#TCKchat: Third Culture Kids and Languages

pic162-detailThis article first appeared in the June 2015 issue of Among Worlds.


In March and April, #TCKchat, the bimonthly Twitter conversations for Third Culture Kids (TCKs), covered a variety of topics, ranging from lighthearted, amusing chats about food and language to more serious conversations about race and post-university/ young adulthood years.

We learned which languages are more commonly spoken in our #TCKchat community and which ones people wish to learn. Talking about local cuisine prompted participants to share photos and recipes of favorite foods. Race proved to be such an important topic for many of our participants that it has been divided into three sessions in order to thoroughly discuss its many facets. The chat on post-university/ young adulthood allowed the older TCKs to provide guidance and encouragement to the younger TCKs as they navigate this complex transition.

All of the chats were interesting and enlightening, but for this issue I’ve chosen to focus on languages.

Languages and Identity

Juggling multiple languages has been a part of my life since birth. We spoke three languages at home, and I learned a fourth when I was still a young child and a fifth as an adult. Today I speak them in varying degrees of fluency, but each one is a different part of my identity and tells different parts of my story. I can express certain emotions better in one language, or write faster in others; some I speak comfortably without questioning myself and in others I am more hesitant. But each one holds its own special place in my heart and I can find myself longing for certain languages when I don’t speak them for a lengthy period.

We’ve always spoken French, English and Arabic in my family, but it wasn’t until adulthood that I realized my attachment to French and Arabic. My siblings and I went to school in English all over the world, but my parents made sure to keep up the French and Arabic at home. As children we weren’t always thrilled about that, but as adults we are extremely grateful that our parents pushed us to use different languages.

Recently I had my parents visiting from France and my aunt/ uncle joined us from Montreal for a few days. It had been quite a while since we had all been together, so the days were inevitably filled with much chatter and laughter. I got to hear and speak much more French and Arabic than I usually do since living in the U.S. Listening to them, I realized how much I missed hearing and speaking those languages regularly. They speak to my heart and represent my culture, my heritage and my family.

Secondary Languages and Changing Accents

Thankfully my parents also encouraged us to learn new languages, especially of our host countries, which allowed us to become fluent in Spanish while living in Mexico. Later, as an adult, I learned Italian by immersion, listening to the conversations of my husband’s family. Little by little I picked up Italian and it quickly became a language I love. Luckily, my husband and I are fluent in nearly all the same languages, which allows us to practice them at home, even when we don’t get much chance to use them elsewhere. Growing up as TCKs and attending international schools, we were used to speaking and hearing multiple languages on a daily basis.

My TCK background becomes most evident when my accents unintentionally change depending where I am and with whom I’m speaking. When we lived in Australia and I attended a local school, I started speaking English with an Australian accent. We only spent two years there, but that was more than enough time for my American accent to morph into an Australian one. My French accent is also malleable and changing, depending on whether I’m speaking with my family or with native French speakers from France, Canada, Lebanon or elsewhere.

But we pick up more than accents; we also pick up unique expressions and intonations a language may have in different locations. Learning in a classroom is not the same as learning by immersion – you only truly capture the nuances of a language when you delve deeper into the cultural aspects of it. Language is not just about words, it’s also about culture and heritage.


What Others Had to Say

What is/ are your dominant language(s)? Is it a language from your passport country?

  • @poetic_stranger Dutch and English – my mother tongue is Dutch, but learned English when we moved to Budapest, and my English is actually better! #TCKchat
  • @TweetingAuthor I have one dominant language, it is my passport language, but I occasionally dream in French, which creeps me out. #TCKchat
  • @amunati English and I wish it was Arabic cause not being super fluent keeps me an outsider with my culture…super hard on a TCK.#TCKchat
  • @RhoKers English as well! Even though it’s not my mother tongue. It happens to a lot of TCKs I know! #TCKchat
  • @Astricella French and English. Some would say mostly English now, even though I started with French for the first half of my life. #TCKchat
  • @TCKmeghali English and Hindi. Both from my passport countr(ies)! Except that I use more American English than I do British English… #TCKchat
  • @SarahZYaseen English is my first language but Arabic is my mother tongue. But I have an American passport and my parents are Arab. #TCKchat
  • @EleonoraByron My first passport is Russian but my predominant language became French, and is now English. A bit of a mess. #TCKchat
  • @juanjohn Spoke Spanish first (cuz we lived in Guatemala and Costa Rica) then switched to English when we moved to the US. #TCKchat
  • @jessirue American passport, English is dominant but Russian is a close second! I’ve studied a few others but don’t speak them well. #TCKchat
  • @brettparry English of course from my native Australia. Now speak mainly Polish at home with my wife and daughter. #TCKchat
  • @tckwsucoug Passport country is Japan. Japanese is 3rd on my list. English is the dominant. Then Spanish, then Japanese #TCKchat
  • @verilymary English is my dominant language. Efik is spoken in my home and though I know it, I always respond in English. #TCKchat

