Life Stories

by Rachel Cason
Posted on 1st October 2015

Stories. We all tell them. They are the means by which we communicate our histories, and our identities, past and current. We use them both to connect with those around us, and to highlight the distinctions between our selves. They form a crucial element of our social worlds. I have spent the past six years thinking about stories, hearing them told, and exploring their significance. Those six years of story-hearing have impressed on me the special significance of the life story for adult TCKs (Third Culture Kids).

I used life story interviews during the course of my doctoral research as a means of answering the question: how does the TCK experience impact upon notions of belonging, identity and relationship to place? TCKs, the children of expatriates who have spent formative childhood years abroad, come from a rich heritage of storytelling, their families building up a repertoire of stories for 'back home' and themselves building up a stash of stories to encapsulate and express their own hybrid identities. In capturing TCK life stories, recounted from birth to the present date, my research findings and emergent patterns were embedded in a broad context of an individual's life.

This broad context allowed me to establish certain shared experiences amongst an otherwise quite disparate grouping, ranging in age from teenagers to adults in their 60s and 70s and including TCKs from mission, military and business backgrounds, as well as from a variety of passport and host countries.

Firstly, many TCKs felt more comfortable with diversity than homogeneity, often happiest in the margins of either host or passport societies. Many TCKs experienced some tension in these marginal places, experiencing isolation at the same time as drawing strength from a sense of connection and belonging with other marginal individuals or groups.

Secondly, TCKs tended to experience childhood identities that emphasised their uniqueness, and struggled in adult hood with a sense of diminishing 'specialness'. Many TCKs engaged creatively to find ways to perpetuate their 'uniqueness', often through moving abroad as adults.

Finally, rather than finding TCKs to be rootless or ambivalent about place, life stories indicated that place was the means by which stories were organised, memories filed under 'this country' or 'that country', and experiences highly coloured as mediated by the specific cultural and geographical landscapes of their travels. In particular, my findings challenged the assumption that frequent travel in adult TCKs is purely the result of independent choice or personal preference. Instead, I suggest that it may be that adult TCKs feel propelled into perpetual movement due to a transmitted worldview that settling is akin to intellectual or even spiritual stagnation, and a shortage of the skillsets that make settling possible.

Alongside these findings, my research also suggested that while TCKs were generous in sharing their stories, and comfortable with the life story interview in general, a persistent stuttering would often occur when we would near the end of their experiences abroad. It emerged that, for the TCK, life stories get especially fragmented because their cultural worlds and the stories to which they belong, as well as the identities they represent, are especially fragmented. I believe this can pose challenges for adult TCKs in terms of complicating the reflexive processes through which people identify and engage with patterns of behaviour and construct future goals and possibilities.

It is for this reason that I founded Life Story. This is an online therapeutic tool delivered via Skype, and is based on the life story interview as a means to help those with fragmented pasts to engage with their story as a whole. Through detailed analysis of these stories, I seek to empower people to re-centre themselves as the story-makers of their own lives, and see more clearly the patterns that connect their pasts and their presents. In this way, people feel less propelled into their futures, and more able to confidently envision the next chapters of their own stories.

Dr. Rachel Cason is a missionary TCK from West Africa, settled in the UK from the age of 16. Her university studies centred around French and Sociology, and a fair amount of studying abroad! She and her daughter spend their days blessedly busy with school, working from home, playdates, community activites, church, and baking cake. Lots of cake. For more information about 'Life Story' and how it could help you, see or email Dr. Cason at