Siblings and the Third Culture Kid Journey

The train rounds a bend.
The rest of the cars appear one by one,
all tied to one another
far into the distance
It comes as a surprise
to be tied to things so far back
Nazım Hikmet,
Human Landscapes from My Country

Recently I was thinking about an event in my childhood. It took place at the time of the Indo-Pak war – the war of independence for East Pakistan, the outcome being East Pakistan becoming Bangladesh.

As I remember, it coincided with a mono epidemic at our boarding school, where many of us were sent home early to recover from what used to be known as the “kissing” disease.

My parents were living in the city of Larkana in Southern Pakistan at the time, and we were the only expat family, the only English speaking family in the area. It created a unique family dynamic, one where we relied heavily on each other without even realizing it.

My brothers decided to build a trench in our front yard, a worthy act that could hardly have saved us from Indian bombs falling but was, nevertheless, a creative outlet. When finished, they proudly invited my parents and me to take a look. We were duly impressed, although secretly I remember thinking it didn’t look like it could survive an air raid. I’m not sure why I wasn’t involved in digging the trench, but knowing the princess that I was and continue to be, it was wise that I was on the sidelines – ever appreciative but not getting my hands dirty.

And so it went, my siblings and me. They were the ones that traveled with me through the same places and situations of our between worlds life. Home leaves, where we went through the painful process of trying to adjust to our passport country and the strangeness of New England for a short year before packing our bags to head back overseas; winters in the dusty, Bougainvillea laden homes in the Sindh region of Pakistan; long Punjabi church services listening to Miss Mall lead singing with her powerful bass voice; boarding school and the ups and downs of being away from home; camping in Kaghan valley with the monsoon season ensuring everything was damp; eating curry by the side of the road during family trips; falling asleep to the sounds of ocean waves hitting the sand during our yearly week at the beach; and so much more that went into our sibling journey.

The situations changed, but the main characters were always the same. Ed. Stan. Tom. Marilyn. Dan.

Until they weren’t. Until the actors, one by one, left the scene and it was finally left to me and my younger brother to continue the play. A few years later I would be the one to leave the stage and my brother would continue on his own. What used to be a chaotic and ever-stimulating conversation among siblings changed to a silent monologue, different for each of us.

If the time and sounds of childhood are marked by our siblings, then perhaps it is even more so for the third culture kid. The daily events, the arguing, the all out fights, but overall the undying loyalty to place and to each other that connects our memories.

“Remember that time in Greece when we ate cherries at the outdoor cafe?” “Remember that time in Japan when I fell into the fish pond outside the hotel?” “Remember the time in Murree when we were on the mountain during that storm and thought we would get struck by lightning?” “Remember picnics by the canal?” “Remember leaving for the beach in the wee hours of the morning, landrover packed tight with stuff?” “Remember baby turtles and Hawkes Bay?”

Remember? Remember? Remember?

We were named and claimed as members of a family, marked by faith and place. In life’s journey, we knew that siblings mattered; sometimes they were all we had.

In losing one of our siblings, we have lost not just a person, but a piece of place, a voice of our memories logged deep in our souls. We have lost a place at the sibling table as represented by Stan.

A friend recently captured this well in a comment written to me about a photograph:

I see in the photo and hear in the words that loss of places in a person too…the sibling. One of the precious few who embody all those places and things collected from those times, and in so doing, they are our truth-sayers about that unique snapshot of those two years here and three years there.

Jody Tangredi

Siblings – those ones who represent the places we lived and the events that went with them. The ones who we will always have with us until they are no longer here.

A friend of mine wrote this article for Thrive Global. “Covid-19: The Third Side of the Coin – Hope, grief, and complexity in times of the Coronavirus“. It is an excellent, nuanced article that I found to be hopeful and encouraging during this time.

“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.

