terrific country.

      Cheers Vicki

  6. Bryan says

    What you describe is the entire life of someone on the autism spectrum. I was born a “triangle” and will remain one my entire life. At least YOU had a time when you did fit in completely. Do you even have the capacity to imagine what it is like to have NEVER fit in and NEVER be able to fit in, no matter what? Can you even intellectually get your head around that concept?

  7. Jennifer says

    Thank you so much for this post! Our family lived abroad for a year. Just one year and it completely changed all of us. My children were 9 and 7 at the time. When we came “home” my now 10 year old has some very deep comments. I know this is where I lived and where I live but it doesn’t feel like home.
    We didn’t need a car, were surrounded by multiple languages and religions, there were butchers,fruit vendors and pubs. At the pubs they serve lemonade to children in REAL GLASSES!
    So many things are still trying to fit into space. We won’t be circles again. As an adult and mom I am trying to find out where I should live when I grow up. My kids feel the same.
    I’m proud to say I have enlighten two stars. I hope to be able to live abroad as a family again.

    Thank you for the wonderful explanation.

  8. Joel Young says

    Thank you so much for writing this. My wife, who writes swisslark.com told me I had to read this. We are Oregonians who lived in Switzerland for four years, started a family there and put down root in a way that neither one of us had before. Yet, as parents, we thought, what about our child’s cultural identity? In Zurich, nearly everyone is from somewhere else, and as a teacher at an international school, students in my class felt Swiss, but, I’d say, your parents are American. A job came out of the blue in the US and we moved back. Nearly everyone I meet asks me where I’m from. I’m American. You don’t seem American, they say. And on some level, I understand, because I don’t feel American, I assimilated too much.

    Your charts made the repatriation phenomenon so easy-to-understand, and objective, too, almost factual, which is perfect for me, because I’ve been trying to understand what happened, and it’s so tied to emotion, I can’t separate out the logistics of what led me to feel the way I do now.

  9. says

    Hey there!
    awesome article…. arriving here after 1 year…. soooooooo distress….i have awesome friends but its like cannot fit anymore properly…. obviusly I don’t regret it, but its very hard to find again the way!

  10. says

    I love this! I am the director of Bethel Mission Intensive Training School and I would like to use your material in a “Re-Entry” class that I’m teaching this coming May. May I have your permission to be able to do so?

  11. Garth says

    I returned home to Canada about 3 years ago with my family after living in different countries for about 10. It has been tough to re-adapt to say the least! It’s just tough to explain what we did and put it into a way people can relate. Your blog is really the first time I have seen someone put down in writing what we have been feeling for a while.

  12. Moira shaw says

    Hi Naomi

    I came across your blog post a couple of years ago whilst living in Dubai and it really struck a chord with me. I have been an expat in France, Switzerland and Dubai and I’m now on my third repatriation to the UK. I expect this one will be my longest as my children would benefit from some stability to finish their education. But I’m pretty sure there is another expat stint to come!
    Anyway, going back to what you wrote, it inspired me to do my final year Psychology undergraduate research into the changing identity of the expat trailing spouse. I am hoping to use your article to kick off some group discussions regarding the topic and would like your permission to incorporate “I am a triangle” into the title of my project (all appropriately referenced). Hope this will be ok with you…. Thank you for your inspiring blog…from a Triangle, proud mum to a couple of Stars! :-)

  13. francesca says

    Wish I found this and other sites in 2011. I thought it was just me and not a known condition for those of us who live abroad for a long time. It has been depressing and taken a toll on me that I could not understand and nor those around me. Moving to the US was by far the easiest thing in 1998, moving back to Australia in 2011 a number of spiral turns until we found a small town to live in away from the city I grew up. I love them all but know I cannot live there again. I guess there is some truth to “you can never go home again”. Thanks for your blog. F.

  14. says

    Hey Naomi,

    I love your post about being a triangle. I just moved back to my home country after 7 years abroad, and feel like a total triangle. It’s a great metaphor. I am starting my own blog and I was wanting to include your writing. Can I quote you and give credit to you in my blog post? I would really appreciate it.

    Sam Leopold

  15. says

    I cried when I read this article! I too am a triangle. I lived in Thailand for 14 years. My husband worked and was away a lot. I made a life for myself as a doula for other expat woman and it was very rewarding. I loved my square life. Now, husband has retired and we came home to England 18 months ago. We are in the same house (trying to sell) and in the same village. I now also have husband around all the time and doula work is difficult and competitive here. So…..I feel lonelier than I ever have before. I feel quite trapped. I hate the cold, the grey skies and every day I long to be a square again. I never, ever expected to feel this. While I was away, I enjoyed my visits home and even missed aspects of England, like the seasons and being able to hike in the cooler climes. However, being back permanently is so different. I used to call it having a divided heart, but being a triangle says so much more. I have to find a way to embrace my new shape and accept it…or better still, use it somehow to my advantage or someone elses.

  16. says

    I truly love how well you have put this… there is so much to see in the world… I too, am a triangle… and thankful… I am from the USA living in the UK for 5 years now… I love the best parts of both worlds…

  17. Maria says

    I myself a star. Having been a star i have found it difficult to “fit” in anywhere. I feel unique. I am a star that has moved many times so have so points. It’s very difficult to find anyone that can relate to how i feel, things i say. Quite often i feel like a person on show telling tall tails to an audience. When i was in states was a prime example “say something” was the thing I heard most as people wanted to hear my very mixed accent. I never wanted to be a performing monkey. As ive gotten older I have learned to embrace my uniqueness. But it doesnt stop me yearning for Biltong from South Africa, the experiences of Australia and USA, wegmans ceasar salad and cowtails. There are too many things to list. I am me. I accept that now. But i do wish I could control the urges to make a star country with all my favorite parts of the rest of the world.

  18. says

    I love your interpretation of the issue about moving to live in another society and have both places influence your development as a person. Many people nowadays are dealing with being “circles” in “square” societies… I know what you men no matter that I’ve never experience this in my own. Here in London there are many people who have moved here and I know many people who come from “circle” societies and I can feel their struggle. Thumbs up for the post! I really love the way you describe the problem. The “stars” are the future!

  19. dana says

    Wow, am I grateful I found this page and the Facebook group! I repatriated to the US last month after living and working in Bangalore, India for 2 1/2 years on a long-term assignment with my company. I feel as though I’m in mourning. I went and came back on my own, and only have a few co-workers who at least partially understand (they went or are there with their spouse/family). Although I absolutely loved my experience and had very few issues being there without a spouse/family, it would be so nice to connect with other triangles to help ease these repat blues! I also hope I can help anyone else feeling the same.

    I look forward to reading more comments here and to being accepted into the Facebook group. Thank you, Naomi, and to everyone else here! xx

  20. says

    I’m very happy that I found this post, but unfortunately I still feel lost and unsure of how to proceed in my newly-defined triangle life. I am a dual US/German citizen by birth and grew up visiting my family in Germany. After completing a study abroad during high school and college, I decided to take the plunge and move to Germany. I lived in Munich for 5 years and then decided that it was time to return to the States so that I could pursue a graduate education. That pursuit never came to fruition and for the past 3 years, I have been living with the regret that I wasn’t ready to leave Germany and may never be able to return. I refer to my feelings as homesickness, but certain days it truly feels like more of a visceral pain that can turn my entire world upside down.

    My husband is American and has only a basic understanding of the language, not to mention a highly specialized job. We started out on a quest to move back over a year ago and while I could easily find employment there, he has been rejected time and time again. It is so disheartening and I’m slowly coming to the realization that my need to move back may never be fulfilled.

    How do I cope with these feelings and start the process of healing/letting go of my old life? It’s been such a frustrating battle, but I am very happy to have found this post and the Facebook group. Hopefully this will help me find closure eventually.

  21. David says

    Can definitely relate to this: I’m an Australian who was born in Singapore, though I lived in Indonesia for my first 5 years. We moved to Sydney when I was 6, and was there for 9 years, then we moved to Singapore for 7 years, and have moved back to Sydney 2 years ago. I have had a lot of trouble settling back into Australian culture. Even now after 2 years I am still struggling dealing with homesickness for my square country. The thought of possibly staying here for the rest of my life is quite depressing. Not really seeing the benefits of being a triangle…

    • David says

      David, I understand where you are coming from. I was born and raised and the US. I took my first trip to Vietnam in 2006. Ever since, I been back and forth for 1 – 3 month stays. I learned the language (both oral and written). It’s depressing to be stuck in the US because I know what I am missing out on. Sometimes I wonder if bliss is ignorance.

  22. KJ says

    Love it – thanks! I’m an upside-down triangle currently…. I’m American and lived in France for 9 years in my 20s and early 30s, moved to Colorado after a divorce for 10 years, met a French speaking American and somehow find myself living the expat life in France again…. (not my first choice – it took some huge effort to settle in to Colorado as my new home after so many years abroad). We kept the house, cars, etc. in the US and go back regularly – super trippy strange to now have this dual life where our story is different depending who we talk to. (Those in our French world really can’t imagine what we have back home in the mountains; those in the US generally don’t get what we are doing in France or how we are living the experience.) Probably the key in all of this, both my transition back to being American after 9 years abroad, and this new expat phase, is that we surrounded ourselves with triangles! In fact, I seeked out those triangles back before I chose Colorado as my new home without having a word for it. Once I found my triangle community, I knew where I needed to move and did so. That same community of triangles is there for us now so when we go back and forth we have a certain group of friends who totally get it!!

      • KJ says

        Your comment is empowering – thanks! I’m not totally comfortable with my current situation living in France again, but writing about my path and hearing your reaction makes me realize I know exactly where I am at, how I got here, and why I am doing it. I thought I had closed the French and expat chapter of my life but then, as your triangle analogy suggests, these experiences form who we are, forever. (OK, I knew that – speaking French 3-4 days a week in Colorado, and working in the translation industry for the last 8+ years, then meeting and marrying a French-speaking American I guess shows that it now flows through me forever more.) Thanks for your blog and the resources you’ve put out there.

  23. Chavela & Lacey says

    After a visit in August 17days turned into 47 days (grand babies stole my heart…. again!) we returned to EC sold everything we couldn’t bring back to U.S. We returned to the U.S. In November just in time for the holidays.
    Being close to our 4 children and their families (8 grandchildren) has been wonderful. We (I) had no idea the distance and time away would impact me the way it did.
    We are really floundering, and completely connect with a triangle. Currently guests (with no time limit) in a fully equipped Mother-in-law suite which size size suits us perfectly (except there is not a full kitchen) big learning curve in microwave & crockpot cooking. We can’t even decide to buy a car, or commit to a cell phone company! Do we rent? Do we buy? Do we start accumulating AGAIN!?!?
    We’ve looked at apartments in the City for “take over my lease” because 5-7 months doesn’t freak us out to much. Furnished in the U.S. Is much different than furnished in EC. What to do!
    Today (this changes weekly) we are considering taking over our son and daughter in laws apartment in the City (Portland), they’ve been transferred to NYC and move out of our current suburb location (walk score 43), we borrow a car once a week to grocery shop. Their apt. lease is up in January and it would put us closer to our lifestyle in Cuenca, with a 92 walk score so life would significantly change for us.
    Or we could continue here till October, go visit our friends in EC for 4-6 weeks then return to Florida mid November to house sit for 4 months for a friend we met in EC. Enjoying the mild Florida winter while she visits the EC coast for the heat & humidity she loves so much. We’d bring the kids & grandkids to Florida for the Christmas Holidays and get our (my) baby fix in. Stay in the Florida warmth till Spring hits in Oregon and come back to the same confusion and befuddlement for 2016.
    So we get it & completely understand. Thank you for sharing this information. I feel like I’ve been suffering with a virus no one can put a finger on, just nodding their head not really understanding what in the heck is going on in any way shape or form. So thank you, and your great illustrations.
    Yes, please if you could put us in contact with your resources here in SE Portland we’d appreciate it.
    Chavela & Lacey

  24. Jason says

    Very helpful article! I personally think a circle and square blend might look more like an octagon, but the point remains :)

  25. aMY says

    An interesting comment. I’m a triangle through and through. British by passport, but lived in deep south semi-rural Japan for two years. Returned August 2013 and still miss Japan and my old life every single day. I had a really rough time repatriating and went through some really dark times. I’m mostly ok now, with the odd pang. I’m relocating to the USA later this year…. so I feel like I’ve just finally started to settle back in, and I’ll be gone again…. it’s a comfort to know I’m not alone in my feelings.

  26. Jason Tomlinson says

    I feel silly that I am having a hard time readjusting to the fact that I am back in circle country After living in Korea for only a year. It is hard for me to describe my feelings and experiences. I was so confident there and now I feel lost and uneasy.

    • David says


      I had the same issue coming out of Vietnam back to the US for the past nine years. My opinion that our cause of loss and uneasiness comes from transitioning from a homogeneous culture (Korean, Vietnam) to a heterogeneous culture (Canada, United States). To me, it seemed that in a homogeneous culture that I had a good feeling of what to expect in a social situation. Knowing the language (both orally/written) helped big time. In the States, it feels that various social situations and settings is harder to figure out because heterogeneous cultures are complex than homogeneous ones. To me, life seems simpler in Vietnam.

  27. Patty miller says

    This is the second time I’ve come across your Triangle analogy – it just fits perfectly! I am a triangle living in the UK. Our kids are pointy stars who have spent the past 8 years attending a British school. We have not repatriated as a family yet but our son will being leaving us this summer to attend the University of Virginia. I am really not sure how any of us will handle it. We’re hoping to stay in the UK 2 more years so that our daughter can finish up school here. Some days I want to move back right NOW … Some days I don’t ever want to move back…

  28. says

    This information is so accurate. I also read this article that was very helpful…
    My husband and I moved back to the states with our 3 children a year and a half ago after living in Haiti for 3 years.
    At least we can share with each other and identify with each other, but aside from that, it is difficult to share what we are experiencing even when people say they genuinely want to hear how we are doing, we can’t seem to find the words to explain not only what we lived, but now our struggle to fit in and feel normal in the hometown we both grew up in.
    our home church is different, our friends are different, we are different.
    But we can’t seem to find a new normal either.
    It is somewhat reassuring to hear others still struggle for this long or longer, just to know it is normal to work through this for this long and to let it be what it is and not try to rush it. Its a process that needs to run its course.
    Thank you not only for sharing but for offering a place for others to share their experiences!

  29. Ingram says

    I’m struggling. Been home a year and a half after living abroad for 15 years. This post and description has helped start me on a road of repatriation. I now how to define myself a little. I’m such a triangle. Being able to define myself is the start of being to heal myself and move forward with my life back in the states.

  30. amanda rose says

    Thanks for your article. Its nice to know that u aren’t alone in the struggles of reentry. I’ve been home in the US for 1-1/2 years from 5 plus years in Africa & even though i feel like i’m finally on the other side of some of the battles i struggle with, some still remain. I never have been able to find the right counceling & the one that was recommended i couldn’t afford. For me its mostly the grieving of what I left behind & what life is like for still so many. Coming home to the abundance we have & yet still seeing people unsatisfied is almost unbearable. I remember coming home & being so overwhelmed in the cereal section at the supermarket that i came home & made my own. I haven’t been able to get a job in main stream society because i can’t & won’t deal with the drama. I thankfully have a job taking care of animals and i love it. Its so therapeutic. I guess I’m just sharing to share with others like-minded. Thanks for the platform to do it.

  31. Jodie Schoen says

    I am a Triangle!
    Enjoyed your article. They told me when I went abroad that repatriation is hard. I didn’t believe them.
    Have been back home now for 14 months after living abroad for 3 years.
    I am a Triangle!

  32. says

    This is spot on. Thank you for touching on such an important issue. I can’t believe how man blank stares I’ve given people as they ask me to sum up the last two years of my life abroad. I’ve lived overseas a few times for various lengths, and each time I return “home” it feels less and less like home.

