On Places as Possessions and Finding Your Niche

journeying reality 2I felt angry at the person speaking. She was speaking about “My Pakistan”. What right did she have to speak about something that was ‘mine’? Except that Pakistan is not mine. Nor is Egypt.

My places become like my possessions.

I’ve talked with expats and TCKs I’ve realized how much the places we love become like our possessions — yet they aren’t. We belong to these countries but they don’t belong to us. As much as I want the phrase to be “my Pakistan” or “my Egypt” and as much as I use it — they don’t belong to me.  These places that I love are not my possessions. And therein is one of my problems as an adult third culture kid. I take on an exclusivity when it comes to places I love. I become arrogant when I hear others talk about them. I scream at television networks as blonde lovelies speak nonsense about parts of the world where they’ve never been.

Can I be okay with the irony that they don’t belong to me but I belong to them? Is it that home has moved so much that we cling tight to our past connections?

Possession in the dictionary a defined as “the state of having, owning, or controlling something.” Is it truly loving a place when we want to own the rights to it? And how do we release our hold on our ‘places’? 

Perhaps another question is this: How does our hold on our ‘places’ affect where we now live. Mokokoma Mokhonoana, a South African activist and social critic says “We preoccupy ourselves with what we had — or what we want to have — at the expense of what we have.” 

I think a lot of this is about finding our niche. How does our past fit with our present? How can we take the places we’ve loved and the experiences we’ve had and use them in our current reality?

The journeying reality of the third culture kid is connecting our multicultural past with something that feels meaningful. Connecting those invisible skills to a visible occupation. And each journey is unique. While one third culture kid may end up a diplomat, another may live on a farm in Germany milking goats and living off the land. Both have found their niche. 

The greater connection we have to our present place and space the more willing we are to release our hold on our past, giving up our jealous guard and exclusive rights to possess our places.The more I’m willing to let go, the more seems to come back to me. If I hold out my hand and let God pry my tight fist open, my palm is outstretched ready to accept what he offers.

It’s in this context that I announce a new series on Communicating Across Boundaries. The series is called “Finding Your Niche”. I am asking for submissions to this series from third culture kids. I want to hear stories about connecting a multicultural past to a current reality. How did you find your place? How do you link your past to your present? What tips would you give those who are on this journey? 

The series begins next week and will run every Tuesday. Email inquiries and submissions to communicatingblog (at) gmail (dot) com. There is no payment but there is my deep gratitude, the gratitude of many other third culture kids who are in this process, and social media link-up through Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Google Plus.

I look forward to hearing your story, the story of how you found your niche. 

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32 thoughts on “On Places as Possessions and Finding Your Niche

  1. This is a very thought-provoking topic you have raised, and I may well try to contribute some thoughts in due course. Ironically, I am a TCK who had never heard of the term, until I read it here. Wikipedia to the rescue!

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    1. I’m so glad you have read some of these. One of the things that the late Dave Pollock identified is that TCK’s and ATCK’s have traits that cross generations. I think about that some times when I get an email from someone in high school who contacts me…..quite remarkable that we actually ‘get’ each other!

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  2. That’s funny about your husband! When we got out of the military, there was definitely culture shock, some for me, as a 12 year old, but a ton for my mom. She loved the military culture, its rigidity suited her personality. And she loved the prestige of being an officer’s wife. Civilian life is different, and I didn’t quite fit for a while (neither did mom). The strange thing is, the things I HATED about military life, I still hate about life overseas. I hate the fluidity of the relationships. People are always, always, always leaving. Goodbyes do something terrible to me. Even still, I feel I am mostly fine here, I can imagine living here forever, I never imagine going back to the States to live. Why?? I should be glad that my childhood has helped me fit here, belong here, and I am. But I worry about my kids. Will they feel they only fit overseas?? I don’t want to box them in, destine them to be international workers themselves. (Although I don’t think it’s a bad thing, I just want them to want it if they actually want it, if that makes any sense.) I spent a lot of my life figuring out where I belonged, and I didn’t feel like I fit anywhere till college. So it’s not as if I didn’t have a place in America before we moved here. It just took me a long time to find it. And I truly feel I belong here, living among other international workers. So why would I worry about my kids’ futures? Maybe because some parts of my childhood were normal, and so the TCK experience was only mild, and theirs will be more severe, thus requiring longer amounts of time in America to feel “normal”?? Or will they hate me for doing this to them? I chose it, they didn’t, and though they are happy here, they sure do miss extended family. Even the 3 year old. Well anyway, those are the things I wonder, and although I can’t take on any more writing projects at this time (and the thoughts are too raw to make any sense anyway), I definitely want to be part of this conversation!

