Memories of Home

Chai Chai Garam Chai

Murree Christian School
P.O. Jhika Gali,
Murree Hills,

I can picture the scene as if it was yesterday.  I am lying on the top bunk in my dormitory. The louvered windows allow a mountain breeze to come through and the sun shines brightly through pine trees.  It is springtime in Murree and I am seven years old.  In the distance I hear the sound of musical scales in major and minor keys being played on old pianos, slightly tinny and out of tune. The players are disciplined, but clearly young with limited skills. Pungent smells waft through windows from the large kitchen two floors below alerting me that today our lunch will be curry and rice. The sounds of Urdu, Punjabi, and English meld together, a kaleidoscope of diversity unrealized until I am older. As the memory returns, I close my eyes and I am completely content.

Two distinct places come to mind when I think of the place and concept of ‘home.’ The first is that of several different cities where my parents lived in Pakistan during my childhood. The second place is the more constant: My boarding school near the town of Jhika Gali, nestled in the foothills of the Himalayan range of mountains in the country of Pakistan.

…it was in the institutional halls of boarding school where I encountered the God who I would grow to love…

My memories are strong of the place that shaped me, that formed me into who I am today. I was six years old when I first went to boarding school. I could barely tie my shoelaces; much less navigate the sometimes cruel environment of an institutional setting. But it was in the institutional halls of boarding school where I encountered the God who I would grow to love.

For three months at a time, I would share a bedroom with seven roommates supervised by a housemother struggling to meet the needs of 20 to 30 little children. Children, who needed to eat, brush their teeth, bathe, dress, study, and sleep. Along with the practical needs were the emotional and spiritual needs. These are the unseen needs that satisfy the deepest of human longings; namely love and belonging. It was a seemingly impossible task, but we would not know this until much later in our lives.

The first night away from home, I was always exhausted and sleep came quickly. I woke early in the morning, disoriented and unsure of where I was. When I remembered, the blur and taste of hot, salty tears clouded my vision and lingered on my tongue. I dared not show my tears; it was not safe. We were all small, all facing separation and loss, all experiencing the first of many times of homesickness. We were surrounded by others as young as we were, by others with the same tears and fears, the same deep sense of loss.

No one heard or saw my tears; instead, they fell silently, invisibly.  Soon others would wake, and happy chatter would overshadow the sad. We were already a family of sorts, complete with the aunts and uncles who served as our dorm parents. But each time I entered boarding school, the early morning scene would repeat itself, from the time I was six until the day I graduated from high school.

A cold, metal-framed bunk bed and the living God were my only witnesses. The one captured my tears, the other comforted them.In that tiny, private bunk bed space my first fervent prayers for comfort went up to an unseen God in a Heaven that seemed far away, and I experienced his comfort and presence. It was in a bunk bed that this unseen God responded, an invisible hand reaching out to comfort a little girl far from her parents who held fast to a stuffed animal.

My boarding school years are long past and, like many others who grew up globally, many places in the world have become home for a time.  Indeed, for me a recurring life-theme has been on place and home. But those early memories of boarding school still evoke in me tears and a deep sense of gratitude.  There have been many places where my faith grew, where I met the big and hard questions of life. One of those places was surely a boarding school bunk bed, an icon of sorts, a solid witness to a faith that is written on my heart by God’s hand.

Worlds Apart v2Worlds Apart: A Third Culture Kid’s Journey is now available wherever they sell books!

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This piece was first published here

Photo by Jason Philbrick

Some Thoughts From Adult TCKs to Those Who Raise Them – Part 2

A year and a half ago I put out a request to a group of adult TCKs asking what advice or thoughts they might have for the parents of TCKs. The response was excellent and informative. Responders ranged from 25 to 60 and everything in between.

I have been asked ever since then to do a part two to that post. This time, I put the question out to several different groups, mostly people I have never met. There is diversity in age range, countries represented, and in the occupations of the Adult TCKs parents.  In a couple of cases I edited the quote, just because of length, but mostly these are raw and unfiltered actual quotes, either written or spoken, from Adult TCKs.



