Summers of Change 2015

pic163-detailAn earlier version of this piece was first published on my blog in June 2013. The version below was published in the September 2015 issue of Among Worlds.


Many things come to mind when thinking of summer: sunshine, ice-cream, vacation, lounging on the beach, late nights, cool drinks, lazy days and evenings with family and friends… But for me, and many other Third Culture Kids (TCKs), summer was also synonymous with change. In the American and/ or international schools we attended, when June came along and the school year ended, there was always someone moving away. Sometimes we had to say goodbye to friends who were leaving and other times we were the ones packing up. Either way it meant change, adapting to yet another new situation and having to figure it out all over again.

When we were moving there were obviously greater challenges and those summers were truly a period of transition. During those summers, we rarely went directly to the new country. Once school would finish in June, we would pack up the house, ship everything off with the moving company and we would head off to spend at least part of the summer with family. That way we could enjoy our vacation as much as possible before having to confront the inevitable challenges awaiting us.

It was a great idea to allow us this transition period, this pause, in between countries. It softened the blow of leaving our home and gave us strength to deal with arriving in a foreign place. Spending the summers with cousins and grandparents – being surrounded by loved ones and familiarity – eased the pain of loss and of sorrowful goodbyes. It reminded us that some things remain constant and steady, even when everything around us seemed to be a whirlwind of change. It also reinforced our belief that time and distance do not alter true friendship and love.

Summers are meant to be a time of joy, fun, laughter and carefree days. For TCKs moving to a new country the summer was much less carefree and relaxed. While others were still enjoying their last lazy days of lounging in the sun or chatting with friends, we were unpacking boxes in an unfamiliar house, trying to find our way in foreign roads and dreading the first day at a new school. It wasn’t always easy, but it was all part of the experience.

And despite all the tough moments, I would do it again, without a doubt. Those summers of change provided valuable lessons that will last me a lifetime and they taught me how resilient I really am. A restful summer is always welcome, but show me the next opportunity for change and my TCK itchy feet are ready for the next adventure!

I hope you all had a great summer, wherever you may be; and good luck to any of you who went through a summer of a change.

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Wrapping up the Year (and the presents)

I realize that it’s been nearly 3 months since my last blog post… I’m usually not absent from my blog that long, but suddenly September arrived and these past few months have been a bit of a whirlwind. It’s amazing how quickly time flies. One moment it was the end of summer and suddenly it’s almost the end of the year. There have been new experiences, vacation plans that didn’t end so well, new projects, last minute trips and finally holiday preparations.

#TCKchat

Over the past few months, I have been a co-host for a twitter chat for Third Culture Kids (#TCKchat). These one-hour chats happen every 2 weeks (Wednesday at 10am/10pm US EST) and every session has a topic and a series of questions. We have participants of all ages, of all personal and professional backgrounds, located all over the world. However, you don’t have to be a TCK to take part in the conversation, so please feel free to join us anytime!

I joined twitter earlier this year for the ParfittPascoe Writing Residency. Although I never expected to use twitter much, TCKchat is a great way to connect and share experiences, lessons, stories and so much more. I hope to connect further with some of you in that forum!

You can find additional information including highlights of previous chats, upcoming topics, and short bios on the founders and co-hosts here: www.bateconsult.com/category/tck-chat.

Expat Resource Directory

A few months ago, I also started working with Global Living Magazine as Expat Resource Manager to help create an Expat Resource Directory. The aim of the directory is to be an ongoing list of expat/TCK resources, including services, organizations, projects, blogs and active expat twitter accounts/chats. There are resources covering a wide variety of topics, ranging from counseling/mental health, to consulting, education, relocation, TCKs, parenting, finance etc. We’re always looking for great new resources, so all suggestions are welcome (Dounia@globallivingmagazine.com).

This photo below is just a sample page of the directory to give you a sneak peek; the full directory can be viewed in the latest issue (Nov/Dec) of Global Living Magazine and will be updated in all future issues.

