On Expectations and Finding Home

Stories with quote

It was around two years ago that Rachel Pieh Jones did a series on her blog called Painting Pictures – Third Culture Kids Series. She hosted a variety of people with a multitude of thoughts and perspectives and the series was excellent. Dr. Susannah-Joy Schuilenberg* contributed an essay to her series called “A Whole Self.” She began that essay with these thoughts: 

The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.~Ruth van Reken

“I don’t really know how to answer that,” said my friend, also a psychologist, in response to my question, “Where’s home?” To be fair, I knew it was a loaded question for him because I am familiar with his background. His father is English, his mother Lebanese/French and he was born in Qatar. He has lived in several different countries in his life, eventually settling in Beirut with his wife. He went on to say that he feels there is a fundamental difference between himself and his wife. “She has her place. Beirut is ‘home’ for her, and I know she has a settledness that I lack. I don’t know where ‘my place’ is, and that internal restlessness is always with me. It feels like a sore spot that I can’t help but keep poking to see if it still hurts. It always does.

There is a lot more to that essay and I urge you to take a look but what I want to post today is the writer’s response to a question I posed through the comments:

What have you found with ATCK’s (Adult Third Culture Kids) who go on to raise TCK’s? I seemingly went through none of this [trying to find home] as long as I was living overseas, but it hit so hard when we moved to the United States….why did all of this not surface earlier overseas? What have you found in your work around ATCK’s who stay in one place after being raised globally vs. ATCK’s who move from place to place?

Her response was wise and insightful and so I wanted to share it.

Many of the issues of being a TCK don’t show up while in the formative culture because the “Mental Supervisor” that governs our processing is almost always on duty. We are mindful of the fact that every encounter has the potential to blow up into something ugly/huge/shaming/insulting/whatever, and we monitor our responses accordingly. On a subconscious level, we never forget that we will never be Korean/Indian/Whatever. (It’s part of the reason that many TCKs/ATCKs experience a sense of ‘freedom’ in flying away from the foreign country. The Mental Supervisor goes “off duty” and there is a sense of relaxation/relief.)

We often have a grace for ourselves in the formative culture that we do not have in the identified culture. In other words, we have completely different expectations. This is also true of others in both the formative culture and the identified. We will be excused for our cultural mistakes in the formative culture much more readily than in our identified culture, and so we experience a sense of criticism, judgment, and censure that may be more obvious and open than it is in the foreign place.

In my work with ATCKs, I’ve found that they tend to fall into two camps – those who cannot tolerate being too long in one place and who usually end up overseas again, and those for whom the idea of moving overseas makes them feel physically ill. This group looks for a place of permanence, a place to belong – to make home. This doesn’t mean they don’t continue to feel lonely or unconnected, but this group tends to eventually find a measure of security, both mentally and emotionally in the feeling of permanence – as in, “I’m NOT moving.”

The former group become almost perpetual nomads, and it is this group that I see most often because they are endlessly looking for something that they have never defined. Until they do, of course, they won’t find it.

On finding a therapist: I always suggest to people who ask me this that they ask the therapist how much work they’ve done with refugees & immigrants. Not second or third generation, but people who’ve come to America (or in my case, Canada) within the last 10 years. If they’ve not had any exposure to this demographic, I suggest they keep looking. The other alternative that has worked is to ask the therapist to read the book Third Culture Kids. If the therapist is willing, then very likely, working together will be beneficial. If the therapist refuses, keep looking.

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I will close with her words at the end of the article she wrote for Painting Pictures: 

We, you and I, work together to build a balanced perspective of the formative culture, the current culture, and the values common to both. We explore how many people confuse principle and practice, and thus become rigid or inflexible, incapable of adapting to new situations and circumstances. As you identify the values that are important to you, we then figure out how those values are manifesting in the current culture. We talk about unresolved grief – a lifetime of losses, accumulated mostly without the opportunity to mourn. We make Stones of Remembrance. We laugh. We cry. I am witness to your rage of letting go. Not only of the hurts of the present, but also of the wounds of the past, never truly acknowledged in the effort to be accepted in the formative culture. Together, we clean out that deeply buried reservoir of the flotsam and jetsam of relational fractures, wounded self, and thwarted or bent dreams. And the whole time, we keep coming back to the work of defining ‘home.’