  33. Yvonne says

    I found this article describing repatriation, to completely hit the nail on the head!! Excellent description and extremely powerful read. My family and I just returned back to Canada after living in the Middle East for 18 years, and where both our, “STAR” sons were born. Even though we have been back here for 18 months now, the reality of our life change has only now just hit me. I believe it’s because I was so busy setting up our lives in our ‘new’ home, it didn’t leave me much time to really ponder the reality of what was happening. I am a proud Triangle, but am definitely struggling to fit in and rid myself of that feeling of being a Nomad in my own country.

  34. Carol says

    What if you just move from country to country, never planning on going back to any of the ones you left behind. That is pretty much my husband and myself. We move on and never miss the country we left. We get restless and then just move on…

    • says

      Thats exactly what my husband and I do. We have been to 88 countries in 16 years. And have lived up to two years in some of them. We travel from nation to nation with brief stays in the USA. I am at a loss on how to even begin to describe what I am feeling.

  35. Jules says

    Thank you Naomi, this is such a helpful read! We are going about this the other way round and relocated to California from London, UK nearly four years ago. We now have a (Californian) toddler, with another on the way, and we’re mentally preparing to go home to England next year.
    We still find that our square corners stick out among all the circles here in CA, but after four years we’ve definitely been smoothed into almost circles – probably more than we realize. (Sorry if taking the analogy too far here…!).
    Mostly nervous about no longer feeling ‘special’ when back amongst all the other squares in the UK. ‘Living abroad’ almost feels like a purpose and an activity in itself, I experienced the same thing after traveling when I was young; once home a day spent doing nothing is no longer living abroad – suddenly you’re just doing nothing/achieving nothing. Oh dear, wish us luck!!

    • says

      Jules! I AM wishing you luck, I am!! Please come join the FB group … living abroad IS a purpose and sometimes it is so difficult to figure out what to do once you go home. Thanks for stopping by!

  36. Melissa Strack says

    Love this article…I am more than likely going to be relocated in Germany for my husbands job within the next month. I will be bringing my two kids my son (14) incoming freshman and m daughter (8) incoming 3rd grader. I’m so worried about them and how they will adjust but this article helps me to put it into better perspective.

    • says

      Melissa! Please join our FB group (search for I am a Triangle) as there are a bunch of women able to help support you in your upcoming relocation!

  37. says

    I love this analogy! I have a two year old that is a star and I never thought about the developmental years. I thought I was a triangle, but I too am a star. I’m originally from the Philippines, migrated to the US with my family when I was younger and now here in Korea as an adult.

    Thanks for the post and will come back for more.

      • says

        Yes, it is. I knew I would be forever changed moving here in Korea. I felt that when I migrated from the Philippines and I was 11. I just like the simplification by using shapes. I stumbled upon your blog by reading Korea Ye! I recently started my own and still very new at it.

        • says

          You’re in Daegu! We’ve been there :) My oldest son played football at Singapore American School and their team played the boys on the Deagu Air Force base! It was neat as my grandfather served in the Korean War and it was a “full circle” kind of moment!

          • says

            Yes, we arrived May 2014. I’ve enjoyed living here in Daegu. I was homesick for about 3 months, but have completely adjusted. Language barrier is still difficult, but I’ve take a Korean class and still learning everyday.

  38. says

    You have summed it all up so well. Would you mind if I share this with your links on my website ExpatExpress.wordpress.com ? It is not quite ready yet, I want everything in place before it goes live. Also, can you tell me how I use the HTML tags and attributes shown on your page?
    Many thanks!

  39. JANIE STEWART says

    Thanks so much for explaining this so well. I have lived outside the US pretty much since l976. I have lived in Europe and Asia and have loved every minute of it. I feel very blessed to have been able to experience the things I have. But, you know what? When I return to America, I sometimes feel like a fish out of water. Everyone has their own life with their own friends and I oftentimes feel like an outsider…I’m the “girl who lives in Korea” And, although they think it is pretty cool, they can’t relate and the conversation stops very shortly after they ask, “What is it like there?” No one really wants to know. Then it is time to leave and come back, only to return a stranger again the next year. It is time for me to retire and I have been holding off, not knowing what to expect when I “go home” for good. It’s a little scary. I am a triangle and my daughters are stars. They were born Europe and have lived their whole lives overseas. Both of them are living overseas as adults and don’t really think they want to live in America, yet they don’t truly belong in either of the cultures they have lived. I think the best bet for any of us is to repatriate in a location where there are many foreigners who understand us and can relate.

    • says

      Janie, I’m so glad it resonated with you! I agree with you that the best bet might just be to find home in a location where others also “don’t fit in” !!

  40. Annaliese says

    Hi Naomi
    You couldn’t be more spot on if you tried!
    I am doing a digital story course and have decided to call my story belonging and wondered if you would mind if I used your words (with reference to you) for some of the story, about being a triangle and star.
    Many thanks

    • says

      Annaliese, with credit/reference, I would be honored if you would share this for your course. Please do keep me in the loop as I would love to see it!

  41. Jennifer says

    Thanks for this. It made me cry! It’s so hard to put I to words and yet somehow you managed it. Thank you!

    • says

      Aw, Jennifer, I’m so glad it touched you! It’s pretty important to feel that someone understands, isn’t it? Please feel free to join our FB group (look for I am a Triangle) … full of supportive friends who also understand!

  42. Brenda says

    This explained really well my thoughts upon being repatriated to the USA after 8 years in Panama. After my return, I was dumbstruck when I read a poll about the modern conveniences Americans couldn’t live without. Among the top five things were cellphones and CDs. At the top of my list are clean water, hot water heaters and air conditioning. After 20 years, I still appreciate these things.

    • says

      Brenda, thanks for leaving a comment! That was one of the hardest things for us as well, returning home, was discovering that our priorities and perspectives didn’t match most of the people who we were now surrounded by. I hope you’ve been able to settle yourself into a great community where you have some like-minded people in your life.

  43. ahmad. alkiswanee says

    Nice subject … Im from jordan.middle east and
    And my mother from eastern europe .. So maybe im triangle :-)

    • says

      Ahmad, who you are and how you relate inside and outside of your culture can definitely impact this “being a triangle” concept! It has a lot to do with how you are raised and parents from different cultures completely counts!

  44. says

    I’m a triangle. Or rather I must be a hexagon or something. I moved to Germany when I was 22, studied, got married to a German, got divorced, worked and then married an Italian man. I lived in Germany for 22 years all told, and might return, because it just feels a lot like home. But I’ve lived in the UK and France as well. Never Italy, unfortunately, but still steeped in Italian culture due to my husband and now our almost 5 year old son. He speaks 4 languages (English and Italian, plus a little French and waning German), so he’s definitely a Star. My little one anyway! Thanks for your post, it’s a great way to look at it. The longest time I’ve been back in the States is a month or so, though, so no repatriation. I suppose I always knew it would be difficult in many ways, because I already feel like a triangle (or whatever) and will never be a circle again, I’m afraid. Kind of sad, in a way, but I’ve gained so much appreciation for other cultures and customs along the way. It’s been enriching beyond all imagining.

    • says

      Diane, thank you so much for your comment! Your experience, exposure and love life are FASCINATING! I truly believe that we are better for all of those moments and understanding how you fit into this world is key to making the most of it! Thanks for stopping by! I’ll be exploring this concept much more in the coming days and weeks so I’d love for you to swing by again!

  45. Anne Hilden says

    Thanks for this read, I needed it badly. I moved from Finland to Ireland when I was 19 in search of an adventure. I left a safe and loving existence for excitement and 12 years later with a partner and daughter in tow I returned to Finland, even purchasing my old childhood home from my parents. We have been back for 3 years now and we have another daughter now as well. I am a triangle, so very much a triangle. Society has changed here although I recall it as it was in 1999 as a 19 year old. The language has evolved and I haven’t kept up. Culturally I probably identify the most with Ireland and the UK, my partner being Scottish. I talk to people about everything but I sense that most don’t know me at all, especially my parents who I now see daily but who never visited me in Ireland thus have never seen my life before I returned. It’s also hard finding a balance in our everyday life as regards to my partner who is here with me and our children, att doesn’t speak the language or understand yet how everything functions. I should be supporting him and showing him the ropes, att I’m only learning to live here again myself… I do feel my life has been enriched and vividly coloured by the experiences I’ve had, but I’ve also had to accept now that I will always be a triangle and nobody here will ever understand what it’s like, the good and the bad of it. It’s nice to know that there are other triangles out there too.

    • says

      Anne, I’m so glad you stopped by! There is strength in numbers and just knowing there are others out there feeling the same way is MEANINGFUL! I’m considering starting a Facebook group for all of us Triangles. Would that be something that interests you?

  46. says

    Hi Naomi, Great analogy for those of us loving through the expat world. Although we haven’t repatriated, even those visits back ‘home’ can make us all feel like triangles trying to fit into a round hole.

    • says

      It IS hard, isn’t it Chris? My mom can attest to exactly what you’re saying. When those visits occur, it’s just as hard as the actual ‘moving home’ process!

  47. Kerrilynne says

    I found this article very informative and really enjoyed reading it. I am an Aussie that moved to the US when I married an American. Have been in the states for ten years when we decided to try living in Australia. We were there for seventeen months and while we had a good time I never quite felt like I belonged back there. I have become so used to the states that I would prefer living here. We returned after the seventeen months and were glad to be back home. I dont know about circle or squares or even triangles I would say I am a pyramid because I am a mystery to my Aussie family and an enigma. People who have never travelled out of their own country or lived in another country cant imagine why I enjoy doing it. I am a firm believer that life is way to short to be in a box all your life, you have to have the courage to open the box and once you do a whole new world opens up for you. I am glad I took that step to open the box, look what I would have missed out on by not doing that. I will always be an Aussie citizen and a soon to be American citizen and I am so proud to have the opportunity to be both. Thank you for the great article.

    • says

      Kerrilynne, I love that you used the word enigma! Feeling like you’re a mystery to others, and one who struggles to be understood can be really hard, I think! There is a whole tribe of people here in the comments who feel the same way you do! I’m happy that you’ve settled into “the middle” of feeling comfortable with your “both” — Aussie citizen and American citizen!
      Naomi just shared …Curly girl hair and my love of Deva CurlMy Profile

  48. Aurelia says

    Hm definitely not a square, although my squares are not exceptionally picky. Question is if I am triangle, and at this point I would say no, still circle. I can see where this comes from, but I think the main question is from what culture you originate. I am East European, resettled in the Western Europe, like many other economical migrants. What I can tell from 10 years of observation, it goes two ways. Some of the arrivals create a mini-circle country in the square country, socialize only with the circles, keep lurking in the circle internet, and sharpen their circliness to the perfection. It is especially true for those who do not speak the local language and generally do zero effort to integrate into anything (well apart of social support benefits). Communication is really a weird thing nowadays, I think I moved my mind to the other country before I actually moved physically, but it works both ways, you can also stay mentally, when you move physically. Then there is another sort, mostly women, the so called love migrants. There you can regularly see the squarefication process, especially when that comes to the children. Place almost always wins over the culture, especially in the mixed families when one of the parents is doing all the effort to hide her culture – and that then would produce a square, not a star.

    So yeah, I think it is more complicated than that and really depends on a culture. In the West you have more or less citizenship based culture, or well circliness, when in the East Europe you either are are born that way, or you are a square, well ok, maybe a triangle, but definitely not a circle, unless all your family are circles three generations removed at least. When you grow up that way, it is as hard to get rid of your circliness, as it would be well… to change your DNR. When I go back there, I may be not a very perfect circle, but still pretty much round. Now the children are of course a different story as I ruined their DNR by marrying the square, so by default they have no claim to the circliness, which makes it fairly difficult to turn them into stars.

    • says

      Aurelia, I’m so glad you stopped by and left a comment! There is so much truth to what you’ve said (a wealth of knowledge just in a few paragraphs!) but I resonated most with the discussion about the mini-circle country! Little dots, they could be called!

      • Aurelia says

        Thank you for the kind words. :) I suppose yes, dots is rather appropriate way to call it, both because they are the mini copies of the original circle and because they are concentrated in a way much more, more than they would have been in their country of origin.

        • says

          Aurelia — I’m coming back to this post to dig a bit deeper and I wonder if you might stop back to shed some light on this comment :

          “In the West you have more or less citizenship based culture, or well circliness, when in the East Europe you either are are born that way, or you are a square, well ok, maybe a triangle, but definitely not a circle, unless all your family are circles three generations removed at least. When you grow up that way, it is as hard to get rid of your circliness, as it would be well… to change your DNR. When I go back there, I may be not a very perfect circle, but still pretty much round. Now the children are of course a different story as I ruined their DNR by marrying the square, so by default they have no claim to the circliness, which makes it fairly difficult to turn them into stars.”

          Do you think your children have no claim to their circle-ness because they are so far removed from it?

          • Aurelia says

            Hi there Naomi :)
            For your question, I think a trick there is in how people perceive nationality in general. When I was still living at home, I had a friend who was born there, in a mixed family of main nation and local national minority parents, she went to local school, spoke the language fluently and generally looked like a local. Still, she could not claim the main nation as hers, because she would get numerous references through her life that she is half-circle. The other parent nation viewed her similar way as well, which creates some sort of the nationality anomaly, when you are eternally stuck somewhere in between, not truly a part of any nation. Curiously, in her case family ties replaced the national identity (she had extended multicultural kin), going back to some kind of modern tribal ties, still based on blood and marriage, but void of nationality references.
            Why of that is a complicated matter, I think it is because Eastern European cultures were little exposed to the other cultures. They did not have a colonial age experience and they did not get immigrant issues the way the Western Europe did. Before WW2 the most numerous minority in E.Europe were Jews (who were generally treated rather well, but still were rather closed group, which did not mix almost at all with the locals) and a conqueror (mostly Russian, though some countries had also other experiences). Post WW2 that became even less, as we all know what happened to the Jews (and many of those who survived later moved to Israel), so there simply was no ground for any multicultural experiences to interfere with how people perceive their nation (except the relation with an occupant, by most part just loathing it).
            Now however it is not only an issue of culture, but also an issue of race. There were no black people in E.Europe pre-90ties (well ok, I did see some because my mother was from a port town, it was so funny when I think of it now, because everyone was plainly staring at the poor souls when they came ashore, pretty much the same way as the natives ought to have stared at the white people back in the age of discoveries). There is a big question of what happens, when a white Eastern European woman marries a black guy and they have children, because there are no cultural precedent of Eastern European being black(ish). Of course, there is a chance that at some point it would stop mattering, but as it is now, those kids risk to be something alien, because they are neither people of their mother culture, nor they can identify with father’s culture, especially if the marriages did not last.
            But going back to your question, problem is not only how people at my home country perceive my kids (I got told many times that my kids will grow up as “the others”), but also how I perceive them myself, because that kind of national identity is embedded in me. I change, but what I know of my national identity doesn’t. I cannot teach my kids to be a proper Eastern European person, without making them to denounce their Western European heritage (which makes no sense whatsoever in Western Europe culture, where the citizenship goes before the blood ties). So their relationship with my culture turns into some sort of academic interest, pretty much they way how my husband perceives it – he likes it, he knows a lot about it, he has some of it at home through cuisine we like and so on, but he would never go as far as to try and identify himself with it. The distance (physical) is of little issue here, its the content of the package nationalityX that matters.
            It is even in the language, when you think of it, the same process in the Western Europe is called integration, in the Eastern Europe – assimilation. 😀

  49. Tharien van Eck says

    Very insightful!
    I am a triangle! We relocated 10 years ago from South Africa to Belgium for a job opportunity. Assimilating into a new society can be real challenging. The working partner(that’s me) is busy, but often just do not have enough time to assimilate, so you stay sort of on the boundary. For the the trailing spouse (especially a man) it can be equally challenging when there is no international school or woman’s club to start cultivating friends.
    It however still is an amazing opportunity to live in another culture. But the circles do not always see it like this. So one has to tread very carefully when you go back to circle country for visits. We have stayed in contact with family and special friends over the years, people that you would like to see regardless of whether you were close or far from them. Our children are stars now, but I guess they may become triangles as well!

    • says

      The challenges are unique – and I cannot imagine the struggle for the guys who are trailing spouses in those locations where – as you said – there is very little in the way of social opportunities. Thanks for chiming in!

