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.

1,2,3: The Three Cultures of a Third Culture Kid

For those of you who recall my second entry, I questioned the term “Third Culture Kid” and why it was coined as “third” culture. There are certain things we just know as TCKs and we all understand them without having to explain them. But what if we wanted to explain the term third culture kid? What if we wanted to explain what it meant to be a third culture kid, or why we’re called third culture kids? Well, it might be hard to have one exact answer for that, but I have an explanation here that might help. I came across this explanation of the three cultures of a third culture kid as I was reading other blogs on TCKs, and I was absolutely fascinated by the clear and concise manner in which it was presented. The author of the blog has kindly allowed me to repost her work on my blog; all credit goes to Libby Stephens (Certain sections have been abbreviated, for the entire text, please visit Libby’s blog at http://libbystephens.com/blog/third-culture-kids/31-the-3-qthird-culture-kidq-cultures).

Culture 1: The Legal Culture.
It is the passport culture, the citizenship country. It is that country that a person belongs to legally. Is it possible to have more than one ‘first culture’? Most definitely! In fact, the numbers of TCKs having more than one ‘first culture’ seems to be on the rise.

Culture 2: The Geographical Culture. 
This culture is a compilation of all the cultures and countries a TCK has lived in (not visited), whether it is 2, 4, 6 or more countries. It is this ‘second culture’ that is the main contributor of cultural behaviors adopted by the TCK such as appropriate greetings – you know, kissing on cheeks, bowing at the waist or shaking hands. The second culture also influences both verbal and nonverbal language and a myriad of other things…TCKs take the “elements” of the cultures lived in and make them an integral part of their life.

Culture 3: The Relational Culture. 
Of all three cultures in the definition, this is the one that is the most misunderstood, but it is also the one that most TCKs often hold as the most precious. This is the culture that explains why the Brazilian who has lived in Tanzania and Switzerland can connect with the Canadian who has lived in Singapore and New Zealand. The ‘third culture’ is not a how many countries issue, nor is it a which countries issue. The third culture is a unique and separate culture shared only by others who have also lived internationally and multi-culturally yet not necessarily in the same countries... It is not ‘culture one’ mixed with ‘culture two’ to make ‘culture three’. It is a unique and separate culture with their own way of communication, social interaction, values, etc. This culture has no legal standing, passport or rights. It has no geographic locus. There is no place to stick a pin on the map…

Again, this is not the definition of the Third Culture Kid, simply an explanation of the three TCK cultures.

The part marked in bold was highlighted by me, because I was struck by how clear that explanation was, considering it is a notion that is so difficult to put in words. We all understand this, we all feel this, as TCKs, but how many of us have been unable to explain it when asked? To someone who hasn’t lived as a TCK, this explanation shows them why there is a link between all TCKs, why there sometimes seems to be a hidden code that only we have access to. It doesn’t mean they will fully understand it – I still hold to what I said in my earlier entries that I believe it to be impossible (or nearly) for a non-TCK to really understand what it is to be a TCK – but at least this puts in words why us TCKs feel such a connection to each other.

It brought clarity to me on certain questions that had been in my mind for a while, probably ever since I heard the term TCK and realized I was one. I knew that one of the three cultures was that of my passport, but I was never able to explain the other two. With this breakdown of the 3 cultures, it was as if I suddenly found that word I’d been looking for, that was always on the tip of my tongue, but getting stuck there. It struck such a chord with me and it is for this reason that I was compelled to share it on my blog. Unless I am the only “ignorant” TCK out there, I am assuming (and hoping!) that others will find answers and clarity in this explanation as well. Please feel free to share your thoughts, comments, suggestions on this explanation or anything else really! It’s always great to hear what others think, and to share thoughts and experiences – with TCKs or non-TCKs. Looking forward to hopefully hearing from all of you out there…

Third culture kid, and still figuring it out, signing off.

La Joie Des Retrouvailles

Something you learn firsthand as a TCK is that love and friendship can weather the challenges of time and distance. You don’t realize that immediately, but with time you learn that real love and real friendship don’t have boundaries. Sure, if people change or there’s no effort on both sides, the friendship can fade. I’ve experienced that many times, but what I’ve experienced even more is the love of the people who are important to me, and how that love withstood the tests of time and distance. This includes family and friends, and I recently had the joy of seeing just how true and strong love can be.

Our wedding was almost 2 weeks ago, but I’m still feeling the afterglow from all the love and joy of having family and friends reunited around us. That they came from near and far, some just for the weekend, no matter the distance, filled my heart and soul with even more happiness than I expected. It feels amazing to have all (or nearly all, in this case, as some were missing) the people you love with you, no matter how fleeting the moment. Being a TCK and being away from so many people you love teaches you to appreciate every moment with them. And it is truly a wonderful feeling to have that love and friendship reaffirmed after years apart. It fills you with boundless joy, reaching into the deepest part of your heart and soul. Ca te permet de te ressourcer et de voir le monde et chaque instant avec encore plus d’amour et de beauté. C’était un merveilleux moment, absolument inoubliable, et j’ai été comblée de bonheur.

