“Saudade” – A Word for the Third Culture Kid

“Saudade”

It’s described as a unique word with no equivalent in English. Its origin is Portuguese and it was first used in the 13th Century. It is a longing, a melancholy, a desire for what was. It is “Saudade.”

Many immigrants and refugees search for words that adequately describe the peculiar longing for what they left behind. Not the war and evil that is a relief to escape, but the land, the people, the food – all that encompasses that which is home. Doctors and nurses working with large populations of immigrants and refugees often simply put it down as “depression.”

A health center I know desperately tried to find out through a survey what percentage of their immigrant and refugee patients had depression. The survey was unsuccessful. It did not reflect the narrative that these health care providers were hearing from patients.

One day a woman from Haiti said to them, “Have you ever thought about asking patients if they are homesick?” They looked at her in surprise. No, they had not. With a simple change of a word, they felt they were better able to get to the heart of the feeling. But is it depression? Depression is defined as a “severe despondency and dejection, accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy.” That is not what immigrants are describing.

What they describe are feelings so deep that you can scarcely give words to them. Your throat catches. You experience an intense, but wordless, longing and desire. How do I know this? Because I have experienced it, first hand. What we long to describe is Saudade.

The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness. A. F. G. Bell In Portugal of 1912

Many know that they will never go back to the place where they feel most at home. They realistically accept this, but not without saudade. A Portuguese friend of mine recently told me about her father. He is in his nineties and came to the United States with a large family over fifty years ago. A year ago, he went back to Portugal for what everyone thought would be a short trip. Now over a year later, he is still there. All the years he was in the United States, he experienced saudade. He has returned so he no longer has to experience this intense longing; he is back in a place where he is viscerally at home, in a land that he loves.

Third culture kids often struggle to give voice to their longing. Well aware that they are not from the country or countries where they were raised, they still have all the connections and feelings that represent home. When trying to voice these, others look on with glazed eyes. Just recently, someone said to me, “But you’re not an immigrant! You’re American!” The tone was accusing. It was meant to be. What was unsaid was, “Give it a rest! We know you grew up overseas. Big deal. You’re American and you’re living in America.”

Ah, yes… but I have saudade. I have that longing for something that “does not and cannot exist.” I know that it cannot be. And on my good days, it is well hidden under the culture and costume of which I am now living. But on my more difficult days, it struggles to find voice only to find that explaining is too difficult. Finding the word gives voice to these longings.

I have often been looked at with impatience. “Third culture kids are not that different!” says the skeptic. “We all have times of longing,” but I would argue, gently, that our experience is different. We are neither of one world nor the other, but between. Our earliest memories are shaped by sights, sounds, and smells that we now experience only in brief travels or through movies and television. All of those physical elements that shaped our early forays into this world are of another world. And so we experience saudade. And the simple discovery of a word gives meaning to those feelings, and can validate and heal. 

Blogger’s Note: A great way to kill the saudade is to go to the FIGT Conference in Amsterdam in March! Click here for more details!

This essay is published in Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging © Doorlight Publications, July 2014. All rights reserved. No part of this essay may be reproduced without express permission from the author and publisher.

To read more essays like this on third culture kids and living between worlds, go to Amazon.com and purchase the book Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging. Kindle edition is only $3.99! 

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It’s funny how the simple act of discovering a word that gives meaning to those feelings can validate and heal. That is what I believe “Saudade” can do for the third culture kid.

Between WorldsFor more reading on Third Culture Kids make sure to purchase the book Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging available July 1, 2014 from Amazon.

Be sure to read the outstanding comments below from others who live between worlds.

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Third Culture Kid - Grew up in Pakistan, lived and worked in Pakistan and Egypt as an adult. Moved to the United States and learning to live away from curry, Urdu, Arabic and the Pyramids.

271 thoughts on ““Saudade” – A Word for the Third Culture Kid

  1. Yes! I grew up with a superficial knowledge of the word “saudade”….until we left Brazil when I was 15. Then, I truly FELT for the first time “saudades”..but that’s another story within itself for another blog article… Great article Marilyn, thanks!!

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    1. This is such a great comment – that you had heard the word, but then through leaving realized its weight and how it captured your emotions makes so much sense. I would love to hear more of your story. Thanks for coming by.

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  2. This made me cry so hard. Yes, the smells and sounds — the west doesn’t have that smell and sounds, and no matter where I wander in the west, I long for that other world. Take me back; I’m sad.

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  3. So. I’m a TCA. My TCK son is 38 years old, living across the world from us. He grew up in Africa, as did his brother who was born there (and passed away from cancer 19 years ago today – it would have also been his 42nd birthday today). The article, the word “saudade” and so many of the comments have resonated so strongly. Having suffered from depression (and seasonal affective disorder) here in the oft dark and rainy north, I long for sun and warmth. But more than that I long for what was our family home, when all 4 of us were together. I long for the life of belonging to another family, many families, who made us feel so welcome. Fortunately we are able to go back, not to our homes, but to our countries, taking others with us to see what we so loved. But knowing that my vague depression has another, beautiful meaning will help me in this upcoming long dark winter. A memorial in Kenya for the son who has left us brings us all comfort. Part of him is where he loved life best. Both boys struggles so immensely on our last return “home” with them. They were white on the outside, looked like all the other kids, but so totally different on the inside, and so lost here, and not understanding why we couldn’t stay “there”. I couldn’t understand it either but we had no choice. Do I regret the choice we made many years ago to give our children another life, to make them citizens of the world? Not a chance. Sadness? Yes, often. Regrets? No.

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    1. This comment hit at so many deep feelings and longings that I too have had. Thank you for taking the time to write. I left warmth and sun for the cold Northeast as well and to this day, I feel it. I also really, really love your last sentences. They express my feelings perfectly.

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      1. I’m not sure we want to completely be cured of “saudade”. Unlike depression, it seems like a source of strength and a richer life, a life of 3 dimensions.

        And yes, we hear that “get over it, you’re in the greatest country/state in the world, don’t you know that California (or insert appropriate city/state) is the ONLY place to live and why be interested or engaged with anything else outside our borders” type thing.

        And yes, I think the loss may almost feel greater for TCKs in that we are really caught between worlds, some of which just be hard to lay claim to 15 or 25 years down the road. You can see this in the commenters most impacted by these kinds of situations. My heart reaches out to them in support.

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  4. Thank you so much for this post Marilyn.
    You have so perfectly summed up something I am struggling to voice at the moment. I was born and spent the first 7 years of my life in Africa before returning to my passport country of Australia. Now in my 30s I am attempting to write a Masters on the idea of home and displacement I felt. ‘Saudade’ makes so much sense to me. Thank you!

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    1. Alison, I’m so glad you found this post. It’s amazing to me how this lays just under the surface, and when we finally find a word, an expression, or a person that relates to our feelings it is a gift. I hope your work for your masters goes well and please do be in touch! I look forward to hearing anything you find.

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  5. Very nice post. When I’m outside of the States, I almost never miss it. I love this country, but I’m confident that I could feel at home just about anywhere.

    I do have a saudades for a person whom I know that I’ll never see again–someone who taught me the meaning of the words ‘miss, ‘saudades,’ and ‘yearn.’ Someone who makes Almeida Junior’s painting, Saudade, so real to me. There is a constant longing to see him and a wish that everything would be all right tempered by a semi acceptance that I never will and things won’t work out in the way that I hope. Nevertheless, I continue to have saudades sua.

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  6. I’d like to talk about a different kind of ‘saudade’ that I have been experiencing – it’s somewhat opposite of what you feel. Born and bought up in India, I moved to Hong Kong two years ago. I came back in June this year and since then, I have been experiencing ‘saudade’ of my time spent there. There is this intense longing for being a third culture person and being in an international environment – where you test your adaptability and rediscover yourself every single day. I had friends from all over the world and we used to discuss everything from the unique alphabets in each others languages to first hand information of the political scenario in our countries. This nostalgia even bordered depression at a point, at least that’s what I though; but now that I know this word, ‘saudade’ describes exactly what I feel. It’s been really hard explaining this feeling to friends and family and I usually get rebuked for choosing ‘greener pastures’ and forgetting your own country and identity. What they don’t understand is how my identity as an Indian has developed much more than it would have if I stayed in India. Thank you so much for this post, it answers a lot of questions and helps a great deal in understanding your own emotions. :-)

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  7. I am so glad that I found this post. I was primarily googling third culture kid, because I seemed to encounter problems at the current workplace because of the differences of culture and values that I have. But anyhow, when you speak of ‘saudade’ … I feel that I relate to it heavily. I often have ‘saudades’ of that lovely country called greece where i lived through my teenagehood, a lovely country called Roumania during my toddlerhood and a lovely country called England during my young adulthood. Sometimes… saudades just tugs my heart a lil harder when things get rough. thank you again for your post.

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    1. I love this comment – you have so well articulated the tug of Saudade on the soul. You may like the article linked above called Killing the Saudades. On a day when I have Saudade big time your words were welcome!

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  8. This post and the comments following it are a great comfort to me. They remind me how many others feel the same emotions as me, how many others struggle to find their place or how to fit in, how many others are between worlds and long to return to them… Even if we don’t know each other and I don’t speak with them, just knowing I am not alone in how I feel helps. Thank you for this post, and for all the others ones that bring me much comfort.