Now its your turn! I would love to hear your thoughts as well. Whether you know an ATCK, are one, or work with them, what are your thoughts on giving grace in the formative culture, and withholding it in the identified culture? 

With thanks to Rachel Pieh Jones for her series Painting Pictures and to Dr. Susannah for her thoughtful response to my question!

*Dr. Susannah-Joy Schuilenberg is a Canadian behavioural health psychologist traveling the world on a busman’s holiday. Bossy from birth, compassionate by choice, and funny by accident, Dr. Susannah writes about anything that catches her attention. Follow her on twitter.

TCK Identity and Spelling Confusion

spelling differences

It’s that Third Culture Kid identity thing again. If our souls don’t show the confusion we feel, our spelling certainly does.

Is it color or colour? Honor or honour? Favor or Favour? Neighbor or neighbour?

Is it caliber or calibre? Center or centre? Fiber or fibre? Theater or theatre? Tire or Tyre?

The red F on the spelling quiz tells us we are wrong, but how can we be wrong when just a year before we were right?

And the spelling moves on to words and phrases and grammar:

One year it’s “Put your jumper on!” and the next it’s “Put your sweater on!”. In one country we’re going to the football game, across the ocean in the U.S we’re going to the soccer game.

We take the subway on Saturday and, after a transatlantic flight and jet lag, we take the Tube on Monday. We eat chips with a sandwich one day, and crisps the next. We buy our medicine and our shampoo at a pharmacy or drugstore in one country and at a Chemist shop in another.

And that doesn’t even include the boot and the trunk, the barrister and the attorney, the flat and the apartment, the nappy and the diaper.

(Let’s not even go into the words that would offend like rubbers and erasers.)

All of this can range from funny to embarrassing to irritating. But the stories created from these differences are priceless. So as you think about queues and lines, prams and strollers, lifts and elevators, I ask you to embrace your dual identity and tell us your biggest language gaffe, whether it be in English or another language, through the comments.  

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broccoli & cheese muffinsToday’s muffins from Stacy are savory and look like they would be delicious with a winter soup. Take a look at Broccoli & Cheese muffins by clicking here or directly on the picture. Stacy is also going to have some amazing holiday recipes this week so you may want to bookmark her blog.

Taper, Trim & Snip – A Journey Around the World Through Haircuts

English: Most cosmetology and beauty school pr...

Today’s post By Robynn was originally published in 2011. Today we offer it to you again as there are far more readers than Communicating Across Boundaries had at that time – Enjoy! 

One of my ridiculous claims to fame is that I’ve had my hair cut in 9 countries. It may seem a silly thing to say at a dinner party or over coffee with a friend, yet remembering those nine countries keeps me connected to my story while at the same time holding out hope for a trim in a tenth country somewhere, sometime!

Pakistan

Growing up in Pakistan meant many childhood haircuts. The ones where I’d sit on the edge of a charpai (rope bed) in our courtyard so mom could cut my bangs, or perch on one stool on top of another outside Utopia house in the summer with the wide expansive views of the Himalayas and my chin tucked into my chest so the back of my hair could be trimmed by Auntie Carol. Then there were the boarding school haircuts in dorm rooms—some quickly and surreptitiously done by friends by the light of flashlight, others by dorm mothers with proper plastic sheets and the hair cutting tools to taper, trim, and snip!

Canada

Returning to Canada for college meant inexpensive haircuts for a dollar downstairs outside the student lounge by college girls anxious to earn extra pocket-money. After graduating and moving to the big city I could afford a haircut by Blair at Blessings and Co –a stylish, extravagant salon with warm lighting and classical music in the background.

