Who I Am

I am a third culture kid.

Of that I will never be rid.

 

I’ve grown up among worlds,

Like many other boys and girls.

 

I am made up of one travelling heart,

Which is often spread worlds apart.

 

I am internationally grown,

But I have a hard time defining home.

 

I am made up of many places,

Like a dice of six faces.

 

The places I’ve lived and loved,

And those that run through my blood;

 

Each of them is a part of me,

Part of my story and my journey.

 

Much of it is yet to be told,

But to one thing I will always hold:

 

I’m an adult third culture kid,

Of that I never wish to be rid.

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The Hidden Story

I started this blog to share my experiences growing up as a third culture kid and trying to navigate life as an adult third culture kid. Lately I had started wondering if I was still doing that or if my blog had moved away from its initial purpose and goal. I thought about all that and more for quite some time, not sure where to go from there…

My blog does have a whole mix of things: posts specifically on being a TCK/ATCK, photography, poetry, posts of simple observations and memories… It does not follow a simple straight line – it twists and turns, sometimes ending up in an unexpected place. Growing up as a TCK, I quickly learned that life does not follow an easy linear path. There will always be unexpected curves and surprises. I am learning that life as an adult third culture kid has just as many (if not more) challenges and hidden turns. That is what this blog has always been about, even when I didn’t fully realize it.

The blog posts that are not specifically about growing up as a TCK or adapting as an ATCK may seem out of place, but actually they are a very important part of my journey. They are how I see my current world and how I feel about this particular home. I realized that the posts I initially thought were deviations from my original purpose were, in fact, simply part of the story. They were just telling a different side of it.

Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

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

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Seasons of Change – 2012

Autumn has often felt like a time of reflection, maybe because it’s a season of change. Change in the weather from the hot, muggy days of summer, to the crisp, cool days of fall; change from lazy vacation days to the start of school, college and new projects. The leaves are ever-changing, from green to all possible shades of yellow, gold, orange and red. Two years ago we arrived here just as autumn was beginning, at the end of September, so it’s definitely a season of change and reflection for us.

There have been a lot of thoughts floating around inside my mind during these constantly changing autumn days, but I’ve had trouble finding how to put them in writing. They drift around, like the leaves dancing in the air; the difference is that the leaves find their way to the ground, whereas my words are having trouble finding their way to paper. I’ve been in a pensive phase, as I often find myself at this time of year – it must be both the change in seasons and the approach of another year’s end. I reflect on everything that has happened during this year so far, and on how things have been these past years since we moved back to the U.S. It’s been a time of growth and learning for us, in so many ways. It hasn’t always been easy, but each struggle, each obstacle only made us stronger and more adaptable for the future. I’ve also been thinking of some of the things I’ve accomplished in our time here, because I think I sometimes forget what I’m capable of and to be proud of myself for what I’ve achieved so far.

I started my blog, something that would have never happened without the unwavering, rock-solid support of my wonderful husband. Starting a blog was a huge accomplishment for me and something I never thought I would do. I have always loved to write and to suddenly have a way to share my writing was amazing. But I wasn’t prepared for how much I would love blogging or for the overwhelming, kind and motivating support I would receive from the blogging community. My blog allowed me to improve my writing, to explore my love of photography and to communicate with people all over the world. The best part is reading comments where someone relates to what I’ve written – that’s what matters most to me, and I love when readers share their stories with me. I’m always excited to post something new but my favorite part is seeing the responses to something I have written and to feel connected on such a global level.

Something I wrote was published: two articles so far (I mentioned the first in my post Published, and the second has recently come out here). This particular accomplishment is really a milestone for me. It’s incredible to have a chance to do something I love and to have it published in a magazine. It’s all the more exciting because it’s a magazine that is made for (and by) TCKs, expats and travelers. You can see a preview of the 2nd article in the newest issue here, and you can learn more about the magazine on their website and in a previous post. These years have been filled with writing and accomplishing amazing things with my writing. I hadn’t written much for a few years and having my blog and articles published has given me goals to strive for with my writing.

