Symposium links TCKs to careers

The ninth annual Third Culture Kid (TCK) Symposium, which took place on Feb. 24, featured Amanda Bates presenting on “Creating a Career Out of the International Pieces.” A panel discussion among faculty, staff, parent and student TCKs followed Bates’ presentation.

The symposium had originally been slated for Feb. 17, but was rescheduled due to the winter storms and power outages affecting the Portland area. 

TCKs, or global nomads, are people who spent a significant part of their upbringing in a culture that is not their parents’. Their own culture is a mix of their parents’ culture and the cultures of the locations where they grow up. Many TCKs are the children of diplomats, teachers or members of the military, and often attend international schools.

TCK Intern Brenna Ketchum ’23 opened the symposium and introduced Bates, the director of veterinary career services and professional development at the North Carolina State College of Veterinary Medicine. She is also the founder and creative director of The Black Expat and host of the Global Chatter podcast.

The TCK board, made up entirely of TCK students, chose Bates to be the speaker this year because they wanted to learn about finding careers and making plans for after college. Since one of her jobs is a career counselor, Bates was a natural choice. 

Martin Lopez ’23 said that Bates’ being a person of color was a further plus. Bates used her international experience to launch the website The Black Expat, which aims to create a greater representation of Black people abroad.

Bates spoke about her personal experience as a TCK and Black expatriate, and how these identities shaped her search for a career. 

“When you look at my entire life, and you look at my entire career, a lot of it started because I was that awkward TCK kid who didn’t fit in any boxes, couldn’t figure out where to go, wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” Bates said. “But instead of leaning into that awkwardness, I was able to take the things that were struggles for me and craft a career out of it.”

Bates was born in Washington, D.C. to Anglophone Cameroonian parents. As a child, she moved with her family to the Francophone part of Cameroon. Bates said that, in the United States, she had been an ethnic and racial minority who spoke the majority language, while in Francophone Cameroon she was part of the racial majority, but was a linguistic minority. 

“I also struggled with identity because I didn’t feel African enough and I didn’t feel American enough,” Bates said.

Before earning her master’s degrees in business administration and counselor education, Bates worked at a series of internships and jobs, including a year teaching with AmeriCorps. Through trial and error, she learned that she disliked teaching, but loved working with people, especially those from underrepresented groups. 

“Don’t be scared to try something different,” Bates said. “It’s only a failure if you didn’t learn anything from it.”

During the panel discussion, Associate Director of Counseling Michelle Kirton expanded on Bates’ presentation. Kirton said that her own experience as a TCK helped her develop her values.

“One of the things that my TCK background did for me is it really, on an emotional level and a psychological level, concretized my values, or highlighted what those values were, at a very young age,” Kirton said. 

Kirton said her TCK experience heightened her curiosity about the world and the diverse cultural environments in which people live. These qualities helped her in her career as a psychologist since they make her sensitive to the larger contexts in which her clients act.  

Bates emphasized that not all TCKs will have the same strengths and weaknesses.

“My own TCK experience did bring out all these other characteristics about me that I was able to kind of craft a career out of,” Bates said.

Lopez expressed his appreciation of the symposium, saying that the TCK community at LC validates the identity struggles many members experience as they grow up in between cultures.

“It makes me really happy to have the TCK Symposium every year because before coming here, I didn’t know I was a TCK and I did not understand my place. It was kind of hard to not know,” Lopez said. “Finding a TCK group here has been great … it makes me feel like a part of a community, it makes me feel welcome.”

According to Ketchum, many students do not realize they are TCKs, and LC can connect them to resources and a community of TCK students. 

“Even though not all of them consciously choose to make that a larger part of their identity, or choose to reflect on that experience more, I hope they know that there’s this community here for them and there are resources to help them and tons of other TCKs to relate to,” Ketchum said.

Students can reach Ketchum at and follow the LC TCK Instagram at @lewisandclarkcollege_tck. 

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