Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

As an adult third culture kid living in a decidedly non-TCK environment, I realize more than ever how much our lifestyle sets us apart. There are fundamental differences in the way we experience and see the world, compared to non-TCKs/expats. Some things can’t be learned on theory alone and all the words in the world would not be able to truly explain them. There are many things I could write about that we experience so differently, but the one I wanted to write about today is the ever present flow of goodbyes in the life of a TCK or expat.

How do you explain the expat/TCK cycle of moving every so often? Of having to watch friends leave and saying goodbye, not knowing if you’ll ever see them again? Of being the one leaving, knowing you’re going someplace completely foreign and leaving behind everything familiar – your house, friends, school, city?…

How do you explain thinking “this time I won’t make friends, so it will be easier when we leave”, but knowing that won’t happen as soon as you meet a kindred soul? How do you explain that as difficult as it is to say goodbye, you’d rather go through that than experience everything alone?

How do you explain the contradictory notion that the goodbyes get simultaneously tougher and easier as the years go by? As you get older, you manage the goodbyes better, yet by the same token, the older you are, the deeper the feelings, so the goodbyes tug even more at your heart.

We must seem crazy to non-TCKs/expats when we try to explain it. It must seem awful to them, to those people who have lived all or most of their lives in the same place, rarely having to say goodbye, almost never having to pack up their life and start again somewhere new. There are many hardships with such a life and on bad days you notice them even more. But on the good days you know how lucky you are and how much you have gained through all your experiences.

As a TCK, you learn very quickly the importance of communication and connecting with people. Often TCKs and expats make deeper connections much faster than first culture kids, because we know how precious each second is, before we’re whisked away to another country. We also understand each other on a deeper level, even if we never lived in the same countries or speak the same languages. We experienced the same emotions, felt the same fears, and shared the same joys. We know the deep sorrow of heartbreaking goodbyes and the powerful happiness of making new friends. We know all too well what it’s like to be the new kid, lost and alone, hoping someone stretches out a helping hand without us having to ask. We know that the smallest gesture of kindness can lead to the strongest of friendship. We also know that even if people change, grow apart or lose contact over the years, the friendships were true and deep while they lasted.

That is why even after going through so many goodbyes, we’re still ready to let others in and to open ourselves to them. We know that no matter how hard the goodbyes might be, everything in between them is so worth it. I think TCKs learn how true that is at a very young age, without ever being told.

Perhaps what I find the most difficult to explain is the one thing I know with the most certainty: that even with those heartbreaking moments, with so many tears shed over goodbyes, with having to figure it all out time and time again, I’d still do it all over again.

“Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all”.           Alfred Lord Tennyson



18 thoughts on “Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

    1. The goodbyes are definitely a hard part of growing up as a TCK, but it’s part of the experience. It’s amazing how resilient people can be in difficult situations. Thanks for your comment 🙂


  1. Thank you so much for posting this. I feel exactly the same way. Parting or saying good-bye hurts, sometimes more, sometimes less, but it’s always worth meeting these persons. Some become friends for life and I really enjoy the friendships where time isn’t important: every time we meet, it feels like if we did part yesterday.


    1. Thanks so much for stopping by and leaving a comment. I’m so happy that you could relate to this post – I think TCKs and expats really understand all those thoughts/emotions. And whether you stay friends or not, meeting those people still leaves you with memories and experiences that are part of you. I absolutely agree about your comment on those friends for life; with those true friends it really does feel like it’s been only a day apart, even when it may have been years! Thanks again for your comment, and I hope to hear from you again!


  2. I can totally relate to this – although at the moment mine is more a “seeing others leave” time, as I’ve been settled in roughly the same place for a little while. thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment 😀 glad to know that others appreciate me putting my jumbled thoughts into words 🙂


    1. Thanks so much for taking the time to stop by and leave a comment! I love hearing from other TCKs – that’s something I love so much about blogging. Being able to connect with TCKs around the world and find others who really understand this experience is so wonderful. I hope to hear from you again, and I look forward to reading more of your posts (your jumbled thoughts make perfect sense to me!) 🙂


  3. Wow, this is wonderful … right down to the perfect photo. Do you feel this way now, where you are currently living? Has it been easier since being married? Maybe learning about how YOU see the world as a TCK will make us all a little kinder and a little more tolerant!


