A Sense of Belonging

I’ve come to realize something in my years as a TCK: there is no period of adaptation. It’s just a continuous cycle; you’re never actually finished adapting. Just when you think you might be, something else happens to make you realize that you’re a foreigner in this land. But what happens if you feel like a foreigner wherever you go? Being fully detached from a TCK environment has been an interesting process. I didn’t realize how big of a difference it made. Even in the times I wasn’t regularly in a TCK environment (when I was studying at the French or English universities), I was still immersed into it often enough. Then I went fully back into that environment, as a substitute teacher and tutor at my old high school in Paris. But out here, it’s a whole different ballgame, and sometimes it’s tougher to figure it all out.

Sometimes it’s just silly little things that bother me more than they should. Things that are actually more than ok, but not of my standard. It’s frustration at myself, frustration at feeling so foreign and different, and showing it. Feeling like the whole world can see just how strange and out of place you are, just how much you don’t fit in. They probably can’t, they might not have any idea at all, but that’s how it feels sometimes. As a TCK, something I pride myself on is being able to adapt, being flexible, but I don’t always feel like I succeed. And those days are never easy.

Then I realized something else. It’s the people you’re with and the little things which make you feel like you belong. It’s finding pleasure in simple moments, enjoying the warm sun on your face, looking out the window at the blue sky and thinking ‘what a beautiful day, and I’m lucky to be here’. At least for me, that’s what helps me feel like I belong. Two days ago when I started writing this entry, it was much more melancholy. Then the sun came back out – literally and figuratively – and I realized that no matter how long it takes me to adapt, I am happy here. I’m happy to have a home with my husband, a place to really call our own. After all the years we spent apart, only seeing each other every few weeks or months, falling asleep by his side every night and waking up to him every morning is a source of profound joy for me. I love those morning drives to drop him off at work, because it’s just a few more minutes with him before he’s gone for the day. Starting my day by his side is the best way to start it; he makes me feel like I belong.

Kickboxing and Iced Coffee (ok, ok, ‘Frappucino’)

For those who know me well, part of that title will make sense and the other part, not at all. I love kickboxing. I just started a few months ago, but I love it. Coffee, not so much. Not until a few weeks ago. What I’m about to say will sound very American, and so unlike me; clearly I am adapting better these days. A few weeks ago, I tasted a Java Chip Frappucino from Starbucks. Just writing that I feel like I should be on one of those reality TV shows, don’t ask why, I just do. But I digress. Back to the Java Chip Frappucino. I originally ordered it by mistake, and only realized once they were making it that I had asked for the wrong one, since this one has coffee. I know, that would seem obvious by the “Java” part, but I didn’t really think this through while ordering. My mistake. But I took it, and said I would taste it to see what I thought. I figured that either it couldn’t be that bad (I do love tiramisu, after all, which has coffee and chocolate), or that my husband would drink it if it really was that bad, since he doesn’t mind coffee. Lo and behold, I loved it. Not only did I love it, I’ve actually had cravings for it since then. Which, trust me, is very weird for me, since I’ve NEVER liked coffee, in any way, shape or form. Which brings me back to my title and kickboxing.

So, what does my Java Chip Frappucino have to do with kickboxing? Well, my kickboxing instructor recently had to change location, and has been closed for 2 weeks. She re-opened last Friday, but due to certain circumstances (mostly dental ones), I couldn’t make it back until today. And I was super excited about finally getting back to kickboxing! So I was pumped up and ready to kick some butt, or some bag, rather. Off I went to kickboxing, and to make up for our late start, she just made the workout more intense. But that made it all the more worth it to have finally gotten back into it. I loved it. Yes, more than I love the Java Chip Frappucino (can you tell I love writing the name though?). And still, you must be wondering what that frappucino has to do with kickboxing. Here’s what. After kickboxing, and some mingling before heading home, I had a longing for an ice cold drink (I get warm easily and sweat a lot, I’m sure you were dying to know that). And what better drink than a frappucino? Especially one with coffee. It’s cold, with crushed ice, energy from the caffeine, and let’s be honest, it just tastes good. Now, not only am I not a coffee person, I’m not at all a regular Starbucks person either. Occasionally I’ll go for a hot chocolate or a chocolate frappucino, but it’s actually quite rare. Ok, and I also know that there a lot of better drinks than a frappucino, especially when you want something ice cold after sport. But in my defense, I mostly drink only water (a lot of it!) and very rarely drink frappucinos, so it was a special treat today.

Kick butt, then cool off. Lovely.

The point is though, that it was a really nice way to start my day, and it shows yet again that we can truly adapt to any place. It might seem silly that it’s getting my frappucino today that makes me note that, but it’s not just that. There were a lot of things I did this morning that I never did before moving here, and that I didn’t imagine myself doing. I drove to kickboxing. I didn’t drive before we got here. That in itself is a huge feat for me and a great source of pride. I’m doing kickboxing. Never did that before, and it feels awesome. I’m meeting more people, chatting with them more often; that’s a huge part of settling in and feeling more at home. And yes, I got that frappucino. But I didn’t go through the drive-through. That’s still a bit much for me. I parked the car (getting better and better at that! At least front-parking…rear-parking, not so much yet), locked it, of course, walked to Starbucks and bought my drink inside. Not a big fan of drive-throughs; it’s not that difficult to park the car and get out. Oh, and it’s often faster too. Try it and pay attention, you’ll see.