I Love Where I live-Part II

childhood-

I know this brilliant woman, Alisha Paddock, who is working on her doctorate on the intriguing subject of sacred space. As part of her research she’s been studying the difference between space and place. Here’s how she briefly describes those differences at their very essence:

Space is an abstract concept and needs an identity, memories and certain behaviors attached to the space in order to change it to ‘place’. When people lose (their place and with it their sense of identity, their memories, their behavioral cues) because they have been displaced (by outside forces as refugees), or (by) travel, or because of a move, these people are re-placed and need to work at creating a new identity, defining proper behaviors for the new space, and staying long enough to create new memories. People need these types of connections not only to other people but also to places in order to feel grounded/stable/implaced.

This I Love Where I Live challenge highlights people that have chosen to create place again in a variety of new spaces. They are inspiring me to continue to settling, finding my new identity, creating new memories.

Mary N

I grew up in ‘the boonies’ in Zaire, in central Africa.
I currently live in the capital city of Cameroon, in central Africa.

1. I love godly coworkers.
2. I love rain.
3. I love the quiet life – not lots of media competition for the family’s time or focus.
4. I love the forest around our house and yet we’re close enough to the city to get most products.
5. I love living next to the school where we work – only needing
transportation once a week.
6. I love being able to exercise outside in all seasons.

Junehee K

I grew up in Incheon, South Korea.
I now live in Manhattan, Kansas

  • I love Manhattan because it is a safe, very close-knit community.
  • Manhattan is quiet and peaceful. I love cities, don’t get me wrong. I love the culture and convenience of living in large cities. I don’t mind traffic either. But living in Manhattan, there is no rush or crowdedness or bad air quality due to the large numbers of cars and people.
  • Kansas State University provides numerous benefits for Manhattan residents. Sports and performing arts keep the community active and fun. Faculty and staff are heavily involved in community and local education institutions – helping young children dream big. Quality musical venues for young musicians are plenty.
  • People are kind and genuinely care about the community and the next generation.
  • Overall, the community is conservative – which I value.
  • American Airlines flies in and out of Manhattan!- enough said.

Gavin M

I grew up in Murree, Pakistan.
I live in Glasgow, Scotland.

  • I love Scotland as a country, it is beautiful, green, has large areas of unspoilt nature with lots of Mountains (283 over 3000 feet, google Munro), brilliant cycling, long distance walking, kayaking camping etc.
  • I have a good job which pays me well and provides lots of stimulation to achieve my best (I’m still working out how to achieve that without pushing myself beyond my limits).
  • My parents live an hour’s drive away and we see them relatively frequently.
  • I am Scottish and proud of it (even when our national sports team seem to continuously let us down), we have recently increased our political stance in UK and Europe.
  • There are many famous Scotts who have made some of the world most important discoveries (Flemming discovery of penicillin, Macintosh who made early waterproof raincoats, Macadam who introduced the layered format to road building and mixed it with tar to get the modern roadway).
  • Scotland has a strong Christian heritage and still has Christianity as a cornerstone of its legal system.

Jenni L

I was born in Libya, grew up in Libya, Nigeria, the Congo, Virginia, Pakistan, and the Philippines.
I am now living in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

I love living here because:

  1. I don’t need a car, it’s possible to get around by songthaew or tuk tuk;
  2. I love history, and there is so much history in this city and in this country;
  3. Chiang Mai is beautiful. The old city is one of the prettiest cities I’ve ever lived in.
  4. It’s far less expensive than Seattle, where I used to live and also loved.
  5. This is an international city. Every day I meet people from literally all over the world.
  6. I can easily travel to other Asian capitals, just a quick plane ride or bus ride away.

I learned when I was growing up that I needed to make a conscious decision to love a place before I moved there, and then I always do. The times when I have been unsure, I’ve been unhappy. I decided before moving to Thailand that I would love it, and I do. There are so many reasons to love where I live now, and the ones I listed above are just a few of many.

When your Heart Finds a Home

Jonny and Yasmin got married on a beautiful day in New Plymouth, New Zealand. While hints of rain threatened in the morning, the afternoon was clear and sunny. It was perfect.