      • says

        Tharien, I’m circling back to discuss this in a bit more detail. Do your children express a desire to one day return to South Africa? Or have they truly become the stars of the expat life that will likely find their own new shape (home / country) ?

    • says

      Tharien, I’m circling back to discuss this in a bit more detail. Do your children express a desire to one day return to South Africa? Or have they truly become the stars of the expat life that will likely find their own new shape (home / country) ?

  50. Lisa Donald says

    I’m a star, thankfully married to a star. After being in Canada for 27 years, sometimes I still feel more like a porcupine than a star. In many settings I feel I can’t let my guard down. When I do, it isn’t always well-received. On the other hand, I can understand differing perspectives and points of view, and feel very confident interacting with people from different cultures. Nevertheless, I’m not sure that being a “star” is as unique or special as we’d like to think. Everyone is so different and our cultural experiences are only a part of our formation. It could be that I’m more high-strung than others. Everyone has had unique experiences, personality traits, choices that lead to different experiences and responses than other choices would have lead to, family dynamics, birth order, etc. Also, many other people have been through a lot of pain, challenges, and cultural changes but wouldn’t be in a recognized category such as “TCK”. In my circle of close friends, there are “English” people who grew up & lived in Quebec, a Native person who was raised in a children’s home run by missionaries, older Christian people living in a culture that has completely changed from when they were young, people with spouses from other cultures, etc. When I lived in Toronto my church was comprised of 80% first-generation immigrants and their families. Being misunderstood or falsely judged is a huge part of living in a world that still awaits its full redemption. Being a “star” to me means not really ever having an earthly home. This gives me both pain and incredible hope in my heavenly home.

    • Taryn says


      I TOTALLY agree with what you’ve said. As an African-American who grew up in majority white settings, I’ve ALWAYS felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere. I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be a member of the majority culture in “my own” country–a place where everything was tailored to my skin color, hair type, and ethnic history!

      Add to that the fact that I’ve been living and working in South Korea for the past 5.5 years and am about to repatriate to the US (which is how/why I found this article) and I definitely feel like a “star.” I speak (some) Korean. I speak AAVE. I speak a few Chinese words. I speak whatever the situation calls for. And that’s what makes me so unlike nearly everybody else I’ll be encountering when I get back to the US…

      • says

        Taryn, Have you found your way back to the United States by now? I’m sure that your assimilation from South Korea BACK to the US has been a bit rough? How are you finding it now that you’re “home” ?

    • Tricia says

      Hi, I am a grown up star I guess. I came from the UK to South Africa as a child over 40 years ago but never really feel English or South African. My parents went back to the UK and I stayed. My nieces are there, my friends are here. South Africans consider me English. The English consider me South African. Lately I have been wondering about a brand new place … I guess my point is that even if you move when you are small, you never really recover, or replace, your roots. My advice is to be an air plant; find somewhere to anchor yourself and draw nutrients and inspiration from the world around you.

      • says

        Ah Tricia — that is an EXCELLENT analogy for the roots! I have a post lined up to write about that very subject. May I borrow that last quote and credit you with your first name?

      • says

        What a fab article. I am a Star. Canadian born and family immigrated to New Zealand when I was 10. I am now on my third go of living back in Canada. I feel neither kiwi nor canuck but while this is tough, I am finding my anchor points and am just being a ‘whatever’. I like the analogy of an air plant. I recently wrote an article for an expat page about the importance of a comfort zone and how we lose it when repatriating. We need to re-find anchor points. It is a lonely time especially for those of us who do this alone and older – I am 52. I am accepting that I may never really find roots or a place in the world where I really feel I belong but I am loving Vancouver and my new life – most days anyway.

        Thanks Lisa, for writing about this.

        • says

          Sue, I love that you are ok being a “whatever” !!! I’d love if it you would link here the article you wrote about your thoughts on the comfort zone!

    • says

      Lisa, I’m completely curious as to how you met your star spouse! As a star yourself … did you meet him inside of an international school where you were both living at the time?

      • Lisa Donald says

        We’re both MKs, met at Bible College, and live in Canada, which celebrates multiculturalism (essentially fosters an “I’m special” attitude). Being similar to my husband culturally but different in personality helps me stay grounded in Jesus and my heavenly home. Everyone has the need to be understood and validated. Jesus was a star, having spent time in Egypt, Paul was a Jew from a Gentile city – Tarsus. Romans 15 (written by Paul) is helping me follow Christ’s example of validating and building up others rather than focusing on making myself happy.

  51. says

    i and my daughters are ill and we decided to resist the pressure to move “back” to the circle land – i’m just too poorly to have to do all that adjusting all over again. it’s hard work. i’m going to carry on being a triangle in a familiar place rather than a triangle in a no longer familiar one. moving can be stimulating, i’ve seen that in some people, but most have some period of bereavement and mild depression after moving. i just cant cope with that. when i move it will be forward, not back. when i move it will be from my home here and i’ll have to make another home somewhere else. my childhood ‘home’ is not my home any more. i would love to live nearer my relatives, but my brother and sister work full time and have their own families and friends, i would still have to start over for my networks rather than rely on them. blossom where you’re planted.

    • says

      ps thank you for posting this on your blog, i came here via a link on someone else’s fb page. you’ve picked out the essence of what was clearly some very good teaching and it’s touched a lot of people. thank you too for the time you took to reply personally to so many people who commented. you’re a kind person. xx

      • says

        Hi Liz! I woke up this morning to an inbox full of “Liz” :) Thank YOU for taking the time to read through the comments (and leave your own). There, sometimes, is where the real beauty of a post/writing lies. Inside of the community of a group who understands! It was fascinating to watch this post take on a life of its own … and even still!

  52. Laurie says

    All my grandchildren are third culture kids. The illustration helps understand their framework, but the real question is how do we help them live through it not only when they are living in our culture, but also when they are far away. I have read many articles on the third culture child, but I’ve found little on how to support the third culture kid. Maybe grandmas need to go to MTI :)

    • says

      It is a hard subject … how to support the TCK. We’ve found with our kiddos that simply acknowledging their experiences (not shunning them or making them feel unimportant) and asking loads of questions about their experiences tends to help them rationalize that they are normal. Too often their fellow expat friends don’t get “deep” with them and their “back home friends” don’t have a clue how to interact or engage, so they’re left struggling in the middle.

  53. Beth Schmitz says

    I understand this illustration! We’ve been living in China for almost 6 months. We haven’t returned home yet but I do understand the adaption of the triangle!

  54. Karen says

    Wow, this is so true.

    I am most definitely a triangle with 2 star children! Even having been back in the Circle land for over a year I still have pointy corners. My kids change their ideas of home every now and then, but I guess we have always said that home is where we all are all together (shame I do not really believe that!).

    Circles do not understand Triangles and there are very few who bother trying to find out about Triangle life or the Square country. Luckily a few other Triangles have moved within an hour of me so I can offload onto them!!

    Really brilliant, thank you.

  55. says

    I never thought of it this way, but it makes such perfect sense. I wonder what shape someone who moved back and forth between several countries would be? I love your drawings by the way :)

    • Karen says

      I have moved between 3 countries, 5 times and i think of myself as a Triangle but just moving to a different Square each time!

      • says

        Sounds like you have the right attitude! If only we all had buddies assigned to us so we could better understand how to move between our locations and homes with greater grace and ease!

  56. dancingwithdad says

    I’m from the U.S. and my husband is from the Philippines. We met in China and still live here. Our first child will be born here and we don’t have any plans in the near future to leave. So, wondering what “shape” our child will be?

    • says

      Your gorgeous child will be an amazingly complex brilliant kiddo! Thankfully, with each new generation of world travelers and nomads whose families live all over the world, I think it will be more commonplace that there will be networks and resources for everyone to best understand who they are.

  57. Lenin says

    I was originally a circle who early on became a star. I eventually moved again to be a star-angle and made my wife a triangle. Know we have a star of our own.

  58. Dary says

    And the naïve counselors and psychologists and psychiatrists think the distressed person has a darn chemical imbalance! I won’t buy it…the depression in the immigrant when it hits it has to do with adaptation issues, changes in social roles and expectations, and the distress is even bigger when the person comes from a higher societal status in their country of origin and start at the bottom here. That is why I tell anyone in my famly ( young generation) do not come here to America until you have acquired your employment and educational skills at home. There is a right age for immigration and certainly the stress is reduced when you come with a certain skill set to navigate the new system. Hey I can blab about this issue ALL day long!

    2 minutes ago · Like

    • says

      That is a whole ‘nother big topic for discussion for sure, Dary! I do agree that those in positions offering counseling could stand to do with some sensitivity and cultural awareness training – as long as it is substantive!

      • Aurelia says

        I would be not so sure about the “right” age to immigrate. From the people I know, those who moved early on, in their 18-24 range adapted the easiest, because they moved to get an education in the destination country. I moved after I got my diplomas, but since my profession is to some extend culture bound (all non technical/craft professions are), it has been pretty much a social class roller-coaster. :) If you work in a creative sector, there always are breaks between the projects, and then it is easy to slip to the point when the simple black job starts to look attractive. It is even more so when you are self employed or work remote, at some point you do want to go out and talk to people, especially if you struggle to form a good circle of friends in the new country (which becomes an issue when you get older, since you have less social situations where you can meet new people).

  59. Denise says

    Loved your article…I guess I used to be a “star” being the Army brat that I was as a child in the 60’s. Now after 5 years (3 in China and 2 in Germany) as an expat trailing spouse, we are back home. Even though we’ve been back a year now, I find it difficult to find my new self. I’ve lost footing with some friends, others are still working and unavailable. It’s time to find new friends but that isn’t an easy thing to do at retirement age. I also came back to none of my children living in the same state any longer.
    It was good to read the very things that I find myself feeling not only now but as a kid coming back to America after living in Germany for 3 years. Thanks for expressing it so well.

  60. says

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful article. It is a wonderful way to sum up the changes brought about from living abroad and then repatriating. I am a happy triangle living back in California after 13 years spent primarily in Vienna, Austria and then Dubai, UAE. I loved every minute of my time overseas. I wouldn’t have traded it for the world. I have to admit that I have a wonderful “cheat” to help get me through the repatriation blues. I’m part of a great organization called FAUSA, which is an alumni association of former Expats. Most of us were members of American Clubs under the FAWCO banner but not all of us. Most are women and couples memberships but we do have individual men as members as well. It’s great to have that resource of people who have shared similar experiences. There are other groups, I’m sure, that can play a similar role but a hearty welcome to anyone who is interested in joining us or finding out more about our club. It’s a great group of triangles! http://www.fausa.org . I’m going to post a link to this article on our facebook page.

  61. says

    This post was brought to my attention from an expat friend of mine… and I just want to say… I love it! Now I know how to effectively explain my myriad of global experiences (and “homes”) to others who don’t have a clue what that sort of life is like. :)

  62. Kirsten says

    I’m a star, in fact I think I might be a cluster of stars. Anyway apart from my pointiness and inability to decide where to live, what my favourite food is, what my favourite country is etc (I do wish people would stop asking these stupid questions) I am attracted to the idea of being is a luminous sphere of plasma held together by its own gravity! I’ve lived in 16 different countries, and travelled through 62. Most of the children I work with are stars too. I hate the term third culture kid. It’s not even true. Most of us have lived in so many different cultures that we just relate to wherever we are as… well wherever we are. People ask me where is home, and I say right here, right now. I have my paintings and my rugs and I set up home and I’m happy. Other people say that its insulting to the people of the country to say this is home here, but I don’t know where else is home or what else to say. I’m only happy in a multicultural polyglot environment and I don’t see why I need to defend that. I counsel kids who are transitioning to UK and USA universities because those universities have programmes for Chinese, Indian etc transitioning on how to use a post office etc, but no-one does it for these kids who look like they ‘belong’ but don’t. I love these kids, they have such a wonderful perspective on the world and they accept anyone, no matter race, colour or language, as human first and then a friend. These are kids who when they are younger hug you and love you with in days of knowing you. Then they go to uni and many become outcasts or depressed because they dont have a social group and when they talk about their references they are told not to boast. I remember that. I remember thinking, its just what I know, what else would I talk about. At least in this day and age you can be up to date with cultural references, I never knew the tv shows or the popular bands. And now you can keep in touch with friends on facebook. I lost so many friends along the way. But I gained so much from the experiences and I wouldn’t change my life experience for anything. I love some of the countries that I lived in so much that I go back there when I have the chance, if it weren’t for aging relatives I wouldn’t go to the country of at all, as I have no resonance there. My extended family think I’m snooty because I dont want to live in ‘your own country’ But its not my country, I left when I was two, and I feel an alien there but no-one recognises me as an alien because I LOOK THE SAME AS THEM! I’m grateful for the fact that it gave me a passport that is easy to travel on, I’m grateful for the fact that my parents lived in a country where they were educated well enough to decide to travel and give me these awesome life experiences. I’m grateful that I have been able to choose to continue them, and also to help other people who struggle more than I do with transition. But I wish people people would stop trying to find a box to fit me in. And the children that I work with. It was ‘international parade day’ this week and I witnessed a parent interacting with a five year old dressed in a sari, waving a danish flag. This parent was insisting ‘but where are you from?’ until the teacher intervened – she was born in Denmark so its important to her parents that she has their flag, but until coming here she always lived in India so she thinks she’s Indian. She speaks fluent hindi. This reminded me of a child I worked with in Uganda who had a south african mother and an icelandic father. If you asked her where she came from, she would say Uganda. The children we work with are different from the adults. I work with a bunch of expats (who are barely triangles, more like circles trying to keep being circles in a square environment) and a bunch of local staff, as always I’m the only one who socialises, chats and eats with the local staff who are so much fun. All the girls in the office think I’m their friend and all the faculty think I’m weird because I dont join in their US events and so forth but have friends from multiple cultures all over the city. What you have written is great and I think you should get it published first in expat magazine or something and then write a book. It’s much better than TCK! I was talking with a friend about it tonight and she said, I’m a triangle and you’re a star, and I thought, then I said, no you’re not a triangle, your at least a double triangle, you’re a diamond. Think about that, adults who have moved and lived in more than one country/culture are different than those who have only moved from home country to one other country and back again. That’s my experience anyway. Also PS your friend’s research, I looked at it and read the questions because I have multiple friends who have migrated back with a variety of experiences, but none were an expat wife. So is the book/research limited to expat wives? Because many other people have these experiences and struggle with transition too. Just a thought. All best with life in our wonderful world! I love being a star.

    • says

      What an insightful response. I am awed by the empathetic wisdom in your comment, Kirsten. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. If there was a like button for your comment, I would press it. :)

    • Marc E says

      We have lived in 6 countries and our children were born in Asia. Although they have our nationality , they never lived in our country till they were 14 and 12 and then only for 3 years. For one it was a good experience while the older one could not adjust , just like with a lot of other families like us, who had lived in multiple countries only to return to”home” country after 15 plus years being away.

      Returning to circle country after an extended stint abroad is extremely hard on all, for the children it is just another square country ( maybe with different expectations) while for the parents it basically is also a new square country. You do speak the language but have not kept up with the social changes that affect your “home countries” culture as you only visited for short holidays. Sometimes people look at you as if you have been locked up for an extended time , because you obviously are one of them but could come over as completely clueless.

      Our home and our children’s home is always where we live and we just happen to Carry a travel document that gives us a nationality. Our children always say , I was born in Asia , my passport is European and my home is where I live now and then ask, so what does that make me then?

      I think expatriates understand it and often call ourselves citizens if the world but indeed where do our children, who are very worldly but can also be quite ignorant at times, end up ? They now both off to Uni , not in our circle country.

      • says

        I think it can be hardest (and then in other circumstances, easier) for the children. Those that go on to Uni / college often find themselves drawn and attracted to similar/like students, that have traveled the world or have lived in many different places. I think Uni/college offers a safe zone to find those new friendships, when it’s harder for adults to sort that out.

