I’m delighted to introduce you to Cindy Brandt today. Cindy is a TCK raising TCK’s and we connected through A Life Overseas. Her post today makes me celebrate those times when I feel uncomfortable, when I long to belong, seeing them as a gift and not a deficit. I think this post“The Gift of Longing to Belong” will resonate deeply with many of you.
TCKs know what it’s like to not fit in. Whether it’s growing up in a country as an expat, never quite fitting into local culture; or repatriating back into our passport country and not feeling at home, we quickly discover we don’t belong in any category except the category of the “other.” Feeling like an outsider everywhere brings with it a crushing loneliness. I feel a pang whenever people reference a childhood commercial ditty I am completely unaware of, or when I embarrassingly make a joke no one understands because of missed assumptions, and when finding someone who “gets” me is so hopelessly elusive. We struggle with a transient identity, the definition of selfhood slips from our grasp just when we thought we’re getting a handle on it. This drives us to search vehemently for a place to belong.
Typical of TCK’s life choices, I lived as a global nomad through my young adulthood. Everywhere I moved, I looked for people who looked like me, thought like me, acted like me. I was incredibly desperate to belong somewhere. I would attach myself quickly to people whom I found some area of common ground, thinking this is it! I can belong with them. Inevitably, each of these stories would end in disappointment as reality hits: hardly anybody shared my background. Searching for a place to belong became like a quest for the Holy Grail, a mystical prize which is always a bit beyond my reach. I think this is why TCKs have such a hard time staying in one location, because we hold out hope and believe there is surely somewhere else in the world we might belong.
It is difficult for me to even form these words because it is a painful truth: perhaps there is no place we truly belong. Our complex backgrounds and intertwined cultural makeup creates a diversity too elaborate to contain in any one category. Our struggle to find belonging is destined to be a lifelong quest. Slowly, the hope grows dim of finding a place to feel at home.
Though I may have resigned myself to give up the search for the Holy Grail, I am starting to become comfortable with being uncomfortable.
After all, the beautiful rose grows amidst thorns. The trials of discomfort and loneliness are opportunities for growth. TCKs are notorious for our early maturity. Learning to cope with grief and loss can be devastating to young tender hearts, but they emerge with resilience and strength. When the waves of loneliness come crashing around us, we can choose to swim through the dark currents, allowing it to cleanse our souls, giving us greater clarity of self and those around us. The awkward distance between us and them forces us into deeper reflection and a renewed energy to close the gap. The process is not easy, but nothing worth doing ever is.
Coming to terms with our never-belonging trains us to become acutely aware of smaller bits of ourselves that do belong. As a bicultural TCK, I love both Chinese and American food. It is sometimes difficult to find people who enjoy such variety, but I can find some who enjoy one or the other. We can meet there. Even if they can’t relate to every taste in my palate, we find some common points of interest and delight in shared times of trading recipes, distinguishing taste, and exchanging restaurant reviews. It may not seem like a big deal to share a hobby. But for TCKs, any common ground is sacred ground because in this one small area, one tiny compartment of life: we belong. I used to be frustrated by not being able to find friends who can relate to the whole of me, both Western and Chinese and everything in between, but I have learned to fiercely guard each piece of common ground. I have my Chinese foodie family, Western foodie friends, and together we put on one fantastic banquet. The TCK life may not be as comfortable, but it is bigger, fuller, and everyone is welcome at the table.
Ironically, not belonging has allowed me a deeper connection to more people. Loneliness is not an ailment exclusive to TCKs, but because of our familiarity with it, we can more easily spot it in others and empathize more fully. We relate naturally with newcomers, strangers, and those on the fringe – offering our companionship graciously. Surprisingly, people don’t fear other lonely people, they relate.
The consistent gnawing feeling inside of us which longs for something more turns out to be a universal human condition.
Everyone can identify with moments in their lives when they want something they can’t have, a dream unfulfilled, a goal unreached. This longing propels us to draw close, to reach out, to connect, to achieve, to act, to create, to hope, to move forward. The constant longing turns out to be a blessing in disguise. Despite the times we curse it and want to cast it out for good – it is the very thing which makes us human.
A Note from the Author: My name is Cindy Brandt. Like a true Third Culture Kid, I feel sure I belong someplace, yet live each day in search of it. Along the way, I write about faith, culture, and beauty in the margins at cindybrandt.wordpress.com. I live in Kaohsiung, Taiwan with my husband and two TCKs with very well-stamped passports.
- How to help frequently moving TCKs and expat children (expatsincebirth.com)
- Five Reasons to Friend TCKs (cindybrandt.wordpress.com)