Guest Post — Parents of the Third Culture: Where to retire, when all the world is home?

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This piece originally appeared at the expat+HAREM in April 2011.

Where do you settle after a lifetime of travel? That’s the quandary my globe-trotting American mother is now facing, along with former global civil servants, foreign service members and longtime expats. Third Culture retirement.

When she got involved in the 1960s peace movement, my Baby Boomer mother had no idea that it would take her out of her Milwaukee hometown and into the world, never to live in the United States again.

Her activism led her to 30 years of service to women and girls around the globe, through her job with UNICEF. When she retired from work four years ago she settled in Colombo, Sri Lanka, which was the site of her first post and also my father’s hometown.

Two years ago my parents divorced. In dissolving that longterm tie, new questions arise. Should she remain where she has some family and friends? Is it time for her to return to the land of her passport, in spite of how much she disagrees with its current politics? Is Europe, close to two other daughters, an option even though she hasn’t obtained her ancestral Lithuanian citizenship yet?

Just as many people who’ve spent their adult lives outside their passport countries struggle with complicated retirement issues, we don’t seem to have a grasp of their place in global culture either. How do we even describe them? Cross-cultural adult? Intercultural retiree? Transnational individual?

People like me have an official term: Third Culture Kids. But what of the generation before us, Baby Boomers who spent their mature years abroad and now feel disconnected from their origins?

I’m compiling an anthology that will focus on the stories of retiree-age people who have spent the majority of their lives abroad, exploring how they fit into the “Third Culture” phenomenon and where they ultimately choose to retire — and why.

Who are the members of the Third Culture Generation in your life and what gaps do you see their stories filling between TCKs and the generation that spawned them?

Thoughts?