Did you learn the language of all the places you lived in as a TCK? How did you learn them?

  • @loniklara If you know a kid, talking to them is the best way to learn. I learned both Finnish and Swedish that way!#TCKchat
  • @TCKmeghali Spoke fluent Arabic with the local kids when I was living in Oman! #TCKchat
  • @jessirue I’m one of those weird TCKs that only lived in one place overseas. Spoke Russian at school and English at home. #TCKchat
  • @wearehyphenated In Hong Kong we spoke English at home, I learnt Mandarin at school as it was a compulsory subject & my mum INSISTED! #TCKchat
  • @DouniaB_TCK Not all, if English was dominant language. But others, yes. Learned at school, practiced with parents & immersed in life there. #TCKchat
  • @juanjohn Spanish from living in Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama; English from USA and French/Arabic from Morocco & Egypt. #TCKchat
  • @unsettledtck I learned from just going around with friends and with housekeepers. Sometimes with local teachers. #TCKchat
  • @tckwsucoug Portuguese, Japanese/English, then Spanish. School, but Japanese – I learned at home + supplemental workbooks and comic books and Japanese dramas. #TCKchat
  • @kolbegray Yes, born with American English, Irish English, Indonesian learned through osmosis #TCKchat
  • @RowenaMonde I had no choice but to learn Scottish English. 🙂 I learned fairly quickly as I was a child then. #TCKchat
  • @GaylynnGabbie I was so fluent in Japanese when I lived there that my thoughts and my dreams were in Japanese. Sad I lost much of that.

Benefits of Speaking the Local Language

  • @LuceroViktoria Traveling in China! Such a different experience once I learned some Mandarin and was able to chat with the locals. #TCKchat.
  • @jessirue Translating for visiting friends/family was always fun. Once was asked where I learned English. Made my whole year. #TCKchat
  • @kolbegray In Bali I get this a lot “OH! We had no idea you spoke Indonesian. Sure you can have the local price” *price gets cut in half*. #TCKchat
  • @unsettledtck Whenever I meet people from one of the places I know phrases from, it is a great ice breaker! #TCKchat

Upcoming Dates and Topics

#TCKchat General Information

#TCKchat is held on the first and third Wednesday/Thursday of each month with 2 sessions: 1st session at GMT 15:00 and 2nd session at GMT +1 3:00. To figure out when #TCKchat happens in your time zone, visit www.TimeandDate.com

On the website you will find upcoming chat dates and topics, highlights from past topics, a video showing you how to get involved/participate in #TCKchat and information on all of the co-hosts.

Website: www.bateconsult.com/category/tck-chat/

Co-hosts:

First Session

Second Session

#TCKchat: What is it and How to Get Involved

pic161-detailThis article first appeared in the March 2015 issue of Among Worlds. Minor corrections have been made to reflect the most updated information (dates/times, twitter accounts) and hyperlinks have been added.


In this issue of Among Worlds, we begin a regular column called #TCKchat. Freelance writer and #TCKchat co-host Dounia Bertuccelli provides an introduction to #TCKchat, where to find more information and how to get involved.

When it comes to Third Culture Kids (TCKs), it is complex to find a one-size-fits-all answer. Despite sharing certain similarities, each TCK experience is unique and deserves to be heard. In this day and age of technology and social media, it is easier than ever to share thoughts and ideas with a global audience. Connecting with people across the world in an instant is something many of us do on a daily basis. For TCKs, this can mean keeping touch with family and friends, but also with other TCKs, with whom they feel understood and accepted. Adult TCKs Amanda Bate and Ellen Mahoney understood the importance of those connections and created a space where they could be nurtured and developed: #TCKchat.