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    1. Dounia – I’m so glad you found this post. It was one of those posts I wrote quickly one night and it ended up resonating with many. Grateful for that and so grateful not only that you read, but that you offer your words to others through comments. So thank you.

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  10. A-M-E-N! My parents are missionaries and I grew up immersed in Brazilian culture and have “saudades” of my home, friends, food, culture, weather, the land, it ALL. and even though I have Brazilian friends here in America, it doesn’t replace the saudades I have of living in Brazil. And there IS NO English translation that fully envolopes the word, “saudades”!

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    1. I’d love to learn more about how this word is used in Brazil. I found a great song recently called Saudades. One of my Portuguese friends introduced me to it. Also – do you use the phrase “killing the saudades” and what’s the vague translation of that? I know English won’t satisfy but I’d love to hear. So glad that you found the article.

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      1. Hello Marilyn,

        Both European Portuguese and Brazillian Portuguese employ the term “killing the saudades” namely through the words “matar saudades”.

        What is the best way to describe it? It is tricky given the personal interpretation of each individual, but I think there is also a general consensus that the english word “reminisce” is an adequate characterization. Usually the expression is employed when you reencounter, or plan to reencounter, a family member, friend or old acquaintance with whom: (i) you share some memorable past events, be them sad, happy, embarrassing…; and (ii) you have not crossed paths, or talked to, for some time. This will allow the participants to have the opportunity to discuss those moments, reminisce and literally kill those saudades provoking feelings, or maybe just numb them, for some time.

        I know this because I am Portuguese and I also have loads of Brazilian friends.

        Hopefully it helps.

        All the best,
        Luís

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      2. Thanks so much. So — it’s used more in regard to people than place? I appreciate your explanation and I love the phrase “killing the saudade”. Perfect. Thanks for coming by and offering some clarification.

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      3. It is perfectly fine to use the expression in relation to places or even a delicious culinary treat. As long as there is some type of memorable bond between you and the other entity that allows for at least one of the parties to have the opportunity to reminisce, relive or reencounter.

        It is nice to see that even though I had not explicitly mentioned in my definition that it should also encompass physical places when I read your reply I immediately thought to myself how could I have forgotten that possibility. This tells me that your overall intuition regarding the application of the term saudade is more than correct.

        I do not know what is your personal taste regarding music, but if you have the opportunity and are willing to, check “Mariza – Gente Da Minha Terra” youtube video ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G4cyNK3BW7Q ). Most Portuguese would definitely agree that this is a song about saudade, and the great thing is that you do not even need to know the language in order to fully understand the feelings conveyed by the song. I am also willing to bet that the word saudade appears quite often in the comments section.

        Luís

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      4. So beautiful! Thank you for this link. When I discovered this word I felt like it completely captured the way those of us who didn’t grow up in our passport countries feel. I appreciate you taking the time to link the song. And you’re right – I looked through some of the comments and saudade is throughout.

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  11. Ahhh, so well written. As an MK from Campo Belo, Minas Gerais, Brasil, I can so identify with this article. Saudades is the perfect word to describe the feelings I have for the country that I love and spent the first 18 years of my life in. Thank you for writing this so beautifully.

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    1. Ohhh – I love this! You know this word well, then?! I’m so glad you found the article. Thanks for reading. We have a fairly large Brazilian community here in the greater Boston area – and it never fails that this word comes up.

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  12. How beautiful. A Canadian child of ESL teachers, I was living abroad into my teens, never longer than two school years on the same continent. I’ve known many places and have fond memories or familiarity as well as some subtle disjointedness that still crops up once in a while – I never saw that TV show, didn’t catch that pop culture reference, etc. Any time I’m asked my favourite spot, I have to split it up; Provence’s weather, Singapore’s food, Jeddah’s souks (markets), England’s school (Dartington Hall!) and so on. Saudade indeed. :D

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    1. I love the way you have split up your world! So good, so poignant. And you speak well to the information gap that we have as TCK’s. I still struggle with that, where someone will look at me and say “Remember that TV show?” and I think inside “No, actually I don’t, because I never saw it…” but I say “oh yeah right….!” Because sometimes it’s just too hard!

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  13. What a great word and blogpost! Thanks for your thoughtful reflection. I grew up between France and the US (French mother – American father) and also spent 4 years living and working in Guatemala in my early twenties. Once you have integrated another culture into your life (intentionally or not), it’s a part of you. It’s been 10 years since I’ve been living in the States and I still struggle with an unnamed longing. Sometimes it feels like wanderlust, sometimes the longing to express myself in a language other than English, sometimes just missing the connections, relationships and even who I was when I was “other.” It happens on occasion that I need to use a French word with my mother, though we typically speak in English, because it expresses a particular meaning the way no English word can. It’s nice to know a word that encapsulates all that beautiful complexity!

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    1. Yes! I miss who I was….who I am…when I live in other countries. It’s like this invisible veil lifts and I am myself, fully alive and engaged. Beyond the longing, that is what is hard. Getting used to this other person. Thank you for this thoughtful response.

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  14. This word gives voice to that quickening deep inside my soul, that perpetual longing for home that has become a part of who I am.
    I think “saudade” describes so well that which we experience as TCK’s, but I have found that it only increases as I make my home in each new place. I looked today at the mountains in this city I thought would never be home, in this country I fought to never be a part of, though my passport identifies me as one of its own, and I suddenly realized that this too, had become a part of what I think of as home. I know that when I leave, I will experience a longing for this place, just as I do all the others.
    And in the people that have become, even more so, a part of what makes up home, as we disperse around the world, I know the longing will continue throughout the rest of my time on earth.
    But I’ve found it only stirs up a deeper longing for my forever home, and that is enough to give me hope to make the most of my wandering years on earth.
    Thank you so much for sharing.

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    1. Hi Sarah – this is so late but when I read your comment when you first wrote it, I thought I had responded to it! It came while I was in Istanbul and I was struck by the truth in what you say. I also love your conclusion – a longing for our ‘forever’ home where our wandering is over. Blessed are those whose heart is set on pilgrimage…..Thanks for your words.

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  15. This word resonates with me so much. Thank you for introducing it to me; it is definitely the closest term I have found so far that describes how I feel. It’s so hard to yearn for a place that no longer exists; in the end you can only revisit it in your memories and dreams. As someone who has lived in 7 different countries in the past 24 years, I sometimes have trouble pinning down exactly which place I’m yearning for. And so many things can trigger my saudade; from the weather to an accent to a scene in a movie. I’m learning to accept the sudden washes of melancholy but sometimes, I do wish for a more peaceful state of mind.

    Again, thank you for the introduction of this word. I feel quite compelled to have it tattooed on my person; it’s really struck a chord.

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  16. Hi Marilyn,

    Thanks for this beautiful post and for articulating something so many of us feel. I too am an (A)TCK, and it’s affirming to be reminded that my routine sense of rootlessness and longing for the indescribable isn’t just an over-extended adolescence (which is how I interpreted it for a while, since that was my only framework for making sense of it!).

    Out of curiosity, have you heard the term “hiraeth”? It’s Welsh and sounds very similar to saudade. A TCK friend introduced me to the word a couple of years ago. I suspect you’d resonate with it as well.

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    1. Aidan – thanks so much for coming by and commenting. I know what you mean by the guilt of feeling like you had/have an “extended adolescence” – this word has helped my frame work immensely as well. Funny you should mention ‘hiraeth’ – a friend who was a houseparent when I was younger told me about this word a couple of months ago – I loved it and yes – similar to Saudade. Sometimes our pure English words just don’t cut it with these deep emotions. Again thank you!

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  17. Reblogged this on Where's Alex? and commented:
    “The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness. “

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  18. Thank you for this…very thoughtful, and painfully true. I spent time in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia with my family as a young teen.

    And I miss it every day.

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  19. My goodness, this struck a chord with me. My family lived in Spain for four years while my father was in the Navy there and truly, those years were the best of my childhood. I know others who have experienced the same who would agree. Although more than 40 years have passed — and I’ve reconnected with a friend I grew up with while living in Rota, Spain — I will always feel angst over not being there and feeling the urge of being there in spite of the changes that have physically taken place. It’s truly an enigma, and one that usually brings me to tears.

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    1. And brings you to tears at the oddest times, right?! Thanks so much for commenting. What’s weird too is that no matter how long it’s been there is still that part of us that goes to the other place in our minds and grieves its loss. I’ve grown to accept it as a good thing, not something to push aside. That has helped tremendously. Thanks for reading and sharing a bit of your story.

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  20. Farida Dowler shared this blog post with me. And I just want to say, “I hear! I see! I know!” This saudade is such a perfect word for having returned from five years in Scotland, hopefully inside out, at sea in the fast-paced, loud, West Coast American culture, and so, so, longing for … not here. Not now. Somewhere else.

    And the eyes do glaze over. And the accusations are thrown. People don’t want to hear about it, and it’s hard.for them to accept that you – your heart, your being – is somewhere, in part, not with them…

    Thank you so much for this, and for all of the thought-provoking, wonderful comments.