“Home” is something different for parents of a TCK and the TCK. In some internationally living families, every family member has another place or feeling they call “home”. The sooner parents accept and recognize this, the sooner they will be able to help their children and support them during the most challenging periods of their lives.


I think the most important thing for me is to let the TCK experience things on their own terms without imposing the parents’ views on them about different cultures and places. For me it was extremely disorienting to move to my passport country only to find out that I did not find it nearly as amazing as my parents did. Conversely, the place where I grew up was a location where my parents experienced a lot of heartache and so we rarely share memories of it. My parents did a lot of things right in raising TCKs, but it would have been so helpful if I had felt the freedom to legitimately disagree with them on what felt like home and what felt foreign, especially in my early adult years.


 Remember that tcks tend to breed tcks and that once you have sowed the seeds of the sojourner, the eternal wanderer, then be prepared when you grow old to live apart from your kids and grandkids.


Treat your kids as well as you do the rest of the world


Give your kids permission to share their problems. Let them know that the work of the gospel will not fall apart if their needs are considered.


Moving overseas as an adult and moving overseas as a kid are not the same. It shapes you differently, in your mind, your heart. I know sometimes its people trying to relate, but saying that it’s the same can be hurtful too. Let your kids be tourists sometimes, and let them be kids too. Even when they act really grown up, they need time and space to just be “normal” kids.
Give them people to whom or opportunities where they can ask the “dumb” questions. How are we supposed to act? Why do we do that? What is that? Nothing causes stress like not knowing those things you think you are SUPPOSED to just know.


Don’t put the weight of “representing God well” etc on their shoulders…let them be kids.


Be prepared for your children to have different national loyalties than you do.


ALL TCK parents should read up on TCKness! I returned to England aged 20 after 6 years and 2 countries…My parents and brother had moved to yet another country. No one in my extended family had lived overseas. No one I met through college or otherwise had either. No one ever suggested I treat my passport country as another new country where I needed to learn how everything worked. It was assumed I would know because I was ‘home.’
My re-entry was so painful I hid my TCKness away from myself as well as others and lived a somewhat crippled life….Mine, I know, is a fairly extreme example of how unrecognised and unsupported TCKness can affect someone. Life wasn’t all bad before but I’m sure it would have been a lot happier if I’d been more prepared for the reverse culture shock of returning to my passport country, been able to stay in contact with friends overseas and parents who were at least aware of potential problems.


Give your child hard copies of photos and help them create a treasure box of mementos. A picture, a blanket, a couple keepsakes. These become precious tangible reminders of their life, little pieces of home. Then, in each new place, set up their bedroom filled with treasures first so that they have a sanctuary of familiarity in all the new. I still do this whenever I move into a new place.


When you move a lot your nuclear family becomes “home.” My parents gave us a safe place to be together and encouraged us BE in the culture and create relationships. We cried all together as a family when it was time to go. I wouldn’t change a thing. I learned to love and open my heart to people even for a short period of time. It opens me up for sadness, but the relationship is worth it every time.


In my late 30’s, a packet in the mail delivered the surprise gift of letters I had written my parents during grades 8-12 at the Alliance Academy in Quito (and my sister received hers as well). All these years later, the detail in those written conversations carries the health history of our siblings back in Lima, and the names of friends with whom we shared extraordinary experiences and trips.Combined with yearbooks, these are the archives of our memories… a treasure we never anticipated would be saved. In a modern era of emails and social media, it still matters to create a form of “hard copy” that can be “read” in any country, any decade. It’s a gift beyond price.


Allow us to remember. Don’t try to deny memories, don’t be afraid that our memories will make us discontent. Rather, remember that there is strength in remembering. 


Quote from Between Worlds: Essays on Culture & Belonging 

“The losses felt by those of us raised in a country that was different from that indicated on our passports can be heavy. To be sure, the gains are also real: the way we look at the world, the wonder of travel, our love of passports and places, our wish to defend parts of the world that we feel are misunderstood by those around us.