  63. Ruth Andre says

    You wrote a very interesting and helpful article. As a young child I lived in my father’s home country for a few years and went to school. Then my family returned to my place of birth. I arrived with an accent and unable to speak the second language of my birth country and felt odd and different. Now in my senior years for the last decade I have been living on the other side of the globe from my country of origin. I have had to adapt, change my phrases and idioms, some customs, different foods and recipes. While I have always tried to look on both these experiences as profitable and broadening, upon reading your article it has helped me understand some aspects of myself that I hadn’t before. The idea of circles, squares, triangles and stars is brilliant. Thank you taking the time and trouble to write this article.

  64. David says

    Thank you for your thoughtful writing on such a compelling topic. It raises so many other questions.

    How do long-repatriated triangles and stars deal with the nostalgia they feel for their square country? Some go back to resettle, some return for a short visit to relive old memories, while others never go back and are forever haunted by their memories. The picture is muddled by the fact that our nostalgia for our former square country is usually mixed with our nostalgia for a more youthful stage in our lives, and the two may be impossible to separate. Do all repatriated triangles and stars experience frequent (and sometimes acute) impulses to “go back” to their square country?

    How do long-repatriated triangles and stars deal with the sadness of seeing (from a distance) their past square country descend into political chaos, lawlessness and crime, to the point where ever “going back” is out of the question?

  65. Anne says

    Thank you for this post. I really liked the summary with the Triangle and Squares, although I would add another category, of which the shape escapes me at the moment. The so-called world citizen. People, who, like me, were born in a country and though they still find some degree of pride in their birth-country, feel that they could be perfectly happy somewhere else. So far, that somewhere else has been the US for the last 17 years, but there have been times where I have wondered where I will go next. France (my birth country) and the US (my second birth country) will somehow always be “home” but I have felt home in Spain, Senegal and wonder if I could feel home in other places. I find the subject fascinating. More could/should be said about it, undoubtedly.
    Thank you.

  66. says

    Wow- did you touch something with this post! Great energy and comments…

    Just wanted to say that I posted this for a new FB Coffee member:

    Tamara- You’ll like this post by one of our members, Naomi Hattaway. http://naomihattaway.com/…/… . You’ve just described the situation Naomi wrote about. There have been dozens and dozens of comments, which means to me that a lot of us identify with this ‘odd one out’ feeling. Take a look and see if you don’t find something of yourself in this too. We all understand how hard it is to feel settled anywhere when you haven’t gotten a chance to put down roots for yourself. Hopefully this will be the beginning of a renewal for you. You have lots of empathetic listeners here!

  67. Claudia says

    I’ve lived most of my life in countries other than my own. I am Brazilian and Canadian, I married a Dutch, had my daughter in the US and later my son in Germany. Whenever we go through customs there comes a bunch of questions. I have not repatriated with my husband yet. I did repatriate on my own, before I met my husband. I had then lived abroad for 11 years. When I came back home, I realized that home was not home anymore. It was really hard to reconnect with my family. The rebound cultural shock was huge! Had I not met my husband then, I would have left and never returned. Through him I saw a Brazil that was not so chaotic. 2 years later we moved to Mozambique, 3 years after that we went to USA, 5 years later we came to Germany where we have been for 8 years. I don’t know where home is anymore. My kids have never lived in neither parent’s homeland. For us, home is where we are now. We are ok with it, this is who we are! It is hard for other people to categorize us but it seems that this is a problem for them not for us.

  68. says

    I liked this dialogue and really can relate to a lot of it. The term I heard many years ago from Prof Gerald Maryanov, was Reverse Culture Shock, which summed up my experience living out side the US the first time, back in the 60’s. I truly accept, now that after moving abroad the fourth time, in 88 and staying abroad, that I am probably never going to be fully in any one culture, and like the triangle concept very much. I often tell my students that “when the ‘Americans upset me I go off the base into German communities, and when the Germans upset me I go on base, and when they both get my goat I can go to France less than an hour away. Cool Beans.

  69. says

    How cool that there are so many of us and an entire terminology for us! I’m half Polish, half Lebanese, my mother was also a third culture kid and I lived abroad for a long time. I don’t think I was even born a square or circle at this point :)

    I wrote a whole memoir on the identity crisis this caused me and how I dealt with it: Life as a Leb-neh Lover: the identity crisis of a maybe Lebanese.

    Find it here: http://www.kathyshalhoub.com/life-as-a-leb-neh-lover/

    Thanks for posting this Naomi!

  70. Tanya says

    Your article just resonates. It’s put into words the feeling of floating around not knowing quite where you fit in. The interesting thing is – although you make new friends with the squares, and you keep old friends in the circles, because you’ve pointy edges now, it feels as though no friends can quite get as close as they used to. I don’t regret emigration, and I’ve a feeling we will repatriate (back to the UK) at some point, but it has forever changed us and only other triangles can understand!

  71. Teresa says

    I guess I’m a star according to this. I don’t feel like one, however. It was extremely difficult for me to be dragged to 21 countries by my parents. I don’t think they made a wise decision. I think it was selfish. I am now 45 years old and have never really gotten over that much change. Kids need stability. They can have these wonderful experiences through vacations.

  72. says

    We have lived overseas since 2004 in 2 different countries and I so enjoyed reading this blog. It was such a great way to explain what it’s like. I have always had s hard time telling people how it feels but this was great. Thanks for sharing.

  73. Dawn says

    This is beautiful. I am a proud triangle, and mother to two spectacular stars. We have lived in the Middle East (Qatar and Saudi) for 15 years, and our children were 2 and 4 when we moved overseas. My expat friends and I often comment about living with our hearts in two places, and it is always so hard to leave either one because both are “home”. This was even more true when my daughter left for boarding school in the US (now college) and my son followed her to the same school. It hasn’t always been easy, and I, too, am cautious about with whom I share my experiences. I’ve been on the receiving end of too many glazed over expressions or “Why would you do that to your children?” conversations to openly share. I save my commentary for close friends and family who truly care or for other expats who really “get it”. I am part of a few closed Facebook groups where we can openly chat about issues that only expats will understand. :)

    Both of my children chose to go to boarding school in the US because they wanted to experience their home country. My daughter is thriving in university but gravitates towards other expat kids or kids who are well-traveled. My son, too, quickly friended the exchange students at his school because he knows what it feels like to be a little different. They both think that being different makes you special which makes my triangle heart swell with pride. :)

    We will return to our circle country at some point and are looking forward to that day, but in the meantime, we are soaking up every moment, cherishing every friendship, and chronicling every experience. It’s a strange, fulfilling, and eye-opening life. I am fundamentally, to my soul, changed by my experiences as an expat and know in my heart that I am changed for the better. Am I better than the circles or the squares? No. I am a better “me”, and I am very, very blessed.

  74. Barbara says

    I think I will show this to my 2 younger daughters. 1 getting ready to head to the US for Uni. She was 3 1/2 when we left. I keep telling her that she is not really American, people will look at her and expect her to be American, but she is not. She has been studying the star spangled banner (she knows the whole song now), the 50 states etc. She thinks she is American, on the other hand she often tells me, “well I’m Asian” when I question certain viewpoints she has. The youngest, overseas since 1 1/2 years old, can’t wait to “go home” after graduation in 3 years. She thinks it will be like the visits we have made back. Surrounded constantly by family doing things together. I tell her, those were holidays, everyday life is not like that. I think she struggles the most with the lack of roots and connection.
    This is a great read. My family “back home” does not understand at all. I do think as the girls get older, whenever they find themselves they will seek out other stars and will eventually see and appreciate the life they have lived.

  75. Peter Boylan says

    I’ve spent 7 years living outside the US, and I’m quite comfortable in both cultures. I built a new way of viewing both cultures to suit the new me that I have become. I recommend this book, “The Art Of Crossing Cultures.” Sorti’s book is quite helpful in understanding what is happening, and he spends a bit of time on reverse culture shock.

    You are more than you would have been if you had stayed home. You have grown. You just have to take a little time to understand how the new you fits in the culture you choose to live. And that’s a big part of it. Most people don’t choose what culture they live in. You do. That’s powerful.

    • says

      Peter, love this line of thinking. You’re right – we did choose to come back and we chose to go in the first place … and that does contain a lot of power.

  76. Mumwith2stars says

    I am currently in preparation for repatriation later this year after 7 years abroad, 2 vastly different countries. I have 2 stars that left ‘home’ at 2 and 4yrs of age. It scares me how they will adjust….although I know that they are strong and it may take time. I guess I simply would like acceptance from our ‘home society’. I recently shared your blog and I was dismayed that a couple of friends comments were….’No problem, you WILL always fit in here!’ This simply read to me as….I still don’t get you…

    • says

      Nikki, that was part of my struggle and sadness too. Feeling as though no one was listening long enough to understand what I was having a hard time with. I think that through the challenge, the hard moments, it’s important to have someone who knows repatriation, to get you through.

  77. says

    Nowhere near repatriation yet but found this on good ol’ Facebook and love it. Also went to an interesting talk this week by American Assoc Singapore, which included a bit about the subject – I’m going to send this link to them. Wonderful stuff, and I hope my little star continues to shine as he is in Year 2.

  78. says

    Lovely thank you for that description. I have lived in four different cultures since birth, Malaysia, Hong Kong, England and now the USA. I must be a star, eh?! I have never felt like I belonged, even in my own family unit as I was the ‘black sheep’ there too, and yet I have recently found that my husband’s family have been so very welcoming and appreciative that I may have finally come home. <3

  79. Nathalie says

    yes quite recognizable. Yet I miss one element in your story: countries evolve too in the course of time. Circle country will do that too. There is a big chance that your Circle country would have changed in the meantime (while you were “squaring” yourself in Square Country) into, let’s say a Oval country. So as an ex-Circle citizen, remember: you left a Circle country but there is a chance you’ll find a Oval country back.

    • says

      YES Nathalie, that is true. It just gets more and more exciting, as long as we’re up for the challenge of looking at it all as an adventure!

  80. sarah hagearty nalbantian says

    Hi Naomi. A great friend from Jordan sent me the link to your blog. What an article– so great! My interest and passion surrounds the ‘star’ piece, aka TCKs. I am currently working on research in this area. Would love to talk to you and your mom. You have my email– please contact me via email if you have interest in a discussion. Best and keep up the wonderful work, Sarah

  81. Antonet says

    hi, this makes a complete sense, I am not sure I am a start or a triangle. I was 9 when we moved from our home country and now I am 30. havening spend over 20 years in Africa, I feel more home in Africa. even though I am still viewed as an expact here, since there were a lot of starts/triangle kids growing we had our own group. Even though I love my life I sometimes miss being belonged.

  82. Thirza Schneider says

    Thanks for that awesome article. I am in the midst of it also, in fact, I still am, even though we’ve been back in “circle country” for two years now. I’ve lived in “square country” for nine and in the USA (another square country for me for four before that). It’s still so rough! Thanks again, I needed to be reminded of this concept!

    • says

      Thirza, I wonder when it feels more normal? I’m beginning to think that the onus is on us (ha, get the pun?) to put ourselves out there ?

  83. Christina says

    Thank you! This was such a creative and visual way to describe us and our children. It’s brought tears to my eyes. When we retire and “settle down” I’d like to find a “triangle community” to live in.

    • says

      why leave your work place unless you really have to ? most people don’t go ‘home’ when they retire, home is where they are and have made their friendship networks and have some status in the community.

  84. says

    I love this post! it is perfect! I am just beginning to realize the effects of the whole Third Culture Kid phenomenon. I just always thought it was me, not able to properly fit in or feel I belonged after repatriation. I am beginning to read a lot about it, so this was so helpful and very touching. I am in fact a star!

    I just today started posting about it on my blog as well.
    But thank you for this post of yours!


  85. Donna says

    A friend shared your post with me and it resonated with my own experience, moving from Australia to the U.S. Sometimes it’s a case of feeling like a misfit…not belonging completely in either place but maybe it’s more like being a multi fit…able to adapt wherever you go. I may have to share a link to your post on my blog :)

  86. says

    Well done on a great article. It was sent to me by my friend in the UK – I am a triangle currently living in Bahrain. We’ve shared it in Bahrain (www.facebook.com/expatangelsbahrain) – always nice to know there are others feeling the same!

  87. Wanida Muller says

    I was wondering , what shape do we take when it is more than 2 cultures ?.. for me..I have been exposed to 5 different cultures..

    • says

      Hey there Jo! I’m beginning to wonder though if it isn’t so much “always a triangle” because we are always adapting as humans .. I think it is more important to recognize the Triangle period of our lives … and then move on to accept whatever shape comes next!

  88. Chez says

    Brilliant!! I always felt like I don’t know where I belong or always questioning why don’t I fit in. Mother is from Trinidad & Tobago, Father from Ghana they met in UK, I was born in UK, we m moved to Trinidad when I was young, spent my formative years there then back to the UK where I was teased in school for having a Trini accent. Now that I’m older I truly appreciate my diverse heritage and exposure to various cultures. I’m now living in South Africa and married to an American- our kids will possibly be some new unduscovered planet shape!!

    • says

      Chez, your children are not only likely very beautiful on the outside (with those heritages? WOW!) but on the inside as well with all of that amazing exposure!

  89. Fran says

    This is a WONDERFUL article!!!! As a circle, ( I think……having worked in US, Guatemala, Haiti, Cuba) who became a triangle with my children, who are making stars out (of themselves as they prepare to serve in a third culture) of my grands I find this article vey helpful. Great way to explain things to people!!!

  90. Stefanie says

    This is a really great post. we just moved back to the U.S. from overseas and i feel that some people don’t fully appreciate the uniqueness of my children.

  91. Klay says

    Just loved it! That is my story, my definition: never a circle again, never square one day… It’s an enrichment what I saw and lived but it feels a bit lonely sometimes to realize, circles do not understand me completely, neither squares do… That’s why, among the circles or the squares, I always bond with and look for people who are open-minded enough to love triangles, although their shapes are not identical to mine. This makes life more beautiful, because ultimately, we’re all geometric shapes…
    I was born in Brazil, lived 13 years as an adult in Europe and came back to Brazil 2 years ago. Quite a difficult experience till now. Sometimes I think about going back o Europe, as my husband is European.

  92. Jackie says

    I am most definitely a triangle and perhaps more so since we have lived 30 years overseas in 4 different countries. One thing I did not see mentioned was that when we triangles who have lived in square countries for many, many years do return to our circle country, it is no longer the same circle country we remember. In part, it may just seem to have changed because we have, but it has also changed just because we live in a changing world. In fact, many of our square countries have changed as well. When you add changes to the mix it become even more complicated, doesn’t it?

  93. Jess says

    Thank you for this article. I don’t think I have read anything that sums up quite so perfectly what it is to live overseas and then return ‘home’. I am a ‘star’ in that I spent my formative years as an expat in the UAE. We then moved back to NZ where I finished school and university. I then returned to Dubai for a further six years, then back to NZ where I felt was ‘home’ but at the same time I felt restless as I knew there was a whole world out there! I then moved to Hong Kong where I met my husband and subsequently have had my two children. I feel so BLESSED that my children will (hopefully) experience a childhood similar to mine growing up in a different country and culture. I still identify myself as a New Zealander. I am deeply patriotic and love New Zealand though I am resigned to the fact that I will probably never live there again. I am fiercely defensive of the Middle East and have nothing but the best memories of my time there as a child and will always remember it as a place where my parents were truly happy. They moved back to NZ as they felt it would be better and ‘real’ for my sister and myself. But all I saw was them being never the same again!! My children know where they are from. They are half Australian and half Kiwi, BUT they are also Hong Kong kids. They choose rice over pasta, choi sum over potatoes and think of Asia as home. And this is OK. It isn’t perfect, but then neither is being at ‘home’. Personally I think the only downfall is when time spent overseas is wasted with wishing to be somewhere else. It is hard being away from family, you miss the little things that you know are unique to your ‘place’ in this world, BUT if constantly criticise where you are right NOW you miss out on so much. I always think to myself that NZ will always be there, but where we are right now, and what we are experiencing and LIVING right now may not. And how amazing is it?? THIS is what I learned growing up a ‘star’ and this is what I want my children to take away from being stars in their own right.

    • says

      “They choose rice over pasta, choi sum over potatoes” — love that! Jess, your comments brought tears to my eyes. You’re an awesome Star Mama!