In a non-writing area, in these past years I’ve settled in a new place, far away from my family and from everything familiar. I’ve done that without having a regular routine, like a job or school, which would allow me to meet people and find a structure to my days. This was the first move my husband and I did as a couple; a first leap into continuing our TCK lives as adults. That’s not a negligible accomplishment, but somehow I always seem to overlook it because moving someplace new and adapting was always a part of our lives. Yet I realize that all the other times I was in school or college; this time was a very different experience, but one I’m nonetheless happy to have. Every move allows you to grow as a person and to learn more about yourself. I know that may sound clichéd, but it’s true. This particular move has been a huge growing and learning experience for me. I realized that even after many years of being in the same place and not having to move, I’m still so resilient and adaptable. I’ve learned a lot about myself and about how much being a TCK shaped me and my outlook on life. I’ve also grown more aware than ever that I’m an adult TCK, which I mentioned in a recent blog post. Growing up we were somewhat aware of what we were getting from the TCK lifestyle, but only in these past years have I realized how much of an impact that life has had on us as adults. For all the difficulties it might present, I’m grateful to be an adult third culture kid because it’s given me the strength to take on any challenge and to overcome any obstacles, no matter where life leads me.

When I started preparing a blog post today, I had been planning on only posting some pictures I had taken of the beautiful autumn colors, accompanied by a few simple words. But it turns out I had more than a few words to say. Oddly enough, some parts of this post were written a couple of weeks ago, but they were in a post that would have been very unlike this one, and in a very different frame of mind. I’m in a much better place today – still reflective, but positively so. I know that things don’t always go according to plan, but a lot of times the unexpected path just leads to something better. If I had found or followed a ‘traditional’ path in certain aspects, it’s unlikely I would have started this blog or had articles published. Planning for the road ahead is always good, but you never know when a loop, fork or dead-end will show up on the path. When that happens, we just need to learn to see it as an opportunity to move forward down a new path and not as a roadblock that causes us to backtrack. It’s easier to believe that when things are going well and you’re in an optimistic mood – find me on a bad day, and I might disagree with myself. But I’ve been through so many changes in my life: by the time I was 18 and finished with high-school I had lived in 6 countries on 4 different continents. The changes didn’t end there, whether it was about where I went to university, the language I studied in, or the latest move back across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe to the U.S. I know change. I know how hard, heart-breaking and devastating it can be, but I also know how enriching and empowering it can be.

I both dread and welcome change. I am afraid of not being able to handle it, but I know that ultimately I’ll be able to deal with whatever is thrown my way. It’s part of growing up as a TCK – you learn very early on that change is a huge part of life, and it’s going to happen, whether you like it or not. You have to take it as it comes and make the best of the change, otherwise you’ll be miserable. TCKs realize very quickly that our whole life is made up of change and of adapting. It’s important to see the good side of the change and to know that no matter how hard it can be, it will make you so much stronger once you overcome it.

Adult third culture kid, pensive and reflective in the season of change, signing off.

Reflection and Transition: Becoming an Adult Third Culture Kid

It has been just over two years that we’ve been living in New England. Some days it feels like it’s been much longer than that, and other days it’s hard to believe it’s been already two years. This move was a big change in so many ways and really played a huge part in my transition from third culture kid to a third culture adult (or more commonly an “adult third culture kid – ATCK). I was an adult before, in all ‘official’ senses of the term, but I still had the comfort of the family home, I could return to a TCK environment regularly and was still in a familiar place. Coming here was when I truly entered the adult world, in so many ways. And although I find it odd to consider myself an adult and to realize I’m 27, well on my way to 28, I know I am an adult and a capable one. I still don’t really feel like one, but I seem to be doing a good job pretending…so far.

This move didn’t just make me transition into really being an adult, but it also made me acutely aware of how I was officially an adult TCK. I realized just how much impact my TCK life had on me when I was no longer in a TCK environment. I had already noticed it when I went to university, but I could (and did) return often to my high-school and I was still at home too. I was also in a city and country that has many foreigners, so even if they weren’t TCKs, we weren’t completely the odd ones left out. Moving over here was a whole different story. We’re in a relatively small, very American town and foreigners are very rare. This has a much wider reach than university and it’s been a big challenge in the transition. That’s when you really feel how different you are and just how much perception is impacted by the life you lead growing up.

The years here have made me reflect upon my life growing up as a TCK. I’ve become much more aware of how grateful I am for that life and how much I love it, despite the challenges it presented, then and now. I’ve also realized just how different it makes us and how much it changes the way we see the world. I’ve also learned how easy it is to be misunderstood by non-TCKs and to modify my conversation accordingly. It’s definitely been an eye-opening and challenging experience so far, but I know it only makes me better at adapting and tackling whatever comes my way.

Two years later and I’ve figured it out a little. More than last year and the year before, but less than the years to come. I know I’ll never have it fully figured out, but as they say – it’s the journey that matters, not the destination.

Here’s to the journey and to figuring it out a little more each step of the way.