But along with these come profound losses of people and place. For many of us, the only thing we feel we have left are our memories. We cannot go back to the place that was home. Either it does not exist, will not let us in, or danger and cost prohibit a casual trip to indulge the times of homesickness. In its place is memory. Our memories may be biased, or relayed in a way that would make our mothers say, ‘That’s not quite the way it happened,’ but it is inalienably ours.”

“We Knew we Wouldn’t Stay”

Old city quote“For most of us, being raised as foreigners meant our stay in [insert country] was free of permanence. For some, a temporary stay meant a year or two; for others, time dragged on indefinitely, but always, always, the time would come to say goodbye. Our parents may have chosen to remain, but we would leave. We were raised to be different, we were raised knowing we wouldn’t stay, knowing that as soon as we finished school we would leave and probably not come back. And for children in my family, American citizens, the place we would go would be the United States.” From Nina Sichel in Unrooted Childhoods

We knew we wouldn’t stay. 

When we were in our passport countries we thought we belonged to our adopted countries; but when we returned to the countries we called home, we and they had both changed. For the first time we realized that we needed a reason to go back. In the words of my daughter, Annie “I belonged to Pakistan and Egypt, but Pakistan and Egypt did not belong to me.”

That realization alone brought on a crisis.

Who else needs to have a reason to go ‘home’? Isn’t one of the definitions of home the place that was supposed to take you in when no one else would? Others don’t need excuses to go home, but we did. Perhaps this is when the realization hits us that we belong everywhere and nowhere.

And then there’s the problem of how to articulate this. How do we explain this phenomenon to others? We knew we wouldn’t stay. We knew we didn’t belong — not really.

The words from Unrooted Childhoods were poignant reminders to me that from the beginning, I knew this. From the time I was a little girl to the day I graduated, bags packed and ready, I knew that my time in Pakistan would ultimately come to an end.

When you’re raised in a community that believes this world is not our home, that we are just passing through it, you cast aside the poignant loss. Everything is impermanent anyway, some of us just have to learn it earlier than others. And all that is true – but the impermanence sometimes catches up with you, and you find yourself grieving, not even knowing why.

If we are limited on this earth to place, is it reasonable to assume we will grieve its absence? We get glimpses of the eternal, we know it is placed in our hearts, yet it often feels out of reach, far removed from daily life.

The incarnation was about God being limited to place and time, being limited to and by the human experience. During those 33 years on earth, he was a part of a community, he was defined by place. We read the words of scripture and hear that he is from Nazareth – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” While he was on this earth, he laughed and cried; prayed and partied. He had compassion and he voiced anger. He was fully present, even as he looked to something infinitely greater.  He knew eternity, and yet he limited himself to that which was finite.

He was a third culture kid. And he knew he would go back home. Yet his back home was the one where he really belonged, and the one where we really belong. It’s the one where all of life will make sense. Where every day will be better than the day before and talk of loss of place will not exist. We will be home at last.

Until then, while there is no place where I will feel fully at home, there are many places where I feel partially at home. And I intend to explore and live in as many of them as possible.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”  Ecclesiastes 3:11

What a Computer Screen Can and Cannot do for Our Nostalgia

Katha has written for Communicating Across Boundaries before and I love what she writes today – it resonated with my TCK heart and brought up some good questions and thoughts. This is the first part of a two-part series that Katha is doing on “Nostalgia.”  Katha comes at these pieces from a personal as well as academic angle as her Master’s Thesis was on nostalgia. We would love to hear your thoughts at the end of the post. You can read more about Katha at the end of the post and connect with her at her own blog. 


computer - nostalgia

What a Computer Screen Can and Cannot Do for Our Nostalgia

We live in a world that has grown closer together, as one definition of globalization puts it.

People around me say they don’t have to go anywhere because the world is right at their doorstep. They can choose their dinner menu from at least ten different cultures, and music found by one click online sets the right tone. What’s the big deal with travelling? Others are travel maniacs. Get on a plane and within ten hours (or less, depending on where you live) you’re in a completely different world. People go on vacation to exotic places, spend two weeks in a hotel/beach landscape, and say they know a place.