What is #TCKchat and Why Was it Developed?

The Third Culture Kid Chat (#TCKchat) is a twitter chat focused on topics related to the experiences of Third Culture Kids (TCKs) and adult TCKs (ATCKs). It is a public discussion forum, providing insight and information to help support current and future generations of TCKs.

As adult TCKs who started their own businesses catered towards supporting TCKs during crucial transition periods, Amanda and Ellen have both the personal and professional experience to lead such a project. They both work with young adult and college age TCKs through their organizations Bate Consulting and Sea Change Mentoring.

“We both started businesses with TCKs in mind, because it was a reflection of support we wished we had when we were younger,” says Amanda. It was this same mindset that led to the creation of #TCKchat. For Ellen and Amanda, #TCKchat was a natural next step to create a wider network and community of support for TCKs of all ages. Amanda explains:

“We use Twitter to discuss anything and everything related to the TCK experience. Our goal is to build a community where we share information, encourage and challenge one another.”

Participants are of different generations and backgrounds (personal and professional) and are located across every continent except South America. The nine co-hosts are also from around the world and are currently living in Turkey, U.S.A (various states), Australia and Zimbabwe.

#TCKchat also aims to provide information, tips and insight to adults who work with or are raising TCKs. It can be a difficult experience to understand if you haven’t lived it, but “our discussions can be a tool for those who work with them [TCKs],” Amanda hopes.

How to Get Involved

Anyone can participate in #TCKchat, as long as they have a Twitter account. There are no restrictions of any kind, and no obligation to answer the questions presented. There is, however, an unspoken understanding that all involved will be respectful.

A Few Tips to Help You Get Started:

  • #TCKchat occurs on the first and third Wednesday/Thursday of each month with 2 sessions: 1st session at GMT 15:00 and 2nd session at GMT +1 3:00.
  • To make participation easier, use applications like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite. You can find a video on how to install/use these on the #TCKchat website, and the co-hosts are always happy to provide further assistance.
  • Use #TCKchat in each tweet so everyone in the chat can see/read your tweets.
  • All questions will be available on the website the Sunday before the chat, but they will also be tweeted out at intervals during the chat.

Past Topics and Chat Highlights

If you do not have a twitter account but would still like to read what was shared, the #TCKchat team has you covered: highlights of each chat are posted the following day and those are available to everyone.

Check Out the Highlights of These Past Discussions:

There are a lot of insightful, touching and humorous comments made in every chat, but unfortunately it would be difficult to share highlights from all of them in one article. For this first column, I have included some tweets from topics that align with this issue’s theme of Dating and Relationships. 

How being a TCK influenced their dating relationships:

  • @TweetingAuthor I’m driven by cultural difference, so naturally, I date those that show signs of being culturally unique in their community. #TCKchat
  • @TCKPonders It’s made me very aware of timing, and when there’s a big move on the horizon I’m very reluctant to get involved. #TCKchat
  • @evnicolas No dating in my teens, too many moves. I was tired, self-conscious, displaced. Focused mainly on schooling. Disassociated. #TCKchat
  • @evnicolas Began to date in London where I could settle, find roots and attach to location. #TCKchat
  • @tayorockson It was difficult for me to meet the family members of girlfriends too soon because I just wasn’t sure how long I would stay in the city. #TCKchat
  • @bateconsult I wrongly presumed that there has to be miscommunication w/ a non TCK. Communication isn’t guaranteed with a TCK either. #TCKchat
  • @TweetingAuthor There’s a reason so many TCKs become writers. We always anticipate miscommunication, so we learn to do it the best. #TCKchat

Benefits/challenges of cross-cultural relationships or dating non-TCKs:

  • @seachangementor Benefit with a non [TCK]: My spouse has been like an ambassador 2 the US 4 me. Learned a lot about this country I’m supposedly from. 🙂 #TCKchat
  • @NeehaMujeeb Learning what it is like to have grown up in one place your whole life. A whole new perspective! #TCKchat
  • @seachangementor Dating someone of a different culture helps me empathize and understand the people of that culture. #TCKchat
  • @danautanu Challenge: Them not getting why I’m not grounded and why it’s hard. #TCKchat
  • @mariacelina Family life. This is where I’m reminded of the fact that even though the man I date is a TCK, his relatives may or may not be. #TCKchat
  • @TCKmeghali Definitely racism. People also sometimes took for granted where my home or roots were, or my family background/traditions. #TCKchat
  • @juanjohn Dating language was in Spanish, not English, so the words I used were different. #TCKchat

Settling down, change and mobility in relationships:

  • @TweetingAuthor The concept of settling down is terrifying. From marriage to children, the idea that moving could stop scares me to death. #TCKchat
  • @bateconsult I’ve bought a house. I still took me FOUR years to admit that I now have a “home”. #TCKchat
  • @TayoRockson I find myself thinking that when I do [settle down] I might not be able to fully express myself or be as mobile as I want to be. #TCKchat
  • @dp_saxon I hope to “settle down” with someone who’s open to thoughtful and regular change. #TCKchat
  • @danautanu The older I get the more I’m tired of starting over. And want the warmth of stability. #TCKchat
  • @unsettledtck Our biggest problem is trust: him that I won’t bail and me that he will respect my travel and autonomy. #TCKchat
  • @DipKidAmber I think I have an unreasonable expectation for people to handle change as easily as I do. Working on that… #TCKchat

Advice on managing a cross-cultural relationship:

  • @bateconsult Shut up and listen. Be observant. Have patience. #TCKchat
  • @livingquestions Remember to cut yourself some slack. Staying open & learning about each other is hard work! Allowed to be tired sometimes! #TCKchat
  • @Sekhmet_12th Best advice I can give is to take the time to LISTEN, it is literally about being able to understand each other, to compromise. #TCKchat
  • @DouniaB_TCK Willingness to listen & learn. Open, honest, constant communication. Patience & understanding with differences. #TCKchat
  • @juanjohn Be patient and open-minded. #TCKchat
  • @danautanu Realize that communicating across difference includes TCKs trying to understand non-TCKs. #TCKchat
  • @livingquestions Laughter is huge! Be willing to laugh about miscommunications/mistakes. #TCKchat
  • @mariacelina Be patient and understanding with yourself and your partner. Always communicate. Avoid generalizations. Love. Love a lot. #TCKchat

#TCKchat is steadily growing and we’re always happy to welcome new participants. The hope is that it will continue to reach TCKs across the globe and provide a welcoming environment for thoughts on this transient lifestyle and its impacts. #TCKchat is a community where you are understood, accepted and embraced.

When I asked Amanda for her latest thoughts on #TCKchat, she concluded with this:

“At this point in the game, I’m probably most proud of seeing how friendships and networks have formed as a result of #TCKchat getting people talking to each other. It’s exciting to see the affirming that happens. That your experiences, good or bad (or both!) are valid. That you get a seat at the table. That you aren’t weird. And even if you are, we accept you, regardless.”

Upcoming Dates and Topics

Additional Information

#TCKchat is held on the first and third Wednesday/Thursday of each month with 2 sessions: 1st session at GMT 15:00 and 2nd session at GMT +1 3:00. To figure out when #TCKchat happens in your time zone, visit www.TimeandDate.com On the website, you will find upcoming chat dates and topics, highlights from past topics, a video showing you how to get involved/participate in #TCKchat and information on all of the co-hosts.

Website: www.bateconsult.com/category/tck-chat/

Co-hosts: First Session

Co-hosts: Second Session

“Please Do Not Touch”

“Thank you.”

These signs could be found all over our hotel rooms, in between moves, when my sister and I were playing a very creative (not to mention expansive) game of barbies. Yes, barbies. In a hotel room. But let me start from the beginning to explain this somewhat odd behavior.

These photos are unfortunately not the actual hotel photos, but they are the contemporary and creative work of my brother, Rawi Fayad. Expect more barbie posts simply to showcase his talent.