  94. says

    Thank you for this post! I grew up all over Thailand and Malaysia and moved back to the United States when I was 11/12ish. It was a rough transition at first and a part of me does carry all the places I’ve lived with me. So, it’s really nice to read that I’m a “star”!! What a cool way to look at it.

  95. Chuck says

    I was a missionary overseas. I married a square, and returned to the USA. We have two children who are bilingual. I get all of this. But, as I study people in the church, I wonder if we don’t have the same concept with older people trying to be productive in today’s world. They are circles, and today’s world is square. They want to use the concepts that were successful with the circles and cannot understand why the squares would not want to do it their way. Have the older generation become triangles and have never moved?

    Good discussion.

  96. Marcy says

    thank you!!!!!! for writing this post. i’ve been back in the u.s.a. for 2 years and still don’t feel settled. this article helped me sooooo much. i will always be a triangle and this article helped me to come to grips with that and know that it’s okay to be a triangle and i don’t have to be a circle or a square. whew!!!

    • says

      It does help somehow, doesn’t it Marcy to just know there are others out there and how you’ve been feeling is okay! Maybe now you can start to better accept the circles for everything great they are as well?

  97. Renee says

    I am wondering if you wouldn’t mind if I added a like to this post on the Shanghai American School PTSA (Parent Teacher Student Association) blog? Great article! I think it would be very helpful to many of our parents.

  98. Pamela says

    HI! This was a very interesting article for me… I was born in Poland, then I left for a USA, where I finished University, and married…. Always felt “different” in spite of arriving early – teens – and trying to blend in. Then after marriage I moved to Switzerland, where life was still more different then in USA or Poland. After some years I moved to Barcelona and I got so totally confused! I had a very hard time to adjust to life here, and that was some 14 years ago… Now, I do not fit anywhere, in all of those places, which I love, I feel like a foreigner – a stranger. Often I like the fact that I see things in a different way, but sometimes I long for familiarity that people have when they live in the same place forever. I have kept my kids in Spain, but we travelled a lot, so they seem to feel that they are really Citizens of the World, but this is easy when one is a traveller. I do feel best in a company of people who are like me, multi cultural.

    • says

      I often feel the same way, and I think we all – as humans – feel most comfortable in situations where we don’t have to explain ourselves, or define our experiences?

  99. Lou says

    That is the clearest and simplest explanation of repatriation (and concept of third culture kids) that I have ever come across. Well done and thank you for sharing. As a westerner, living in China, growing up in 11 different countries, now with 2 children of my own – this has given me a very clear picture of how I might explain the privelege of difference to them, when the time comes.

  100. says

    I have been living in south Korea for the last 10 years teaching at International Christian School ? At the end of this school yr I will be heading back to the states. Not really sure if its permanent, but for now I know it’s time. I’ve been struggling with the thought of trying to fit back in to society. Several of my colleagues and friends are also leaving, so this has been a topic of conversation for many of us. A friend who is teaching in Japan shared this post on Facebook today and I have to say how timely and appropriate it is for all of us. I shared this with some other friends today and as we discussed this article we totally agreed, but my friend suggested that instead of using a triangle you use an octagon or hexagon because they still hold the circle shape with some pieces worn down or reshaped to fit more into the square society! Thanks so much for sharing. I’m not really looking forward to this, because I know it will be so hard, but I am thankful to know that are others out there who understand my heart!

    • says

      I think your friend may be on to something with the hexagon :) I am left with visions of flubber, play-do and now octagons! Best wishes in your upcoming journey back. Sometimes just knowing what to expect makes something a bit easier?

  101. Amy says

    As a star, I feel like some people I love only know one side of me. I’ve given up constantly explaining my experiences in other cultures to most people. What a lovely simple tool to show how those experiences shaped me. I’m excited to see use this to explain my life.

    • says

      Amy – JUST what you said is exactly why this resonated with me. I was giving up in the explaining … when now I know that so many others feel the same way!

  102. says

    Hello! I don’t know you, but thank you thank you for your post.
    Reading this post about circles and squares on a pretty crappy day really was what I needed to cheer me up. Sometimes being a triangle just really sucks and is lonely, but overall I would rather be a triangle than be a circle or a square. It is nice to know there are other triangles out there…I now have this happy image of my triangle friends and I all looking like real triangles and trying to interact with square and circle people…and well I imagine my pointy triangle edges trying to reach out to hug everyone like hands but instead bursting the circles’ protective balloons so that they have to open their mind and see the world around them and poking at the squares until they are so annoyed by me they have to wake up and not only think about things but start doing something…and well it all kind of fits together quite well with how I view my relationship to the USA and Honduras. Thanks for offering a humorous twist on what otherwise can seem a hopeless mess at times.

    • says

      Beth. You gave me a chuckle. BUT think of how positive the spin could be if you not only annoyed the squares but impacted those in that society. There are indeed other triangles out there but it’s up to US to stop being so pointy and instead smooth out J-U-S-T a bit … do you agree / disagree?

  103. Kay says

    Im an expat in the US who has given birth to twins here, our first daughter was born in Australia and identifies as Australian – would love to hear comments on children of expats (both the exoat kids and those born OS) relocating when parents repatriate to their home country, how they cope and if there is an optimal age to do it?

    • says

      Kay, thanks for your comment! I don’t think there is ever an optimal time for relocation – generally speaking – unless you are looking at the ages of 0-2 years of age. After that age, I feel there is always the risk of trauma and stress. HOWEVER (big however!), change isn’t always bad or a negative!

  104. Mike Pollock says

    Hi Naomi! I am totally with you. I like the folks at MTI, too, they do great stuff. Did they mention a book resource called Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken? A lot of information that MTI teaches originates in that book. (Of course they have expanded and refined, too!) However, there are a host of other really good writers on repatriation, like Robin Pascoe, Craig Storti and Tina Quick (especially for repatriating college students).
    There are so very many of us- I am a ‘star’ from East Africa and the US and a ‘triangle’ from US-China and my children are ‘stars’…I hope we do not have to keep discovering ourselves but can create a ‘many pointed community’ that has room for circles, squares, octagons and ovals as well as all the triangles and stars. :) Check out TCKid.com, for an online community of ‘stars’! Blessings and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  105. Rebekkah Kumar says

    Naomi, thank you for sharing! Ever since we moved here, I’ve been hearing that ‘the hardest thing is to move back’ because nobody really understands that you’ve changed. I haven’t been through it myself, but every year when we visit for 6 weeks, I feel a sense of what these people must have meant. Your post, however, helps to validate the primary reason I wanted to move in the first place — I wanted my children to become stars! It’s a lovely way to view the leap we took. Since I never really felt like a circle in the first place, I’m no less uncomfortable in my triangle status. In fact, being a triangle with all these pointy edges at least gives a reason for the ‘outsider’ feeling, and if I am honest, provides a shield from expectations that I’m unlikely ever to live up to in either the circle or square communities. It’s too bad that the triangle group is a diaspora because we triangles are reaching out for kinship — but I’ve found it to be a community that is so transient as to make for a foundation for heartbreak when close friends continually move on. I guess that is the topic for another post…

    • says

      Oh such heaviness, RK. I’m with you on all of it though … and yes, for another post, I think?

      I love that you wanted your children to be stars. Kudos for that!

  106. Kelly says

    Love this article! It is so true, although I have lived abroad for almost 20 years now (12 in Indonesia) so am more of a hybrid hexagon that will turn into a triangle if we do ever repatriate.

    I have 2 little stars and what I love about my little stars being expat kids is they don’t see colour or race. When a new kid starts school I ask where are they from and they have no idea purely because it doesn’t matter to them. As stars they seem to morph into any shape when other kids are around. Back in our home country on vacation they fit right back in with their cousins. I really hope they can hold onto these traits as they grow and mature.

    I’d love to share your article in a non profit expat magazine?

    • says

      Kelly – I have the image of Flubber entering my mind! You may absolutely share my piece, but please also credit the M.I.T. that I credited in the blog post?

  107. Mike says

    Your ‘stars’ are more commonly known as Third Culture Kids. I believe there is a good TED talk on teh subject but I havent been able to locate it sorry.

    As a New Zealander my wife & i spent many years living in London where there were two distinct cultures, the expat ‘Kiwi’s’ and Aussies banding together and the British culture which we often spent our days silently shaking our heads wondering why they do thinks they way they do … these cultures are not too dissimmilar, but there were enough unwritten rules in both that we often found ourselves doing something we would do every day as a kiwi but considered ‘uncouth’ to the brits. Similar to the Chinese spitting on train and bus floors, the height of bad manners to us … an every day occurance to a chinese traveller.

  108. Tim Marvin says

    How long does it take to become a triangle? Before becoming an expat, I had lived in ten different states in the US (including states in the west — Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, mid-west — Illinois, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas [and Oklahoma which is a blend of southern, southwestern and mid-western culture], south — Tennessee, Virginia, and Texas — which is a subculture all it’s own. I lived in Square Country (Republic of Korea) for three years (non-military, I think military experience is a bit different that some others because of the military community that they remain).

    Perhaps the various experiences within Circle Country helped to soften the move to Square Country (maybe I was more “squishy”), but do feel that I’ve changed to some alternate shape since returning about nine months ago.

    • says

      GOOD question, Tim. I love the comment that the South is a subculture all its own. I married a Southern boy and I respectfully agree! I like the concept that moving around inside of one CIRCLE COUNTRY could indeed soften the blow for the move to another shape … interesting! What part of the Circle Country are you back to now?

      • Tim Marvin says

        Right now I’m in the mid-west (Kansas). But, I have been looking for suitable employment and will land wherever that happens to be. Contacts made (or resumes sent) from as far west as Washington and Oregon, east as Maryland, north as Michigan, and south as Texas.

  109. says

    I needed this!! Thank you so much for this blog post! This is EXACTLY what it feels like and the triangle idea has made me feel understood! My whole family is having a hard time adjusting to being away for 11 years. Our family doesn’t understand and it’s so frustrating. Thank you for sharing!!!

  110. says

    Great post Naomi!
    And it gets quite complicated when you need to learn new language when moving to another country :)
    To the kids it comes naturally, later in the life you need to learn … and also accept that for your kids (if you have some) the “home country” will have a different meaning – the country where they grew up, went to school, got friends …
    Returning home to the Czech-land after 20 years of living abroad and having left our three kids to get on with their life elsewhere is quite a challenge. But that’s what the life is about so good luck to all Triangles! :)

  111. says

    I really enjoyed this today! I have spent 8 years overseas as first a teacher, and then missionary. All 3 kiddos were born in our host culture. We’ve been repats, for 6 years now, and it has been the hardest on me over those 6 years. The first 3 were particularly difficult as I tried to pack up the suitcases of my experiences and move forward. I’m learning though that there will be circles who just don’t get me, or even want to try to enter that part of my life. Being a triangle is a huge blessing. I believe there is great value in being a triangle to help other triangles. I’ve always seen resources for TCKs, but knew that I, as an adult, was being changed. I just didn’t have the words to describe how I was now different. This post really puts it simply and effectively. Thank you!

  112. Katy says

    Thank for you the post.

    As an adult TCK/MK who was born in the Philippines, lived there for four year (or so) at a time, before moving back to Texas for a year (and once two), and then back to the Philippines until high school graduation- I have always felt that I didn’t quite fit 100% into either culture. “Home” is a concept I don’t really get in the strictly American sense. We never moved back to the same house, rarely the same neighborhood, but at least the same city. The Philippines in some ways is an emotional “home”…of favorite foods (which I cook often), of culture idiosyncrasies (I eat white rice with soy sauce more than most “Texans”) and use a spoon and fork to eat…however, when I returned a few years ago for a visit I didn’t quite “fit” in the Philippines anymore either.

    At first I would reminisce and tell too many stories, fly my Filipino flag proudly on my dorm wall, and refuse to call myself a Texan. Far too many people think the simple “where are you from” is a simple question with a simple answer. I have learned to gauge whether or not to give a short answer (where I live now) or the long one (where I have lived). I hid my past for a long time also. Which wasn’t ideal since I cannot ever truly pass for a “normal” American woman- although most TCKs are good chameleons and can pass for a Circle or a Square for a brief time.

    I have come to terms that I will probably always think a bit differently and have a unique perspective on world events, and I’m proud of my Star cultural blend- its taken time, some heartache, and lots and lots of conversations with my mom who has worked with dozens (if not hundreds) of TCKs (she is one herself) as they transition to and from Circle and Square countries.

    For those TCKs in transition- embrace your “Star” culture. You are not alone. In my experience, stars tend to attract other stars…but don’t ever discount the experiences of Circles…their culture is as vivid and vast as any other…its just different.

  113. says

    Thanks, Naomi!
    Oh how I can relate to this! I escaped 47 years ago to the United States, from a then communistic country. Have never lived there again, only went back to visit family. I still at times feel like a foreigner in this country, because of the way I express my self or do things. My question is, what shape would I fall under???

  114. says

    Great post Naomi! So, so true as well – one of reasons I don’t want to return “home” anytime soon as I think my triangular self will find it harder back among the circles!

    • says

      “Home” is such a heavy word … not in a depressing way, but in the way that if you don’t define it for yourself (whether it’s “where the heart is” or where you choose to place your roots, etc.) it can be a missed opportunity to settle in for the well-being of you and your loved ones.

  115. Michael Cottingham says

    I am a triangle still living in the square country. Thank you for what you wrote as now I can understand something of why I feel like I do sometimes.

  116. Phoebe says

    Thanks for this. My husband and I are triangles who were originally from two different countries — so we’re not even both former circles. We started our marriage overseas and then had a star. Then came to the States a few years ago (my home country, but another new country for my husband) and had another little one who I think is neither circle, nor square, nor star, nor… Needless to say, the last few years have been interesting. But having some concrete language to use to talk about it is helpful.

  117. Aude says

    Thank you so much for that article. It brought tears to my eyes. It’s that simple! My husband and I are triangles with 2 little stars.

  118. Brenda Ballenden says

    Thank you for this article. For someone who moved from circle country(SA) to square country(UK), had my 2 stars and now am thinking of moving again next year to USA, this article is very helpful and insightful. I do have 2 brilliant stars, and sometimes we all feel a bit lost, or like we don’t fit in, but we do have lovely squares who have welcomed us. Even after 16 yrs I am aware of my triangle angles but try not to make them so sharp! Not sure what it will be like starting again but willing to try. Will pass this on to my stars, it will be helpful for them too. Thank you. Bx

  119. says

    Wow… I needed to read this today. Such a wonderful blog post. I love how you pictured it in words and illustrations. So well done! :)
    I’m a triangle and I never thought going home would be *this* hard: even two years later I sometimes struggle. I have always been a bit of an outsider but this ‘luggage in my backpack’ made it even more clear. For myself I see it as a wonderful experience I would never trade: I have always been passionate about foreign cultures & languages so of course I was more than willing to take the chance to go to China. And I learned so much about the world around me, life, about ourselves and myself as well. Going back home made me feel lonely with everything in my backpack I could not talk about though (and it was a little boring lol).
    Now, two years later, I love being back in Europe and I feel much more ‘at home’ than in the first year and the backpack is getting bigger and bigger with new experiences. I’m still a triangle but I have grown back into my own culture little by little as well. Not 100% and I don’t think I ever will, but I don’t think we need to. Even if it hasn’t always been easy I love the accumulated luggage and being a world citizen is fine :)

    • says

      It’s all about what’s in that backpack. The things we SO want to talk about, but no one in interested in. I firmly believe that our stories are meant to be shared though … and if that means a blog, a journal or a tape recorder. Don’t let it be hushed just because one person wasn’t feelin’ it for that time/moment.

  120. Nicole says

    I am sorry but I have a different view.
    I don’t think it is right to think that just because someone hasn’t lived abroad that they can be put in a circle. People can still hold wide views and varied experiences by not living abroad. I know ‘worldy’ people who have lived in other countries but not stepped outside their expat world and are non the wiser to their new country.
    I think people are too quick to judge that because they have lived in another country they won’t fit in or find their place when they return. This was absolutely not our experience. We lived abroad and have fitted in perfectly back home. Yes we have had many new experiences, but we would never want others to feel that we see ourselves differently because of them.
    I think people shouldn’t judge others who have lived in another country, just like they shouldn’t make massive generalisations about others who have not.