Yasmin is a kindred spirit and daughter of my dear friend Jenny. She is years younger than I am, but through background and personality we have a definite and unique connection. 

Yasmin was first raised in the Swat Valley of Pakistan, an area known primarily because of Malala Yousafzai. Swat Valley is a ruggedly beautiful place with deep gorges and mountain streams that grow into rivers that run over rocks. Swaying rope bridges connect mountains together high above these rivers. This is the same Swat Valley where the Taliban shot a 14-year-old girl because she was a threat and the  United States droned innocent civilians with one click because surely among the many innocent there would be one who was guilty. 

At the time, much of Swat was stunning untouched terrain and Yasmin’s family, the McGrane’s, were the only foreigners most people had ever met. 

While growing up, our family would vacation in Swat Valley, staying in a sturdy family tent or a rest house. When my husband and I lived in Pakistan with our first child, we too vacationed there, recording the trip through pictures taken of the two of us holding a baby and a toddler, steady as only the young can be on a rope bridge swaying high above a scenic river.  

I didn’t meet Yasmin in Pakistan. I met her when she was ten years old and the family had moved to Egypt. Our families connected and developed a lasting friendship, challenged by miles of continents and oceans once we both left Cairo. I will never forget the night we left Egypt – a night when our hearts broke. The McGrane’s helped to pick up the pieces through a meal, talking, and a blessing through a hymn and a prayer.

Yasmin and I have both had the experience of learning to live well in places where we don’t always feel we belong. Though years and continents apart, her adjustment back to New Zealand in her teen years parallels that of mine in America during my college years. Both of us alternate between feeling at home and alien in our passport countries. After high school in Cairo and New Zealand, Yasmin went on to cho0se medicine as a profession and has already used her skills in resource poor settings, largely because of her background. 

With this as our history, it was a gift to be a part of Yasmin’s wedding day. 

After a ceremony at a church, we went to an old barn that was beautifully decorated with lights, brass, and white linen. We ate curry and naan served out of large, brass dishes and danced until our legs ached.

Speeches were given by those closest to the couple, and one minute we teared up while the next minute we were laughing. Because that is what life is – the poignant and the hilarious, the sacred and the ordinary all mixed up in a speech. It was when Yasmin spoke that I knew she had truly found her partner in life. As she looked at Jonny with the eyes of a bride on her wedding day, she said this: “In you, my heart has found a home.”

“In you, my heart has found a home.”

For the third culture kid, global nomad, refugee or immigrant, home takes on a life of its own. We search for it, we get angry about it, we try to find answers that will satisfy the questions we inevitably get, and we write about it. We talk about going home, but when we get there we find that it is no longer the home that we knew, and we are disappointed once again. Home eludes us and place betrays us until we exhaust ourselves and others with our quest.

“In you, my heart has found a home.” Yasmin has known many homes. Swat Valley, Peshawar, different places throughout New Zealand – but her words echoed what I know in my soul, even as I try to pretend that this is not true: Homes are not places, they are the people, places, memories, and events that span the globe.

I said goodbye to Yasmin at the airport, honored that she wanted me to come with the family to see her off on her honeymoon. We waved goodbye from the terminal window, and my eyes were misty as she walked away with the man who has given her heart a home.

*****

I write this as I journey “home” from New Zealand. It has been a time of rest and warmth, and I am so grateful. I said goodbye to my friend Jenny outside security and felt the familiar choking in my throat as I said goodbye, both of us tearful.  I know that I will arrive in Boston and feel alien. Alien until I am greeted by the man who has made his home with me for the last 31 plus years – and in him, my heart will be at home.