ExpatResourceDirectory

Paris: City of Light and Love

After a brief vacation in Florida (that unfortunately ended with all of our personal belongings being stolen), there was a last minute whirlwind trip to Paris to see my family after 10+ long months of only seeing them on Skype… It was short (isn’t it always when you live far away from loved ones?), but very sweet. We visited parts of Paris that I remember so well and also made new memories in some quartiers that I didn’t know as much. Even if it had been over 2.5 years that I had been there, I still remembered the familiar streets, smells and sounds that make Paris one of my homes.

Here are some of my favorite photos from my quick November trip:

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Finally I want to wish you all a very merry Christmas (or happy holidays for whichever festivities you celebrate)! I hope you all have a wonderful end to 2014 and an even better start to 2015! I hope to catch you all more in the new year!

Merry Christmas! Joyeux Noel! Buon Natale! Feliz Navidad!

Alien Citizen: Laughter, Tears and Finding the Right Words

The Families in Global Transition conference held many surprises for me. I was surprised at how kind and generous everyone was. I was also surprised how we all truly connected to each other and how we all wanted to share our stories. As much as I hoped to find that sense of community, family and home, I didn’t expect it to be so present and strong.

What truly caught me off guard, however, was the intensity of my emotions at the conference. And nothing embodied that more clearly than Elizabeth Liang’s show – Alien Citizen, An Earth Odyssey. Her honest performance left us all spellbound from beginning to end. In a way, it was my story, our stories that she was playing up there. We all struggled at times to find the right words; we all felt a connection to people weaving in and out of our lives; we all remember feeling lost, alone and afraid. But we also remember the beautiful moments too – so we laughed with understanding as we recalled our own stories. And we also cried with very deep understanding as we felt those same emotions well up inside of us.

At least I know I did.

And I did not expect that.

I had heard wonderful things about Lisa’s show and I was really looking forward to seeing it, but I didn’t think it would impact me the way it did. I didn’t know it would reach deep into the core of my being and strike such a chord in my heart.

Lisa’s performance hit even closer to home for me because I’ve lived in Central America: I spent three and a half years of my childhood in Mexico. I not only understood the Spanish, but also the cultural aspects…As well as the orange Fanta – although that was my sister’s favorite, not mine. I also understood the Arabic since I’m of Lebanese origin. And I definitely understood Connecticut, because that’s where I’m living now and it’s been a tough adjustment.

I’m sure many others connected with different parts of her stories, recognizing their own experiences in her words. We all know that moving from country to country is not an easy thing to do. Saying goodbye, leaving a home and starting somewhere new is not a fairytale adventure. I didn’t realize just how honest Lisa had made her show – I had expected the laughter, but not the tears. And truth be told, they were as welcome as the laughter. Sometimes we’re so focused on only thinking of the positive that we forget to grieve. But Lisa reminded us that we have to give ourselves permission to feel our pain in order to really see our experiences and appreciate them.

Sometimes it’s hard to find the words to express those feelings. Lisa found solace in acting and I know I found solace in writing. Somehow we found the words, in our own way. Now I just need to find the right words to do justice to her performance.

But maybe our silence and glistening eyes at the end of her show said it all.

Our TCK Family

“The shock from being back from all the internationality is astounding.”

That was my TCK husband’s comment upon our return to CT after the Families in Global Transition Conference. If he says that without even attending the conference but only taking part in the many conversations happening in the evening, it gives you an idea of the impact of FIGT.

Norman Viss, treasurer of the organization, called us one big TCK family. His statement resonated with all of us. It may seem odd to call a roomful of strangers family, but we understand it and we do feel like family. You can see it and hear it in the interactions: we dive right into conversations, no need for small talk; hugs are given to old friends and new friends and people who are just meeting for the first time.

We are family because we understand without having to explain. For all our differences, there is a common thread holding us together. We all know what it means to live between worlds, whether we’ve done it as kids, adults or both.

We had keynote speakers who inspired us, moved us and reminded us of the importance of this global family. We heard stories from speakers from around the world, from different backgrounds and experiences. We learned, we laughed and we cried. We left the conference feeling inspired, motivated, encouraged and loved.

That is why we flock to FIGT and that is why we need to tell others about the conference. Having this family means never being alone and always having someone who understands. It means having roots in a community, no matter where we are geographically.

As Elizabeth Liang reminded us all at the end of her powerful and poignant performance: we are the luckiest people on earth.

We are lucky indeed.