Friends go on short-term trips to experience ‘the real Africa/India/whatever place you want to put in there’ and come back missing the food, the animals, or the crowded minibus taxis. And I find myself thinking, ‘You have no idea…

The following scene could probably take place in each TCK’s daily life…

…I log myself into Skype and wait for my friend to come online. It’s 7 am and I am little tired, but I also don’t really care about that. It is difficult enough finding a time that we both are available – she between coming home from university and going out with friends in Australia, me before spending all day in classes in Germany. Or other friends joining in from the States after they’re home from church. Skype dates are set up via Facebook or even doodle to find a time where time zones, schedules, or simply life, don’t bother us. We meet virtually from all over the world, and often the first thing we say is, “Thank God for technology!” We talk for hours and hours, share our lives and hearts, but also reminiscence about the time we spent together in yet another part of the world. We laugh, cry, encourage, and pray together – as if we were right next to each other. As if there was no ocean between us. But there is. And I realize it every time I switch off my laptop.

In a way, that Skype call didn’t really cure my homesickness for a certain place or a good friend; it actually increased my longing because I once again had to realize that technology can do a lot, but it cannot bridge the gap between time and space.

Looking at the omnipresence of technology in our globalized lives – how does it affect our feelings of longing and nostalgia?

TCKs are surrounded by movement: either we move ourselves or we watch our friends leave. We are used to saying goodbye on a regular basis, airports have become a second (or third, or tenth) home for us. Since we are constantly on the move, leaving behind too many wonderful places and people, globalization and technology have become a blessing for us – it makes communication and staying in touch with dear friends all around the globe so much easier.

One big advantage of technology like photographs and films is that it enriches facts with vivid images and emotions “far beyond that which could be evoked from a mere chronology of places, persons, and events” (Fred Davis). It helps to recreate the past to a certain extent by eliminating the gap between time and space. There is a new architecture of space because things that used to be far away suddenly appear to be close through email, Skype, videos, and photographs. No matter how far you might feel apart from a place, media bridges the distance and creates instant intimacy. You can easily stay in touch with friends you had to leave behind, even remote places in South African townships or Ugandan bush villages have Internet on their phones these days. Through globalized markets you can get products and tastes from all over the world without leaving your neighborhood. Distance does not matter – with globalization and technology you can create a home away from home or preserve traveling memories for the future.

But does it cure our nostalgia?

When inventions like photography and later videography came about some people said it would eradicate the feeling of nostalgia because we are now able to access our memories in vivid form whenever we want. Some hundred years later, we still grapple with that feeling of longing tugging at our hearts and pulling us back again and again. It seems that nostalgia will always be there, simply in different forms and genres. And it can also have a negative impact because it changes the way we remember, preserve, and deal with homesickness. In a slow world people experience things intensely, but with an increase in speed there is also an increase in forgetting. The more we try to keep up with the speed of progress, of life, of friendships – the more we hear this voice inside of us, we feel this longing to slow down, to go back to a time where things were so much easier and carefree.

Svetlana Boym put if beautifully when she said that nostalgia is ‘a yearning for a different time – the time of our childhood, the slower rhythm of our dreams.’

We long to keep the past alive so we are able to relive it in slow motion. Memories preserved via technology can serve as easy escape from a dull present or the struggle of re-entry into a culture we don’t fit in. Simply watch pictures, call a friend, and you’re back in a different place and time. However, we seem to forget that no virtual reality can ever replace real experiences or recall the actual emotions felt; all it can do is to create a fake image of home or past times. Technology sells the idea of connectedness, which leads to the impossibility of being alone. Constant calling, texting and communicating with home can become a harbor to preserve homesickness; instead of dealing with it, we try to stay in touch with two worlds at once. Then we buy into the illusion that friends on screen are very close. We share lives, relationships, and emotions via video camera. Nevertheless, as soon as we switch off the laptop the connection is lost and only a feeling of loneliness and longing remains. In the end, it makes us even more aware of the fact that there is only one life to live. The past is past and cannot return – the illusion of it, though, increases the longing for home and nostalgia for what can never come back.  