Mexico

One Christmas my cousins and I travelled down to visit my aunt and uncle who were staying in Southern California. On Christmas day all 5 of us descended on friends wintering in Yuma, AZ in their RV. Vera cooked up a turkey in her miniature oven and prepared the fixings on her tiny stove. We ate Christmas dinner around the picnic table outside. On Boxing Day we decided to cross over into Mexico. I had needed a haircut so why not in Mexico? The back alley beauty parlour proudly boasted 4 women in floral aprons all sitting around gossiping in Spanish with nothing to do. They were thrilled for the business and for the distraction. “Haircut?” I enquired. Off they prattled an excited affirmative. They decked me out in a green sheet and started in. “Taper?” one asked. “Yes, taper it up in the back but then keep the longer layers in the front. Don’t cut my bangs! Cut it short over the ears.” I made my wishes known. “Taper?” she repeated, it was apparently the only English hair word she knew. She kept saying it as she cut and primmed and pranced all over my head, “Taper?…. taper?… taper?…” I kept smiling and nodding, “Sure!”

India

Lowell and I eventually married and moved to India. After a futile attempt to grow my hair so as to look more like my neighbors, one of my most notorious haircuts involved a four star hotel in Delhi, a friendly beautician, an excellent haircut and, at no extra charge, a terrible case of head lice! There was another memorable haircut from a friend who had a beauty parlour in her home. When I got home, Lowell, who isn’t particularly observant about things like hair, asked, “Is it supposed to do that in the back?” My sweet friend had hacked a chunk of hair out of my style. It took several months to grow it out!

England

One year as we were headed back to the US for meetings, I emailed ahead to ask my friend Dianne in New Jersey to please make me an appointment for a haircut immediately after we arrived and before the meetings began. Our route had us going through Kuwait City. There we encountered technical difficulties and were put up in an airport hotel for 24 hours. Next stop was London. Because we had missed our ongoing connection we were once again graciously given a room at The Edwardian Airport Hotel –the nicest hotel we’ve ever stayed in—for another 24 hours. Knowing I had missed my appointment in NJ, I walked down to the lobby of the hotel and discovered one of the best haircuts I’ve ever had at one of the highest prices I’ve ever paid!

Thailand

There was a haircut in Huahin, Thailand. Actually there were two. The first one, where the hair cutter (again) chopped off a little too much resulting in a hole on the side of my head. This was directly followed by another where a fellow traveler and tourist made a brave attempt at correcting it with a towel over my shoulders and a pair of nail scissors in the hotel lobby!

United Arab Emirates

A trip to the UAE to visit friends resulted in a luxurious experience in a posh beauty parlour. The Arab women, free from their black robes and public restraints, were chatty and outgoing. The latest fashions were uncovered, beautiful black hair was let loose. There was a vibrant intimacy in the air. Nails were painted, unwanted hair was waxed off arms and legs, faces were massaged with fragrant creams and oils, eye brows were shaped with dancing threads and of course hair was washed, cut and coiffed. It felt to me like I had entered a strange new mysterious world. It was a sensual and sizzling place. And I had my hair cut there!

Nepal

Kathmandu provided me a haircut at a funny little roadside parlour. The walls were covered in laminated pictures of lovely Chinese women with modern hairdos and Bollywood movie stars. The hair cut was inconsequential but I remember my senses being blasted with poignant incense burning, the garish vermillion paste and grains of rice on the forehead of my hair cutter and loud raucous blaring of those same Bollywood stars blasting their tunes.

Years ago a group came from Kansas to visit some others in Varanasi, the city in North India where we lived. When I heard that one of the visitors was a hair stylist I begged for a haircut! Judy popped by our house and there in the middle of our dining room on the banks of the Ganges river she cut my hair, another friend’s hair, and our girls’ hair. It was such a treat: a good haircut right in our own home.

