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  • Don’t Expect Common Sense

    “Common sense is only common to those with similar experiences.” – unknown.

         It was a great relief to me to hear those words. Sometime about year 6 or so of my transition to the U.S. after having grown up in Papua New Guinea I heard someone say this. It was so liberating to have a concise explanation of why so often my expectations were not what others anticipated and vice-versa. The clearest example of this was when in drivers-ed, at intersections, I kept looking for cars to be coming from places that baffled my instructor. Why do you keep looking over there? Why would a car be coming from there, he asked? I thought to myself, “Why wouldn’t it be?” In Papua New Guinea where they drive on the opposite side of the road, cars can come from places cars just don’t in the U.S. The flow of traffic is intuitive to someone who grew up with it as part of their daily experience even if they weren’t in the driver’s seat.

         How traffic flows is just one of many absorbable predictabilities common to a culture. When you’re in a new culture, you may suddenly find you’re not guessing correctly anymore. When you look different and sound different you often get a pass on these knowledge gaps, or social faux paus. Foreigners are expected to not get it some of the time. However, when a TCKs “return” to a country where they look and sound like they belong, they often do not get this grace. Even if people aren’t mean about it, repeated failures to display the “common sense” about something can feel isolating. 

         Just like it can be hard for parents to remember that a very tall 4 year old is still a toddler, or a very verbal, articulate two year old is still basically a baby, it can be hard for parents to remember that their cultural-chameleon child is still a beginner at this new country. And young people may forget to give that grace to themselves. 

         Before you decide how hard something should be for you/then, here is a good question to ask: How new is this situation? When I was 26 I physically entered a bank for the first time. I had done all my banking by mail and then online and so had my parents. Of course that is the more relevant fact about how anxious and lost I felt than what age I was. 

    So, I caution all of you TCKs and parents of TCKs who are new-country beginners this summer, be very cautious whenever you find yourself expecting common sense.