    1. Thank you for your always wonderful and kind comments, Paige! 🙂 There are certain parts of this post that I definitely feel where I am living now, because it’s not a very multi-cultural/international community, so there aren’t many TCKs/expats or foreigners around here, but I guess that’s also part of the experience. The fact that my husband is a TCK definitely makes everything easier. I know that he’ll always understand my background and the experiences I’ve had. The emotions I feel, the mix of cultures I have, the frustrations of figuring things out…We haven’t lived in all the same countries, but we’ve grown up the same way, and that makes all the difference.

      I loved your last sentence, and I’m humbled if my experience could help others be a little kinder or more tolerant, even in a small way. This blog has been my way to share my stories, my experiences, my thoughts…I plan on sharing as much as I can, and I hope one day to have other platforms to share on too, whether that be articles, or eventually a book. But most importantly, wherever I write, I hope that others will want to read and share their experiences and thoughts. That’s what matters most – the communication, the sharing, the connections we can make with others. That’s why I love reading your comments; it’s wonderful to have met you and to have these ‘conversations’ with you. The connections blogging have allowed me to make continue to surprise me, in the best of ways. Thank you for reading what I write, and most importantly, for sharing your thoughts with me – I always look forward to your comments and to the conversation that ensues.


      1. I look forward to these ‘conversations’ too. Don’t you think this is what blogging is supposed to be, sharing ideas and learning from them? I find your experiences growing up fascinating, not only because they’re so far removed from my own but because you share with us how they’ve shaped your own life. Talking with you (so to speak!) has really made me realize that, as different as we all are, we are all the same – universal in many ways even with vastly different backgrounds. I’ve said it before, but you write so well and it’s a pleasure to read. Keep doing it. Maybe we can take it offline one day! : )


        1. I completely agree with you, Paige – blogging really is about sharing thoughts and ideas, and learning from them. It’s amazing how reading what someone has to say can touch me, or brighten up my day, or make me think…Blogging has allowed me to grow, not only as a writer, but also as an individual (as cliched as that may sound!). What you noted in your comment is so true – we are all different in so many ways, and yet we’re all more similar than we realize. Blogging is a wonderful way to learn more about others, but also about ourselves, I think. Having these exchanges and conversations provides such motivation to keep writing, sharing and getting to know people like you – it would be great to have an actual conversation one day! 🙂 It’s such a pleasure to have comments like yours and I truly appreciate every one of them! It means so much to me that you enjoy reading what I write, but more importantly I love that you choose to share your thoughts and experiences with me. 🙂


  4. What a lovely post Dounia! Sorry to have responded so sparsely to previous posts but I’m finding that despite being on maternity leave life is pretty busy with the new baby! Daniel is a darling little guy but babies take time and energy, I’d kind of forgotten that…
    What you write resonates with me certainly but I was lucky- once we moved to Germany we stayed there, so the last 8 years of school were in the same place for me. Those adolescent years are such a delicate time! I also feel that being TCK is a blessing and I hope my boys will experience it. I really think that it makes us ever so adaptable- I was at a fun Easter egg hunt last week for our kindergarden kids, and the moms and kids present were from Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the US, Russia, Japan and Argentina! At Seb’s birthday party it was another United-Nations-feel sort of event: Israel, France, China and the US all represented! I just LOVE that, love that we’re from all over the world and usually communicating in English. How grateful I am that my parents put me in an American school from first grade onwards! There is sometimes a feel of being a little bit alone when away from that community, as you must feel at times, but as soon as you meet another fellow expat there’s such a nice little feeling of comprehension, isn’t there?
    We hope you are all well and enjoying the Spring which is taking ever so long to arrive in Paris! And a belated happy birthday!!!