United States

Now that we’re in Kansas that same Judy cuts my hair monthly. Coming from my world, it seems shamefully extravagant to have a good haircut that frequently. I pop over to her house and she cuts my hair in a room tucked off her dining room. Judy previously worked in a high-end salon and now works out of her home. She massages my scalp with a conditioner that smells expensive: all coconut and pineapple lather. She massages my soul as we talk about significant things: marriage, and grace and God. When the cut is done, she styles and spritzes and sprays and pretends that I’m a wealthy client.

Pakistan, Canada, Mexico, the UAE, England, Thailand, Nepal, India and of course here in the US… mine is a story punctuated by interesting haircuts in far off corners of the world. I wonder if and when the 10th country will be added to the list. On occasion I regret the places I’ve been where I failed to get my haircut! Even as I settle into the Midwest, my soul and my hair long for an adventure somewhere in a far off corner of the world sometime soon!

Where have you had your hair cut? Would love to hear through the comments? 

Re-post: Bright Pink Razais

Before Fridays with Robynn began, Robynn did a piece that I loved. I’m reposting today as Communicating Across Boundaries has so many new followers that have not seen this amazing piece. Enjoy Bright Pink Razais.

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We have two little girls that began their childhoods in India. Just before we brought them to the US they received bright pink razais for their birthdays. Each razai was bordered with a red, black and quite pink block print. They were gloriously Indian. They were cozy and comforting and warm. The girls loved those blankets.

The razais covered their beds those last months in India. They were the last things packed in to the suitcases for the long journey into their new world. They were the first things unpacked in our new home here in Kansas. The pink bulky comforters were immediately spread on their new bunk beds on top of the pale bedspreads  provided by generous women from our church. In a way the razais represented the identity of these little girls.

The razais said” We are Indian. We are bright, we are alive and we are not from here. We are different.”

Traditionally a razai is a thick cotton stuffed comforter. A large brightly patterned cloth bag is blown full of white fluffy cotton. That stuffed balloon is sewn shut, trampled down and harnessed with stitches and knots to keep the wild, wind-blown cotton in place. These blankets, to the uninformed might seem like carpets. They are heavy and immovable. During the winter in the villages, when the goats are tethered and the water buffalo are fed, families circle around a metal brazier filled with hot coals. A thick razai covers the coal plate and everyone’s toes and knees and arms. And under the light of a lantern and the weight of a razai stories are told, rumours fabricated, news exchanged. The razais serve a limited purpose each year. The temperatures drop surprisingly low in the desert. But the winters are short and the razais are locked into large aluminum trunks for the long summers. Modern razais are filled with polyester. They’re much lighter in weight, easier to wash, easier to roll and to store. But the colours are still as vibrant and the purpose is still the same.

Over these last 4 years since our return to North America the girl’s beloved razais have served as tents, as sleeping bags, as magic carpets, as reading companions, as dear friends. Although now our girls have picked more subtle bed covers, the hot pink razais remain among the blankets. Our older daughter prefers to have her Target-purchased, light pink and pale green floral bedspread on top of her razai. It’s still there, but not as visible as it once was. She still pulls it up to her chin at night, sees it, smiles and reaches for the bedspread.

Our younger little girl, however, vacillates between her two options. Some days the bright Indian blanket is on top, other days her lavender and mauve striped comforter rises to the surface. She’s our child that struggles to remember India. And it grieves her. I can see it on her face. The razai for her assures her that her birth place is a vibrant part of who she is. She snuggles up under that reassurance with stuffed elephants and tigers to keep her company. Some mornings the American cover is kicked off. On other days the pink razai is balled up at her feet and her only covering is her newer, softer bed spread.

I pulled the pink razais out of the wash machine yesterday morning and tears flooded my face. It comforts me to have bed-clothes from Asia enveloping my girls as they sleep. Somehow the connection to my own Pakistani childhood is strengthened. These heavy, bright, seemingly silly blankets keep me warm and remembering in the cold blast of a place I still struggle to settle into and embrace.

