“What is it, to Live Between?”

There was a giant chasm between worlds, a chasm separated by more than an ocean. It was a chasm of culture and food and people and faith, and I was suspended somewhere in the middle of the chasm.

Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey

When I began writing, I never set out to write about living between. I found however that it was impossible. When you have lived between for so long, of course it will come out in your writing. If we are are going to be honest writers, our earned fact and lived experience can’t help but make its way onto the page. And in sharing this lived experience, I’ve found others – whether writers or readers – who share this earned fact of living between.

I recently posed a question to some of those writers and readers. I asked them to describe what it was for them to live between worlds. The answers didn’t surprise me, but they did encourage me and offer insight that I needed. They made me feel like I was not alone.

To you who this day may be feeling alone, read what some others have said, and know that we are on this journey together.

It’s a Privilege…

It’s a rare and precious privilege for us to be able to live ‘between’ worlds, but I think that the price we pay is to forever surrender the option of utterly belonging – completely and without question – in a single place ever again. I think it’s a price most of us would willingly pay if asked in advance, but it’s often unanticipated. (Thinking a lot about ‘belonging’ today as I spend my first birthday in a new country just 6 days after arrival – my husband’s at work and I’ve not had a chance to build a new community yet. So thankful this isn’t my first international move and I can see past the fog of these early days to the inevitable lovely ones to come!) – Carolyn

It’s Exhausting…

“I find that in living between worlds I am forever focused on fitting in wherever I am, I have to struggle to define who I am anymore. As I age, I find I tire of this constant dance between cultures and tongues and I finally start to use and be thankful for my mother tongue English more, embrace my sloppier American way of dressing and eat my heart food of dahl bhat at least once a week – no matter what anyone says.” – Lizzy

It’s Lonely….

“Honestly, it’s lonely. People in your host country don’t understand what you have come from, your culture etc and people at home don’t understand where you are and your new life, And living between the two, is lonely. Not saying life is bad and lonely etc. I feel so privileged to live where we do, and I love my home country a lot and miss it, but living between the two worlds – it can be lonely.” – Ally

It’s the Best and It’s the Worst!

“Sometimes its the best of both worlds, sometimes the worst of both. And for the worst bit, I uses to try to explain it but I don’t anymore.” – Katherine

It’s Missing Pieces of My Heart…

Never having all the pieces of my heart in one place. Always feeling like a piece was missing. – Chrissy

I Feel Foreign Where I Don’t Look Strange

“I feel at home where I look like a stranger and I feel foreign where I don’t look strange – am homesick no matter where. And on top of that – grateful for the privilege to be where and who I am” – Jutta

It’s Like Being an Amphibian…

“It feels like, you’re an amphibian. You feel like you belong in those two worlds.” – Adella

It takes Humility and Humor….

“Visiting and having friends between worlds is exciting and wonderful if you can constantly remember to have humility and humor. Working between worlds is a lot harder and requires the same ingredients plus very careful, intentional, and polite communication about absolutely everything.” – Julie

Only Happy on an Airplane…

“I was told as a young missionary that missionaries are only really happy on an airplane.  I don’t think that’s true any more, but there’s an element of anticipation in the “in between” where you’re so looking forward to those elements and people that you have been missing that you forget about all the things you’ll miss.” – Marianne

What it Takes from us in Roots, It Gives Back in Perspective….

“If a life of change has taught me nothing else, it is the truth of impermanence. How Things are now is not necessarily how things will be later. Which is a huge lesson to learn as well. Maybe what this lifestyle takes from us in roots, it gives back in perspective, just as you say- the seeing of both sides.”- Carolyn

It’s Surreal…

“The first day between places- when you have been at both places and still feel exhausted from travel, is surreal.” – Amy

It’s a Narrative, Not One Point in Time

“Our story of living between is not one point in time. Though you may meet us at one point in time, our lives are bigger than that. You may meet us at a point of sadness, of disconnect – and you assume that is who we are. That living between has made us sad. But that’s only one point of a much bigger story. Our stories are narratives of living between. The points of sadness and disconnect, of not belonging and feeling other are not the whole narrative. There’s the points of understanding displacement, of the incredible joy of discovery, the points of growing empathy from young ages, of taking that empathy and discovering that it is foundational to bridge-building, to seeing both sides. And then that glorious gift of travel that makes us feel alive, stirs us out of complacency, and ushers us into the broader world.”

It’s a narrative of privilege, of discovery, of joy, of empathy, and yes…. of loneliness. Marilyn

What are your descriptions of living between? I would love to hear them.

8 thoughts on ““What is it, to Live Between?”

  1. Such a good question! It is understanding between and never quite fluent, even in my mother tongue. It is being inherently interesting and quirky to everyone I spend time with. It is deep longing for the home of my childhood and rich full living in my home now. It is unique memories and a secret language I share with my nearest and dearest no matter where I go. It is sweet and beautiful and heartbreaking longing all rolled into one.


  2. The longer I live between worlds and the more worlds I live between, the greater the reality that this world is not our home. The more goodbyes I say, the sweeter heaven becomes.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I always appreciate reading your blogs, Marilyn. They remind me that it’s okay to be uniquely me, with more moves (both national and international) to count and the rich network of friends that I have across the globe, I have now landed in a part of the world that only sees ‘foreigners’ at vacation time. In this little corner of New York State I am hanging my hat, and my pictures and special objects from the places that I have lived in and loved. I can still chat with people who know me. But I must get out there each week for church, for bible study, and for knitting. Although it would be nice for people to reach out to me,I know that I have to be the one to reach out in God’s love and in friendship to these women, where God has now placed me. I choose to use this privilege of having lived between worlds as a bridge to understanding every single time I move.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Marilyn, I’m reminded of a statement a mutual friend once made: “When in our home country we’re always thinking/wishing for our host country; when in our host country we’re always thinking/wishing for our home country. We are happiest when traveling from one to the other!” Living between worlds is not bad. A challenge, yes. There are those who envy us for the wide wide world experiences we’ve been blessed with. I feel sad for those who have no interest outside their own little world. At my age I can sing with joy, “My Lord, I’m on my journey, on my journey home.” “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through.” And finally, “It will be worth it all, when we Jesus.”

      Liked by 1 person

    2. I am so grateful you take the time to read them. I love the picture you’ve painted of the space you are creating in New York State. Where in New York? I get to Rochester to see my mom quite often!


      1. I live just south of Glens Falls, New York. It’s very close to the Lake George area, which is a great vacation spot in both summer and winter. It’s an incredibly beautiful corner of God’s creation. If you’re driving through anytime, let me know, and you can stop by. We are just two miles off the Northway (north of Albany, off the Thruway).


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