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    1. Thanks for writing and for your honesty. There’s a blog post in this comment. I’ve often thought that there should be support groups for children of Adult TCK’s – especially if they became TCK’s themselves for a while. And that probably could be true for Military kids as well. My husband had 3 first grade teachers, they moved so much. So many thoughts and I don’t have time right now to give the response that this deserves. But I want to continue this conversation so will probably email you….Thank you thank you for your thoughtful comments.

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      1. Yeah I did get a little wordy in the comment. Sorry about that. Feel free to take it email! My husband asked me, “didn’t you already write about that??” Well, sort of. I wrote it 2 years ago, when things were simpler. Now my children are older, more grown up, and I feel the tension of the situation more. What I said about myself being ok here as a result of the military is still true, it’s just that the kids factor into my feelings more than they did before. Maybe this is one of those things in life that just doesn’t resolve. Like jazz ;) I wish it did though.

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  3. Marilyn, this topic is so important to me! Like you said in your last comment: sometimes we end up living in a place longer than planned and feel “guilty” or not at ease not to move again, or at least change something… I would love to contribute with sharing my own journey and how I did find “my” niche in counselling and coaching families with an international lifestyle (after having had other careers in my life… another thing many TCKs experience).

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    1. Ute – I was so hoping you would contribute! Your voice is important on two fronts: One – that you are not American. This needs to be a multi-country series; Two – the counseling and coaching — that is huge that you have turned your background into something that affirms and encourages people in their own journeys.

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  4. I remember you mentioning somewhere a while ago the idea of whether we can ‘own’ a place in which we have lived, so I was glad to wake up to this post this morning. I want to think of Melbourne as ‘my Melbourne,’ but of course it is not. Instead, as you wrote, it owns a part of me and always will. I look forward to the TCKs-finding-a-niche series.

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    1. It was so strange for me to first realize that the place owned me but I didn’t own it….it was my daughter’s writing on Dwellings that made me realize that. I’m looking forward to this so much myself – first off, so nice to have these other voices. Second – I think this is a huge piece of the TCK puzzle.

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  5. I had a nice long comment that I thought posted, but seems to have disappeared into the ether. Mainly, I wanted to say that TCKs face some unique challenges in returning “home” and finding an employment niche. 1. Many of us are chameleons. We may end up in the wrong career because we are trying to please others. 2. We may not know the social norms and rules of the workplace in our “home” culture as well as we might in other places. 3. We may lack social support and guidance. For example, when I returned “home,” my immediate family was still overseas. I barely knew my extended family and did not attempt to rely on them as a support system. In retrospect, an aunt or uncle or cousin who could just listen to my concerns would have helped a lot in setting the right course for a career.

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    1. I hate that (I mean when a comment disappears) you feel like you go to all this work only to be thwarted!! So I really appreciate this comment. What would you think of turning it into a blog post? I’ve really not addressed employment at all and the Finding Your Niche series is a start but this is some practical stuff that is so important and we forget! We just go on assuming it’s just us and we are misguided or flighty or (and the list continues) I would love for you to go into more depth.

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  6. I did not grow up overseas, though I was a military kid. I’ve found that my military childhood shaped me into a person who can handle some of the stress of overseas living more easily than some (but it wasn’t without its problems!). Not quite sure why that is, so I look forward to reading people’s stories, and maybe putting more pieces in place in my own life. ~Elizabeth

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    1. Elizabeth — I love this. After some emails I received today I think I’d like to open it up to expats and those with military backgrounds.My husband is a military kid as well (in fact when he first encountered the MK acronym he said “Oh yeah – I’m an MK :)) and there are some profound similarities around home and place. So I would welcome a contribution. I think the point is similar – how do you take these strengths of our childhood and turn them into things that can be used in our adult world. I’ve heard a thousand times “Everyone has to do that. TCK’s are no different” but there are some profound differences that affect both our acceptance of adulthood and the occupations we choose. There’s also the whole “guilt of stability” that is rarely addressed – that is that when we suddenly realize we’ve been in a place for a while and feel fully content we think something is wrong with us.

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      1. This really stood out to me: “There’s also the whole “guilt of stability” that is rarely addressed – that is that when we suddenly realize we’ve been in a place for a while and feel fully content we think something is wrong with us.”

        I think sometimes that translates for me into a sense of boredom. If it isn’t complex, than it must be “settling” and in some way, boring….

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