My sister and I are 2.5 years apart and we loved barbies. Obviously, as we grew older we played with them less and less, but they were still a measure of childhood comfort when we found ourselves in a new and foreign place. A lot of the moves we did usually required shipping our household items by boat, which meant that we would arrive in the new country before all of our things. This in turn meant that we would be staying in a hotel for a couple of weeks at least or a couple of months at most. We would be in a totally foreign country, starting in a new school, without even the comfort and familiarity of home. So our wonderful parents always tried to ease this difficulty by allowing us to select certain items to send by express freight (along with clothes and other necessary items) so that they would arrive earlier, while we were still at the hotel. The barbies were always part of that express shipment.

As we got older, the barbies became less of a game for us, but more of a symbol of comfort, of home, of having each other as friends during these tough times. We didn’t play with them as much anymore, and yet we still created an extensive and elaborate domain for them in our hotel room. Every available space was used to create bedrooms, living rooms, pool areas…We used hand towels, vases, flowers – everything that could be used to create their spaces was used. Hence the signs. We knew that housekeeping would clean everything up if we didn’t explicitly ask them not to. So we politely asked them not to. Poor housekeeping – we must have made things so complicated for them, even though we truly didn’t realize it at that time. They kindly left our crazy creations where they were, and we appreciated that so much more than words can say.

Yes, our barbies are in varying catastrophic states. They have had limbs broken, heads popping off, they’ve been held together by tape, had their hair cut (this was never a successful endeavor), travelled the world, and made two little girls very happy, time and time again.

The time spent in hotels was often trying because it was either upon arriving somewhere unknown or when leaving a place that was home. Memories stick from certain hotels, and for some reason I have a lot from the hotel we stayed in when we first moved to the Philippines. Those barbie memories are from there, but there are other things that immediately trigger thoughts of that hotel. When we stayed there, the movie of the month on HBO was Maverick with Mel Gibson, which meant they played the movie several times a day. I’ve always loved that movie, and since then, whenever I see it I have a clear picture in my mind of the hotel room. The same goes for The Fugees’ song ‘Killing Me Softly’ – it must have come out around that time so MTV played it over and over… It’s amazing the little things that trigger memories. And it’s astounding how much the little things matter – having something constant on TV was soothing in a way; at least we knew what to expect when everything around us was a whirlwind. And having our barbies with us was a source of comfort in the upheaval.

We had to make the hotel our temporary home and the barbies helped do that, as odd and childish as that may sound. It helped to have those few familiar items around us and to play with them as if we were home. They entertained us, but most importantly, they comforted us.

So, please, do not touch. Thank you.

Despite the obvious wear and tear (and lack of hairdresser appointments), these barbies were loved very, very much. The proof: we still have them.

Published!

Writing this blog and sharing my experiences is something I love to do and it’s helped my writing improve and evolve over the past months. I have always loved to write and it is a deeply cherished hope of mine to one day be published – both in freelance writing and eventually maybe even a book. I recently got my first chance at being published, and an article I wrote is included in a truly fantastic magazine. My elation at this opportunity is even greater because Global Living Magazine is dedicated to the lifestyle of global nomads, TCKs, expats and travelers of the world. An even bigger bonus is that the founder and editor-in-chief is all of those things as well; she really knows this life, understands it and embraces it.

Issue 2 has a lot of interesting articles, that touch upon all facets of the global lifestyle. For expats raising TCKs who may be off to university soon, there’s a great article on the transition they may face. For those interested in writing a book about their expat experiences, you’ll find an excellent article with very helpful tips (I particularly enjoyed that article!). For anyone who loves traveling, seeing new places and trying new things, this magazine is for you. This second issue will take you on an Alaskan cruise, to a wine festival in Provence, France (courtesy of yours truly!), show you breathtaking photos and so much more.

Of course I’m excited that my article is included in this issue, but I really appreciate this magazine as a whole. It caters to people who have lived a global lifestyle and that speaks to me so much. Even if you haven’t been an expat or TCK but just love traveling, you’ll find great ideas and articles in Global Living Magazine.

Make sure to visit the webpage and browse through to get a better idea of the magazine. Stop by magcloud to check out a preview of the magazine and order your own copy of Issue 2 or the premier issue; it will be well worth it.

I hope some of you head over to the website and maybe even purchase your own copy of the first issues. If you do, let me know what you think, of both my article and the magazine as a whole!

Thanks, and happy reading!