It may seem like a strange topic to blog about, and that it doesn’t have much to do with being a third culture kid, but it actually has a lot to do with that. It goes hand in hand with my last entry, about settling in and feeling at home. I’m feeling more at home with every passing day, and it feels good. I’m excited about our home and about what the future has in store. Oh, and I’m definitely looking forward to more kickboxing and Java Chip Frappucinos.

There’s No Place Like Home

About a week ago we marked the end of our first year in Connecticut, entering our second year here, and I’m excited about that! This past year was about settling in, figuring out all sorts of logistics, slowly furnishing the apartment, back and forth trips to France too, and planning the wedding overseas. I’m looking forward to this year because all of that is done. It was fun and tedious, easy and complicated, good and bad, all at the same time! I’ve had a lot of good moments this past year, but I’m definitely ready for year two. We’re now happily settled in (and married!), and instead of focusing on the basics for the apartment, I can enjoy looking for those little extras to really make it home. We know the area, where things are, how to get around, but we still have lots to explore. I’ve found somewhat of a routine and I’ve made some nice acquaintances. Oh, and I drive. I’ll make sure to write more in length on that some other time.

On a more “near-term” outlook, I’m excited about my second fall here! I know I’ve already mentioned how much I love autumn, but I can’t help saying it again. The trees have started changing color, and although the weather is still too warm and muggy for my taste (I’m ready for the fall weather too, not just the colors!), it’s starting out beautifully. I’m really looking forward to being able to see autumn in all its glory this year, from the first flickering flames until the last burning cinders before the fire dies out for the winter. Last year I had to travel back to France in October, and although I was only gone 2 weeks, that was enough to miss quite a spectacular show. I’m happy I get to really enjoy that this year. I’m just looking forward to really having a year at home.

I know that my last entry was perhaps more serious than a lot of my other entries, and as much as those thoughts do go through my mind once in a while, I do know how important it is to enjoy where you are in the present. As my mom so beautifully and truthfully told me, “home is where love lies”; she couldn’t be more spot on, as always. That’s how we were always brought up, and that’s what kept us close in such a whirlwind life. That’s probably something most TCK’s feel, or at least should feel. Being a TCK means growing up with change, in a perpetual cycle of adapting to, learning from and accepting those changes. The one constant in all that is family. I was lucky to have a family who made all those changes easier and who reminded me that home is where the heart is, and to embrace every experience, even if some where embraced more in hindsight. I have parents who understand what being a TCK means, even if they weren’t actual TCKs, in the conventional sense. My older sister was, and continues to be, my best friend; even in the worst of our teenage arguments, the comfort of her presence through every move cannot be put in words. As for my younger brother, although there were 9.5 years of my life when he wasn’t around, I can’t remember a time without him and it seems strange to imagine he wasn’t always around too. He brought joy and comfort when everything around was unfamiliar and daunting.

My husband does all of that and so much more. He understands the complexities of my TCK mind, and all the challenges that come with adapting to a new place. He is always there, unwavering in his love and strength, no matter the time or distance. He’s my biggest fan; it’s his love and encouragement that gave me the final push I needed to start this blog. It’s his constant motivation and belief in me that keeps me writing, that keeps me striving to be better at everything I do. He’s my rock to lean on, my source of laughter and comfort as we settle into our new home. He makes this home, just like my family always made each place home.

Home Sweet Home

However you want to look at it, whether it’s Pumba’s dignified “home is where the rump rests”, the more classic “home is where the heart is”, or my mom’s “home is where love lies”, it’s the people you love who make a place home. Home isn’t a building, or a city, or any fixed location; home is the place where you feel loved and safe. That’s how I grew up, that’s why every place we lived in was home, and every home became a part of me. That’s how I’ll continue to live, and how I’ll raise my children, because it’s truly a beautiful way to grow. It made me the person I am today and for that I’ll always be grateful – for the amazing experiences I had, for how I was brought up to embrace them to their fullest, for the true love I found along the way, and for my parents, for everything they’ve ever given me.

How could I ever regret any of that?

Third culture kid, lucky, grateful and happily enjoying home, signing off.

The Sound of Silence

I love talking, listening to music, hearing kids running around and playing outside, but I must admit that sometimes I really love silence. Or at least the absence of man-made sounds. No chatty radio shows, no phone ringing, barely the sound of a car passing by. That doesn’t happen very often, but today I decided not to turn the radio on, and it has been a thoughtful, serene and soul-searching afternoon. Apart from the occasional car marring the moment, all I can hear are the crickets, chirruping their way through the last hours of summer, joined in chorus every once in a while by a bird or two. It’s quiet, peaceful, silent.

