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Harmony Niphakis ‘14, TCK Care Manager with OMF International

Harmony Niphakis in a greenhouse.

Travel is in Harmony Niphakis’s blood.

The 2014 York College grad, who majored in Psychology while at the College, was born in Thailand as a Canadian-American, but grew up in both Thailand and Dallastown, PA. Her parents were serving in central Thailand for the Christian nonprofit organization, OMF International. Her family permanently moved to the United States so her older brothers could attend college in 1999—Niphakis was eight years old at the time. American culture was initially something foreign to her, she says.

“Even though I was American by nationality, this country wasn’t totally familiar to me. I was confused and kind of freaked out the first time I heard my American classmates chanting at the flag (something they called the Pledge of Allegiance), but I caught on quickly,” she explains. “I loved that I could speak English with literally ANYONE around me and they would understand me.”

Despite becoming accustomed to American life, Niphakis couldn’t stop missing the country she grew up in.

“There were a lot of challenges moving to America, but the biggest challenge was missing my home in Thailand,” she says.

When it came time for her to attend college, music seemed like an obvious choice. She’d started violin lessons in third grade, and so Niphakis started her college career at Messiah College as a Music Education major. But she quickly learned that wasn’t the path meant for her.

“It took a year before I finally had the guts to admit that I didn’t enjoy music that much and I wanted to change majors,” she adds.

So Niphakis switched majors to Psychology, a decision she says was affirmed when she started at York College.

“Psychology was a major that caught my interest from my very first class. I knew that I wanted to help people, and I was absolutely thrilled to dive into the inner workings of the mind and human behavior,” she says. “Learning more about how humans are made and function led me to have more compassion and love for those around me. The department was research-focused and I am grateful for the variety of experiences and expertise the professors brought to the classroom.”

There were specific professors who helped her attain skills she uses in her job today, she explains.

“It was Dr. Landau who taught me about great research practices and helped me recognize my own strengths as a presenter (I lead a lot of training presentations in my job). Dr. Strassle taught me how to use person-first language, which has transformed how I see and advocate for others,” Niphakis says.

“Dr. Jacob saw potential in me and gave me the opportunity to do an independent study researching expatriate kids, also called Third Culture Kids (TCKs). It was this independent study that gave me confidence to pursue the career I am in today. Some of these professors have continued to stay connected with me and encourage me in the work I do. I am so grateful to them!”

After graduating from the College, Niphakis moved back to Thailand to serve children of Christian workers in Chiang Mai. The experience made her realize she wanted to work with Third Culture Kids, she says.

“I saw tremendous potential for expanding the field of Third Culture Kid Care, so I returned to the U.S. to begin pursuing a long-term career as a TCK Care Advocate. I now manage a team of TCK Care Advocates with OMF International, the same organization that my parents served with and that I returned to Thailand with,” she adds.

As a TCK Care Manager with the organization, Niphakis is in her “dream job.” OMF’s US sector serves about 270 Third-Culture Kids across more than 100 families, she says.

“OMF International is a Christian nonprofit organization that sends workers to live with and serve communities in East Asia. As a TCK Care Manager, I lead a team that supports the emotional, physical, and spiritual wellbeing of the children of these expat workers,” she explains.

“Our team walks the parents and kids through the challenges and joys of living overseas and of returning to a passport country that feels a bit foreign to them. We support families by providing training, consultations, education planning, resourcing, encouragement, and prayer. We also organize reunions and training weeks for kids, teens, and adults who grew up as expat kids in our organization.”

Niphakis’s advice for current YCP students looking to pursue a career after college? Figure out what you’re passionate about, not just what you’re good at, and work for an organization that you care about, and that cares about you, she says.

“I am currently working in my dream job, but my dream job didn’t necessarily exist when I first started looking for it. I saw an organization that I deeply cared about and began working as an admin. assistant. I didn’t completely love the job, but I cared about the organization and I was learning so much, so it was okay,” she explains.

“As I began to learn more about the organization from different angles, I noticed a significant need they had, and I knew that I could help and that I wanted to fill that need. So I wrote up my dream job description and presented it to them. That’s how I began working in this field. I know this won’t be everyone’s story, but I think you can learn a lot about yourself by writing up that dream job description, even if you don’t think you can find that job.”