In my years as a TCK I have been to several capital cities around the world, but until very recently I had never been to the capital city of my passport country: Washington, D.C. I had wanted to visit D.C. for a long time and now living on the East coast, I knew my chance would come. It finally did, and it was well worth the wait. Being in D.C. was incredible and wonderful for so many reasons. The vibrancy of the city was invigorating and I fell in love. Oh, I fell in love with many different places and sights for all sorts of reasons. I quickly realized that D.C. managed to touch upon many different facets of me: the TCK side of me, my connection to France, my love of history… But what truly caught me off-guard was the connection I felt to the American side of me. I was excited to visit this city, to walk its streets and see the history it holds, but I didn’t expect to feel so strongly or to be moved so deeply. I was surprised by the strength of the emotions I felt, and by what I learned about myself. It was an unexpectedly beautiful lesson.
Hearing various languages, seeing flags of many nations and simply being in a more multi-cultural environment tickled my TCK senses. That both delighted and comforted me. D.C. also appealed to my love of France with the French influence in the architecture and city structure. The wide avenues lined with trees, the green spaces scattered throughout the city, the height and architecture of the buildings, and even how the buildings and monuments are lit up at night… All that reminded me of France and more specifically Paris, which will always hold a small piece of my heart.
And then there was the historical aspect of D.C. As a history major I was spoiled in Europe, but much less so in Connecticut, so D.C. was a treat for this history-loving girl. There are many historical sights to see in D.C., but the one on the top of my list was the Declaration of Independence. I was waiting for that visit like a little kid waits for Christmas morning! And it did not disappoint. It was truly amazing to see. The dimly lit, domed room really adds to the whole atmosphere and aura, making for a beautiful viewing area. I would love a chance to calmly look at the documents with less people around, but it was still incredible to see. I always find myself awestruck when I get to see important historic documents like that. I don’t actually have the words to explain what I feel when I look at those beautifully crafted, fading words on such delicate scrolls of paper. It’s a less obvious and visible mark of history than a long-standing cathedral or ruins of ancient civilizations, but to me it’s so much more powerful.
Sadly, history also has many dark moments, but D.C. makes sure to remember those who have fallen fighting for their country. All of the war memorials are beautifully crafted, but the two I found the most poignant were the Vietnam and Korean War memorials. The Vietnam memorial is very powerful in its simplicity – just those slabs of black marble with names etched in. Name after name after name…The sheer quantity is overwhelming. The waste of so many lives really hits home and grips at your heart when you see that. I felt that the Korean War memorial made that feeling even stronger. The names on the Vietnam memorial reminds you of how many died, the Korean memorial reminds you yet again of how young so many of them were. The youthful faces of the statues and those etched in the black marble serve as a seemingly empty reminder of the futility and devastation of war.
Those memorials really struck a chord in my head and in my heart. They made me question humanity and why we always seem to find new ways to wreak havoc and pain. The sight of all those names, the etched faces of those young boys lost to the folly of war, the beliefs they fought for…I always wonder: how many more names and faces need to be etched on walls before we come to our senses? I felt more sadness and anger than I expected, but I also wondered if I could believe in something (a cause, a country…) so strongly that I would go to war to defend it. I couldn’t place if that was just my character or the TCK side-effect of having called many places home, but not really being from any of them. Even if I don’t figure out the answer, it still serves as food for thought…
While the memorials left me with lingering thoughts and questions, Arlington Cemetery gave me a feeling of profound serenity. It’s overwhelming and awe-inspiring how vast the cemetery is and just how many graves there are, but it’s such a peaceful place. I was moved by the quiet beauty of those rolling, green hills, dotted with white tombstones. Being there in the spring only accentuated how lovely a final resting place it is. Trees were in full bloom, covered in young leaves of spring green and all shades of pink; daffodils dotted the green hills; blue jays and robins flitted from tree to tree. It was breathtakingly beautiful and so peaceful. I could have stayed there for hours – writing, reading, photographing or just simply being.
It reminded me of the American cemetery in Normandy, France, but on a much bigger (and hilly) scale. Instead of views of the wide beaches and the Atlantic Ocean, there were views of D.C. and airplanes flying overhead. Both of these cemeteries moved me deeply and they both left beautiful images in my mind. I felt so serene and at peace in each of them. If time had allowed, I would have stayed much longer, but alas, that shall be for next time…
My time in D.C. fed my mind and my heart. It allowed me to get in touch with all the different parts of me and to do so many things I love. Perhaps most importantly, being in D.C. reminded me of what it means to be a third culture kid, how we’re formed by the life we’ve led and that every part of me is important. As a TCK you’re an amalgam of cultures, traditions and nations, which is sometimes confusing, but always amazing. Sometimes we’ll identify more with one side of us, at times we even reject certain parts, but we know we can’t deny their existence or their importance. Every place you’ve lived in, every language you’ve spoken, every passport you’ve held plays a role in making you who you are. We may have thought that growing up as a third culture kid was tough, but that’s actually the easy part. The real difficulty lies in being an adult third culture kid and navigating the non-TCK environment. It lies in figuring out your identity when you’re no longer surrounded by others like you.
And I’m learning to do that little by little, day by day.