Lucky to have lived such a privileged life and lucky to have gained such experiences. We are lucky to belong to such a wonderful community and to have our TCK ‘siblings’ around the world.

They are our family and our tribe.

And I’m proud to be a part of them.

Just a few of the wonderful TCK and expat 'siblings' from around the world.
Just a few of the wonderful TCK and expat ‘siblings’ from around the world. Thank you to Jo and the fabulous writing team!

Summer Loving

I’m happy that autumn is approaching, as I’m ready for the cooler temperatures, the brightly colored leaves, snuggling under blankets and drinking hot chocolate… But I loved the summer and all it entailed this year – road trips, air trips, beaches, champagne, exploring new places and fondly re-discovering childhood ones, burgers and shandy, lots of family, lots of laughter and lots of love…

… And also a wedding celebrated among wildflowers and butterflies. Although the scenery was beautiful, it was the love and celebration that really made this special. Since it was a cousin getting married, it meant lots of family, which is the best way to go. Lots of family means LOTS of fun, laughter, great conversations and most importantly love. It always feels so good to be surrounded by family and I feel so lucky to have them all, no matter where we are in the world.

 

… Beautiful views of Vermont on our drive back from Montreal, after visiting some cousins and my grandma. It was a wonderful, memory-filled weekend, visiting places I hadn’t seen in 12 years and that were a huge part of my childhood. We reminisced about all the mischief we managed growing up, and I got to show my husband some places that are very special to me. It reminded me yet again how lucky I am to have this amazing and close-knit family, despite the distances that separate us…

… And then there was the extra-special trip of the year: our honeymoon in St. Croix. We had much to celebrate – 10 years of being together, 2 years of marriage, and the honeymoon itself – and we made sure to enjoy every minute! From the warm Caribbean Sea, to sunset shows; from a day out on the catamaran to snorkel in the most pristine water, seeing rays, turtles and barracudas (not to mention all the other amazing sealife!), to dancing on the terrace after dinner… It was simply amazing and we made memories to last us a lifetime…

Until next year summer…

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!

Arrivals

A few weeks ago my parents and my brother came to spend a week with us. That was one of the reasons for my lengthy absence from my blog, but that’s not the point of today’s post. What I would like to do today is share thoughts and feelings about my favorite place in airports: the arrival zones. In certain previous posts I’ve mentioned how I love flying, but have come to really dislike a lot of aspects of travelling because of increased security measures and lack of comfort on airplanes. What I didn’t mention, however, was that the one thing that has not changed in the travelling experience is the arrival areas and my love for them.

If I were to go through my experiences at arrivals, I would have to admit that not all of them were happy and easy. When we had just moved and we’re arriving in a totally foreign place, with no-one familiar to greet us and only unknowns on the horizon, it’s a terrifying and sad place to be. But those aren’t the memories that stick and come to mind when I think of the airport arrival zones. The first memories that come to mind are the times we flew to Montreal when we were kids – we never knew exactly who would be meeting us, but we knew we’d be greeted by several familiar and loving faces! Then I had so many memories of picking up loved ones: our cousins who came to visit us no matter where we lived, our grandparents and later my grandma who always came to see us all around the world. Waiting for them outside the arrivals doors was always a moment of joy and excitement. Running up to greet them with hugs and kisses, knowing more great memories will be made in the days to come was wonderful. When we were kids, we loved picking our dad up when he was coming home from business trips – the joy of seeing him walk through those doors after being gone for several days was immense. Once I was older, the arrival zones brought a different joy and a different side of things: they brought me and the man I love together many times through years of long distance. Even more recently, the arrivals area reserved new emotions and experiences – us picking up my family from the airport when they come to visit us. Waiting behind the railing for them and the excitement of seeing them walk out the doors was simply wonderful.

How could the arrivals zone not be a favorite? It’s the first place you get to hug and kiss the people you love after a period of separation.

I love watching people at the arrival zones – families, friends, lovers reunited. It’s a place filled with true, honest love that’s infinitely beautiful to behold. The smiles, the hugs, the kisses, the laughter that fills the air are heart-warming and are some of the loveliest sights I’ve ever seen. For any of you who have seen “Love Actually”, I absolutely adore the scenes at the arrivals zone and I wholeheartedly agree with the line “love actually is all around”.