   

    
 

Kids Books Without Borders – A Guest Post

Kids Books Without Borders by Gail O’Connor

Books without Borders

Journey back with me to a city in France, in the late 60s, as I revisit my childhood as a third culture kid… :

As the cold and the damp settled over the French landscape, it seemed to seep through the walls of our house. Even our free range cats, normally night prowlers, huddled between our legs at night and slept on top of the radiator covers during the day. Umbrellas and boots cluttered the front entryway. The last of the hazelnuts were gathered from the roof of our backyard chicken coop. At the end of our block, heaps of coal towered behind a high wall, waiting to be loaded into trucks and delivered to homes. Occasionally, large chunks of coal tumbled onto the sidewalk as we walked home from school. My older brother, Rob, and little sister, Renee, and I would trudge home with our ‘cartable’ (backpacks) at 4:30 pm, as the already sunless sky darkened.

Gail

 

After completing a few worksheets and stuffing them back in my backpack, I could think of no greater pleasure than reading. We had a small, one-room ‘bibliotheque’ (library) where we lived in Villeneuve-Le-Roi, France. I loved to gather up as many mysteries as I was allowed to check out – Les Six Companions series by Paul-Jacques Bonzon was my favorite. There were also the comic series Asterix et Obelix (by Goscinni) and Tintin (by Herge), and a shelf in our living room with a set of Childcraft encyclopedias. The one titled Rhymes and Poems, illustrated with rosy-cheeked, plump, and happy children, was the most worn. At bedtime, my mother would often read aloud to us, taking me us away into a world of mischievous bears who liked marmalade (Paddington Bear, by Michael Bond) or the adventures of children carried off into the night on a flying bed (The Magic Bed-Knob, by Mary Norton).

As a third culture kid, reading was not just a soothing activity, it allowed me to enter into worlds very different from my own and also to find characters who understood and put words to my emotions and life experiences. As a child in a French school, I once wrote these very thoughts on the significance of reading in an essay. I was very proud of my essay, and my teacher read it aloud to my class. I thought she was going to praise it, but instead she made fun of it, using it as an occasion to vent her strong dislike of Americans. Feeling humiliated, I wanted to sink through the floor. Looking back through adult eyes, I now know that this teacher was wrong in how she treated me and in her assessment of my essay. C.S. Lewis aptly remarked:

Since it is likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage.”

Reading stories of children who faced difficult situations, such as Mary in The Secret Garden, Anne in Anne of Green Gables, and Pollyanna, or brave women such as Gladys Aylward as recounted in biographies, gave me courage, inspiring me to be brave and strong and not to allow the hard things I occasionally faced to bring me down, and to be a positive influence on those around me. That teacher may have had a bitter cup to drink in life; I will never know. I can only hope she found God’s love and grace to heal her own wounded heart.

I remain a strong believer in bibliotherapy. Reading continues to sustain and inspire me. That is why I started Kids Books Without Borders. I want to extend this gift to other third culture kids, offering them a range of books: picture books, early readers, chapter books, classics, fantasy, realistic fiction, biographies, fairy tales and folktales, multicultural books, TCK books, poetry, science fiction, non-fiction, and young adult books. We have many instances of them all!

I also have a blog with the purpose of sharing stories, resources, book lists, and my own reviews to help you select the best books for your third culture kids. While I write about my favorite books and classics, my niche is children’s books that address TCK issues (moving, self-acceptance, loss, travel, cultural identity, etc.). I also have a love for multicultural children’s literature –children’s books that address issues of race, culture, language and adapting to a new culture.

If you are living overseas and would like to request books, please go to my website at kidsbookswithoutborders.wordpress.com. I currently have over 4,500, thanks in part to donations from families at my local church, friends, and homeschool groups. I would love to hear from you and to have the privilege of blessing your family with great children’s books!

Note about the author: Gail O’Connor is a TCK friend from my Chicago years who grew up overseas in France with a British mom and an American dad. She lives in Bloomington, Indiana, home to Indiana University where she has raised her family. She loves to read and now extends this love of reading and books to those who live overseas.

A Life Overseas – To the Displaced and the Exiled

Old city quote

Readers – I am at A Life Overseas today sharing an essay from Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging. I hope you’ll join me!