Bloggers Note: Just a reminder that Fridays posts are written by Robynn Bliss (née Allyn), a fellow Third-Culture-Kid and invisible immigrant. A Canadian who grew up in Pakistan, she married an American and then lived in India for many years. She has entered into the western hemisphere and now lives in Kansas with her husband Lowell, and three children Connor, Adelaide and Bronwynn. She is as bright, alive and colorful as her writing.

The Galaxies Within Us – A Guest Post

Today I am delighted to introduce you to Jenni Gate. Jenni and I met online through another third culture kid. It was instant connection and we have said more than once that we have lived parallel lives, the most obvious being both of us graduating from high school in Pakistan, two different schools, in the same year. Read more about Jenni at the end but for now enjoy this beautiful post on memories within. 

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I am a universe with the memories of each place I’ve lived orbiting around my brain like stars within a galaxy. 

world, globeEach TCK or global nomad carries the memories of all the places lived in their own unique universe.  When we discuss our experiences, we offer a shimmer, a glimpse into our individual universe. A scent or a word spoken in just the right way may trigger a flood of memories, like a meteor shower crashing into a planet, carrying the memory of one culture as it impacts another and another and another. In an instant, we remember every moment we had to say a good-bye or every moment we were the new kid at school. When our planets collide, the shock of one culture compared with another, we may be immobile until we understand the new realm of experience, the new rules of gravity, the new physics of our interactions with one another.

Worlds of memory are packed away inside us, pushed into the dark matter of our minds.

I first realized this when I started writing memoirs of a life growing up globally. I began describing some of the people who took care of us when we were little. Like most westerners living in the Third World, we had household staff. In Benghazi, Libya, we had a neighbor who was about 12 years old. She loved to keep my mother company, eager to help bathe us and dress us and comb our hair when I was an infant and my older sister was 3 or 4 years old. In Nigeria, we had Marta, a nanny who carried us, fed us, played with us, and babysat us when our parents were out. We also had Ussman, who organized every aspect of our lives.  In Kinshasa, we had Mousa, a timid, quiet man who cooked and cleaned and looked out for us.  In Islamabad, we had Rafiq and our cook Ashraf, who made incredible after-school snacks to please us.

As I wrote about each of these people, people I once loved as close as family, it dawned on me that with each move, we said good-bye to people we loved and trusted. We never took time to grieve these losses.

I began to categorize the things we lost and the things we gained. I listed schools, toys, games, houses. I listed holidays and cultural norms. I listed identities. There was Jenni the ballerina, Jenni the swimmer, Jenni the hockey player, Jenni the cheerleader. I listed pets. We left so many pets behind when we moved. We were grateful for those we moved with us. We left pets with close friends and distant acquaintances; we left pets behind into the unknown during wars and evacuations. We got to a point that we refused to get large dogs because they could not come with us when we moved, and it was too hard to separate from them.

We gained new insights into religions of the world. We gained cultural norms and social expectations. We gained new friends, new enemies, new people we may or may not remember. We gained languages. We gained dreams and hopes, and new ways of perceiving. We learned that the universe was open, and the infinite is possible.

Each time we move, we pack up our memories along with our possessions. Sometimes the boxes that hold specific memories aren’t opened again for years, if ever. We look to selected memories to help define us, clinging to a whisper of what we might have become if we had followed a certain trajectory or lived our lives in one place. We do this because with each move, part of our identity is packaged into its own separate planet containing memories, cultural norms, activities, hobbies, friends, pets, places and people that we may never do or see again. These memories inevitably spin from our minds as we turn to new experiences, new cultures, new planets to be explored and integrated into our universe, always seeking a foundation we can call our planet earth – home.

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Jenni was born in Libya, and as a child she lived in Libya, Nigeria, the Congo, Pakistan, the Philippines, and the Washington DC area.  As an adult, she has lived in Alaska, England, and throughout the Pacific Northwest.

With a childhood enriched by travel and diverse experiences, Jenni learned early that the only constant in life is change, and she developed skills to manage each change as it happens.

