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