To the Displaced and the Exiled

I get it.

You sit in a crowd of people and you feel your mouth go dry, the bite you just took from your scone chokes your throat. How can you be this lonely in a crowd of people? How is it possible that your passport country feels so alien?

You were excited to return, there were many things you were sick of in your adopted country. You were tired of the dirt. You had enough of the chaos. You had to boil water one time too many and you had forgotten to soak the vegetables in iodine solution resulting in a visiting guest getting dysentery.

Your household help, who you love, was complaining and asking for more money and you simultaneously felt angry and guilty. You have so much. She has so little. But it’s not that simple.

And you were feeling so alien in your other world. The last few weeks have been chaotic and hot. So many people to see, so many projects to finish, children to prepare, suitcases to pack. You could hardly wait to go to a coffee shop and order coffee in your own language, not tripping over verbs and adjectives. You read an article on burn out and knew immediately that the article described you.

But as you look around , you let out a soul-deep sigh. You pictured all this so differently. You thought it would be so good, such a rest, such a time of peace.

Read the rest here at A Life Overseas! 

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.

*****

globe-quote

“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.”

A Tribute to a High School Principal

Mr. Roub was principal of my elementary, middle, and high school from the time I was six until the time I graduated. There may have been a year or two in there where he was on a well-deserved furlough and Mr. Nygren took over, but overall it was Mr. Roub.

He was a big man with a booming voice, strong presence, and a heart that embraced his staff and students. Mr. Roub was a leader in every sense of the word.

He was a man entrusted with the overall leadership of a small school in the foothills of the Himalayan mountain range in Pakistan. A man whose primary job was to serve the mission community by using his leadership skills in an educational setting. And he was a man who did his job with integrity and grace.

Through the years, our small school, primarily made up of missionary kids, experienced almost everything that a large high school in the United States would. Although home churches and mission agencies may have wanted to deny it, there were drugs, smoking, revolts and rebellions, staff/student tension, suicide attempts, deaths, eating disorders, and more. All these took place in a complicated context – a small, Christian sub-culture in the middle of a Muslim country. It took incredible wisdom and sometimes just pure grit and determination to work at the school and believe in its mission. Mr. Roub had all of that and more.

Because he was in our mission agency, I often called him Uncle Chuck. We were like extended family and the auntie and uncle labels were used all the time. In the absence of blood family, we didn’t need a Mister or a Missus. We needed something more and the auntie and uncle title put more responsibility onto us, and onto those given the title.

I grew up knowing Uncle Chuck as principal of our school and as friend to my dad. At one point in my dad’s work in Pakistan, he was deeply discouraged. In the absence of telephones, email, and other instant communication, Uncle Chuck took an overnight train that took 18 hours to visit my dad- just to encourage him. When my parents would come to Murree, they always visited, and often stayed, with the Roubs.

This became more complicated when I reached my teen years and I had all sorts of reasons to spend time in the Principal’s office. I remember showing up at his house one night with a guilty conscience, confessing that I had smoked cigarettes. Smoking was absolutely forbidden, as it is in most high schools, and I had bought K-2 cigarettes and had a go with them on the grounds outside of the school. K-2 cigarettes were named after the famous K-2 mountain and boasted a pristine picture of the mountain on the outside, with unfiltered ghastly cigarettes on the inside.

K-2

My conscience was strong, and I found myself in the Roub’s living room making up a story about “a friend who I knew was smoking.What on earth should I do?” Being a man of wisdom, he asked the right questions and quickly knew that “the friend” was me. He gave me a punishment, but he did more. He absolved me, like a priest would, prayed with and for me, and sent me on my way. I never smoked again, more importantly – this was the last time I was ever in the “principal’s office.” 

To my knowledge, he never allowed my bad behavior to affect his relationship with my parents, nor his overall view of me.