Sisterhood of the World

A fellow TCK and expat, with a wonderful blog, Expat Alien, has very kindly nominated me for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award.

The rules are

  • Thank the giver, link to the page, and add the award to your site
  • Tell 7 things about yourself
  • Give the award to 5 bloggers

Thank you, Expat Alien!! Make sure you check out her blog, whether you’re an expat/TCK or not! 🙂

Now onto seven things about myself…

1. I just celebrated my first wedding anniversary a few days ago (it’s been a wonderful year!).

2. I have just had my first ever article (or anything!) published – more to come on that in a separate post.

3. As much as I do like being settled down somewhere, my TCK itchy feet are looking forward to change…whenever and wherever that may be.

4. I love the feeling of excitement of being someplace new, of discovering a different place, even if it’s mingled with a scared feeling of being completely lost.

5. I haven’t really traveled to a new place or gone exploring with my husband in a while, and I think that exacerbates the TCK feeling of needing to change. I’m looking forward to future trips!

6. I just recently started writing a list of things I would like to accomplish or see. I haven’t put a timeline on it yet, so I’m not sure if it’ll be a list of things to do/accomplish throughout my life, or before I’m 30, or while I’m living in the U.S. … I’ll just stick with writing what comes to my mind for now and worry about timelines later!

7. When you’re a TCK, family is more important than ever. They are your support system, your best friends, the only unchanging and unwavering aspect of your life. I’m lucky that I have the best parents, siblings and husband in the world (at least in my opinion!).

The 5 bloggers I would like to pass this award to are:

Cortney at The Adventures of Miss Widget and Her People

Sarah at Stars and Rainbows

–  A Single Letter

Paige at Stories From a Small Village

Global Anni

Make sure to check out their fantastic blogs!

Sharing

Third culture kids are used to having to adapt to new places, new cultures and new people. We’re used to learning to settle in some place new and how to tackle the challenges associated with that. But ‘used to’ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy, or something that we always manage to do quickly and with great ease. Some places are easier to adapt to than others, some cultures are more familiar than others, and some people are more welcoming than others. Also, we have good days and bad days, like anyone else. And the truth is, as stoic as we may seem on the outside, the inside is often in turmoil. It could just be my opinion, but I think we internalize a lot of the struggles. I think we do open up more around other TCKs, but even then, I don’t know how much we truly get into the nitty-gritty details about how we feel. We don’t necessarily share the emotions we felt at leaving a place we called home and all the chagrin that caused. We won’t particularly talk about what went through our minds when we arrived some place foreign, feeling completely lost, intimidated and often sad. We put on a brave face and try to pretend we know what we’re doing. We try to hold back any fears and any tears. Bringing them out in the open makes them too real, and often once they’re out, they’re very tough to box back in.

In my family, we were always lucky that our parents talked about the moves with us and we always had several months ‘warning’ before we would actually move. This at least allowed us time to let the news sink in and to let us enjoy the last months there as fully as we could. I also believe that as a third culture kid, you eventually develop a sixth sense that forewarns you that the moment you dread is approaching. The one time that stands out the clearest in my mind is when I found out the news that we would be moving from Sydney to Paris.

It was a sunny day and my last class must have been P.E., because I was in my sports uniform – navy blue shorts and a sunflower yellow polo – sitting in the car with my mom, on the way to the dentist after school. I remember my mom saying she had some bad news to tell me (did she say ‘bad’ or just ‘news’ and my brain registered ‘bad’?), and I just knew. Maybe it was something in her tone, which felt more gentle than usual, maybe it was a sixth sense…Whatever it was, I knew the news was that we were moving again. I didn’t worry that perhaps something had happened to a family member or that someone was sick, because I knew exactly what she was going to tell me. So I turned to her, already feeling the knot in my stomach, the tears in my eyes and hearing the crack in my voice…I must have said something along the lines of “please don’t tell me we’re moving”, but to be honest, I don’t quite remember. I just remember the confirmation and how I felt at that moment. I just asked why and probably pleaded for us to stay, as silent tears rolled down my cheeks. We were in my mom’s little red car, the afternoon sun was peeking through green leaves, and my world had just been turned upside down. All I could do was dry my tears and go see my dentist.