    • says

      Nicole, actually, thanks for disagreeing! I can totally see your viewpoint and have argued it many times myself. I think you hit the full circle of the discussion when you pointed out at the end that people shouldn’t judge others who have lived somewhere else, as well as the fact that generalizations about those who have not need to stop as well.

      I think the popularity of this post though gets down just to the basic fact that so few are talking about the hard parts of “Coming Home” whether that is to the same house they left, or a new location in their passport country. I think repatriation gets a bum rap in that its often shrugged off as the “end of the adventure” when in fact it can be more difficult than the location in the middle.

      Of course, it is all SO dependent on SO many things, ages of children, the “away” location, etc. and etc. – don’t you think?

      I’m thrilled that you had an easy transition back home. Score 1 for positive repatriation!

  121. Leila McGowan says

    Hi Naomi!would you allow me to use this as an illustration about acceptance and love in my sermon? Thanks in advance.

  122. Madelyn says

    As a triangle who spent roughly 25 years in square society and have lived back in circle country for 7 years, I have one bit of advice for those getting ready to return to the round lands. If it is at all possible, find a place that has some similarities to square society. Growing up in small-town south but moving to a square city of 16 million, I find a quirky city back in homeland to be much more comfortable than strictly “going home”. University cities and others which attract “outsiders” of all types are generally going to be more accepting and sometimes even appreciative of us triangles.

  123. Michael says

    Really powerful metaphor. Really validates a lot of things I’ve felt having grown up as a “star.” Still in high school now, but I’m back in the US and the readjustment can certainly be jarring. Thanks for the post!

    • says

      It CAN be jarring, but it also can be a good thing to have another set of experiences to add to your “portfolio” – it’s all about knowing what to expect and everyone being willing to talk about it?

  124. Mahjong mamma says

    This hit me hard, tears in my eyes that I don’t quite understand. I am living this right now ! Hubby and I born in UK, moved to USA in ’94. Kids born in USA. Moved to China for 4+ years and just returned to USA. DEfinately feeling “pointy” right now :) Thinking Thailand sounds good for retirement in a few years….

    • says

      It is a TOUGH, TOUGH thing. We tend to water it down because we’ve lived ALL OVER. It shouldn’t be hard to “come home” right? Hang in there!

  125. Kerry says

    Maybe this has been addressed…my first post was over 20 years ago to London. We returned after five years and the one thing that stands out is that I had no one to share my experiences with. My friends could not relate or just didn’t care. I was concerned that they thought I was bragging, so I tried, unsuccessfully, to quit talking about it.

    • says

      Kerry – I think that is another undiscussed issue. It isn’t our friends’ fault for not understanding, or for having a low tolerance for our experiences / sharing, but it is a fine balance to toe. it’s not the good answer to stop talking about our lives – that we’ve just left – we could all use a bit more patience and grace.

  126. Laurie Breadmore says

    So very well written and so accurate … We are retired and we have now settled in New Zealand originally from UK … we have been nomads for 30 years 12 different countries with 2 children … The thing I asked my daughter who is now in her 40″s ” How do you feel about the life that you have lead with nomadic parents” her reply ” She loved and appreciated it all BUT my only regret is no one any where has grown up with me from Kindergarten to High school and my friends are in different corners of the earth” It made me feel a little guilty that we had caused this regret for her …

    • says

      We have the same regret for our oldest child, but I think about the potential alternative regrets that we might have from having stayed put in one place? I’ll take the ones that occur from moving them around, I think? (I THINK?)

  127. says

    Just a thought – if you changed into a triangle gradually, wouldn’t it make sense to say that you’ll continue to adapt and change as you come back to the circle area? Perhaps you won’t be a triangle forever. Coming home, you are different, but maybe it’s so tough because you’re expecting your circle country to be exactly the same as when you left and it’s not…and neither are you. I don’t know for sure, but it’s interesting to think about it and I hope you feel encouraged that you may not ‘be a triangle forever’ but are being shaped into something even more complex and beautiful. :)

    But, I loved reading it and I am VERY curious to see this play out in our family life over the next 10-20 years.


    • says

      Ah Lana … that’s an interesting concept. I actually think – looking back – that I didn’t give MUCH thought to the “coming home” at all – which was my problem. I assumed it couldn’t be much of an issue compared to having expatriated in the first place. Thanks for your comment!

  128. says

    Thanks for great post. My husband’s family has experience with this and I spent the first 5 years of my life in Hawaii which is pretty different culturally than mainland US. I am really interested is “stars” though as we have young chidden and I think developing them into stars would be of benefit to them for the long-term. Do you have any thoughts on how stars will benefit in the world and be of benefit to the world? If you look at leaders in government and business I bet we’d be surprised at how many of them are stars…

  129. Jael R. says

    Totally true – I’m a ‘star’ growing up as a third/fourth culture kid in Paraguay to missionary parents (my mom Mexican, my dad American) and becoming myself a missionary in Asia (14 years so far) with 3 little ‘stars’ who are not yet even realizing how ingrained they are into a culture that, really, isn’t their own…!

  130. says

    I lived in the US for three years in the 80s with my husband and two daughters. We are Brits. There was some reverse culture shock when we returned to the UK but I suspect it would have been much more difficult to go through it all alone. The girls were only 7 and 9 when we came back but my older daughter eventually married a Welsh/Scots man with a Scottish/American accent. He had spent less time in the states than us as a teenager but had never quite lost the accent he acquired then. My daughter could never tell from a person’s accent which country they were from. I guess she feels equally at home with both. Great that they found each other; two people with almost unique experiences yet so much in common.

    • says

      That’s great Helen! We often have a laugh over being able to identify accents when some of our friends still think that all from New Zealand are actually Brits :)

  131. Ashley says

    I only did 5 months abroad (12 years ago!), but clearly remember the very unexpected culture shock when I returned back home. I went to a school where around 85% of students studied abroad though, so took for granted that shared experience of returning home to a place that doesn’t feel quite like home anymore. This post vividly reminded me of the uncomfortable (in a good way) experience of returning. Thanks for that!

  132. says

    turkish, 35, f, married to irish, 42, m, living in tokyo with 2 kids, 2&4yrs, for the last 12 years. shooting stars on our skies! would love to meet u some day!

  133. Elaine says

    I repatriated to UK 2 years ago after 35 years in Singapore. As an expat repatriation is always seen as a negative experience – going ‘back’, ‘being repatriated’ is passive, something happening to you over which you have no control.. Thinking of yourself as a triangle echoes that idea: a triangle is different, doesn’t fit in with the rest, stands out…..But I have found that not thinking of ‘repatriation’ – awful word – as a ‘going back’ but as another ADVENTURE: of a country waiting to be discovered afresh, with fresh opportunities that weren’t there in the previous culture makes the process exciting – the same spirit of adventure that took you to that new country. And most important is the attitude you now bring to that ‘new’ country – a spirit of ‘can do’, ‘let’s do it’ because it makes a difference that you had the courage to leave your country for somewhere new, and to return to your country leaving that previous life behind. That for me is the major difference that you bring. A spirit of courage and boldness that enables you to make a difference to a society where many people have lived in the same place all their lives (Though every society is increasingly multi – cultural). That boldness means that you can take initiatives where previously others might have hesitated, can see things in a fresh way, and can bring the awareness that things don’t have to always be like this because there are places in the world where they do things differently. It can enable you to see how fortunate you are to have had that experience and you can tap into that on the days when the world seems small. Remember too that change is a dynamic: we can grow stale living in the same place; and the dynamic of change often involves death in the process of life; I grieved for what I lost, mainly people! but rejoiced in what I found. It can make you stronger. So bring that strength of spirit to your new world, with humility. Ultimately we are all ‘the same’: same needs, same issues, and those ‘differences’ are less significant than what binds us together as the human race. Embrace the change as you did when you took that leap away and let it inform and energise your new world.

    • says

      Elaine – that is so true. It is sometimes all about your attitude going in and choosing to make the current experience just that, an adventure. Thanks for your comment!

  134. molly says

    i moved ‘back’ to canada last year and hated it, so moved back to my beloved chaotic istanbul. i totally get your explanation and thank you so much! my kids are grown so they were not with me, but i think the world needs more stars!

  135. says

    Thank you so much!! I have tried to explain that concept a couple different times and you just did it wonderfully! We have been a triangle I guess you could say for 30 years!! What helps us now is that we have reached the age where it is beneficial to us to go back for short two-month furloughs and report to a few of our churches and family and then back to our country. We don’t lose so much of what we have become this way. But our ‘star’ daughter who was 2 when she came and 18 when she left…still has challenges at times being a star even with a family of 4 children, hubby and being in the states 15 yrs now. Still she feels badly when people don’t have a clue as to why she says “oh I wish I could go home for Christmas”…people then say, but you are home…Thanks for putting all this into words!! Something to include in our studies with interns when they come!

    • says

      I think it will be so interesting, Vicki, as this current generation of stars begins capturing their experiences. I think it will give great insight!

  136. says

    I’m originally an Australian who married a Dutch man and we have lived between the 2 countries over the last decade. We have two children – one born in each country. Thanks for this beautifully simple yet extremely effective explanation. I’ve been having a hard time lately but probably because I’ve been trying too hard to be a circle or a square. This new imagery of me being a triangle is likely to really help me cope better – and I’m very proud to have children that are stars.

    • says

      Trying too hard. I have been guilty of doing the same. It almost gives an allowance (so to speak) to not fit in to those around you, especially if you have replanted yourself in a community where people haven’t moved often.

  137. Donna Faircloth says

    Wow. well put, thanks I needed this!

    24 yrs serving in Brazil, 1 yr back in US to care for aging Mother & daughter in College.

  138. Gustavo says

    I often feel more like a “squarcle”. Yes! Noy totally “this”, but here it is. Not totally “that”, but it is in me! I can feel fine in both places: I fit in the lines of a square with my square part, and I fit with the curves of the circle using my circle part. But, sometimes my lines “hit” the circle, and my curves “hit” the square and I long for the “other me”, not feeling totally at home like before, and always longing for the other home.

  139. says

    I love how you simplified the feelings and drew such a perfect picture of the experience. Thank you for this gift. I definitely feel like a triangle and am still trying to smooth the edges and find my new place.

  140. David Ens says

    Since I left Canada and went to Cambodia at a very young age, I am a star. After a while I met my wife who had left Cambodia and fled to France at twelve. We went as International Workers to France and had three kids before we went back to Cambodia to work. I think I have created a hybrid sort of shape. Wherever my kids go, people can’t figure them out entirely. They happy and well adjusted to where they are right now, and my wife and I are proud of them.

  141. Expatmom says

    I spent 12 years living abroad. Everywhere we lived was the perfect place for us to be, at that time in our lives. I was told by wise repats to give myself a month for every year we were away, to adjust to being home. It wasn’t bad for me. Part of me longs to be away. I miss the food of Singapore, the call to prayers of Dubai, the travel, but I know I am where I should be right now. Being a triangle is lovely!

    • Linda George Brown says

      We lived in Singapore for 11 years and for 5 of those we lived very near a mosque. At the time I was having trouble sleeping at night and would often be awake and sitting on the balcony listening to the call to prayer at 5 am. Living at home I find it difficult to fully explain the beauty and peace it inspires within. With today’s politics I find it a comfort to have had a true multicultural experience of living in a mixed culture. Exposure to the world makes for an open mind.

  142. Jeanne says

    This is very interesting! I am a circle and have triangle friends. I think it will help me understand them a little better. I sometimes think triangles think they are “better” than us. Remember that many circles wish we could have those experiences but our circumstances haven’t allowed it. We all should respect each other’s shapes!

  143. Bill Ecton says

    My wife and I are triangles. Our daughter is also. Our son on the other hand is a star. There is another category however. We can call them polygons. These are the people who travel the world and sip of other cultures and mores but never live there. They believe they know what the circles, squares, triangles, and stars are all about and how to solve their problems, “because they’ve been there.”

  144. Kaye says

    Thank you so much for this, it is an excellent analogy of what it is like to move from one country and culture to another. I myself am English born, I spent my teens and twenties in South Africa, and am currently living in southern Germany, throw into the mix a bit of Australia and America and … I am undoubtedly a triangle. As for my children both now in their late teens, they are stars, holding on to the best of each and every culture they have been exposed to and open and willing to try many more.

  145. Paige says

    I sure wish you were still here in my square place, but I am glad you have gone before me back to the circle land so that I can benefit from your experience. I am beginning to think going to another square may be easier than going back to the circle……..

  146. says

    Interesting way of explaining the situation! I do wonder if this will get easier over time, with more global travel and communications? We are triangles with younger stars. We are still happily living in our square of Tanzania having enjoyed a time back in two circles of the UK and Canada and our stars so far have morphed into either circles or squares quite happily! Thanks for posting! Rachel

    • says

      I can only hope that it will become even easier as we morph along the technological advances … and soon that combined with our human need to connect will find us all back to one big happy family?

  147. Heather says

    It’s interesting to think about this as someone whose parents come from different cultures. The culture I grew up in is my mom’s square culture, she never repatriated to her circle culture. My circle culture, which is also my dad’s circle culture has never felt totally…round…to me, I think my parent’s combined circles, because those circles are from different parts of the world resulted in my being a triangle baby. Neither culture has felt totally like my circle culture, and neither feels square…there are ways I fit both.

    Now I am living in a country that truly is square for me, and I reference both of my “home” cultures as I make sense of this place. If/when I repatriate to either “home” culture perhaps I’ll feel more like a star.

      • Heather says

        My husband (whose circle country is his parent’s square country, which I think made him a triangle baby, too) and I are living and working overseas for the first time…and having a star baby soon. :)

        We were talking yesterday about our initial transition here and how my husband’s visits to his parent’s circle country gave him enough reference points to a lifestyle similar to the one we live now that the change was probably made easier for him…And taking my cues from him, I found the adjustment to be pretty smooth as well!

        Even if we don’t live here long enough for our baby to remember this place, I love that it’s still part of his story, and I hope he’ll feel and really value the connection he has to it, as well as the cultural heritage his grandparents give him.

  148. Cathy says

    I was born to two wonderful Triangles and therefore, I guess I grew up a Star although I really feel connected to the Square country and not the Circle country. I went to university in the Circle country of my Triangle parents and then moved to yet another Square country where my parents have only visited. I’ve lived here for almost 22 years and quite frankly can’t imagine what it will be like if I ever move to the land of Circles, since I really have never spent too much time there. It is my parents’ Circle but I’m not sure what is my Circle…… My triangle parents went “home” after 28 years in their Square country and it was very challenging for them, so I’m sure it will be for me if I ever move to their Circle country. I love being a Star and some kind of Triangle. Can’t imagine living in one town or even country my whole life. My life is rich!

  149. Shelly says

    This is very clever, useful and definitely going to share it with expats in Uganda! However, I don’t agree with your sentence above your introduction to the triangle tenants… none of us are *ever* 100% squares! What do you think?

    You have an added dimension into being one of the 20% with a passport… which adds another facet to your particular Circle Society.

    God bless.

    • says


      You’re likely VERY right in the context of ever being 100% anything. I guess for the purpose of this piece, it is simpler?

      Oh how I wish more people had passports.

  150. Mary says

    15 years in SE Asia, loving our life, raising our daughter from age 7 throughout high school. Then our daughter, our Star, repatriated to attend university. Our Star found it extremely difficult to fit into the Circle. Meanwhile, my husband and I were still Triangles living in the Square. As fate would have it, our Star met a male Star. These two Stars married, and are now parents to two little…..Circles. My husband and I have repatriated, have done our best to fit our Triangles into the Circle, but have found we fit best with other Triangles in this Circle. The married Stars hope that one day they will take their little Circles to live in a Square. My husband and I would miss our little Circles terribly, but how wonderful for them to be Stars.