Uncle Chuck was also my American History teacher during my senior year of high school. I should probably not admit that, because my understanding and knowledge of American History is appalling. I simply saw no need to learn it, but I do remember that it was an incredibly fun class.

A year after I graduated from high school I saw Uncle Chuck in Wheaton, Illinois at a gathering of missionary kids. He wanted to know how I was, how nursing school was going for me. I asked him about the school, a place I had ached for every day since I left. “You know,” he said “the last couple of years, including your year, were years of great spiritual growth and impact. Staff and students are getting along better than they ever have. Morale is high. It was a good year.” He smiled and his eyes were misty as he talked.

That brief conversation invited me to see the school not as a student, but through his eyes, the man at the helm. I was given the gift of perspective and saw what the most important thing was for this man. He longed to see hearts change and grow; more than anything he longed for students and staff to love God.  That’s what he prayed for, that’s what he lived for. The magnitude of this hit me in a way it couldn’t have when I was a student.

Chuck Roub died on New Year’s Day. The posted announcement was followed by many comments speaking to the man that he was, thanking him for his life, for his faithfulness, for his example of grace, and for his leadership.

As one commenter said, Uncle Chuck was a “Giant of a man.” His family will grieve their loss, even as they know he is finally home.

As for Uncle Chuck, he has fought the good fight, he has finished the race, he has kept the faith.* Is there anything better? 

*Paraphrased from 2 Timothy 4:7 NIV

 

The Pulse of a City

push pin Boston

I hear sirens as I’m walking up from the subway onto Tremont Street.  I turn my head and see the blue and red flashing lights of an ambulance. Instinctively I know that the ambulance is heading to Tufts Medical Center in the heart of Chinatown. If I had seen those same lights on Storrow Drive I would know that it was heading to Massachusetts General Hospital. If on the Arborway, it would be heading to the medical area at Longwood.

I know these things just as I know the bus schedule, the subway schedule, where the homeless hang, and when traffic will be gridlocked around Boston University Bridge.

I know that on September 1st you don’t want to go out at all, because students are moving in and couches, chairs, and stuffed animals, symbols of a childhood that passed too quickly, fill the streets. I know when there is a Red Sox game, or a Bruins game. I know that the best night to go get cappuccino and canolis in the North End is Monday. I know the best Pakistani restaurant and the worst coffee places. I know the subway stops where I need to watch my back, and others where I could go on the latest train and be completely safe.

I suddenly realize that I know the pulse of this city like I know my own pulse. This city has become my city. The realization brings panic and assurance. Panic, because I’ve never lived anywhere this long before. I’m always the one who is leaving. When you’ve had a lifetime of moving, it’s not easy to stop. Panic because I’m not ‘from’ here – and I don’t want to be ‘from’ here. Assurance because I love the familiarity, I love the city, I love the early morning walk from subway to work. I love the evening walk from subway to home. Comfort because there is a sense of belonging that I never imagined I would achieve. Assurance in the friendships I have formed and the strange sense of community that I sometimes feel.

This is forever the third culture kid story – assurance and panic; belonging and not belonging; native and alien; comfortable and uncomfortable. We feel grief and loss with movement and we feel guilty and restless with stability. We are always living a paradoxical life.

How do we work through this paradox and continually adapt to where we have been placed?

I wrote this in a piece called “Homelands” and I stand by it today:

We learn to listen, to look outside of ourselves, to see others and remember it’s not all about us. We learn to grieve well, to use that holy gift of laughter and laugh hard, to cry when we need to. We learn that it is not disloyal to love two places at the same time. We learn the art of entry. We learn that ‘homelands’ can change, and we can adapt to them, adapt with them. 

We learn the pulse of a city. 

Eight-Acre Woods


 Growing up overseas, we had no family home. Rather, every place we lived had a different name, generally given to the house by the previous owners or missionaries gone by. Through the years we lived in Baker Building, the Johnson’s house (later named Shah Latif), Park House, Rosenheim, Kuldana Cottage and Forest Dell. All these houses became homes and hold in their walls the secrets of our childhood and adolescence, but they were never ours to keep. 