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    1. I love.love this comment. Partially because I think you have identified one of the reasons why people do shut off – “It’s hard for them to accept that you – your heart, your being – is somewhere, in part, not with them…” While I’ve sensed that before, I’ve never put it into words. So it takes maturity and love on the other party’s part to be able to see that it’s not a criticism of them – it’s about our belonging, our being foreigners in the land, our saudade.
      So – thank you for ‘getting’ this so well and so glad you were sent over here!

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  21. We raised our three dear children overseas in South Korea – 1984-1994. It was an amazing adventure and we all had our lives changed. While there were some mashed up times as outsiders, there were also wonderful times as acceptable insiders. The BIG change was returning teenagers back to MTVLand. Now my little ones are almost all in their 30. I hope and pray they have learned to love a treasure the perspective they have built.

    I pray my wonderful children will treasure the the third culture existence we threw them into. Blessings and peace, kids! Love you.

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    1. My guess is they do treasure it. Despite all the saudades in the world – I wouldn’t wish my life to be any different. So glad you came by to read and comment! Those were about the same times we were in Pakistan and Cairo – except we left in 96 from Cairo. Great years to be overseas!!

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    1. Yes! Also want to throw in something i came across on teh interwebz:

      “The term Compunctio

      Gregory the Great (ca 540–604) spoke about compunctio, the holy pain. The grief somebody feels when faced with that which is most beautiful is both a reminiscence and a fore-taste of the divine world. Originally compunctio was a medical term that described intense physical pain, but when Gregorius used the word he spoke about a spiritual pain. The bittersweet experience stems from human homelessness in an imperfect world, human consciousness of, and, at the same time, a desire for, perfection. This inner spiritual void becomes painfully real when faced with beauty. There, between the lost and the desired, the holy tears are formed.”

      – Owe Wikström,
      professor in Psychology
      of Religion at the
      University of Uppsala.

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      1. Oh Wow. Those words are too powerful. “Between the lost and the desired, the holy tears are formed” Thank you so much for posting these words. Quite remarkable the way it hit my soul.

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      2. Wow! This is beautiful. The blog post was beautiful and I can relate to it, but here is something I thought I was alone in experiencing. I experience Saudade almost daily, but I have also experienced compunctio. I went to Gejiu City in Yunnan Province and witnessed a sunrise over the mountains that moved me to tears. I could only describe it as an ache or a longing, but I didn’t know for what. Everybody thought I was crazy. Now I have a word for it. Thank you so much.

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  22. There are many interesting thoughts about “saudades” in these comments and posts. Having been raised in Brasil and in the USA as an MK, I can understand some of the comments. I did not wade through them all, so these thoughts may have been mentioned, here goes anyway.

    We humans try to define or label everything, and this attempt to define “saudade” certainly comes closer than anything I have seen so far. That being said, any definition of “saudade” is going to fall short of what the word means. Something will be missing, the emotion is quite indescribable and undefinable.

    Another thought as that even though someone is not a TCK (interesting label) or MK, does not mean they do not feel saudades. Just because there is no English word equivalent to saudades, does not mean saudades are not being felt when someone refers to “the good old days,” or waxes nostalgic, etc.

    Be there a word for it in your language or not, you have felt “saudades” and done things that help you say “matei saudades” (direct translation is “I killed” saudades, but it’s meaning more like cured saudades for a little while).

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    1. Thanks for coming by and offering your perspective. A couple thoughts – one is that the post wasn’t meant to be a definition, more of an introduction to a word that was introduced to me by my Portuguese friends;a word that ended up resonating with me as someone who has spent the majority of my life overseas but now find myself in the United States. It also resonates with most of the immigrants that I know.

      In terms of others feeling ‘saudade’ – yes, we’re all human, we all have human longings and emotions. That rarely comforts the person who feels a stranger, an outsider, and is feeling the depth of emotion and longing . Rather it shouts at them – you’re no different than any one else so get a grip on yourself. The reality is the non-immigrants that surround me in my current world all grew up within a couple of miles of where they now live. They don’t and can’t relate when I find out that the church I attended was bombed and my friends were there, that a couple weeks later the school I attended was bombed, that the country I grew up in is considered a den of terrorists and yet I know it isn’t and I have a ‘poignant sadness and an indolent wistfulness’ for what was.

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  23. I love reading the comments to this post, and seeing how so many others find words to describe what they feel that validate and expand on our experiences. I believe one aspect of saudade for me is that the daily experiences in Brasil were much more raw and intense, both good and bad. On one hand, we tended to see tragedy up close. A car wreck or an illness was not sanitized like it is here. The smells and sounds of slums, starving dogs, open sewage, and makeshift shacks don’t have a first world equivalent. Likewise, it seems the beautiful experiences were much more intense and rich. Visit a national park here and you stay on the required paved path and see the same view from the same distance as the last million visitors. Ride in a wooden boat up a tributary of the Amazon where real life is happening all around you in dugout boats and along the riverbanks and you feel much more alive and connected to the event. I vividly remember camping and fishing on the Xingu river with my dad and brother far from everything. We ate what we caught, and listened to the sounds of the rapids and jungle at night. My Dad and I were the very best of friends all our lives, and these vivid and intense “raw” experiences were a key foundation for that love and friendship. Everything from our truck breaking down on the transamazon highway to picking up critically ill people and getting them to town for medical help formed a set of memories that can’t be replicated. I loved that man so much. Talk about “saudades”! We have had a good life since moving to the USA, but it has always been like living with a slight anesthetic. Everything sanitized and packaged. However, good and bad, I wouldn’t trade the things that I have “saudades” for for anything.

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    1. yes and yes. As I read this, I found myself going through scenes that were daily life in Pakistan and Egypt – Everything was heightened – smells, sounds, tragedies, joys…every day, and almost every hour of every day held a story. The stories are what I miss so much. Love your description of your relationship with your dad. That’s a story in itself. Thanks for commenting and sorry it took me so long to respond!

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  24. “For many there is a clear recognition that they will never go back to the place where they feel most at home. They realistically accept this but not without “Saudade”.”
    I love this sentence. It describes how I feel sometimes. I grew up in Brasil and have been in the United States for 4 years for college so far. About 2 years ago my parents moved from Brasil to South Africa, and it was then that I realized that any future trip to Brasil would never be the same. I miss Brasil, but I have a hard time admitting that because it hurts. In fact, I hardly ever speak to most of my friends about Brasil and struggle with how my growing up in Brasil has shaped my identity. But on a positive side, I have gained a better perspective on how temporary this world is and that my only true home, the only place where I will truly belong, is in heaven. But some days, I just wish that I could share with someone who understands or wants to understand, what it means to have “saudades” and be able to give a voice to some of the struggles I go through.

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    1. Amy you voice what so many of us feel! Longing to be able to share those feelings and be understood. I get the whole feeling as well of what it’s like to have your parents leave a place. Losing the legitimacy of being able to call a place home can be lethal.

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  25. I was talking to someone just yesterday about this. I said that I can never really go back, because the world I grew up in no longer exists–except for the beach. The rocks I played on, the sand I played in–they still remain, unchanged. So, last night I had a dream, and in that dream I took my infant daughter swimming in the ocean in front of our old house . . .
    Okay, so I don’t have an infant, much less an infant daughter, and the waves in my dream were much higher than I ever saw them–but whether my body ever makes it back to my childhood home or not, I will always be returning to the beach in my dreams.

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    1. I love this – one of my blogging friends actually did a post called When TCK’s Dream that touched on this. I’m planning to reblog that one. This comment feels so poignant to me – that idea that our “places” as TCK’s come back to us in our dreams. And the infant daughter makes it even more so – looking to a future where you desperately want to communicate to your kids some of what you felt, what you experienced. So good. So where did you grow up?

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  26. Gotta admit I teared up when I read the article and comments. Born and reared as an MK or TCK in Mali, Guinea and Ivory Coast. Would never trade those experiences for the “tame” life in N. America. Lost it all when I came to Canada for university and still miss it — the people, the culture, the beautiful language and the land. Would love to take my family there to show them “where Dad grew up”, but can’t due to political instability at present.

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    1. Thanks so much for this comment – I, too, would love to take my kids to Pakistan to see “where mom grew up” While the oldest lived there for 3 years, and the second was born there, I’d love for the whole family to go. Your words “Lost it all” paint a poignant picture of the grief and loss associated with our TCK world, but I think most of us come to the conclusion that you have “Would never trade those experiences” So glad you came by Communicating Across Boundaries.

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  27. I can understand why Bilbo so much longed for the return to his Hobbit hole, and once there could never fully be a ‘hobbit’ as he had been before.
    So all TCK’s, Immigrants and Refugees are like that little Hobbit who went on a journey to ‘There and back again” yet should they return, especially for the TCK, it will never be what it was.
    There will be traces of what was but that ‘home’ is lost in the sands of time. So while all outward signs indicate that the TCK has adjusted and found a new home, below the surface there remains a piece missing. The nomadic nature is perennially ready to pull up the tent pegs and move.
    Perhaps TCK’s Christians have an advantage in that they live the reality of ‘This world is not our home.’ May that longing be directed toward the final resting place/home. The place where we will be with our Lord and Savior. The only one who can satisfy that longing for home, that Saudade.
    So a word has been found for this ‘longing.’ For some it may be like getting a name/word for eczema. Knowing the name doesn’t stop the itch.
    Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I love the hobbit analogy – how perfect is that? As for your last sentence – it’s true. A name doesn’t solve everything. That Saudade for me is always just under my skin and comes out at the oddest of times. But I’ve also grown to a place of peace and grace as at the heart level I know that my longing is best met in a Person, not a Place.