It’s in those moments of quietude that I find myself reflecting on my life so far. I run through memories, I sometimes wonder what it would be like to not be a third culture kid, and I think about the future. I don’t think about it in very concrete terms, I just ponder it more than anything. I ponder how the present and the future would have been different if I had not lived the life I did, as a third culture kid. I sometimes wonder if it would easier to be content, to not always compare or wonder how it would be or how it was elsewhere. It’s a good thing to be aware that each and every place has positive and negative aspects, but there are times I do wish I could feel an absolute attachment somewhere. That one place would be THE place, and I would love it unconditionally, and either be blissfully unaware of its downfalls, or at least not really notice them or care about them. I’m not saying I regret my life as a third culture kid or that I am unable to find contentment, but those quiet moments of reflection lead to many complex thoughts. Thoughts that are always present, hidden somewhere in the back of the mind, waiting for the opportune moment to surface. The change of seasons brings with it changing winds, propitious to self-reflection and soul-searching. I love the life I’ve led and continue to lead, but of course I sometimes wonder if the grass isn’t greener on the other side, or if ignorance is indeed bliss…

Copyright - Raya Fayad

I do ultimately come to the conclusion that I wouldn’t trade my life for another, and that I would probably do it all the same if I had to do it again, but that doesn’t stop those thoughts from creeping into my mind during those moments of silent contemplation. Those thoughts generally arise in periods of adaptation, or after an event or simple conversation makes you realize yet again how different you are as a third culture kid, when you’re no longer in a third culture environment. I love how my life here is unfolding, but I would be lying if I didn’t admit that it’s been tough to adapt, to fit in. There have been endless challenges to overcome, vast adjustments to make and a lot of effort to put in. When you’re not at school, working or at least have kids going to school, it’s a lot harder to meet people, to settle in, to find a routine. But I’m here, I’m doing it, and it gets better, trust me. If there’s one thing you learn as a TCK, it’s to adapt, to be flexible. Like I said in an earlier entry – we’re resilient, and that’s a key factor to our success. It may be tough, there may be moments of doubt, but ultimately it’s definitely worth it.

Seasons of Change

Last year I got to see my very first New England fall. It was even more spectacular than I had imagined. I have never seen such an array of yellows, oranges, reds and golds; it was as if the trees were bursting into fire. When I was moving around, for a long time I didn’t have a “real” fall, as the climates I was living in didn’t always have 4 defined seasons. Then we moved to France, and I could finally enjoy all 4 seasons again, as I can here in Connecticut too. I love every season; each one is beautiful and fantastic in its own unique way. But I had never yet experienced an autumn quite like the one I got to see here. I’m looking forward to seeing the trees change color soon; I don’t think I could ever tire of nature’s beautiful art.

Nevertheless, as much as I love the fall, I don’t necessarily love everything here, just as I didn’t love absolutely everything in every other place I’ve lived in. But the fundamental thing I’ve learned is how important it is to focus on all the good things and truly take advantage of enjoying them. As TCKs, I think we have a more acute awareness than others that no single place is entirely perfect or entirely awful. While it’s important to be conscious of the more negative issues, it’s crucial to focus mainly on the positive and to make the most of those. We could live somewhere for 1 year, 5 years, 10 years; it doesn’t matter how long you live somewhere as long as you truly cherish that experience and take everything you can out of it. There will always be drawbacks and complications in every place, but there will also be magnificent opportunities, beautiful places, fascinating people who make your time there worthwhile.

It’s often easier in hindsight to see the things we missed out on and possibly regret that later; try to see the good in the present and you won’t have regrets. Well, maybe you’ll regret not having more time there! It may sound cliched, but the only way to really make the most out of any situation, any location, is to seize every opportunity it gives you, no matter how big or small. The humid, tropical climate of the Philippines was not a particular favorite of mine, but the vivid colors of the exotic flowers all over the garden will always stay with me. As will the taste of the juiciest, most delicious mangoes I’ve ever eaten in my life! Those may seem like minor details, and insignificant in the big picture, but I tend to think it’s the small things that really matter. We should never overlook the power of the smaller details in life; they’re the ones that complete the big picture.

Every place, like every season, has something to love, something to look forward to, something to enjoy, no matter how big or how small. Those are the things we have to hold on to when the going gets tough. Being a TCK isn’t always easy; changes are imminent, they’re just part of our lives. It’s how you deal with those changes that make all the difference. You can think that the trees will no longer be green, that the days will get shorter and the temperature colder; or you can think that the trees will paint the skyline with flames, that you’ll have more time to look at the starry night sky and that you can snuggle under a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate.

Life is only what you make of it, whether you’re a TCK or not. Enjoy every moment, and cherish all the beauty there is in this world. We’re lucky that we get to see so much of it. Don’t waste your time thinking of what isn’t there, or what could have been or where else you could be. Learn to appreciate what each place can offer; it will make your journey an exciting and fulfilling adventure.