It was on one of our furloughs that my parents and my oldest brother made the decision to buy some land. Land was cheap and they could decide what to do with it later. It was a wise investment. Within two years the land had doubled in value and ultimately, that land in the woods became the site for my parents’ retirement home.

It was a modest home – a Cape Cod style with two bedrooms downstairs and two bedrooms upstairs. My mom wanted a house big enough to host her children “one or two at a time.” The house was set back from a dirt road on eight-acres of land. While Christopher Robin had his 100-Acre Wood, we had our eight-acre woods. In the summer, flowers and green grass colored the world around with a green glow. In the fall, a picture postcard couldn’t do justice to the golden beauty. In spring, everyday brought new buds, and in winter, the world was white and thick with snow. A wood stove in the living room kept the house toasty warm throughout those cold New England winters. When we moved from the eternal sunshine of Cairo, it was the only place that I could be truly warm.

Eight-Acre Woods was a magical place. There were family dinners crowded around a wooden table by the bay window; times of reading by the wood stove; games and forts in the woods; picking vegetables out of Grandma’s garden in the summer; sitting on a picnic table while Grandpa grilled chicken – these were the sights and sounds of extended family at Eight-Acre Woods. No matter what chaos was going on in our lives, it would disappear at Eight-Acre Woods.

A neighbor across the road had two horses named Annie and Caesar. Our kids would walk over to feed them bright orange carrots before being hoisted onto their backs for rides down the road. The nearest grocery store was 20 minutes away, the nearest movie theatre an hour. It was a place of calm creativity, made more so by those who lived there all the time – my parents.

All of the memories of Eight-Acre Woods came back to me in a flood of emotion on Saturday night. We were at a family reunion in Ocean City, New Jersey. The cousin generation planned the reunion with relatively little input from the parents, aunts and uncles, or grandparents. Perhaps this was the reason for its success – the recognition that we could, without fear, pass on the baton to the next generation. It was a gift of time together. There was little formal activity, instead informal games, walks on the beach, and times of singing and eating took up most of the weekend. But Saturday night we gathered in the living room for a slide show. In thinking about the weekend, my mom wanted to have something to offer the family in the way of documented memories. With the help of a granddaughter and my brother, she scanned in hundreds of pictures of children and grandchildren – all at Eight-Acre Woods.

For twenty minutes, we were taken back in time to Eight-Acre Woods. Taken back to a time where our children were small, and their problems smaller. There were birthdays, Christmases, and Easters all celebrated at Eight-Acre Woods by different families at different times. There were pictures of cousins playing dress-up in Grandma’s wedding gown; there were pictures of kids blowing out candles, surrounded by their cousins. There were pictures of Grandpa doing his back excercises, a granddaughter perched on his legs. Pictures of Easter baskets and sleepy kids. Even a picture of our son Joel getting breakfast in bed on his birthday. Through the magic of photographs, we were given the gift of these memories.

In the big scheme of life, my parents only had Eight-Acre Woods for twelve and a half years. Yet, they had it at the perfect time. They had it at a time when many of their own kids, following in the family footsteps, were overseas and had no secure base to hang their hearts.

My extended family knows what it is to be travelers. We know what it is to learn to hang our hearts in different places around the globe. On Saturday night, we remembered a place that brought us in and gave us strength for the journey.

Eight-Acre Woods now belongs to another family. Some of the grandkids talk about buying it some day – making it a family homestead. But for now, we have only the memories.

Family is never easy, but it’s always necessary. Gathering together this weekend gave us yet another chance to strengthen these bonds, constructed through the years with the super glue of life in all its celebrations and sadness. It’s the super glue of forgiveness, grace, patience, and humor.

And if you’re lucky, you sometimes get an Eight-Acre Woods to hold it all together. 

How I Felt Going to Boarding School….

I was so little when I went to boarding school. And most of my friends were as well.