I must admit, I often feel trapped between the curses and blessings of the globalized world I live in. I for sure enjoy staying in touch with friends around the globe. I am grateful for the privilege I’ve been given to be able to travel so much and to see so many beautiful places on earth. And I love looking at pictures or watching movie sequences from a time long gone, remembering things as if they had happened yesterday and feeling what I felt back then.

Yet, I also know the feeling of emptiness after a Skype call, realizing you are still miles and miles apart and knowing that life eventually has to move on. And I wonder how much I can or should enjoy the blessings without suffering from the curses at the same time?

I am not sure we will ever find a fully satisfactory answer to this question. But I am asking you, fellow wanderers and “nostalgics”: How do you use technology to bridge the gap between the different worlds you’ve lived in? How do you deal with the “downside” of it?

Katha - finding your nicheAbout the author: Katha von Dessien is a TCK, who spent some of her teenage years in Uganda and South Africa. She is now based in Germany finishing her teaching degree. More stories and thoughts she shares on her personal blog:

Release of Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging

Between Worlds is available NOW! Order your copy by going here!

I began writing three years ago – “I want to have a voice!” I said to my oldest daughter, 26 years old at the time. And on July 1st the “voice” will be transformed into a book titled Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging. 

And I am excited. Really excited. And I am scared and I feel like achild who thinks she’s mastered the art of tying her shoes only to realize that one loop doesn’t make a bow” (author unknown)

And yes – I will be honest: I want people to buy it! Of course I do – it would be crazy for me not to. Though my identity is wrapped up in something far greater and stronger than the temporary tissue paper of public opinion and selling books, I want people to read and be able to say “Yes! that’s me!” or “Yes! That was my experience!”

So just as you have joined me thus far in reading, commenting, and encouraging both me and each other, I hope you will join me on this new book launch. There will be a give away next week of two books so stay tuned for that! In the mean time here is what some others have said about this set of essays:

Between Worlds


“To read this remarkable collection of essays is to journey with Marilyn Gardner between the worlds of East and West, home and not-feeling-like-home, touching with her the boundaries of culture, the inspirations of faith, and the comforts of loved ones. Her stories are compelling and unforgettable. And while her essays will instantly resonate with those, like Marilyn, who have lived between worlds, they speak volumes to those like me who have not. Every one of us has been at some point between two worlds, be they faith and loss of faith, joy and sorrow, birth and death. Between Worlds is a luminous guide for connecting – and healing – worlds.~Cathy Romeo, co-author, Ended Beginnings: Healing Childbearing Losses


“Drawn from her honest, penetrating blog writings, Marilyn Gardner’s Between Worlds invites us into her memories with loving hospitality, connecting the various and vivid threads of her fascinating life without over-sentimentalization. She is a wise raconteur, knowing that memories are living, formative things. Her richly evocative descriptions of the places that have formed her engage every sense (and will likely leave one a bit thirsty for chai), and the book is delightfully adorned with her daughter’s pen drawings. Throughout her essays, Marilyn presses in on the questions with which every human soul wrestles, particularly our God-given desire to belong, and to live securely and coherently with oneself and others.

In a world that has grown ever more globally connected, her recollections engage us all to think through how “God uses place” — and, at times, acute feelings of displacement — to make us into the people we are. Adult third culture kids will find in Marilyn a compassionate, empathetic friend, and anyone who has lived “between worlds” will appreciate her gentle approach to the more disorienting facets of a globally nomadic lifestyle.”

Laura Merzig Fabrycky, The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, and Culture


Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging available NOW! 

Read reviews of Between Worlds here: 

Purchase here:

Readers – thank you! It really belongs to you – and I would love for you to walk with me through this whole “book launch!