  151. Donna says

    This is so totally my experience. A friend (who is still in Japan) and I were discussing this in June. I have been back in the States for 1-1/2 years now and it has been a difficult transition. Even now, I’m still impatient with my Circle culture and have flashback memories of my Square culture. I have connected with people who are from my Square culture here in the States. When I get together with them and hear their language and mannerisms, I am so comfortable and happy, even though I can’t understand a thing they are saying. It helps me to realize that I will always be a Triangle and am so happy when I meet another Triangle.

    • says

      Donna, thanks for your comment. Ok, I have a challenge for you. What would it take to reach outside of the comfort zone of the Circles? I’m struggling with that myself, but am motivated to really give it a go. Let’s do it together?

      • says

        I remember as a student an older couple who welcomed students on a Sunday evening to be in their home and how much it meant to me. I wonder if reaching out to overseas students would be a way of passing on support to other people who are in the process of having their circle-ness challenged by other people’s square-ness and would be a way of turning your experience to someone’s good ?

  152. Kirsten says

    As a TCK child and now a TCK adult raising TCK kids, I can completely and totally relate to this post by my dear sweet TCK friend Naomi! Thank you for so expertly explaining our journey from circles to squares to triangles to the beautiful transformation into stars. Hang in there with the repatriation and be proud that your star is shining bright because of the experiences & cultures you’ve embraced along the way and the people you’ve met & grown from so much, in both the circle country and square societies (plural for the many moves!). You will always be a STAR in my galaxy!

  153. Elizabeth says

    Help! Any thoughts or ideas for TCKS who do not cope well and struggle with identity? Particular issues with following bad influences and making poor life choices while trying to “fit in.” Desperate for answers.

  154. says

    I am four days from going back to the States after 3 1/2 years on the field and this is rocking my world. I am totally scared now, but at the same time interested in seeing the kinds of shock I will be experiencing. Wow!

  155. says

    Hi! Great post and comments!

    As a foreign service brat my sisters and I are definitely triangles, and usually quite happy to be so! 😉 On top of that we’re children of parents with two different nationalities! Personally I never felt like I fully “belonged” to any one country, so each move added another point to my star, even when we moved “back” to the U.S. twice (my dad’s homebase), or when we moved to Spain (my mom’s homebase).

    In some ways I think it’s easier for those of us who are stars to “repatriate” as opposed to our parent triangles. My sisters and I definitely had it easier adapting to life in Spain than my mom did returning after 25 years abroad… For us it was just another “foreign” (albeit familiar) country, whereas for her it was home, but oh so different from the one she had left behind.

    Sometimes it would be easier I think for triangles if the circles would just consider them as foreigners instead of weird circles, ’cause as a triangle the other circles expect you to know so much about your own country, which you might not ’cause things have changed so much since you were gone…

    This is a brilliant way of explaining this feeling (of being a triangle or star) no people who have trouble understanding it having never lived outside of their home country. Thanks! :)

    • says

      Cristina – this —> “Sometimes it would be easier I think for triangles if the circles would just consider them as foreigners instead of weird circles, ’cause as a triangle the other circles expect you to know so much about your own country, which you might not ’cause things have changed so much since you were gone” is EXACTLY it!

  156. says

    Great analogy and very true for myself (15 years overseas). I also see now that it is true of my husband who recently retired from the military – he will always be military, but now he is “out” of the land of military squares, and lives among the circles again. I guess that makes him a triangle as well. Well said!

    • Cynthia W says

      lol – sort of. I don’t know if you’re ever really “out” of the military, but it’s true that you will always feel more comfortable when you are amongst your “people”, fellow veterans. Even 20 years later, I still feel apart from the main culture because of my military experience. Marrying another veteran certainly made things easier for me, but there are still things about me that my own family doesn’t understand. I think that being in the military is definitely like being in a whole different country – it’s for sure a different world.

      My husband served mostly overseas and he said that the shock of returning to the civilian world was way worse than the shock of returning to the US.

      • says

        Cynthia and Mindy … maybe we could identify a shape that honors their time and service AND the morphing they have done (as well as you both) !!

  157. cathie anastas says

    It sounds very much like the making of the “good ol’ US of A.” This is undoubtedly what every person felt (to some degree) in leaving their families in Europe and elsewhere to come and build this country of ours. They didn’t usually leave by choice; it was a means of continuing to provide for their families back home….and the story continues all over the world, especially for those seeking refuge, with no choice at all in the matter. Life is difficult…it could always be worse, but the awareness of one’s circumstances can make a diffrence

  158. says

    What a great post! I did not read all the comments, but caught a few about TCKs. I like the description of the stars, and it took me some time to realize that is what I am myself. I was an expat child, and whenever I worry about my kids I remind myself I turned out ok, even without roots. Like in the jungle, sons plants do just fine without them. One warning, me and most of my childhood friends have caught the wanderlust, so expect to do do d traveling later if you want to see the grandchildren 😉

    • Nancy says

      This is a lovely piece. Having been through repatriation three times now (!) I can say it’s different at each developmental stage – but yes, you will always be a triangle, and hopefully learn to love that triangle-ness that is uniquely angled by where you were in the geometric world. My daughter (left the US at 7 and moved back at 16) has a security about her that most women of 35 should envy, feeling that she belongs where she is living by virtue of her living there, without needing to change in order to “fit in”. I think that’s my greatest legacy – a young person who has no need to “fit” in order to be happy.

    • Nancy says

      “Roots” are not necessarily related to a place. My job while we wandered around the world was to create a sense of home in each place, and my children have that sense – that home is what you make of it, not a specific place. Not a bad way to look at it if you ask me.

  159. Lisa says

    I believe we are all here for a very specific purpose and God puts us in places for very specific reasons. It is up to us to search for that reason and find meaning in it. For me it has always been helpful to find places that I can use what I have learned by living within different cultures and to remember that those that don’t ask, usually just have no idea. Overall, my husband and I and our 5 children all believe that the pros of living in other countries do very much out weigh the cons. However, their is alot to be said for roots!!

  160. Brawny says

    Thanks for that! I have been trying to explain this for some time with my kids. They are surely TCK’s-having lived the past 15 years overseas with a minor stay in the US. We are on the job hunt yet again, may be leaving the UK which has been our home for the past 5 years. The experiences we have had far outweigh the “triangle” shaping, but it is still hard to deal with not fitting into your own country anymore. My “Stars” are much better at accepting they are different, but I always try to bring them back to where I am from.
    Thanks for the simplicity of the illustration, and dealing with such a very complex issue.

  161. Consultancysvc says

    I could not have summed up the description of repatriation any better. It was an uplift to know we are not the only one’s and that we have two stars who benefited from the broader horizons they have experienced over the years. A traveling triangle looking to return to the country of circles.

  162. says

    Beautiful post that makes our feelings of not quite fitting in easy to understand and reminds us to not to over-complicate the issue too.

    I do however, practise reminding myself that circles and squares are no less interesting nor unique. Some will even be triangles but they don’t yet know it or they feel the time is not yet right to make the transition to three-sideness.

    I love being a triangle and I’m learning how to be a mum to a star. Angles all over!

    • says

      YES! I am just coming to your comment and echo what you said in my response to Lauren. There is a fine line between acknowledging the difference, yet celebrating those differences at the same time!

  163. Lauren says

    I am a Triangle, and i like it. Although, being back among circles can be hard, as some seem to find it harder to accept that you are more than a circle.

    • says

      I think it’s interesting you say “more than a circle” – I think that there is some confusion in that … let’s look at this loosely. Triangles are never MORE than anyone else, they just have a different set of experiences that change perspective. Do you agree?

  164. says

    This article was shared by a friend and couldn’t be more timely. I literally have my 4 allotted bags and little boy ready to catch the train,taxi,and plane home to TX from 2yrs in S.Korea. While I’m excited to have my points, worried about fitting in. I must try to find others who have some of our shared Asia experience! Thank you!

    • says

      Lauren – we too have exchanged emails and hoping that on the other side of your journey, you have found the beginnings of a soft landing!

  165. Beth T. says

    I loved the article. It is sooo true. I was raised o/seas as a “star” and Loved it!!!
    At 53, circle country still is a bit of a struggle, and sometimes circle people.
    But there’s good in “Circle” and “Square” . And I love having the opportunity to raise my own ” Stars”. My “Stars” and I looong to return to “Square”, or “Octogon”,etc.

    • says

      You’re right on the money, Beth. It is about all of us appreciating each other … there is good in all of us and we ALL have something to teach other. It starts with listening and acknowledgement I think?

  166. Ramie says

    AWESOME read! What a great way to describe it all. We’ve done two tours overseas (in the middle of the 3rd now) with the military, and this explains us and our kids so well! We are definitely triangles with stars! :)

  167. Rachel says

    This is crazy. I never moved out of the country, but I moved across the country away from my family and friends…and then back after 5 years. And while I probably don’t experience this to the degree that people moving overseas do, I get it (in a minor sense). I definitely feel like a triangle in my circle world; and sometimes it is so difficult.

    I can’t imagine the transition from being overseas and back to the US. But I still appreciate you putting this into words for me.

    • Carolyn says

      I can relate. I, too, moved from one part of the state to another and I sometimes feel funny trying to figure out my “home.” My daughter and her husband moved to Singapore over 20 years ago and had children born in Malaysia. I often wonder how they relate to this.

  168. Leah Llamzon says

    Hello my triangle friend! Thank you Naomi (and your mom) for posting this. It is truly a struggle to find connections and belonging to places that we label “home”, knowing that it will never exactly be “home”. Make sense?

    • Kira skill says

      Thanks so much for posting! I needed this today! I’m not going to smooth out my pointy parts. My son is home on college break, and Last night a Big discussion with smooth friends. He has an obvious star opinion of the world from living overseas!

  169. Denise says

    Hello! Saw this link posted by an English friend (now living in Spain on a year abroad) and I love how you have managed to be quite succinct about a really close-to-the-heart matter. I am a born and bred Singaporean, and have lived in the UK for 5 years. As a maturing young adult, London was home. And now I am back in Singapore. It feels strange because sometimes people (like family) find it odd that you have changed. My odd-vaguely-Singaporean-American-VeryBritish accent gets odd looks from strangers on the street. I often feel lost in my own country, not least because they keep insisting on putting up new buildings and things like that. Not to mention forgetting how things work etc. Also, I did not move back to the same house after coming back to Singapore. So I have to cope with living in a new area as well.

    Thanks for being able to express what I have just said into a lovely picture, and with fewer words than mine. (I could go on forever) But it is great to be a triangle, because I’ve got the best bits of both places in me now. Sure, it’s difficult sometimes, but your drawing helps me to think that I don’t need to stop being a triangle to make people think better of me.

    • says

      Oh Denise, trust me – I could go on forever too! In fact, I have three more blog posts to write about just trailing thoughts from THIS one!

      You DO have a bit of the best of both worlds! Don’t apologize for that!

  170. says

    Wow, this is very insightful! I came across this on the facebook Shanghai connect page. As a missionary kid growing up in another culture, I deeply identify with this analogy (I posted a bit about this on my blog). Now we’re moving overseas with our 2 littles and I wonder what shape they become? I guess you create your own culture within your family as well and that helps ground you amidst different moves and cultural changes.

    • says

      We’ve since talked via email, but I agree that a new culture is indeed created. I am a firm believer in protecting the new culture that our kids adapt to (i.e. still celebrating Rakhi long after leaving India, etc.)

  171. linda says

    Triangles will best comprehend triangles. Happily there are more of us around these days. Kids differ to adults in their experience of this reshaping too .

  172. says

    Love your use of words and the way you weave your passionate personality into your writing. What a gift!

    The transitions of life are what God uses to move us from where we are to where He wants us to be. We are shaped and perfected by the experiences and situations and especially by how we respond. They do feel bumpy, confusing and frustrating at times but in the end of the process comes a new reality that is just right!

    Thank you for sharing your transition! Blessings!


  173. Heather says

    I cannot tell you how much this “fits” me right now as we prepare to move back to the states. Thank you for the visual and emotional validation.

    • says

      It is just that, isn’t it? Validation for all that we don’t talk about re: repatriation. Holler if you need any venting when you arrive :)

  174. Soosi Day says

    I loved reading this! I wish I had had the analogy when I was a counselor in an international early childhood school! As a repatriated AND similtaneously retired person, I am struggling with both issues of repatriation and retirement at the same time. There are days I feel like I have lost all identity and am completely invisable and obsolete. It is hard to separate the origins of my present sense of self.

    I love the person I became outside of my country of origin and miss that person a lot. I am now living in a very square community with almost no transient population.

    • Lisa says


      It is so important that you continue to use your gifts and pass them on. Maybe it’s time to work part time doing something fun where you can still influence others! You are NOT obsolete, you are just moving forward in life like the rest of us

    • says

      Dear Soosie, it’s so hard to have to retire somewhere different from where you worked. Really not a good idea as every holiday location full of lonely older people who bought their dream house in their dream place can tell you. Why have to go back to the place we came from originally ? Do you really have to stay there ? What about moving to somewhere where there is a training base for the people who you did your type of work and host some of the students so you can pass on some of your experience?

  175. elizabeth Koleski says

    I’m a 53 year old TCK star, and I didn’t learn the term TCK until I was in my 30’s. It was an unforgettable, and wonderful experience to finally have an Identity. Now I’ve raised 3 more stars. We repatriated one year ago, always a bit uncomfortable, even understanding the whole dynamic, but very happy to be a star.

  176. says

    Very well said! The visuals are completely spot on. I imagine my star daughter trying to press each different shape into her toy box. I often have a similar thought, that I am foreign. It defines me. Thanks for your article!

  177. LeAnne McDonald says

    My family also went to the debriefing at MTI. By the way, it was wonderful! We talked a little about being a triangle, but what I remember most as to how to understand how we were feeling when we moved back to the States, is that we started out yellow in our birth country (USA), then we went to a blue country (Malawi, Africa) and became a little blue. So we ended up either swirled blue and yellow, or turned green. We can never go back to being just yellow. And I like that.

    We have three daughters who spent most of their lives oversees and are so proud to be called TCKs. I think I will start calling them my TCK Stars.

  178. says

    Naomi – thank you for this! I am 9 months into my repat-ness and I am definitely feeling like I don’t fit in…it is a strange place to be, in my “home” country, not in my “home” state and feeling completely lost. Glad to know that I am not alone in this…also hoping that it gets better with time….

    • says

      It’s not your home, it’s your place of origin. You made your home elsewhere. Lot’s of people have the same experience having gone to work in a city and retire ‘back’ ‘home’ and it’s not either. Some things are familiar, but life has moved on. It takes work just like settling somewhere new cos in lots of ways it is new.

      • Bridget McNamara says

        I disagree, Liz. For Danielle, wherever she has gone back to IS obviously home. But Danielle, take heart, you will eventually feel like you are truly ‘home’. I lived in Europe for several years and when I came home my greatest concern was getting run over – our traffic runs on the opposite side of the road to that in Europe and the US and I thought I’d never get used to it again – despite being over 50 years old and having spent most of my life in my home country! So many things are different here – I still sometimes think, ‘is this a local custom or something I picked up in Europe?’ – but now I can’t remember what it felt like to get to the kerb, hesitate, and wonder ‘which direction is the traffic coming from for God’s sake??!!’ I’ve been home 2.5 years now and I’d say it took probably close to a year before I finally felt, ‘I’m home’, and everything felt familiar again. Mind you, some of the things that changed here while I was away remain a mystery to me, there were things I ‘missed’, but at the end of the day it’s not really a big deal, I’m HOME and LOVING it!! Yes, some of my pointy bits don’t quite fit into the circle but what the hey! Good luck and hang in there!

  179. says

    I really like this concept! It puts a picture to something that, as you say, is complex and emotional for you to otherwise engage with or explain to others. Thank you.

  180. WendyW says

    This would apply to military kids, too. I am most definitely a star! Raised mostly in the south, by upper-midwest parents, with 2 tours in the Far East, and attended a boarding school full of missionary kids for high school. And now all my kids are circles. I envy them the stability, but mourn the wide experiences that they did NOT have.

    • says

      Most definitely, Wendy! And yes, stability vs. experience (although sometimes kiddos who are on the go while overseas can be in a stable environment as well). Thanks for your comment!