    1. Thanks so much for this comment, Anne! As always, I love how you share your TCK and current experiences when you leave a comment on my blog – it’s great to hear about them and it keeps me connected to what’s going on! 🙂 I’m happy to hear that Daniel is doing well, even if he is keeping you quite busy!

      It’s interesting to think of the TCK experiences that my sister and I had compared to my brother. My brother did all of his schooling in the same place, whereas my sister and I went to 5 different schools in 5 countries. I think it must have been even tougher for my sister who did her 4 years of high school in 3 countries (and her senior year in a new place); I was lucky enough to do my last 3 years in the same school (and have the chance to meet you there!). But no matter the difficulties in the TCK life, I truly agree with you that it’s a blessing. What we get from the experiences will be part of us for life, and I really believe we gain so much from them. Your kids will also have a TCK experience, just from being surrounded by all those different cultures and interacting with people from all over the globe. I completely agree with your comment that as lonely as it can be sometimes, as soon as you meet another TCK or expat there really is this feeling of comprehension – there’s a special connection, an unspoken understanding. Doesn’t matter if we lived in completely different countries, some things are just TCK universal, and that’s wonderful.

      Spring is also taking it’s time getting here, but at least we know it will eventually arrive, even if late; I hope you’re starting to see and feel spring over in Paris! Thanks for the birthday wishes 🙂 I know that one of your adorable boys shares a birthday with me, so please wish him a belated happy birthday too! 😉


  5. “…no matter how hard the goodbyes might be, everything in between them is so worth it.”

    You say it’s difficult to explain why you’d do it all again, but I think you explained it perfectly.


    1. Thanks so much for your comment..and for your insight. Seems it is easier to explain than I thought, and I just didn’t realize it 🙂 I’m glad you pointed it out; I am regularly surprised at how blogging (and bloggers) has helped me learn about myself, especially when/how I least expect it…


  6. Hi Dounia! I’m so sorry; I’ve been terrible about keeping in touch. 😦 I’m happy that Facebook helps a bit – especially with your blog updates.

    This one particularly hit a nerve. You captured what many of us feel yet fear to acknowledge as true; your words helped to validate a hidden truth we keep even from ourselves. Thank you! 🙂


    1. Hi Nikki! No need to apologize – I haven’t been any better! 😉 I really appreciate you taking the time to comment on my blog and your words mean a lot to me. My favorite part about blogging is when someone connects to what I’ve written – that’s something the TCK side of me loves, getting to connect with people/TCKs all over the world (was definitely one of my favorite things at FIGT!). 🙂


  7. Hi there, thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts as an expat. I have a close, loving friend who is living the expat life and has done so for the past 10 or so years. It is a wonderful learning experience as a friend to share in her life, which is in far contrast to my own. Lately I have come to gain a deeper understanding of her strength at dealing with the constant goodbyes in her life . The fact that this is the reality of living the expat life doesn’t make it easier. I admire both you and her, because as I see it the more you get to say goodbye, the deeper and more richly you love. It’s akin to someone who has a near death experience whereby it results often in them going on to live a fuller richer life than those who have not had such an experience. Keep writing and sharing – your thoughts and experiences offer much.


    1. Hi Angela! Thanks so much for taking the time to read this post and leave a comment – I really appreciate it. The expat life has so many wonderful opportunities, yet it also comes with many challenges. Leaving people and places every so often teaches you to make the most of the time you have, since you never know when that will change. Goodbyes and change are an inherent part of this transient life, but I sincerely believe that everything we gain outweighs the losses. I think it’s beautiful that you have remained close to your friend and seek to understand her expat life. All walks of life have their good/bad, their ups/downs – ultimately the best we can do is try to understand each other and support those we love. Thank you again for your insightful and eloquent comment – it really means a lot to me.


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