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      1. Saudade, provides a label for an intangible reality that has a tangible impact. A scent, a sight, a sound, a touch, that is there and gone. Staying long enough to stir up the longing but not long enough to satisfy.
        I can hear the beeping horns and bustle of traffic in Yemen down near the old city, but only long enough for recognition and then the sounds of my present location sweep it away like the next wave on the shore.
        The TCK Puddleglums, like myself, may put on a good show. Responding gruffly and seemingly indifferently to the TCK label but we too know the reality of ‘Saudade’ to be real. We have been among the blessed few who get to say, “Oh yes, I’ve climbed on the pyramids as a boy, with my brothers. I have seen the Persian Gulf at sunset and seen wild baboons in the Saudi Desert. I walked about the Colosseum and have been tricked by the lifelike statues of Madame Tusaude’s Wax museum.”
        We are the bridge between worlds, between cultures.
        The witnesses that can validate what is true and expose what is merely fable.
        We have known what people in different lands are truly like. We have seen the world is full of people living their lives as best as they can.
        Our role, as lonely as it may be at times, is ever so needed.
        I wonder if the bridge ever gets lonely as it faithfully passes its days with one foot in the meadow in the eastern side and one foot in the meadow on western side? It certainly provides a unique vantage point.
        Thank you for this post. It is the most encouraging one I’ve read on the topic. It allows room for the term ‘Saudade’ to find it’s place in each unique life.
        ~Nat

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    1. Sherin – thanks so much for sharing the link! I look forward to taking a look. Would love to hear more of your thoughts from the research you are doing/have done. So glad you commented.

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  28. I am enjoying this word even though I was raised in America and continue to live here. I helps me to understand the refugees that attend the school that I work at. They try to voice this idea to me, but now I have a word for it. They are from Iraq, Tanzania, Kenya, Congo so many places. They are happy not to be in refugee camps, but they miss the culture. The culture they are finding here is not always a good one, as they are assimilated into gang culture in lower income areas. Thank you for the insight. I have to say thought, I feel it to a degree when I think of places I grew up, that I miss and think about often. And ultimiately I think we all experience it to a degree because the home we are headed to is in our hearts, and we long for heaven. A place where we will feel completely at home, and never want to look back again. So saudade will be forever gone when we reach our final home.

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    1. Cindy – thanks so much for reading and for your insight! Your ending word is truth! “So Saudade will be forever gone when we reach our final home.” Sooooo true and at times we ache for it more than ever. If you work with refugees you may be interested in this post. https://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2011/09/19/churches-too-empty-mosques-too-far/
      I love the stories of resilience and redemption that come from refugee communities. Thanks again.

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  29. This is really beautiful. I felt tears welling and that familiar lump as I read it and a lot of the comments. I think that I’ve surpressed a lot of my feelings about the wonderful place I grew up because it was just easier that way. No one really gets it, so trying to talk about it doesn’t help all that much. I really loved this post, though, and will be coming back for sure! a TCK from Papua New Guinea

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    1. Jill – oh you spoke my heart in this comment. …No one does ever get it – especially when we most need them to. And it’s those lump in the throat times when we feel most alone. So glad you came by and found Communicating Across Boundaries.

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  30. Of Portuguese descent, I can identify greatly with the sentiments in this article. I have written about it myself, from both a personal as well as depth-psychological perspective on this page of my website (posted below). I am a Jungian Analyst, originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, now living in Switzerland.

    Saudades…limitless, eternal, pan-local. A gift….for those who dare to feel a fuller spectrum of being in this world. Here is an excerpt from the website:

    “Longing and lament are largely marginalized in the greater collective and often seen as pathological in the more extroverted, logos-oriented, strictly-ordered work ethic of more dominant cultures. A place and time to lament what has been lost, and longing for that which is beyond immediacy finds little place or recognition in the wider world. What can we redeem in psychic wholeness and cultural diversity by making a place for these archetypal energies? What can we learn by not shunning the need to lament, but truly mourning the tragedy in life? What can we learn by not rejecting the ache of our longing in favour of feeling perennially safe and satisfied?

    Through myth, music and other creative expressions of this land, Lusitania/Portugal, the meaning or telos held within longing and lament can be sought and offered back to the collective as an essential part of the whole. As a result, the redemptive powers of longing and lament may find a greater place in the collective. And so, too, the people in any land who lament, and who long for the return of wholeness.”

    http://www.cedrusmonte.org/lusitania/index.html

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    1. P.S. I did not mean to be overly intellectual about this. I could go on and on about my own personal experiences. I submitted this in the spirit of sharing on a more professional level what seems to be such an important and yet misunderstood subject:

      Why does feeling sad have to be seen in such a negative light?

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    2. I love this comment so.so. much! You have so beautifully captured the need to lament. I remember a few years ago listening to a radio show where a Harvard professor was speaking about the obsession the west has with limiting the grieving process, choosing instead to prescribe antidepressants. It has stayed with me for all these years. We aren’t good at allowing grief and lament. We see it, as you pose, in a negative light. I so look forward to taking a look at your sight and reading more. Please share more of your thoughts as I believe they would be most welcome by readers of Communicating Across Boundaries. Thank you for coming by.

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    1. I so relate with this. I wrote a post a couple months ago called “When the Ache Doesn’t Go Away” … it’s really about that longing. Thanks so much for reading and leaving your thoughts behind.

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  31. I lived seven years over here with these feelings. I had no one to turn to, because no one could understand me in my ‘home’ town. Finally when these feelings were slowly starting to wear off and I was starting to appreciate my ‘home town’ for what it was I was thrust right back into the TCK world. Thank you for sharing my story, or should I say our story.

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    1. It is “our story” – thanks so much for coming by Imran. It’s so interesting to watch these shared experiences connect complete strangers. Where are you living now?

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  32. I am a missionary kid / Pastor’s Wife in Portugal !! I know that word well !!! When we go back to the States it’s the same question I get as well!!! I am in Gods will when I am home working at our church !!! That will never change !!! I will always have saudade when we are gone way to long !!! Thank you for writing this article !!! We need a convention just for people like us !!! God bless !!!

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    1. I love that you found this article and to hear your perspective coming from Portugal. And yes to the convention idea! We’ll call it Saudade! Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment!

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  33. Oh thank you Marilyn, for writing this article. I am a missionary with 5 kids who have all felt this saudade in some way, shape or form over the past 25 years. I have also felt it, each time we return to the US. I am not a TCK, I am a TCA – Third Culture Adult. I have spent almost as much time living in American as I have in Thailand. I can’t say that I struggle everyday, but I would say that I have “saudade” moments. Nice to have a word now….

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    1. Ellen – I’m so glad you came by and read this, so glad you commented. The TCA piece comes with it’s own unique set of challenges, one of them being raising TCK’s! It’s so funny – since I found this word a little under a year ago I’ve had numerous times to use it! My hope is that you will as well.

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  34. I am in tears now. I moved overseas at age 30 with my infant son. I had another child whilst overseas. After 11 years we moved ‘back’ to America. None of us is really American in a cultural sense. Over there is home. What was, is home, even though we were never really from there, either. Here feels like an extended holiday even though we’ve been back almost a year and a half. Saudade feels exactly right…

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    1. Amie – I teared up with you. It’s this living between worlds dilemma. I often say I’m most at home on an airport where being between worlds is literal. Harder still is when well-meaning folks say “You must be glad to be home” and you look at them and die a little bit inside. Thank you so much for reading. It took a tremendously long time for me to come to terms with being back in the U.S. – I know this journey and pray it will come with unexpected gifts.

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  35. Pingback: bekmorris
    1. LOVE this Mike! I think one of my Portuguese colleagues had me listen to a different recording of the same song a year ago but hadn’t heard since. Thanks for linking up so others can hear it. I’m not surprised that the word inspired a song.

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  36. Great article…such a great word. Just a quick vocab note from a Brasicano (Brasileiro+Americano) MK/TCK: saudade is frequently (even usually) used in the plural as in the phrases “tenho saudades de […] / I have saudades for [fill in the blank]” or even “Quantas saudades! / How many saudades [I have]!”

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      1. I lived mostly in the Distrito Federal (Federal District – roughly equivalent to the District of Columbia but covering more land area) in one of Brasilia’s “satellite cities” called Taguatinga. I also lived for a little while in the Northeast in the city of Fortaleza. I’m currently a pastor in a small country church in Pennsylvania, but God may still have mission work in Brasil in my future.

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    1. Have you gone back as an adult? I had the opportunity to go back to Pakistan 2 years ago to work in flood relief – it was a remarkable trip at every level. I’m now looking for further opportunities.

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  37. I found such a kindredness in this article. I am American but left home at 18. After living in Australia for 5 years, I married a South AFrican & now live in a small coastal town in SA with my husband and our 2 kids. I love our life here but experience “saudade” ALL. THE. TIME. When we first got engaged, my friends & family in the US couldn’t believe that my husband was African AND white. And now my kids, who are truely African American are most definitely TCK. Please keep writing these articles and more. It relieved a loneliness in my heart just to know that others actually understand.

