I both fear and seek out the unknown. I grew up with unknowns always being a part of my life. New house, new school, new country, new continent, new language… That’s what life was like growing up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK). I was always afraid of being the new kid, of not fitting in, not making friends, not knowing my way around school. And yet I always thrived once I settled in. I was without friends for long and my toughest transitions ended up leading to my most enduring friendships.
But it was only in my late 20s that I fully realized my capacity to transition and adapt well. Only when I was closer to 30 I started believing I could handle more than I thought. Only recently did I truly understand the experiences and opportunities that scare me the most usually end up being the most rewarding.
Looking back, I wish I had known myself better as a young adult. I wish I had trusted my abilities to transition well, learn quickly and meet new people. I wish I had known what I know now about my passions, about writing, creating and connecting.
Overcome Your Fears
When you’re asked to think about advice to your younger self, it’s not always an easy process. Sometimes you don’t want to think too deeply or honestly about it because it can lead to a difficult introspection. If I could give advice to my younger self, it would all link back to doing more, trying new things, trusting myself and not being afraid.
I hesitate to use the word ‘regret’ for some of my choices, but I do sometimes wonder if I would be on another path if I had made different choices.
After graduating from an American/International school in Paris, I chose to attend university in France. The program was interesting, it was a good college, and I liked the beautiful buildings in a lovely part of Paris. All of that is true, but the decision was equally colored by the fact I would be staying at home with my family… Because I didn’t feel ready to be alone out in the world. I was afraid of doing such a transition alone. Unwittingly, however, I threw myself into another complex situation: studying in French and not fitting in with either the French students or the international exchange students. It was a much harder transition than I had anticipated, and I still felt alone, despite living with my family.
After a difficult first semester I eventually settled in, made friends, learned a lot and enjoyed my time there. I’ll never know if another choice would have been better and I don’t regret attending that university, but I don’t want fear playing a role in any decision I make.
Know Your Passions (and Trust Them)
Before learning my lesson about fear and choices, I had another major decision to make in my years of young adulthood. A few weeks ago I found myself thinking about this particular missed opportunity.
After completing my bachelor’s degree in history, I was looking for work while preparing applications for a master’s program. I was fortunate to find two options relatively quickly: a nine-month job as a part time assistant librarian at my old high school or a three-month administrative internship at the Paris office of a major international newspaper.
Although I had always loved to write, I had never truly considered making it my job. At the time, I believed I wanted to go into international education and it was better to work for nine months rather than three, so the assistant librarian position made the most sense. Again, like for university, these points were all true. But so were my fears about the internship: fear of not being up to par, of being overwhelmed by the tasks required or of making mistakes.
Today, truly knowing myself, my passions and trusting my capabilities, I would have picked the internship. I would have been elated and terrified – but I would never have let my fear stop me from such an incredible opportunity.
It’s important to trust your passions and to find concrete ways to nurture them. It took several more years and a new transition before I finally learned that lesson.
Make Your Own Path
A few years ago, I moved to the US with my husband. It’s my passport country (not country of origin) but I hadn’t lived there since I was eight years old, and we moved to a state I’d never been to before. It was our first move together, my first major move away from family (not including university), and the first time I moved without school, university or a job. There were a lot of unknowns and a lot of assumptions. I assumed it would be easy to settle in, fit in and find a job.
I was wrong. I looked for all kinds of jobs, to no avail. I felt lonely. It didn’t matter I sounded and looked like everyone else. I knew I was different and it made fitting in difficult. Through it all I wrote and wrote and wrote… Then one day my husband suggested I start a blog. I balked at the idea, as I had never written publicly before. But I refused to let fear get the upper hand and shortly after I created my blog. It opened up a world of possibilities, led to friendships, projects and my first published articles. For the first time, I started to consider that my passion could lead to something concrete and be more than a hobby.