I doubt many people know this story, as it’s not something I’ve often shared. And to be honest, I don’t think I’ve heard many, if any, similar stories, yet I highly doubt that I’m the only TCK to have had moments and feelings like these. But how often do we actually share these stories? How often do any of us truly talk about the emotions we go through during the usual pattern of our TCK life? I happened to touch upon rather sad emotions in this post, but the truth is, I don’t think we talk about the happy moments either, and there are so many of those as well. The life of a third culture kid isn’t easy, and there are a lot of tough moments, but in the end the positive moments and the amazing experiences you gain outweigh the harder times. I know I’ve said that before, but it’s because I believe it so strongly. I also believe that it’s important to share these emotions and these experiences – both the good and the bad (and yes, also the ugly).

So here I am: I’m a third culture kid and I’m sharing my stories.

What’s your story?

The Other Perspective

Recently having spent a much longer time than usual away from a TCK environment, I’ve realized just how different perspectives can be. When you talk with a fellow third culture kid it’s very normal to talk about the different countries you’ve lived in and your experiences there. It’s an integral part of the conversation because those countries are where you’ve spent your life; they are where you’ve made your memories. Another third culture kid would not judge you for mentioning the places you lived and will even possibly ask you questions about them or mention that they lived there too or somewhere nearby. They are connections that bring us together – even if we didn’t live in any of the same countries, we have still lived the same lifestyle, and that is a much stronger understanding than many people might expect. It’s comforting, comfortable and familiar to be surrounded by third culture kids, even if they’re strangers and you’ve just met. When you suddenly find yourself far away from any TCK community and from any third culture kids, it’s a very different situation and experience. Now you’re the odd one out and people don’t really understand you or the life that you’ve led so far. That’s when the real challenge begins.

Hence the other perspective, that of a first culture kid, who lived pretty much their whole life in the same place and you almost seem like a foreign species to them. You can get different responses – some are amazed by such a lifestyle, others think it sounds awful…But whatever they think, they definitely don’t understand it or how it changes you and shapes you as a person. But perhaps the biggest thing they don’t understand is the way we refer so many moments and memories to the countries we lived in. I’ve realized over many conversation with first culture kids that this mentioning of countries, which is simply normal for us third culture kids, is deeply misunderstood by non-TCKs. They seem to think we talk about the places we lived or what country we were in at a certain date or event because we want to show off. Perhaps they think we are bragging or being condescending, as if we think we are better than them because we’ve lived in different countries. But that’s not at all what we’re doing. We built our memories in those countries, we can’t help that. We connect dates and events back to the country we were in at the time. Someone who’s lived their whole life in the same place just can’t understand that. They lost their first tooth in the same place they met their best friend, went to middle school, saw movies, had their first crush, their first kiss…We did all those things too, just spread over 3, 4, 5 or more countries. So when we have a conversation with a first culture kid and they share a memory, we want to share our similar memory…Yet sometimes when we do, we wonder if we shouldn’t have or if we should have modified what we said to not mention the country, like we’re so used to doing.

Now, I do feel I should mention that not all first culture kids react like that, and first culture kids from certain countries are even more open and receptive. I only wrote about those experiences to mention how differently the same comments and conversations can be perceived depending on the background of the people involved. It’s been interesting to observe and I’ve noticed the change in myself and how I speak with certain people. Sometimes it’s frustrating to feel like I need to modify how I would naturally have a conversation, but I’ve also learned that often it’s just better like that. It’s definitely been a learning curve and one that’s not always easy, but I know I’m not alone in trying to figure it out. I will never stop being grateful that my husband is also a third culture kid, because that makes all the difference. I know that no matter where we are there will always be at least one person who understands me, in every way.

Third culture kid, still learning and still growing, signing off.

The Return of the Third Culture Kid

It’s been a long time since my last post, as things suddenly got pretty busy. I’ve been working on some other projects, but more importantly I was spending time with my family and attending my brother’s high-school graduation.

I’ve also had the chance to do some thinking about my blog, how it’s evolved and what I really want to do with it. I started this blog to write about and share my third culture kid experiences and memories. Over time it evolved to include a lot of nature photography, some poetry and texts about daily observations… I love doing those posts, and I will continue to do some, but I’ve realized that I really want to get back to the initial goal of this blog. I really want to get back to writing about my expat/TCK experiences and I want to share more of my memories.