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    1. I love this comment. Thank you for sharing a small part of what I can tell is a big story with a lot of moving parts. I would love to hear more. Thanks also for the affirmation to write more. I so appreciate that!

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  38. Finally…someone that understands what it’s like to live as a Third-Culture Kid. I grew up in Mexico City, but moved to Canada when I was 9 and have felt this “Saudade” most of my life. At least now I know I’m not the only one feeling this way! Thanks!

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  39. M: I clicked through today’s post (guest blogger was great!) and landed here to learn more about this word. After spending the last week in Rockport and now returning home, I feel that this word very much applies to me as well with my relationship with the Boston/North Shores/Rhode Island area – more importantly with the coastline area there.

    I grew up spending summers on the east coast to see my bio-dad’s family. I loved the days that we would spend by the sea at Galilee, Scarborough, or Jamestown/Newport. When I returned to North Dakota at the end of each visit, I left a part of me there.

    Living in Minnesota is a far cry from any ocean, and my soul so loves the ocean. Although I tried very heard to keep my chin up as I left on Friday night, I felt like part of me was pulling away from the rest of me.

    Tears are a blessing because the taste like the sea….

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    1. So glad you came upon this at just the right time Stacey. It helps me understand even more of how much you needed this past 10 days in RI and Rockport. I love what you said about tears – a resounding YES! It’s amazing how that longing can arise through the smells and tastes of the sea – I imagine it was like that for the 14th century Portuguese Diaspora who coined the phrase. Thank you so much for sharing.

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    2. Thanks for the encouragement, my friend. You’re not the first to comment to me about the appropriateness of this word to the non-TCK as well. @Olov said, “Saudade: it’s the kind of longing that comes from great joy, not great sadness.” Surely joy is a key ingredient that cements a place in our hearts. Weeping our losses is the plow that digs out deeper furrows for future joy. Blessings and joy to you in every place your heart takes you….

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  40. My daughter sent me the blog first. We are all TCKs in our family. I grew up in Ethiopia, my husband in Kenya, raised daughters in Brazil and Bolivia and foster boys in Turkey. Our daughter is raising her 2 in Thailand.Saudade is a great word. We had it in Brazil but I had never connectded it to the TCK experience. I love it. I have worked over the years with many adult TCKs in working out the “Benefits and Challenges of being a TCK” as David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken have written about. Now just retired in Canada after a life time in other lands, being the hidden immigrant is a challenge. In August my husband has a boarding school reunion. I am doing a seminar on TCK realities. I am going to speak of Saudade and refer others to your blog. There is the other Portuguese phrase- “matando saudades”- literally “killing saudade” which is what people do when they get together and recall earlier moments.It is bitter sweet. That is what will be happening at this reunion in August I think. Thanks for the new insight.

    Cathie

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    1. Cathie – I love hearing this – thanks for providing more clarification on Saudade and the whole idea of ““matando saudades” What a great way to describe. I was speaking at workshop today on culture and health care and brought up Saudade – what a powerful word.
      You sound like someone I would love to have tea with and talk and talk. Hearing about you as a TCK raising TCK’s, now with TCK grandchildren really resonates. I was thinking recently about Adult Children of Alcoholics, and although the analogy may sound negative, the idea of Adult children of TCK’s. The whole piece of restlessness and varying ideas of home has been modeled – not always well – with my kids.
      Thank you so much for reading, for responding and for the vote of confidence in referring others to Communicating Across Boundaries.

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  41. Another Saudade victim, there are so many! When I am ‘here’ I miss ‘there’ and when I am ‘there’ I miss ‘here’. And maybe it really is that we just all want to go back ‘There’ one day.

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    1. Thank you so much for reading the piece. It’s funny – when I wrote it I had no idea it would resonate with so many, it has been a humbling process to verbalize these feelings and have them received by so many. Thanks again.

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  42. I love this article. My mother sent it to me about a week ago and I’ve had it open in my tabs ever since because I keep wanting to re-read it. Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s nice to know I’m not alone. That longing you described is so incredibly familiar; I was beginning to think I was the only one who ever felt something like that!

    I agree with some of the other commenters who say you should write a book. I’d be first in line to read it!

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    1. Elina – I am so late in responding! Please forgive this lapse! The camaraderie I feel from responses to this piece is great! So appreciate that you kept this open and read it several time. And your words of affirmation are so kind! Thank you..

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  43. Yesterday I went to a funeral for a dear friend. It was a true celebration (the most joyful, Christ-honoring I’ve ever attended), but that couldn’t stop the tears, even in worship.

    As funerals and farewells often do, this one brought up the pain of losing my brothers in childhood, and all the related pain of leaving relatives and friends on both sides of the ocean time after time after time. It brought up the longing for the ‘other place’, whichever one I wasn’t in, and the people I love around the world. TCK lives are filled and colored with losses of all kinds.

    Some of us stuff feelings really well for a long time (for me, until middle age), but some of us are blessed not to be able to do so.

    In the long run, the ‘expressers’ are less likely to develop physical or mental aberrations because ‘the truth must out’, and our pain is truth to us.

    The angst the world feels because of the God-shaped, Heaven-shaped longings implanted when we were created for Him hums in their experience like an irritatingly loud refrigerator– sometimes softer, sometimes louder, but ultimately ignorable until the margins of our lives are used up.

    As TCKs we live with less margin most of our lives, pushed into areas of growth, change and challenge by others or later by choice. So we may disguise the irritation of being always between homes and Home, but we can’t hide it any more than a person with 3 arms can hide it under a 2-armed shirt.

    Growing up, we’ve sampled more of fulfillment and full-use of our potential, more of different kinds of pleasures and experiences, different kinds of pain and loss, than most of our passport-country friends do in an entire lifetime.

    We are accustomed to adrenaline in traffic and true life-threatening experiences, to fox-hole friendships with those we work and worship with, to ‘relatives’ closer in spirit, purpose and faith than any blood relatives we could find in our passport country.

    We have lived life without the bubble wrap, warfare without boxing gloves, and the exhilaration of seeing God come through when it really matters, and is more than just making the next traffic light green so we can get to work on time.

    Is it any wonder that we grieve the distancing from LIFE that sometimes seems to accompany return to our passport country? Is it any wonder that we long for friends and ‘relatives’ like those with whom we grew up, or worked with in our country of adoption?

    Thank God for a word like ‘saudade’ that helps us express the inexpressible longing for that remembered world of discovery, friendship, growth and possibilities. We are not alone. And there will at last be a place where all potentials will be realized as they were meant to be.

    But until then, my heart will go on singing (even if sometimes the minor key spirituals of hope);
    But until then, with joy I’ll carry on (knowing that even if no one else understands, my Creator, Companion and Burden-bearer does)–
    Until the day my eyes behold the city,
    Until the day God calls me Home. (Until Then chorus by Ray Price)

    And in the meantime, that third arm comes in handy for all kinds of tasks, like wiping the tears I sometimes can’t hide, or helping a friend in need.

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    1. Anne, thanks for articulating this! It brought tears to my eyes and warmth to my heart. It is so good to read this and other comments & posts and say, “Yes, that’s me, too!!” and realize that although it SEEMS like I’m alone in my desires for raw life, I’m really linked to those like you who each sense the loss and long for, ultimately, our true Home! I’m blessed tremendously by what you wrote…love the expression of “fox-hole friendships”…well put!

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      1. Thanks for the encouragement, @Leah. We are not alone, we were MADE for ‘raw life’! It’s kind of like ‘the Matrix’…. The thing is, we know which is Reality. Maybe it’s because the adrenaline from passionate and risky living on Kingdom business shows the true depth and elasticity of the bonds between Kingdom citizens. My perspective as a TCK Christ-follower….

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    2. Anne – I am late in responding….but I can hardly respond to this. It is incredibly beautiful, profound, real, true…..If you would be ok I’d love to use some of this as a guest post – definitely citing that it came from you. I would love for more to be able to read this. In the mean time …. Thank you. To read this is humbling.

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      1. Marilyn, I’d be honored. Thanks for your affirmation. I SO value your blog, and am recommending it to TCKs everywhere.

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  44. Ugh. Why does my Kenyan born Caucasian fifth grader’s “Heritage Day” cause me such grief?? Or the fact that his friends tell him he can’t bring in anything from Kenya that day (tomorrow). It makes me want to sob.

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    1. This brought a sob to my throat…will relay tomorrow something that happened to us when one of my sons was 9…Know I am thinking of you and your amazing Kenyan heritage.

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  45. Thank you so much for your post on saudade. I’m not a tck, but I lived as a missionary in Kenya & Tanzania for 3 years. I have been back in the Usa for almost 9 years. When I said yes to going to Africa, I gave myself completely to it, expecting to fulfill the calling lifelong. My husbands experiences there were so tramatic to him that we agreed to not go back for a second term. I wrote this the other day trying to sort things out: http://somewhereinthedeep.wordpress.com/. Then I stumbled across your blog and found this wonderful, freeing word. I too read & re-read your blog with uncommon tears. I felt so encouraged that there is a word that fits me! We’ll. Probably never go back and my heart will always “catch” and my eyes will always blur with the ache. But, there is that beautiful word that gives me voice. Thank you for posting!