She has worked as a paralegal, a mediator, a small business consultant, and a writer. Her published work includes several articles for a monthly business magazine in Alaska and a local interest magazine in Idaho. She has written several award-winning memoir pieces for writing contests. Jenni currently writes fiction, drawing upon her global experiences. She blogs at nomadtrailsandtales.com.

Time to Say Good-bye

English: Varanasi, India as seen from Ganga river.

When we left India, back in May 2007, we left with the idea that we would return. I’m not sure we really said goodbye.

But our story changed.

Even after we made the decision to not return to India, our best friends, Steve & Ellen, strongly suggested that we go back to India to say a proper good-bye. They said it for the sake of our souls. They said it for love of our children. They based it on many other families they’ve known whose children have been deeply affected by such a sudden and thorough uprooting.

Saying good-bye is important.

I had the opportunity to say goodbye when I accompanied four friends from Kansas to Varanasi in 2008. Lowell had that opportunity when he made the grueling trek back to sort out our belongings (with the invaluable help of my parents and the community there!) in 2009. But our kids have never had that chance.

It’s been on my heart for several years now but the timing has never seemed right. However, as Lowell and I have talked and prayed we think maybe now it’s time! This year, if we can afford it, we’d like to take the kids back to India to visit! Our plan is to take them out of school in December. We’ll visit some of our old favourite places. We’ll eat some of our old favourite foods at old favourite restaurants! We’ll visit our old home, the place where Connor and Bronwynn were born, we’ll visit old friends, we’ll see the kid’s school.

We told the kids this plan on Christmas Eve. With three personalities we got three vastly different responses. All three reactions reinforced that it seems to us to be a good thing to make this return trip.

Bronwynn squealed with delight. She jumped up and down. She’s our child who struggles to remember India and it troubles her. Somehow she knows it’s an important part of her identity but she can’t remember. Hearing the news she was thrilled!

Adelaide is our planner. She craves order and organization. When she heard the idea she immediately wanted details. When would we leave? When would we return? How will this affect her GPA? What about her December finals? Did we already have tickets?

Connor, who most solidly spent half his childhood there was the most difficult to discern. He was laying on the floor. He turned on his side and went silent. Soon tears started to flow down his cheeks. When we pressed him to understand his emotional response he said, “I don’t know if I can handle India again.” Lowell and I cried with him. What stresses does Connor still carry?    How much of our own burnout and depression—the things that drove us from India–was transferred to his small shoulders and soul?

Certainly Lowell will have work to do while we’re there. But admittedly and unashamedly, our main reason for returning to say goodbye is for our Connor, Adelaide and Bronwynn.

Their stories demand a closing chapter on India! Their souls matter and it seems an important trip to make for their sakes. They need to say good-bye.

A Post Script: Connor came to me two or three weeks after we initially told him about the trip and said, “I think I can do it mom. I think I’m ready to face India again,” he hesitated a moment before continuing with a grin, “And I’m going to eat all the Tandoori Chicken I want and you’re not going to stop me!”

The Arrogance of the Third Culture Kid – Part Two

Pakistan - Lower Bazaar MurreeThe response to “The Arrogance of the Third Culture Kid – Part One” was overwhelming. It struck a chord in many of us and Cecily’s vulnerability allowed us to see ourselves in her story – different passport countries but similar narratives. Today Cecily brings us Part Two of her post on The Arrogance of the Third Culture Kid. If you missed Part One take a look here.

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You can be arrogant about different things. The rich and wealthy are often considered arrogant by people less well off. Smart people can be arrogant about their brains, sporty people about their brawn. I watch Survivor (my fave show) where the arrogant contestant is a staple of the cast line up every year. In one particular season the good-looking girl was the arrogant one. She created groups and excluded others depending on their ‘hotness’ and ‘cuteness’.

