Prioritizing Your Mental Health: An Interview with Cristine Chen

“Just toughen up and get over it.”

Growing up, how many times would you be forced to push your feelings to the side?

For many generations, mental health, a person’s psychological and emotional well-being, was a mute subject.

Thanks to the rise of the millennial generation in the workforce however, mental health has begun to penetrate mainstream media.

At the forefront of this rise is Cristine Chen, a global mental health entrepreneur and fellow Third-Culture Kid I had come across on social media

Here’s my interview with her on the difficulties of being a TCK, tips for mental health, and her quest to uplift others through projects in 2020.

Describe your upbringing as a Third-Culture Kid (TCK) 

“I am Taiwanese by ethnicity and Asian by race. I was brought up between the Philippines and Taiwan and have lived in China and France.

I’m now creating a stable base here in Los Angeles.”

Tell us about the time you realized you were a TCK and how you felt

Someone understands me! That was my first reaction. I learned about the term TCK when I was browsing through Youtube.”

What is one unique aspect about each country you lived in?

“Delicious food 24/7 365 days a year.”

The Philippines
“People are very Malambing (Loving and affectionate).”

“The Cafe Culture.”

Los Angeles, CA
“You can be as eccentric as you want and no one will judge you.”

What led you to studying and pursuing a career in psychology and mental health?  

“I’ve been passionate about Psychology AND Philosophy (both are one and the same for me) since I was 9 years old.

I would spend my time reading Zimbardo’s work and Zen Buddhism books. However, I did not pursue it during my undergraduate years because my Taiwanese grandfather, a medical doctor, thought that Psychologists were a joke compared to real helpers.

Med school was the way. 

Sadly, I did not have the bravery to stand up against my grandfather because he funded my education. I did not argue, but I did not end up getting a BA in Psychology. I got a BA in Management Economics. 

I dove into the Startup Scene during and after college and loved every second of it. But I reached a point where I felt that something was missing. The things we were building did not excite me at all. 

I was still hesitant to quit, and what really propelled me to go for it was experiencing death up close. My mom got diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.  Being with her during her last days made me realize that life is too precious to be spending time doing things that are not in alignment with who you are. 

Long story short, I proceeded to get an MA in Psychology to sharpen my healing toolbox.

I decided to combine my business acumen and my first love, Psychology, to build something useful and impactful for people.”

What are 3 mental health tips you want to give to TCKs and first-generation Americans?

#1: Self Care

“Understand your love language. How can you schedule more of what you love into your week? 

I love to work too, and I know how hard it is to pause. But if we want to play the long game, we get to place pauses between work to prevent burnout. Slowing down is a strategy in itself.” 

#2: Notice the Food You Eat

“You are what you eat.

Food directly impacts your mood and energy levels. Notice when a particular dish or spice triggers unease in you. This tip is especially important when you are traveling.

You are not required to eat everything in sight. Health first!”

#3: Become Aware of Your Attachment Style

“I find that a lot of TCKs have the avoidant attachment style, and it may be a learned adaptive mechanism that stems from our mobile upbringing. Avoidant behavior looks like running away from signs of intimacy and commitment. 

We disassociate to not feel the pain that comes from having to leave. 

Social relationships are essential for mental health, and to build healthy relationships, one has to learn to lean in to love.

I would highly recommend looking into attachment theories if you are interested to learn more!”

Asian-Americans tend to be pressured to pursue careers in STEMWhat advice do you have to give to those who want to pursue a career in psychology? 

“Psychology is as lucrative as STEM. The ability to read, listen, and help people at a deeper level is a skillset that no machine can ever replace. 

That said, how can you convince your parents to let you go for a degree in Psychology? 

This is a tough question because family dynamics differ per household. I will need to understand your family and your relationship with each other for me to help guide you. 

However, knowing Asian culture and our general tendencies, I would say that fundamentally, your parents want to see you financially secure.

They tend to impose on you the plan which helped them, or your neighbor’s children, thrive economically in society. 

This stubbornness, albeit annoying, stems from a place of love. 

Here are some prompts that can perhaps support you:

1. What can you say or do to make your parents feel that you are capable of taking care of yourself? 

2. How can you present Psychology in an attractive light? 

For my MA, I presented to my father a full-blown powerpoint on how it’s a useful degree. I sent Chinese articles on how Psychology is essential. I did all that to make sure that he does not worry about me while I am so far away from home.

Glad to say, it worked. He is 100% supportive of my chosen career path now.”

Tell us about your upcoming book, “Psychology of Third Culture Kids” 

“I find that a lot of global citizens, including me, tend to shrug off uncomfortable feelings because we are supposed to feel gratefulthat we live a privileged life.

We get to travel. We get to have different cultures to draw from. What’s there to complain about? 

The book is all about normalizing the different struggles that global citizens go through. I want to communicate that it doesn’t mean that you’re a global citizen; it means you are spared from human anxieties.

The identity of being a third culture kid may play a significant piece in how you define yourself, but you are human first and foremost. 

You are allowed to feel miserable while sitting in your dream city. You are allowed to feel guilty that your plans to be a nomad turned into an absolute tragic comedy. You are allowed to feel lonely because none of your dates are working out. 

This book will give you the tools to help you get out of common mental funks and arrive at a place of calm, peace, and security- wherever you are in the world.”

What are your goals for 2020? What other projects do you have in store?

“I would love to get to know more global citizens and third culture kids!

We are also launching Curious Neuro, an inspirational retail business this year.  There will be a fun little podcast under it too.”


Marjon is the Creator of Third-Culture Thoughts. A political nerd and basketball enthusiast at heart, he writes about everything related to culture and the international experience.