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    1. This so spoke to my heart Leah. As an adult when we moved to Cairo, I fell in love. I expected to spend my entire life and be carried to my grave in Egypt. Coming back – for good reasons – 7 years later was so hard. I would sit on my couch while my two youngest napped and the sun would hit me just right on sunny days, and I would grieve…and grieve…and grieve some more. My heart “caught” this morning and tears blurred just reading your comment. Thank you so much for commenting.

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    2. I noticed that today someone clicked on the link in my first comment above which is my *whole* blog…I had meant to link just the one article below, sorry! http://somewhereinthedeep.wordpress.com/2012/04/21/living-sacrifice-part-1/.
      While I was on your site, I re-read your article & read the newest comments. Oh my, how special to know I’m not alone even when I feel most isolated & misunderstood. I have your article bookmarked because it’s so meaningful to me. I think a major part of it is seeing that it’s okay to feel this way. I haven’t lost my way at all; this is just part of my journey on the path God has laid out ahead of me. There is somehow relief in just knowing others feel like I do. Maybe in the act of bearing one another’s burdens, we have a lesser one to carry ourselves…So, thanks, again! :)

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  46. Thank you for sharing your experience. This is an exact description of the homesickness my almost-6 year old is going through right now (we are Americans living in Central Africa, and he hasn’t been “home” in over two years). This will help me to be more aware of how his feelings will develop over the next several years, as well as knowing what to watch for in the other three kids, who are younger and not as expressive with their feelings and frustrations yet.

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    1. Rachel – I’m so glad you discovered this piece. It is interesting how early it begins. And I applaud you for being proactive in discovering what to watch for. While I faced this myself, I think I was so busy adjusting to the U.S when I moved here with 5 kids from Egypt that I was not as aware as I should have been of the struggles that they faced. Thanks for commenting and reading!

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    1. In a way I think you’re right Wayne, but I’ve seen a longing in TCK’s, refugees, and immigrants that works itself out in a different way – perhaps because they are more aware of their impermanence and the “world is not my home” feeling. Thanks so much for commenting.

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      1. Third culture kid – someone raised in a place other than their passport country so it includes children of diplomats, business people, missionaries. The actual definition is those that have spent a significant time during formative years in a country other then their passport country and other than the country/ies their parents are from. It results in a unique look at the world – you always feel between worlds. In my case it was Pakistan and the United States. I knew I wasn’t Pakistani, but I didn’t feel American either. I looked American but I didn’t know the rules, the culture, how things worked. It is an amazing and wonderful world – but there is significant grief and loss associated with it through having to leave places, having those places change significantly so when you do go back they are not the same, whether it be because of wars or other things. I hope that explains it! Thanks for asking.

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      2. Not quite sure what you mean. Most kids I know who were raised in the United States can still go back to where they grew up, still drive by homes they lived in, still see parks where they played little league, still go to McDonalds, still go to baseball games, still eat cheerios, still watch television, still go to parks and on hikes they went on when they were little, the list goes on and on for my colleagues who were raised in the U.S. I think the point is not to say TCK’s have it worse at all, it’s to point out that when I have a longing for ‘home’ it’s a longing for the boarding school I was at in Pakistan, and for my friends sitting in a village in Pakistan who don’t have access to telephones. I can never show my children the homes where I grew up. Everyone has longings, you’re absolutely right but I think there are some critical differences.

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      3. America has not been America for 40 years. There is no going back any time soon.

        I miss the peaceful days. When you could talk to an old friend, or meet a new friend, without fear of being shot or killed.

        We live in strange days.

        Wayne

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    1. This is incredibly affirming. I want to…..it’s the confidence I lack. :) But the urge is growing stronger by the day. It’s when people like you who don’t know me make a comment that it feels powerful because you don’t know me and you wouldn’t take the time to comment if it didn’t resonate – so all that to say huge thanks and stay tuned!

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      1. I hear you. To be honest, since I found this article, I’ve read and re-read it, shared with others, wrote my own journal entry on some ah ha moments, and cried. I am not a cryer…maybe I have some unresolved saudade??? Just want you to know you are making a difference even if it’s just lil ‘ol me :)

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      2. This is Huge to me. When I started blogging a year ago it was because I prayed for a voice. I had no idea what that would look like but I wanted it to be honest but not morose, truth-telling and not arrogant, and I wanted it to encompass the world – something you know we TCK’s love so well. So as suddenly – through a couple of things, but mainly Saudade, I have this bigger audience it’s praying for more words and more insight. Thank you so much, really so very much for being willing to dialogue back and forth and unresolved? In the words that have become familiar in the U.S “You Betcha!” Just this week I yelled at someone and then in private burst into tears. It was all about feeling ‘other’ and having Saudade.

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  47. This is a great description of our situation. I especially love it because I spent 7-8 very influential years growing up in Portugal–I can see clearly why those beautiful people, with all their passion and country-love, were the ones to give this elusive feeling a name. Sometimes, I’m convinced that this isn’t an actual state of being but just my own over-emotional response to discontent with my current circumstances. I agree with you that it’s encouraging to put a word to it!–and to know that it’s not emotionalism; it’s real, it’s solid and it’s something a lot of us Third Culture Kids–and Adults–must learn to live with.

    I think it’s especially hard when you do at last go “home” to find that it’s not the same and it never will be–that exact desire for something that “does not and probably cannot exist.” Did it ever exist, we begin to wonder? I like to believe that we have a “clue-in” about our innate, deep and almost imperceptible desire/need for Somewhere Else, for the Paradise for which the Lord created us. Do people who don’t experience saudade know what a longing for heaven feels like? Perhaps they do, but I would say that we could better relate than most.

    I am encouraged to remember that there are many others who relate to this predicament, even if it’s something we have a hard time talking about with each other–simply because it’s so deeply intense and inseparable from the way we view ourselves in this world. Thank you for the great post.

    ~Erika, lifelong MK

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    1. So you can relate at a very personal level with the Portuguese roots! That’s amazing!
      This is such a great comment. I also thought of these feelings (and was accused of) as emotionalism or discontent and so that would leave me feeling even worse. I think you’re right – when you have experienced this there feels like an understanding of being “in this world, but not of this world” I’m so glad you commented.

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  48. With everyone else, and with tears, I thank you! How blessed we are in knowing that we are not alone, that we share these beautiful but hard experiences of saudade. I’d never trade my life and recognize saudade as evidence of the great joys and loves the Lord has given me in every season.

    I was born and raised in East Africa. Throughout my years of college in TN I experienced great saudade (now I know!) and heartache for friends and homes lost. My roommates were MKs from two other countries, and we eventually fabricated a cozy “home” in our dorm room using our trinkets, pottery, lanterns, spices, fabrics, teas…Every wall and shelf portrayed the beauty of our other cultures; it was an overwhelming relief to realize I could feel at “home” in my dorm! When a tornado tore through my campus and destroyed my dorm in my sophomore year, God in His mercy saved us all from harm. Still, I grieved over the loss of our homey, multicultural haven.

    There have been times when I’m disappointed in myself for having those feelings, perhaps mistaking saudade for materialism of earthly places and possessions. You’ve helped me see it more rightly. May God use us to reach out and bless one another, encouraging each other on towards our TRUE home!

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    1. Rebekah – this is an amazing narrative of creating a place, a space, of comfort even while knowing what you had is not present. I can feel the loss you must have felt as your dorm room was gone through a tornado and how that brought about what I imagine would be a tornado of grief and loss. I like you found peace in having a word. It sounds so silly to some but it has been incredibly healing. Thanks so much for reading.

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  49. Thank you so much. Ha. I think about even this past weekend where a friend suggested I paint the walls in my house varying colors. I don’t want to. Painting the walls in my home suggests some sort of permanency that I am not ready to deal with. Nothing feels like home. So why paint?? It’s amazing the little things that trigger the longing for true “home”.

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    1. Erin – I’m so glad you read and commented! Yes it’s the little things. The other day I made Dal and rice and the whole house smelled like a good meal in Pakistan. I would inhale deeply and close my eyes….Would love to hear more of your stories.

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  50. Love, love, love. Thanks so much for this post, and I am gonna hang onto that word. I agree with the early post on feeling like I finally have a ‘diagnosis’. =) I’ve tried to describe what I typically dub my “TCK issues” to people here in the US, and so often feel misunderstood, mostly due to my inability to describe so much of where I’m “from”. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts in the future!

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    1. Ashley – I was so glad you read and commented. I know exactly what you mean by having a “diagnosis” and since so many people DON’T know the word we can probably get away with it. I’d love to have you both read more and weigh in with your stories. Thanks so much.

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  51. it is like something i have thought recently: your home is not always where you are from… you could also say it as where you are from is not always your home
    it is always encouraging to know that others feel this way. i am graduating from college and tried to get them to put heaven as where i am from on the program, because i feel as though i have two homes and they only wanted to list one… but they said i couldn’t do that… for people who are christians and are in this situation, i think heaven is their home

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    1. I love that you tried to get them to put Heaven on the program – funny and poignant. I remember being in college and in a singing group. At one point we all had to say our names and where we were from. It did me in. I stopped the whole concert because I didn’t know what to say. Read something today that said “It’s like I’m homesick for a place that doesn’t exist” so good. Thanks so much for reading and commenting Ruthanne!