No matter what area of life arrogance shows up in, it’s always an attitude of superiority. Arrogance seeks to diminish the personhood of another based on not matching up to certain criteria, usually determined by the arrogant person. It’s one person saying to another, “You’re not good enough because you don’t tick my boxes.”

I had a lot of boxes when I was a young adult.

The things I valued included being smart, educated, globally-aware with a broad outlook on life, well-travelled, interested in social justice, opinionated, hard-working, straightforward, sensible, clear about your goals, kind, funny and a good conversationalist.

All of those things were fine in themselves. In fact, they were better than fine. They were good, worthwhile, valuable, necessary and community-changing. The problem was that if other people didn’t match up to my standards, I dismissed, disregarded, disdained, disrespected and even despised them. My version of being human was better than theirs. Of course, I hid it – or I tried to. But you can’t stop arrogance leaking out the cracks.

As a third culture kid I put on arrogance as a protection. It was hard to fit nowhere and always be on the outside of every group. I didn’t know the rules of the culture I was supposed to belong to and I didn’t have the group knowledge that my peers took for granted. I didn’t like feeling like I was second best; an oddity; that girl with the funny accent.

It hurt. A lot.

So I created my own identity where I didn’t have to be worse than everybody else. In my version of the world, I was better, for a whole variety of reasons.

It wasn’t until later, when I was older, that I realized that this didn’t really work so well. For a start I was lonely. With every strong wind I wobbled precariously on the pedestal of my own making. And when I did finally fall off, it was hard to accept that I wasn’t perfect, and even harder to accept that I needed help.

Shedding my TCK arrogance meant taking a new look at the lives of the people I was living among. They weren’t second best, small, trivial or stagnant, like I had always thought. They were just lives. They were just people.

I also had to take a look at myself and ask the question: what am I trying to protect myself from? Grief, yes. Hurt, certainly. But most of all, the idea that I am second best. Having a truer perception of myself in relation to others and God helped me be brave to feel the grief, experience the hurt, and know that I am loved, just as surely as others are too.

For a while I felt invisible in my new identity.

It felt as though without the armor of superiority, no-one could see me. But it wasn’t true. People could always see me. The difference was that now I could relate to them. I didn’t have to get rid of the boxes I ticked for myself, but I could now value other people’s boxes just as much.

Maybe not all TCKs are like me and put on arrogance as protection. Even so, there is still often a perception that we are know-it-alls and show-offs, often simply because we have different knowledge to the people around us.

I remember as a little girl on furlough in Australia expressing surprise at the size of the garlic bulbs in the supermarket. “That’s a lot bigger than in Pakistan,” I said to my cousin, who promptly turned up her nose at me.

“Well, in Australia, that’s how big garlic is,” she said sniffily. I could see she was upset but I had no idea what I had said.

I only understood it later in life when I met an exchange student at uni.
“Back home we do this,” she said. “In the US we do that.” I found it boring at first. And then I found it insulting. “I have such great times with my really great friends back home,” she said. “I really miss them.”

“If it’s so great, why don’t you go back there,” was my immediate thought. “Aren’t we good enough for you?” And all of a sudden I realized why my cousin had been upset about the garlic. All she had heard from me was “Pakistan this and Pakistan that” and she was tired of it. Didn’t her experience count for something too? Couldn’t I just start living where I was?

Children blurt out what’s on their minds, but as TCK adults we have a choice; we can constantly talk about our past experiences and places we’ve been and risk being thought arrogant and difficult to get on with. Or we can live more fully where we are, embrace what’s around us and be aware that when we bring other knowledge and experience to the conversation we need to do it with respect for the people we are with and the culture we are in.

Cecily Paterson blogs at www.cecilypaterson.squarespace.com. She is the author of an award-winning memoir, Love, Tears & Autism, and recently published her first teen novel, Invisible, available free as an e-book at iTunes and smashwords.com and cheap at Amazon.com.

Home – Cecily. Mostly.

cecilypaterson.squarespace.com

For more essays on third culture kids take a look at Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging available here: 

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