Adjusting to radical changes in life creates vulnerabilities. That is true as people relocate geographically, enter new life stages, interact with new cultures, and/or find themselves in the midst of the global upheaval of a pandemic. When you layer those changes, as many Third Culture Kids (TCKs) are experiencing during Covid-19, the vulnerabilities multiply.
Last week, the governor of the state of Michigan in the USA, issued an executive order with the tagline “Stay Home. Stay Safe. Save Lives.” Although TCKs may have experienced displacement, medical emergencies or may have been in “unsafe” situations growing up, social disruption on this scale due to COVID-19 is new for all of us and gives good reason to pause, reflect and consider our options.
The assumption here is that everyone has a home (or place of residence) in which to shelter. Many TCKs and other global nomads–prior to COVID-19–struggle to know exactly where home may be. Finding a place to shelter may also be hard to identify as universities, colleges, seminaries, training schools and borders close. Many TCKs are wondering both where to go, and where they can stay safely. Many cross-cultural working parents are also in upheaval and may not be able to offer adequate shelter– especially in the near term. There are few easy answers, and the uncertainty can be traumatizing (or re-traumatizing).
The emotional toll of being in quarantine or ‘Shelter in Place’ with others for an extended period can be heavy. Do you feel loved, cared for, and supported by the people with whom you are currently sheltering? TCKs may need a frank discussion with their hosts, as they may not understand the culture and values where they are sheltering. TCKs navigating these situations may need an outsider to help; a coach, arbiter or advocate.
Abuse is an ugly word but an uglier reality. Studies have shown that fear and anxiety as well as financial and relationship stressors can exacerbate the risk of abuse.1 Social workers understand that quarantine with people (biological family or otherwise) increases the reported incidents of abuse.2 However, no amount of stress or pressure makes abuse acceptable.
Abuse can be verbal, mental, emotional, spiritual, physical, or sexual and can simply be described as what happens when one person neglects, tries to control, or hurts another. If you do not feel safe from harm or do not have your basic needs met, please reach out to someone you trust and/or use the resources at the end of this article. Don’t wait, take action.
If you are in a harmful situation, a domestic abuse shelter is a possible option; you will need to contact them to make sure they are taking new clients. If you are male, you have options, though they are fewer.
Ask for Help
TCKs often struggle with asking for help or accepting help that is offered, for personal or cultural reasons. Especially in a time of high vulnerability, it is important, sometimes vital, to overcome this hesitation. Most people who are asked will step forward with the best of intentions. If you are in a situation where you feel unsafe, reach out and let someone know, don’t wait; abuse unaddressed often gets worse. Be willing to ask for help even if you’re not sure your situation qualifies as abuse. You do not have to just “grin and bear it.” Help is available.
Paradoxically, the directive to safe-guard others might be the easiest advice to follow. Take the guidance (including that of the CDC and WHO) seriously: keep physical distance, wash your hands, eat healthy food, exercise, and get enough sleep. Helpful advice when safeguarding others has been to assume that you are carrying the virus.
As for the stress of the Covid-19 pandemic, keep informed, but don’t focus so much on the news that you become paralyzed by fear– your own or that of those around you. Create an emergency plan if you or those around you were to become ill with Covid-19. Remember, ask for help if and when you need it!
Note to MKs/TCKs: We encourage you to contact your agency as a first line of help, especially if they have an MK/TCK staff, a Member Care or Personnel/ Human Resources Departments.
Emergencies: In the US, call 911
National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1−800−799−7233
Child Abuse Hotline 1-800-387-5437
Center for Disease Control and Prevention website: https://www.cdc.gov/ or 800-232-4636
Stranded MKs facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/2527947520855290/) Thank you Michele Phoenix!
Interaction International: For non-emergencies, email our staff at TCK Assist- firstname.lastname@example.org We will get back to you by the next business day.
Understanding Abuse and Healthy Intervention:
MK Safety Net – Missionary Kids Safety Net | Missionary Kids Safety Net
GRACE (an anti-abuse site for missions and churches) Resources — GRACE
- Intimate Partner Violence and Hurricane Katrina: Predictors and Associated Mental Health Outcomes; Schumacher, Julie A., Coffey, Scott F., Norris, Fran H.,Tracy, Melissa, Clements, Kahni, Galea, Sandro; Violence and Victims Vol25 Issue 5
- Domestic Violence and Child Abuse Will Rise During Quarantines. So Will Neglect of At-Risk People, Social Workers Say. Joaquin Sapien, Ginger Thompson, Beena Raghavendran, Megan Rose; ProPublica, March 21, 2020