I know that I recently posted about wanting to write more, and I guess this is just the natural evolution of my thoughts. There have been several things these past weeks that have reminded me of why I started this blog and how much I love being a third culture kid. My brother graduated from the same high-school as me, where teachers and students alike are third culture kids and expats. It’s a place that makes me happy, where I feel like I belong. Being back there, coupled with many conversations I’ve had lately – with my husband, my family and fellow TCKs – brought me back to the original source of this blog and filled me with a renewed vigor to write about my third culture kid life.

I know this post is short, but please consider this as both an apology for my long absence and an introduction for what’s to come. I hope you’ll stay along for the journey!

Third culture kid, back and better than ever, signing off!

The Invisible Line

Every place is foreign, until it becomes home. That home may change every so many years, but the way each place becomes home follows the same pattern. When you first arrive somewhere new, everything is foreign, strange and intimidating. The house has strange sounds you still aren’t used to; the streets look so daunting; a new school seems like a labyrinth. You don’t know how to find you way around the buildings, let alone the neighborhood, and emotions are raw. Every obstacle seems insurmountable and every struggle seems impossible to overcome.

Then, little by little, you start to find your way around. You understand how to find the room you’re looking for in school; you start to recognize the streets; the once strange sounds in the house are now familiar and even comforting. Suddenly, as if by magic, this foreign land became home. You never actually realize when you cross that invisible line, but one day it dawns on you that it’s felt like home for a while. That day when you’re the one helping a new student find their way around. The day when someone asks you for directions and you have no trouble telling them how to get there. The day when someone working at the local coffee shop or ice-cream store recognizes you and remembers you as a regular customer. The day when the local kids all wave to you as they pass by on their bicycles…

It’s when those days come along that you realize how easily and quickly you forget the disorientation of those first weeks. You forget how lost you felt and how foreign everything looked. You forget how scared you were and how you wondered if you would ever be able to adapt or settle in here. You forget until you have to do it all over again. But, as hard as it is every time, you know you’ll make it.

You always have.

The Search

Sometimes I think I would love to live on a farm or a ranch, surrounded by nature and fulfilled by a day of satisfying physical labor. Enjoying the wide open spaces, breathing in fresh air, riding horses through the beautiful land, working the soil, getting my hands dirty and my mind free. But then I wonder: would I truly be happy with a life like that? The answer I find is a little more complex than a simple yes or no.

I believe that part of me would be happy and at peace with such a life. The part of me that loves nature and wildlife, and craves a much closer connection to them. The part of me that loves physical activities and being outdoors – working in the garden, helping to build things; real, sweaty physical labor. The part of me that longs for wide open spaces, rolling hills and serenely beautiful landscapes for as far as the eye can see. The part of me that loves peace and quiet, hearing only nature’s sounds and being in awe of its endless beauty. I think it’s the gratifying and seemingly peaceful qualities of such a life that call to me.

But then there’s the other part of me…

The part of me that would probably feel lonely and isolated with such a life. The part of me that might eventually tire of the same landscapes. The part of me that knows I would never truly feel at home or as if I belong in such a place. Most people would have lived there all their lives, or grown up there or come from not too far… I wouldn’t be any of those. I would forever be an outsider and I would feel that. That’s the TCK part of me. The part that craves interaction with similar souls, with those who understand the life that has shaped me. The part of me that sometimes wonders if it will ever be possible to truly and fully fit in somewhere.

Growing up as a TCK has positive and negative attributes. In my opinion, the good far outweighs the bad, but as an adult TCK I have found myself often wondering how and where I would truly fit in. I have already found part of the answer – I know it’s much more about communities and the people who surround me, rather than specific cities or countries. I also know that certain countries have a much higher chance of making me feel at home, whereas others truly make me feel like a fish out of water. But I still wonder if I will ever feel as if I fully, truly belong somewhere.

None of these thoughts or questions mean that I am unhappy or can’t adapt to different places, they just mean that my soul is still searching for THE place. The place you know is right, where everything just fits. Maybe I haven’t found it yet, maybe it’s not yet the right time for me to find it, but I’ll keep looking.

One of these days, I’ll find it.