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  52. Thank you for giving my feelings a voice. I grew up in the DR Congo. My father was born there of American missionary parents. My parents are completing their 34th year in the country and both of my paternal grandparents are buried in the DRC. I was not born there. I was ten when our family became missionaries on a remote bush station. I was fully American and longed for the USA. But after living eight years in the DRC (aged 10-18), when I returned to America for college, I fully experienced this longing your article describes for the Congo. Somehow it had become my home without me ever realizing it. I am now in my forties and have only recently made peace with longing for a place and time I can never revisit and to understand that Christ has used this experience profoundly in my ministry to others who have longed for something they can not put their finger on. Jesus never wastes anything, but it has taken me a long time to come to peace with not having a sense of belonging permenantly anywhere. It is why heaven is what I look forward to so much, where I know I will be fully home one day. Thank you again. Beautiful piece. Blessings to you.

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    1. Shawn – thanks for your story. Your comment resonated deeply – It has been in recent years that I have made peace as well and I still get surprised when I say that. In a post I did called Chameleon, Impostor or Third Culture Kid my mom wrote a great email after talking about that tension between Change and permanence. Something that I feel in my journey of life and faith all the time. I plan to post it soon so stay tuned – but thank you so much for reading and caring enough to comment.

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  53. What a great word, and it sounds just dreamy enough too – something I can completely identify with as a serial immigrant! “An indolent dreamy wistfulness…” – couldn’t have described it better.

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    1. Serial Immigrant – I love that phrase. It’s perfect. The word Saudade has made a huge difference inside and in my ability to verbalize this sense that is deeper than longing. Thanks so much for coming by!

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  54. *sigh…How I miss Guatemala. If I can sit for long enough, with my eyes closed and the wind blowing just right on a sunny day…I can smell it. I can taste the beans and rice, hear the tinkering bell of the ice cream cart, the sound of the lady making tortillas on the comal, the roaring of the diesel bus. The sound of my friends playing outside by the water tower… feel the dust of the street as we walked to the tienda for a piece of gum…

    What a word. It puts all of that into one, great, comforting word. Thank you!

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    1. Sarah – I’m so glad you came by – if nothing else it brought back the memories of me sitting on my couch the year after we left Egypt. If it was sunny the way the sun hit the couch would send me back and the feelings were too deep to describe until I found the word “Saudade” I felt I could physically hear the Call to Prayer and all the other sounds of familiarity – of home. Thank you for reading – thank you for commenting!

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  55. I am so glad someone shared this post with me! Your description of saudade completely resonates with me. I think, in particular for people who grew up in “foreign countries” as opposed to those that are refugees or immigrants, there is this whole, huge part of the identity that is lost or dormant, as you said. I grew up in the Philippines, and I know that being with Filipinos really brings out my gregarious side. Would I like to express more of that part of myself all the time? Yes! But it is somehow not quite accessible in my Western context.

    We have chosen to live overseas, as well, and I think about my daughter’s experience as a TCK so often. On the one hand, I feel that I am giving somethig really important and valubale to her– a world view that includes many perspectives, not just the American one. At the same time, I realize that I am asking for a really big sacrifice from her, and as my heart aches for all that I missed (and do miss still) through living in two countries, my heart also carries this burden for her. I do take comfort that at least when she can identify these feelings, I will understand and share that experience with her… As you stated, one of the hardest parts of being a TCK is that most people just don’t understand the longing, the sense of something lost or missing.

    Thank you for this post!

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    1. Ariana – I’ve just been reading through your blog – so glad you came by and so great that you have the medium of blogging to chronicle this journey. We also raised our kids overseas until the oldest was 11. It was so difficult to move to the United States – despite the sense of knowing we weren’t Egyptian, our hearts were firmly planted by the Nile. She has chosen as an adult to go back and live in Egypt and is living out the between worlds narrative. I don’t think this sense of being between worlds ever goes away for us, but I’m glad. I look around me and am so grateful for the perspective I’ve been given. Thanks so much for reading and commenting – I look forward to keeping in touch via blogging – would love to have you weigh in on today’s post on airline travel!!

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  56. I’m a TCK from a Portuguese-speaking country, so am well acquainted with the word. I’ve had saudades all my life, but I count it a blessing, not a burden. With those saudades come memories of great joy and adventure. Thanks for sharing the topic.

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    1. “Memories of great joy” Love this! So true. I tell my mom all the time that I have memories laced with grace. I look forward to reading your blog and am so glad for this comment.

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  57. Marilyn, thank you! I read a reprint of this in the “Among Worlds” magazine, and it really struck me. I don’t believe I’ve ever resonated so deeply with writing about the TCK experience as I have while reading this.
    Some call it depression, others homesickness; I’ve always called it restlessness. Now I’ll call it “saudade.”
    I appreciate all of the comments above; it’s good to read my own feelings so well expressed by many others.

    @Robynn, you wrote, “The hardest part of the reality of saudade is coming to grips with the pieces of me that lay dormant. I have whole parts that are animated and full of life back in Asia. Here they are quiet and asleep. We grieve even ourselves. I’m different here than I used to be. Without the same stimulants and prompts how can I be the same? My stories are out of context.”
    This is EXACTLY how I feel – parts of me come alive in Africa, while they hibernate when I’m in the U.S. I’m able to regain/revive these parts of me a little bit when I am with Africans here in the U.S., eating, sharing jokes, speaking a bit of the language. But these parts don’t come fully alive until I’m back in Africa, where the senses are fill to overflowing, reviving those parts of me that do not fit in the context of the U.S.

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    1. Christy – now it’s my turn to thank you! All day I’ve had this vague sadness – Saudade I know and this comment reminded me of what I wrote and that others share this experience. I too have a completely different side when around many refugees and immigrants, a shared story and experience. That part goes into it’s box, to be pulled out only when it’s safe to do so, in most of my daily life. I find my humor is so different than many and that may be the hardest. Would love to hear more of your story and thank you for coming by. Take a look at Learning to Speak Coffee and Paralysis in the Cereal Aisle if you like – not quite as profound but still express my experience. Thanks again!

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      1. I will definitely take a look at those other posts. I’ll write you in the contact comment box to tell a bit more of my story. I really appreciate your blog; I’m so glad I came across it! Thanks!

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  58. Saudade… beautiful. It’s unusual to come across a word that speaks such peace to a TCK. If TCKs were to come up with their own language, it would be full of words like this, but seeing as we haven’t truly tackled that task, we’re stuck between two languages as we are stuck between two worlds. Thanks for sharing. :)

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  59. Thank you , thank you for this post. As I work spend time with new friends I make from far away lands, I will think of all that you said. I recall even recently my daughter’s attempt as describing how she felt living in Prague, not being able to quantify it as homesickness, though. I believe this is what she was trying to communicate. It made me want to reach out with a hug to you. The comments have touched my heart today.

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    1. I’m so glad you read this Lou Ann – and that it resonated. My guess is your daughter will experience Saudade in Prague! On Wednesday I held a workshop and most of the attendees were immigrants. I used this word and you could see the nods, the eyes, all the body language express that they knew exactly what I was talking about.

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  60. I was born in Scotland and raised in the Philippines, then spent my college years back in Scotland… I now live in the US and I often have this saudade feeling for both Scotland and SE Asia, though when I visit its kind of empty and a little sad.
    Thanks for the article, its nice to put a name to the feeling, I think it makes it easier to accept.

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    1. Hannah – thanks so much for sharing a tiny fraction of your story. I think that you put it so well when you talk about how you feel when you visit. I am the same – although I feel “at home” somehow knowing it isn’t home and hating so much feeling any kind of kin to “tourist” there is a bit of an emptiness. I always try to stay at places that will make me feel most at home. Just yesterday I used the word in a group of immigrants and they just looked at me with amazement…it was their word!

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  61. That is exactly how I feel – I grew up in Australia but lived in the UK and the USA as a child. None of the three countries feel ‘right’ as an adult. Wherever I live, I have this wistful longing for somewhere else, or somewhere that no longer exists. Thank you for a wonderful post – it helps a great deal to have it named.

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    1. So glad you came by and commented Alison. “Somewhere that no longer exists…” I remember after going back to Cairo after having lived there for 7 years and having 2 of my children born there…and it no longer existed. We had to stay with other people. We didn’t have a home. Our kids weren’t in school there – we were that dreadful word for a third culture kid “visitors”. I loved finding the word as well and naming those feelings. I look forward to taking a look at your blog and thanks again for adding your story to the post.

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  62. Hello! I have never heard of the word but I know exactly what you are writing about. As third culture kids we have acquired a great ability to blend in and to adapt. We are “the hidden immigrants” but deep deep down is a longing for something, someone or someplace on the other side of the globe. After my transition to Holland from Africa (Zimbabwe) I felt this, something painful that I could not but words to at the time. Now I can. Thanks for giving me the “word”! Saudade.