If you need proof of that, go sit outside the arrivals area.

Solitaire, Stamps and Singing

The holiday season is one filled with laughter, joy, family gatherings, the wrapping (and unwrapping!) of christmas gifts, traditions, chestnuts and so much more. This festive time, however, is also one of thoughts and memories. Memories of being a kid and christmas being so magical; waking up christmas morning to see beautiful gifts sitting under the glowing tree. Memories of childhood traditions – some which remain, and some which may fade away as we get older and live further apart, but which are never forgotten. Memories of those who were with us for past christmases, but who are unfortunately no longer around. When those memories stir, I always think of my grandpa.

My grandpa passed away just over 17 years ago, so although I knew him as a child, I unfortunately never had the chance to know him as an adult. I would have loved that. Having the chance to know both of my grandmothers as an adult is incredible. When you’re a kid, grandparents are warmth, love, promises of having a wonderful time, but they’re just grandparents. I think the same can be said about parents. When you’re a kid, that’s all they are; but when you become an adult, you also want to know them for the individual people they are. You want to hear their stories, learn from them, sit in awe as you hear what they lived through. They’re not just loving arms, always available candy or warm soup; they’re amazing people, who have been through more than we could ever imagine. I wish I’d had the chance to know my grandpa like that. And I know I’m luckier than others, even than my own brother. My grandpa passed away about 2 weeks after my brother was born, so they never knew each other. But I know my grandpa watches over all of us, and I believe the he keeps a special eye on my brother. I know he’ll always make sure we’re alright.

Even though I only knew my grandpa as a child, and it’s been a long time, there are some memories that will never fade away. His twinkling eyes, always laughing at some unspoken joke. The kindness that you could see in those eyes, even when we were getting in trouble.

He always had a smile ready, even when he was pretending to scold us. Sometimes he wasn’t pretending, but he never stayed angry with us for long, and would be slightly more indulgent with us after.

The way he was always singing or humming. While he worked, in the shower, while getting ready for lunch…it didn’t matter where he was or what he was doing, you could always hear him carrying a tune. I always loved that about him.

He would always have a fruit after a meal. Always. A pear, an orange…He used to love oranges. My grandma and my mom hate them. But my sister, brother and I love them; I always love finding something we share with him.

He had an amazing stamp collection. So many different styles, sizes and images. Some were so old, almost vintage, and I loved watching him while he worked. He had special glasses that were magnifying, and a special liquid to put the stamps in. I was never sure what that liquid did – I’m not sure if I asked him and I’ve now forgotten, or if somehow I strangely never thought of asking. He would hold them with tweezers while dipping them in that liquid, and then hang them so they would dry. He helped us start our own stamp collections. Sadly, they didn’t continue for very long after he was gone, but we still have them. I don’t think we’ll ever get rid of those.

Something he loved to do was play solitaire on his bed. He would stretch out on his side, leaning against his arm and he’d set the cards up in front of him. That’s how I learned to play solitaire. I loved watching him play. I’d either settle on the bed next to him or on the floor beside the bed and I would watch. At first I just looked at what he did, at how he moved the cards, without saying anything. As time went on and I learned the game, I would sometimes point out a move he could do. He would playfully slap my hand away, give me a pseudo-stern stare, and then slowly make the move I’d suggested, looking at me out of the corner of his eyes. He didn’t have to say a word, his twinkling, laughing eyes said it all. I still play solitaire to this day. I know we can play it on the computer, on our phones, and on every possible technological platform, and I have done that, but nothing beats playing it with real cards. I always think of my grandpa when I play solitaire. Those quiet moments with him were very special to me, and they’ll forever be engraved in my heart.

I mentioned in an earlier post that when we were kids, living in Wisconsin, we used to drive up to Montreal every christmas, where my grandparents lived. My grandpa was still alive for all those christmases, so he was always there for the first memories I have of christmas. I don’t just think of him at christmas-time; he’ll also pop into my mind at unexpected moments sometimes. Those are the moments that catch me off-guard, that make me suddenly miss him, that sometimes almost bring me to tears with memories of him…

Maybe that’s when he’s looking down on me and letting me know that he’s still around.

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.

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.