When I look back on it, we all acted so brave. But if there was one wrong word or misstep, tears were at the ready. And that’s why I love this video so much. Because my whole childhood of going to boarding school and saying goodbye to my mom came back to me, but without pain. Just a lot of laughter. I don’t post this to be heartless, but because I relate with it so much! Happy Saturday!

A Life Overseas – Gently Lead Those That are With Young

Readers, I would love to have you join me at A Life Overseas today! I’ve included and excerpt below. 

shepherd-60657_1280

 

When my parents moved a couple of years ago, they gave my youngest son a painting. The painting is of a Pakistani shepherd. He is holding a lamb on his shoulders, and his expression is one of gentle love. 

*********

It was my first day in Iraq and I was at the offices of our Iraqi hosts. While sitting there, a young couple from the United States walked into the room. They had two blonde little boys, toddler and pre-school age. As the dad went to a meeting, I talked a bit to the mom. They had lived and working in Iraq for a couple of years. Their children ate a lot of cookies and actively engaged with those of us in the office. They talked excitedly about going to a restaurant in the city, a place where you could get hamburgers.

My mind went back to when my husband and I first went overseas. We had been married for a year and a half and had a four-month-old baby.  Other children followed, and soon we were raising a flock of third culture kids.  Our kids traveled the globe with us, learned how to bargain in Arabic, and negotiated friendships with kids from all over the world. My parents had done the same with me. My earliest memories included eating spicy curry with my hands, hearing the call to prayer every morning as I woke, and bazaars full of spice and flavor.

In those moments of watching those kids and thinking about my own life, I thought many things. And one of them was this:  “This TCK thing is real. I don’t care what any naysayer says – these kids are not growing up like their peers in their passport country. This is real, and we need to honor it.”

Read the rest here at A Life Overseas.

Sweet Reunion 

Last year Marilyn and I met up for a weekend at a reunion in Colorado. Our time was special but shared with others dear and precious. This year I’ve come to Marilyn. And I’ve brought my tribe.

Marilyn reached out to me seven years ago. She heard my flounderings and she intentionally initiated a conversation. We’ve been talking ever since. Marilyn understands me. She accepts me without judgment. We laugh together. We weep together. We share a similar silliness and a quick seriousness. I love Marilyn deeply.

Thank you Marilyn (and your marvelous man!) for letting us bombard your New England space. Thank you for treating us to time with your family. Thank you for welcoming us and loving us all.

  
  

Note from Marilyn: The words from Robynn are kind and express the best kind of third culture kid friendship, when hearts connect a mere second after seeing or hearing each other again. Robynn has come with her amazing children, all unique personalities of their own right, and they have filled our house with laughter, fun, and bodies. We ate curry together at our favorite Pakistani restaurant, shared smoothies on our porch at night to escape the internal humidity and heat, and got blisters walking along the Freedom Trail. Mutual understanding in a disconnected, fragmented world is a gift, and with Robynn there is understanding.

It’s also one of the reasons why Communicating Across Boundaries is important to us – a safe space in a world of division. A place where we can learn more about understanding the one who is other. Thanks for being a part of this small, shared space on the internet.

About the pictures….Bronwynn, Robynn’s delightful, youngest child, was telling us how to pose. It took us a few tries before we got it right and we thought we’d share the results!

How do You Open Your Heart?

Fred Perry quote

A year ago I wrote a piece called “People Have Friends; Governments have Interests.” A friend of mine made this comment on the post, and so I offer it to you today.

I have been blessed to live in and travel much of the world that many Americans would consider dangerous and full of people who would mean us harm or ill will. Many of my best friends come from and live in these places that have been “branded” by media and by politics. The only way to experience the humanity of another or “the other” is to open your heart, your home and the opportunity for friendship and wait to be amazed.*

How do you meet those who are “the other?” What has helped you open your heart to those who are different from you?

*the quote is from our friend, Fred Perry. You can read more about him here.