My most complex transition opened doors I never expected. It didn’t matter I hadn’t followed a ‘traditional’ trajectory to land on my new path – I made my own. I sought out new opportunities and ventured into the unknown. Despite having been a writer most of my life I had never considered writing as a viable option for college or employment. Only recently I learned and started believing my passion can also be my career. I pushed through my fears to create a path with moveable roots that fits my passions and my TCK nature.
After several detours (or perhaps they were simply part of the journey), I found my path. Would I have ended up here no matter what choices or decisions I made? Is it simply a question of when, rather than if? I’ll never know. What I do know, however, is how important those childhood and young adulthood lessons were in shaping my decisions as an adult.
I am still learning, growing and there are many unknown and unseen curves to this path. I still seek out and fear the unknown – but I no longer let my fear get the better of me. I do not let my fear overtake my decisions. I love the unknown for what it can teach me, where it can lead me and what it has given me. As TCKs, unknowns are a constant part of our lives and it can be difficult to view them as opportunities when you’re overwhelmed by them. With the right support, understanding and faith in ourselves, however, we can overcome even the toughest situations.
If I had to give advice to my younger self, it would be this: “Trust yourself and your capabilities. You’ve been the new kid, you’ve seen the unknowns and you made it through.”
“Don’t miss out on amazing opportunities because you’re too afraid to try – the path hidden behind your fears is usually the one most worth taking.”
The Voices of #TCKchat
Complete the phrase: I wish I knew _____ before I went to university:
@oliviacharlet I wish I’d had the knowledge I have today of who I am as a TCK when I moved for university. Would have explored more and made more friends. #TCKchat
@unsettledtck I wish I knew that it takes time to settle in and everyone feels as lost as you. #TCKchat
@TCKFeminist I wish I knew that things like ‘psychological services/support’ and ‘rights and advice center’ matter when picking out a school. #TCKchat
@seachangementor Wish I knew it was okay to tell my parents I was struggling. Wish I knew how to ask for help and who to ask. #TCKchat
@TweetingAuthor I wish I knew myself before attending college. #TCKchat
@bateconsult I also wish I knew how bad homesickness could and would be. #TCKchat
What career advice would you give to younger TCKs?
@TCKPonders Your experiences and skills are rarer than you think! Always highlight them and the right job will value them too. #TCKchat
@mishellhmm Promote understanding and openness no matter where you end up working. It’s the value of our unique experiences. #TCKchat
@Jsimens Choose what is most important: career with overseas potential or roots (no movement). #TCKchat
@GaylynnGabbie Get out there. Get out of your comfort zone. Utilize your connections. Don’t limit yourself. #TCKchat
@juanjohn Figure out what you want to do and do it, no matter how scary. If you’re a TCK, you’ve already been out of your comfort zone before, right? #TCKchat
#TCKchat General Information
#TCKchat is held on the first Wednesday/Thursday of each month with 2 sessions: 1st session at GMT 15:00 and 2nd session at GMT +1 3:00.
To learn more and view upcoming topics, co-hosts bios and a video showing you how to participate in #TCKchat visit: www.tckchat.com / www.twitter.com/tckchat
Co-hosts First Session:
- Amanda Bate @bateconsult
- Dounia Bertuccelli @DouniaB_TCK
- Stephanie Taderera @TCKponders
- Meghali Pandey @TCKmeglet
- Yousef Alenzi @_ra77al
Co-hosts Second Session:
- Ellen Mahoney @seachangementor
- Mary Bassey @verilymary
- Lisa Zenno @tckwsucoug
- John Liang @juanjohnjedi
- October: Aging Parents
- November: Travel Hacks
- December: A Look Back at the Past Year
This article was originally published in the June 2016 issue of Among Worlds, as part of my #TCKchat column. Minor modifications were made to include the most updated information on co-hosts and upcoming topics.
Sadly, #TCKchat officially ended in November 2016. We loved all of the wonderful interactions, funny conversations and insightful discussions we had. Thanks to all who participated; we’ll miss you!
You can still find me on twitter @DouniaB_TCK. Hope to chat with you there!