How Do You Handle a Split Heart? – A Life Overseas


“How do you handle a split heart? What are the things you miss the most about your home country? What will you miss about your host country?”

Heidi Thulin wrote these words in a beautiful post called “To Love Two Places” over at A Life Overseas. I read it Friday afternoon – and knew it would resonate with so many of you. So I send you to A Life Overseas now – Take a few minutes on this Saturday to go over and share Heidi’s heart.

Here is an excerpt:

It’s been nine months now since the airplane’s wheels lifted off of our beloved Minnesota soil and I felt arrows of sorrow shoot through my chest. My heart was already heavy, burdened with the faces of goodbye, and I struggled to swallow as the mighty Mississippi River shrank into a ribbon and then disappeared behind a cloud.

And that was just the beginning of the heart pains.

Eight months ago, I took off my wedding ring and hid it away, because I didn’t want the streets of Nairobi to steal it from me. But my finger’s nakedness is still stark and shrill.

For three months, we rode matatus, those reckless, necessary public transit vans that added color and anxiety to our days. But despite the sunburns, blisters, and tears, we grew. We learned how to walk the streets like everybody else, we started to recognize the people we passed each morning, and we gained camaraderie with our fellow vehicle-less man. We started to belong

Now that we found a car and have settled into a sensible routine, the pain comes in a different way. The kite bird that caws like a seagull reminds me of our favorite vacation spot on the shore of Lake Superior. The still, warm evenings fill me with the longing to have a bonfire in a backyard covered with crackly leaves. And the road that circles our neighborhood ­­­­and serves as our nightly walking path makes me wish that the football field in the middle was a lake teeming with goslings and that my best friend was chatting beside me.

This homesickness sneaks up on me, startles me. Read more Here! 

“It’s a fine art, I’m realizing, to live in the present moment, to take each heart pain as it comes and pray that it won’t last long.”

Heidi Thulin moved to Kenya in October of 2012.

Guest Posting at Djibouti Jones – A TCK Talks About Raising TCK’s

Today’s post is perhaps the truest piece I’ve ever posted. It is a piece I needed to write and I look forward to hearing from some of you. I’ve included an excerpt here and then I ask you to go to Djibouti Jones to read the rest of the piece.

Just being brought up by people who didn’t and still don’t feel fully here, fully present–that’s very intense,” ….. “It’s not just all about the house we live in and the friends we have right here. There was always a whole other alternative universe to our lives.” from Jhumpa Lahiri: The Quiet Laureate – Time Magazine 2008

English: Maria Spelterini is walking across a ...

If I could pick two words to describe my life they would be the words “Between Worlds”. Like a tightrope walker suspended between buildings, so was my life.  My tightrope was between Pakistan and the United States; between home and boarding; between Muslim and Christian.

Since birth I knew I lived in a culture between – I was a third culture kid.

I realized early in life that airports and airplanes were perfect places of belonging, because I was literally between worlds as I sat in airports, idling the time with my books and my brothers waiting for flights. Or sitting in the airplane, row 33D, buckling and unbuckling while settling in to a long flight.

I always knew I would raise my children overseas. In my mind it was a given. It made complete sense – it was a world I loved and my kids would love it too.

But there is a curious dynamic when an adult third culture kid moves on to raise third culture kids. First off, you transfer your love of travel, adventure, languages, and cross-cultural living. You don’t worry that they will be away from their passport countries, you don’t worry that they’ll miss aunts and uncles. You know theirs is a life that few have, and even fewer understand but you also know that in many areas the benefits outweigh the deficits.

So I was set. My world was a world of expat comings and goings, making friends with Egyptians, conjugating verbs in Arabic classes, and attending events at international schools. It was a world of change and transience and we were at home within that transience. We didn’t name the losses – we didn’t think there were any.

But then we moved. We left our home in Cairo of 7 years, our life overseas of 10 years, and moved to a small town in New England. A town that boasted community and Victorian homes, a small school and tidy lawns. A town with white picket fences and white faces……..Read More Here!