TCKs of Asia


an Open Forum

12 DECEMBER 2020

How Do We Learn To Belong?

'The opposite of belonging is fitting in.' — Brené Brown

We all have a need to belong and be unique at the same time, as contradictory as that might seem. But when we grow up between different countries, languages and cultures, it can be hard to feel a strong sense of belonging to any one place or culture. Is belonging something that just is and can’t be changed: we either belong or we don’t? Or can we learn how to belong?

In this forum, five adult Third Culture Kids of Asia will reflect on their experiences of trying to fit in and find community. They will also share what they have learned over the years as they searched for a sense of belonging.

It can be about recognizing why you don’t fit in (and it’s not because there’s something wrong with you). It may be about learning how to juggle the competing cultural values within yourself and figuring out what your own values are. It may be that the community you’re looking for simply doesn’t exist and you need to create it yourself.

As Brené Brown points out, we don’t need to fit in to belong. TCKs of Asia will share our stories of how we strived and struggled to find belonging and how we learned to connect with others and create a sense of belonging.

Join the discussion about belonging—the things that hinder it and the things that foster it.


Isabelle Min is a former radio host and television broadcaster for KBS, as well as a diplomat kid and one of the first generation of Koreans who grew up overseas in the 1970s and 80s. After growing up in several countries and speaking five languages, Isabelle repatriated at the end of highschool and has since lived in Seoul, Korea. Her desire to reconcile who she is as somone who grew up among worlds while physically living in Korea led Isabelle to her current work as an international coach. Isabelle has spent the last decade as founder and CEO of the TCK Institute where she offers programs to develop facilitators, organizes community retreats, support cross-cultural transitions and improve communication skills.

Ema Naito is an independent editor who loves clear, plain English. Born to Japanese parents, she spent her infancy and elementary school years in Tokyo and kindergarten, middle and high school, college and grad school in the US East Coast. She found a home in Bangkok where she’s been living for 15+ years with her German-Thai partner and raising three cross-cultural, multilingual children. Ema holds a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University. She sings Western classical, sporadically blogs (日本語), edits the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) blog, and, as an adult, is learning about her own TCKness.

Karen Tan is an Intercultural trainer, leadership coach & Founder of Think Impact. Born in Vietnam, Karen moved with her family around Asia every few years before moving to the US. As a Chinese diaspora, Karen grew up speaking Cantonese at home while speaking English at school and picking up the local languages wherever she lived as a way to build connections with people. After her nomadic genes brought Karen back to Asia in 2007, she lived in China, Hong Kong, Thailand, and Cambodia training Chinese cross-cultural workers in cross-cultural leadership & communication and international team-building. Karen is now also pursuing a doctoral degree in member care.

Danau Tanu is an anthropologist and author of Growing Up in Transit: The Politics of Belonging at an International School, which is based on her PhD research on Third Culture Kids. She is currently a Visiting Research Fellow at Waseda University and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia. Danau was born in Canada to a Chinese Indonesian father and Japanese mother, and attended both local public schools and international schools in Indonesia, Japan and Singapore. For Danau, doing research and writing about identity and belonging has been both a professional and personal journey. She is also a Co-Chair of the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) Research Network.

Jane W. Wang is a coach & course creator empowering multiculturalites to integrate their identities and find home within, so that they can live their full power & purpose. Born in Taipei, she grew up moving schools every 1-3 years across the U.S. (with a stint in Taiwan in 9th grade), got her master’s degree + worked in Tokyo, Paris, Taipei, Boston, and NYC, then embarked on a ‘roots journey’ back in Taiwan. Jane’s career spans global marketing & business development, intercultural training & coaching, and socially innovative community-building. Now, she leverages her experience holistically to develop multicultural leaders in a complex world through her signature “Homecoming Calls” and “Multicultural Hero’s Journey” course.


Podcast is edited by Karen Tan

JPEG version for social media. Design by Karen Tan
Poster 2020.12.12 How do we learn to belong.pdf
PDF version with embedded link. Design by Karen Tan

Other resources

Read about "TCK Relationships and Grief" by Dr Ruth Van Reken