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    1. Thank you so much for this comment – I have used the term “invisible immigrants” – same idea as hidden immigrants where we “look” like we belong but there is the hidden longing much like what immigrants and refugees feel. The word meant the same thing to me. Thanks for coming by.

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  63. This word, Saudade, is one of the many I use in intercultural coaching to show my coachees that there are concepts, emotions, feelings that exist out there and, living as an expat is a way to experience them and expand our lives to the deepest extent.

    To me saudade has also a positive component, it is the kernel of so many Brazilian musics, bossa nova, tango also, I think of adios nonino by Astor Piazolla.

    Imagine three friends, they meet because it is the anniversary of the death of the fourth one. They are sad, of course, nostalgia of course, but also, from time to time, good memories come to the surface of their mind, they remember some good moments shared and they smile, sadly…

    This is also Saudade, such a subtle mixture.

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    1. Beautifully put Michel – I would completely agree. It’s almost like you want the feelings because they are so unique to who you are as a third culture kid. The words you use “experience them and expand our lives to the deepest extent” are part of not dismissing the feelings but learning to embrace them. I find your example of the three friends very poignant – it makes complete sense. Thanks for adding this wisdom to the discussion.

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    1. Ahhh- exactly how I felt when I found the word! The word ‘almost’ being the operative word. In Portuguese it’s an ‘ahh’ sound and the second d is a soft g…not being a linguist I’m not sure whether that makes sense. Thank you so much for reading!

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    2. you pronounce it kind of like “sow – DAH – gee” . :)

      I grew up in Brazil and i love this word; interesting article about it Marilyn. I definitely have saudades of my home there as it has changed so much (people-wise and structurally) and my parents now live in a different part of Brazil which is not at all ‘home’. If I go visit them there I would hardly see anyone that I know! Ugh. :(

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      1. Esther – thank you so much for commenting and giving me the proper pronunciation! I was doing a training yesterday with a group of mostly immigrants. I used this word and there were two people from Brazil and 2 from Portugal. They all knew this word and said they had it. I love this word and I am so glad I found it. I think I’ll add the proper pronunciation to the article. Thanks for coming by the blog and please come again. I would love to hear more of your story.

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  64. What a meaningful post and what a beautiful word — saudade. I know so many people I can share it with. I was instantly reminded of a sweet, 90-year-old I met last year when he was here for his sister’s funeral. He had grown up a Jew in a village in Germany; in his late teens he was imprisoned in but ultimately survived Auschwitz. After the camp was liberated, he made his way to Israel, where he lived for many years in gratitude for all Israel was to him. Then, showing me his concentration camp tatoo, he said that he never got over his longing for his country of birth and the village that was home. The resilience of those memories and the comfort of what was loved were more powerful in him than the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust. So despite the protests of family and friends, he went back to Germany where he lives today and participates in oral history projects. I believe he would agree that the word ‘saudade’ captures at least partially why he made that choice.

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    1. Cathy – I actually thought of you and your work when I discovered this. I know that I always give the illustration that I gave in the blog – but this gives more clarity on describing this to workshop participants.
      The story of the gentleman you met is poignant – much like the story relayed here where at 90 years old there is the desire to end out your years without that kind of longing. But what struck me in your story – is, as you identify, the longing that overshadowed the horror….now that is truly a memory laced with grace!

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  65. The hardest part of the reality of saudade is coming to grips with the pieces of me that lay dormant. I have whole parts that are animated and full of life back in Asia. Here they are quiet and asleep. We grieve even ourselves. I’m different here than I used to be. Without the same stimulants and prompts how can I be the same? My stories are out of context.
    I used to call it “low level depression” now I’ll call it saudade… longing and sadness, wishing and wistfulness. I ache with it all the time. It’s always a part of me.

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    1. I see a blog post in the future by you called “sleeping stories”. You have said it so well- stories out of context. One of the things I’ve known for a long time is that I like myself better when I’m overseas. I am so much more patient and flexible….! Trying my live that out in the US. Let’s talk about the post!

      Marilyn Gardner Sent from my iPhone

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    2. Robynn:

      So beautifully said: “…coming to grips with the pieces of me that lay dormant. I have whole parts that are animated and full of life back in Asia. Here they are quiet and asleep. We grieve even ourselves.” True for me too. And you’ve given me something to think about re: what I called my “low-grade depression.” Thank you.

      Joy

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  66. What a GREAT word. The closest English equivalent that comes to mind for me would be nostalgia even though it’s still not accurate to saudade. I might have to pepper this phrase into my vocabulary. It’s so beautiful.

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    1. Malori – so glad you love it as well. I thought of nostalgia too – it’s almost a potpourri of nostalgia, homesickness, and wistful longing all wrapped up in one word. So glad you read and commented.

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  67. I can’t imagine these feelings, for I have always lived in the Midwestern US. Thank you for bringing about understanding… so that those of us who have never felt such longing may have compassion for those who do.

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    1. This comment filled my eyes up with tears. I wish you lived closer – you are the kind of person that third culture kids long to have in their lives. You didn’t live it but you empathize and seek to understand the depth of feeling. Thank you so much.

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      1. Thank you for this comment! I feel guilty as I read it because I think so much of it is that I’m just reflecting my own thoughts/feelings and bringing others along for the ride. I’m so glad you came.

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  68. Beautifully said, Marilyn. When still a child, sometime after we had returned from our years in Egypt, my son said something that I think illustrates your point. A program had come on the television about Egypt, and I encouraged him to come watch it. He replied, “No, it will only make me feel sad.” When I asked, “Why?” He replied, “Because I know I can never go back again!”

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    1. Oh this made me tear up! I have felt the same and had my kids echo those thoughts. I remember for a while after we came from Egypt I would get so angry at people that got to go back. The feelings would rise up and I could hardly handle them. I realized that it was because they represented something I longed for. So grateful for this comment.

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  69. Thank you so much Marilyn, for putting into words that for which I thought had no words. Ever since I came to the US, I have had all those feelings in varying degrees. You have, in more than one blog put those feelings into words. I used to think I was just strange when I was homesick for an airport and then I read your blog talking about that very thing. This word, saudade, is just one more thing that allows us to put into words those feelings that I always thought only I was having.

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    1. I can’t believe how much the word spoke to my heart as well. I wish I had known it earlier in my life. In your comment you have captured the thing we all feel – that we are the only ones – we are other. And of course the comments of others proclaiming that we are no different just makes it worse eh? Thanks for reading and for the continued encouragement to me to write.

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  70. so good! People have probably felt that way for a while now: “For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come”, as the Good Book says.

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      1. I have suffered from depression due to chemical imbalances since infancy, but that deep longing to “go back home” knowing the only place I’ll ever really feel at home in again is Heaven is just so painful sometimes that I struggle with living for today…some days life just seems like too much of an effort…I was born and raised overseas, and have moved a lot even as an adult…I feel that every time I try to put down roots they are ripped out again…I often dream of going back and finding our old homes overgrown by apartment buildings, but somehow finding old mementos of a mostly happy childhood. We came back to the States when I was 15…quite a culture shock, and I was painfully shy. I wanted to stay there for highschool but no one asked my opinion…I know of other MK’s who stayed with another family when their’s had to return stateside, but I don’t think I could have handled that either…I’m such a home-body….even tho I realized later that I had a rather disfunctional family, I have never done well away from home…never have slept well at camp, in motels, etc…I’ve averaged a different abode every 2 yrs of my life and this last move from a house we lived in 7 yrs was so painful I cried for months (not non-stop!) I plan to call my memoirs “Many Houses” recalling the memories made in each one…”This world is not my home, I’m just a-passn’ thru…” But I know He is preparing a place for me…one I will never ever have to leave again. I long for that so much! I often wonder if the christian radio stations realize how hard it is for some of us to hear those songs about not feeling at home here and not belonging here…Sometimes I have to change the station when I’m severely depressed…I really wonder how many suicides have occurred after listening to one of those songs…I don’t think I could ever do that to my family, but sometimes the thots are so strong…”I just wanna go home!”

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      2. Thank you so much for sharing. I never thought about that on Christian radio stations (maybe that’s the reason I don’t listen to them! – but that’s another blog post!) You share your heart and I totally get it. And often the hardest thing is feeling like you can share because so many around you have not experienced either of the two – the moving or the depression. Thinking of you on your journey today. I have often said that God doesn’t waste pain. May you find your niche in sharing your story so that others can share theirs. I appreciate so much that you read this and commented.

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    1. @Gilbert: Wow! I share some of your experiences, esp the one about not being allowed to stay back for high school, even though it hasn’t hit me as hard and most wouldn’t know it from looking at me.

      I don’t want to be glib about it, but I take comfort from the fact that this kind of feeling to me just jumps off the page in a lot of scripture, so I know that this kind of yearning is a feature, not a bug, of having had a taste of God. “I want to KNOW Christ and the power of his ressurection… ..Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” phil 3:10-12

      So I guess that’s what i take from Saudade: it’s the kind of longing that comes from great joy, not great sadness. I hope you have more of that going forward.

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      1. I love your description of “having had a taste of God” – what an amazing truth to hold today. I also appreciate your description of “Saudade” as a result of great joy as opposed to sadness. That is true in my life – I wouldn’t trade my background for the world despite the inevitable “saudade”. Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom.

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