  181. Kathy Buchanan says

    I’ve always known our children are stars, just didn’t have a great way to explain it; now I do. Thanks much for the brilliant picture.

  182. Melissa says

    Nice post Naomi! We think a lot about what it will be like to go back. I feel like I need to start reading up on the subject and hearing from people who have experience with it! I know it won’t be easy even though we probably feel that it should be easy. I imagine we would expect to just fit right in like nothing has changed, not realizing how much in fact we have changed. I’d love to hear more about what the experience has been like for you. I imagine that the pointy parts start to get dulled down after a while…that makes me sad to think that will happen. I am so proud of my points! But we are always evolving…into really strange and good shapes. Thanks for sharing! (ps I love that the kids are stars!!)

    • says

      I LOVE my pointy parts, but they sure don’t fit well with smooth circles. I don’t think mine will ever dull … it’s seemingly important to keep connected with people that we met while abroad AND do silly things like play music from our time there, eat foods, etc.

  183. Cloudshooter says

    Oh Naomi that’s brilliant, just brilliant. So one little question, if I’ve been to Circle Country AND Square Society, but also spent time in Rectangle Range am I still a Triangle or now a Pentagon Pilgrim?

  184. says

    Wonderful post and it makes total sense. I know I will always be a triangle and can accept it. I tend to worry about my 4 year old. She has been living around the world and enjoying the various aspects of it. I wonder if say 15 years down the lane, she will regret not having roots because her parents loved wandering

    Will be sharing it on my blog soon :)

      • says

        As a “star” who is also a “triangle” (ya, I know, I’m really messed up lol), I don’t regret my parents choices. I recognize the loss in experience of having roots in one place, but my parents felt that they were our roots and to a certain degree they were right, not completely, but it is true. I think some of it depends on how close those familial ties remain later and esp. throughout the transition into living in the circle culture again (or really for the first time for some of us).

    • says

      Vinitha, as someone who has been in your daughter’s situation, she will probably fluctuate between moments of regretting not having roots, and moments of being grateful for the adventurous life her parents gave her. 😉

      • says

        I agree 100% with that. There is so much to be said about the difficulties in adapting and adjusting and fitting in, but the rewards for having had those experiences? Priceless and immeasurable!

    • Terri says

      My parents left the states when I was 10 months old for West Africa, where my brother was born, and we didn’t live in the states again until I was a junior in high school. While every now and then I wish I had the roots here that others do, I also know that I had an amazing upbringing with experiences that most of my friends and colleagues will never have. Unfortunately, my own kids are also unlikely to have the same opportunities, but we travel when we can to make sure they have some experience with people and cultures different from theirs.

      • says

        You are so right, Terri! That experience is unmatched. I think that your kids CAN benefit though … it sounds like you’ll make the effort!

    • Anna says

      As a “star” myself, I don’t regret my background. There have been times where I imagined what it would be like to have had more solidified roots, but ultimately I loved my life! The way I’ve seen it, my “roots” are my family. Most people I know who are like me agree with this idea, so very likely your children will be happy as “stars”.

      I hope that helps!

      • Kathleen says

        Anna, Great comment about your family being your roots. I lived overseas for ten years and noticed that most expat families were very close and a tight, cohesive unit. My husband is South African, we met in the US had a child, moved to India for three years then Switzerland for eight years. My son spent equal time in the both parents countries. We came to the US for his high school and he is finishing high school this year. We all noticed when we came to the US how the families here seemed more fragmented. Everyone rushing everywhere, so many things to do and places to go. We live a quieter life than many do. We enjoy being with each other.

  185. says

    I dont know about being a triangle but I love the idea of the kids being stars !
    I think that whatever shape you are the challenges are there in a way that the circles and even the squares will never comprehend or really be a part of – so it is all left to us to find our way in amongst the shapes and “fit in” and sometimes it is awkward and ill fitting and other times it is snug.
    Hope it is getting snug for you x m

      • says

        Thanks to everyone who is reading this post and sharing it with others. It is beginning to take on a life of its own and it’s great to see so many of us – in the Triangle and Star categories – connecting and sharing. We’re not alone!

      • Steve Carah says

        I have known quite a few international educators who never were able to readjust to America. Many of them returned to overseas work, and few still speak of the “good ol’days” living abroad. However, the children (third culture kids) have the hardest time adjusting. For my daughter who was born and lived in Brasil for 14 years, the adjustment was particularly difficult. In Brasil she was the “American” and when she went to the States for college, she was the Brazilian. Fortunately, she met a Third Culture Man in college who grew up in Mexico and they eventually married. Her husband is bilingual and my daughter is trilingual. Her fluency in Portuguese landed her a job in a law firm out of college and then a job at Google. She presently lives in Seattle and works for a Law firm. She seems to be completely assimilated into the American Culture, but when we are all together, we reminisce about our incredible experiences while living aboard. Whenever I am stressed out at work, I often have noctural dreams about the “good ol’days”.

        • says

          Thank you for this. Our daughter is also a third culture kid (or star) 😉
          I’m happy to hear of good experiences through college and beyond.

        • Sara says

          I am a third culture kid. Have been back in the US for 25 years now, but still find my square country language sneaking out when I can’t find the right word in English. And whenever people mention my growing up country I get a yearning to be back “home” even though I know my “star”ness makes it obvious that I’m not a true square.
          I am blessed to be married to another “star” and for the most part now live as a circle. However, nothing will ever change the fact that my heart is a star.

      • Tere Bible says

        The issues you talk about here are very pertinent and important, especially in this day and age. Though people have been dealing with this for many, many years, only recently has it been studied and talked about. People like “us” do need to speak out, share experiences and support one another. My family has been moving for the last 30 years. My children are definitely “third culture kids” (great resources can be found to help you and your kids- just google “third culture kids”– Robin Pascoe has written many books and is an expert on that, and repatriation. She spoke to our group in Scotland years ago). I did struggle a lot myself—should I move the kids so often? or at all? How will this affect them? What about education? Will they be scarred for life? Will they hate me?? Etc,etc! When they were young, it was more of an adventure. When they got older, it was obviously more difficult. Advantages in going to international schools is that other kids are going through the same things as your kids are. Eventually they learn to make friends quickly, but they see friends leave often. It is a tough lesson, but a constructive one. If they can learn to discern who is worthy of being their friend quickly, it’s a good character trait to have. Sometimes in foreign countries, you dont have the luxury of an international school, and at makes it even harder when you must assimilate directly into that culture. you can feel isolated when there is only a small or non-existent expat community to connect with. I always told my kids, it’s tough, but at the end of the day, you will have friends all over the world. When you are a young adult ready to explore the world, there will be friends waiting for you on every continent! I also tried to stress to them, starting at a young age, that our family is a TEAM. And our life was to move often and make friends everywhere. We had to accept that and make the most of it. It IS tough, but we can do it! Also very important, make sure you do celebrate your customs and traditions wherever you live, to keep a sense of roots. start your own traditions as well.
        Another great piece of advice I got in my journey: wherever you land, act as if you will live there forever. Otherwise, you don’t allow yourself to really blend in with your community. You may not participate in community matters or politics because “you won’t be living there forever, so, who cares?” You close off a part of yourself, and in doing that, may lose out on some very important life connections and lessons. I know, because I did exactly that. And I have floated through the years, not actually being a part of any real community because I would be moving soon anyway… I have lived ” outside,” as almost an observer, a guest, waiting for the day that we would finally have our own “forever house” and never move again. Well guess what? That is a very sad way to live, because you are living for tomorrow. I can highly recommend AVOIDING this type of attitude. Live for today, wherever you are. And respect the country and people wherever you live. You are a guest there, and no, that would never happen in America because we have choices and rights. Don’t be a “brat” about it. I can say this because I learned my lesson after my first overseas assignment. I was a brat until I realized that was not MY country. And I can’t go be a guest there and criticize them for not being America. I finally understood how grateful I should be, how proud I was of the men and women who fought and died for our rights. I actually kissed the ground when I returned to the USA. Believe me, I am not that kind of a person. But that was a lesson I will never forget.

        It’s definitely different for the children. We lived in Argentina for a year when they were younger. I am half Mexican so no problem with the language, but returning after one year was not so bad for the kids as they were still young. Definitely harder for me. But when we returned from the UK after 5 years, that’s when it hit them hard as 15, 13, and 11 year olds. Especially landing in Oklahoma. Not quite what we were accustomed to but we adapted. My three kids all dealt with things differently. The youngest boy, at 11, had the easiest time, but the older two really had a hard time. Counseling was definitely involved over the next few years. By the time my oldest graduated from high school, that was his eleventh school he had been to. I have felt very guilty about any hardships they have endured and continue working through. As they mature, they are understanding better what our life journey meant and are assimilating that into their own unique persona.
        One day a few months ago, I was feeling particularly guilty about their hardships. All three happen to be in the car with me. I asked them, “If we had to do it all over again, would you rather stay in one place all your lives or do what we did?” Without hesitation, they all replied, “Do what we did!” D e e p s i g h!!!
        I can’t tell you how good that made me feel inside. Don’t get me wrong. Your children WILL blame you for years for dragging them around the world! But then, one magic day, they will mature and understand the gift that was given to them. All kids, those who live in one place forever, move around, or whatever their situation, WILL blame their parents for their problems. Sometimes with merit, and sometimes not. But if you did your job right, there will come that day when they realize that their parents did the best that they could under the circumstances; that moving all the time wasn’t easy for them either; that their parents made sacrifices they didnt even know about; that the majority of kids in this world don’t even get to travel outside of their own city, much less, state, and the closest they will get to an exotic or even farm animal is through a book or tv.
        There are definitely pros and cons to this nomad life, no argument there. It certainly is not for everyone. Our population has a higher divorce rate. Every move is a giant stress for every member of the family. And wherever you land, there will be many people who don’t understand you or your circumstances or why you now put vinegar on your “chips.” While that is difficult, take that opportunity to share with those less fortunate who have not seen the world like you have; who have not seen the poverty and the waste that you have; who don’t understand why a poor person would cry at seeing you leave the water running while brushing your teeth, when they have to walk two miles to get a bucket of potable water for their family, who, if lucky, might share a real toilet with seven other families; who don’t understand that, as imperfect as America can be, we are over and beyond better than third world countries who have no justice system; that we allow all citizens the right to vote, and then half or so don’t take advantage of that right that others have killed for, and then have the nerve to complain about how terrible our government is.
        We have been blessed to see many things. It changes us, I pray, for the better. I pray that we share with others what we have seen to open their eyes. I pray that we reach out and support one another, because while this life is hard and stressful, it’s also magical and educational. It truly is a blessing. A “long, hard, beautiful road.”
        Others who have not been through this life don’t really understand. Why don’t don’t we help them do that? Let’s help each other first, and then spread the word about the world out there. It just might help us all live in a better place.
        Wow…didn’t mean to write a whole article. Guess since I haven’t written about this before it just needed to come out! Hope I didn’t overstep boundaries! Keep up the good work! Warm regards!

        • Mary Thomas says

          After yet another recent move… I have been waiting in the wings, keeping a distance – but your reply struck a chord with me – especially ” Live for today, wherever you are. ”

          Can’t thank you both enough – for the original article, and this very insightful reply!

        • Sam says

          Thank-you so much for the ‘Don’t be a brat’ comment and ‘live for today’ too. Currently 2 months in on our first overseas adventure and I’m struggling with ‘culture shock’. I’m normally a positive thinking person but have found myself already counting down to Christmas, summer 2014 and 2 years time – all when we are due to go ‘home’ for visits. I would hate to spend 2 years away and not fully immerse myself and your post has reminded me of that fact. I shall be bookmarking and revisiting your comments no doubt at some point in the future, hopefully from a different perspective!

          • Tere Bible says

            Glad it was of help. Where are you living now? Let us know how you are doing! Keep your chin up, and bond with others there who have gone through your situation. Good luck!

          • says

            Hiya Sam,

            2 months is really early days. The honey moon is over. Nothing is properly familiar yet so there’s no sense of ‘home’.

            You’re probably physically and mentally very tired. This may sound very English (cos I am) but there’s nothing like stopping and making a cup of tea and sitting eating a biscuit – it gives you just a little bit of time out at regular intervals in the day, and a little kick of quick and slow sugars to get you through the next bout of what ever.

            Also the siesta. We’d get the kids home from school for lunch, we’d buy bread on the way home and it was all eaten by the time we walked in the front door, quick bit of cheese or ham and some salad for the rest of the meal then we all went to bed. I had to set the alarm clock to wake us to get us up and them back to school in time !

            I don’t think the recruiting and training agencies prepare us adequately, even at all, for these early stages. From where you’re at at the mo it’s probably hard to imagine that in a few years time you get reverse culture shock, going “back” to what “should” feel like home and isn’t any more, which is even harder than going in the first place.

            There’s no back, only forward !!

        • says

          We have lived in three countries (and one state very different from California) in our 30 years together; we had children with us in the last three moves. Moving to someplace very different is both incredible exciting, and always very stressful; most people wonder why in the world would we do this. Coming home to california was always the most difficult part. Ex-pat communities are incredibly supported of each other, you tend to quickly make life-long friends. Once you are “home” in the US, you find you have lost your old connections, they have move on. It takes a lot of work to reconnect with people at home, while at the same time you sorely miss your friends abroad.

      • Michelle says

        About to go home after 16 years away – was struggling to put into words all of the emotions I have been going through as the date to re-locate approaches – this is great, just what I needed…
        Thank you :)

        • says

          Michelle, it CAN be so difficult to try and box up all of those emotions! I’d encourage you to write or share with someone as you go through the process. In the long run, you’ll likely find it helpful!

        • says

          I wonder if calling it ‘going home’ is actually not really very helpful. It’s a new phase, going forward, not going back. We live in a holiday area where people save up to come to live here when they retire – but then can end up terribly lonely cos they lose all the connections they’ve made through work, kid’s parents, neighbours etc and have to start all over again. Not easy. Hope it goes well.

    • Sharon says

      Thank you so much for this post! It really helps me know what my daughter will be going through when she returns from 5 years in Japan next year.

      Thanks from a Circle Mom

    • says

      By your analysis, I am a triangle and have two star Now what does one call an adult star who goes BACK to the square country to do the same thing her triangle Mom did there? Does she remain a star? And she has little children who were born and spent their first 5 or so years in circle country with their star Mom, and now have gone to live with her and their Daddy in square country!

    • Iona says

      Hi Gwen,
      There’s a familiar name from Gurgaon…. hope you are settling back ok….. living in different conutries changes you but so do other life experiences, old friends will always be old friends even with different life experiences. We are now in Madrid…. Not our home country but working on settling here for a while at least.
      Take care, Iona

    • Kristine says

      I also went to MTI’s Debrief and Renewal, and this imagery of being a triangle was one of the primary points I took with me. It has helped me so much in the past two years

      I am a triangle.


  1. […] the concept to sink in, it immediately made sense. I wrote a blog post in September of 2013, I Am a Triangle and Other Thoughts on Repatriation, and as of today, it’s been viewed over 118,000 times. As a result of that concept resonating […]

  2. […] The question I keep getting is “Are you adjusted yet?” No, and I don’t think I every fully will be. I don’t want to be.  Living abroad fundamentally changed me.  Changed my worldview, changed my relationships, changed my reactions, changed my belief system.  How? I can’t fully explain that to you.  Risking sounding way too pretentious or offending, unless you have lived (not just traveled) outside of your home country, you won’t really understand.  You can tell me you lived in a state/region that is way different from where you now live so you understand but you don’t.  This article does a pretty good job of explaining: http://naomihattaway.com/2013/09/i-am-a-triangle-and-other-thoughts-on-repatriation/ […]

  3. […] Tsja, als je er een bent, een expat, en helemaal als je expatkinderen hebt, blijft de vraag belangrijk: hoe zal het zijn om weer terug te gaan? Toen ik dit artikel las, wist ik nog niet dat het me verderop in de week zo ontzettend bezig zou houden. Dat ik een driehoek ben geworden, bedoel ik. Snap je? [I am a triangle] [