Merci à toute la famille et à tous les amis. Merci d’avoir été présents, merci de votre amour, et merci de m’avoir rempli le cœur d’une joie inépuisable.

E grazie mille a l’amore della mia vita – il mio cuore e la mia vita non sarebbe intero senza di te. Ti amo.

TCK + TCK = TLF (True Love Forever)

Forgive my somewhat (or very) cheesy title, but perhaps by the end you’ll understand, and might be willing to overlook the corny math and acronym riddled title.

My fiancé and I met in the love capital of the world: endlessly beautiful and breathtaking Paris. Two TCK teenagers in high school: they meet, fall in love and voila! Ok, so maybe it wasn’t that simplistic, but it’s not far off! That was in 2003; now it’s 2011 and we’re getting married in France. France is where it all began and France is where it will come full circle. And we are definitely a pair of TCKs through and through. Our wedding is just one example of many; we’re getting married in France, even though neither one of us is from there! But the truth is, France gave us true love and the time we spent there has put it forever in our hearts. France will always be part of our lives.

But it’s not our wedding that makes us TCKs, even if it shows yet again how growing up as a TCK is something that stays with you forever. The fact that my fiancé is also a TCK makes our bond all that much stronger. He understands all the little things that makes us TCKs stand out and always feel a little different.

A true TCK takes a part of each country with them – whether that be the language, the food, cultural customs…Apart from the physical memories and trinkets – pictures, local Christmas decorations, furniture, jewelry…it’s the parts that aren’t tangible that will stay with you the longest. Each country I’ve lived in has left me with certain visual, audio, and olfactive memories that can be triggered at the slightest sight, sound, or smell. Your journey builds who you are, and each stop adds its layer.

My fiancé gets all that. We share our memories and experiences from all these countries. It’s like a code that only TCKs have access to. When I say something like “oh, that song came out when I was in the Philippines, so it must have been around ‘x’-year”, he doesn’t find that strange. His most likely response: “oh yeah, it’s when I was in Argentina”. We might sound crazy to outsiders, but if TCKs heard us, they would probably start thinking back to which country they were in at the time.

The fact that my fiancé knows what it is to be a TCK means he can understand me to the very core of who I am. Being a TCK isn’t just a way of life, it also shapes who you are.

Sharing and making my life with him, with another TCK, allows us to tackle similar difficulties together. Adapting to being back in the States has definitely been one of them. Trying to fit in, feel like we belong…That’s never an easy feat. But the fact that we both know how it feels to be someplace new and to know you’re not like the other people around you, only brings us closer and makes us stronger. We also know that this is only the first stop in our journey together. One thing we learned as TCKs is you never know where you might end up next, or what will happen when you’re there. We didn’t expect France and we definitely didn’t expect each other. And we fell in love with both.

Next stop? Who knows, but the sky’s the limit…And no one would know that better than my fiancé.

Home Is Where the Heart Is

For those of you who know third culture kids, ever notice how we trace back events to the country we were living in at the time said event took place? That’s how our timeline works. That’s how we break our life into segments and we remember when certain things happened. It might seem strange to some people, they may wonder why it would matter where you were exactly…
It matters simply because we were there. That was home at that time. It matters because that’s where we lived that particular experience. Oh, and it’s just how we function.

When you move around every so many years, your life is split into segments, and you remember what happened according to those segments. Each segment corresponds to a country, and therefore corresponds to specific dates. In a TCK environment, that makes sense, as do many other things. When you’re no longer in a “TCK school”, you feel just how different you are. When people hear about your journey, they are in awe, or surprised, or confused…but they don’t get it. How could they? You’re an outsider. You see the world, and more specifically, their world through different eyes. Some places you feel this more than others.

We’re feeling that now in the U.S., with my fiancé. I felt it before, in Australia, where we just went to a “regular” school. But I was over 10 years younger then, and in school. Life was easier then. Not better or worse, but definitely easier; at least in certain ways. Meeting people, making friends, that’s easier in school. But no matter what, it’s tough trying to fit in when you’re different. Different background, different journey, different physical appearance…Fitting in is never easy. And sometimes, in some places, it’s less easy then others. Sometimes, no matter how well you speak a language, the “natives” know you’re not from there. There’s a word, a phrase, an expression, a single vowel sound that gives you away.

Please don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying it’s impossible to fit in or that we spend our lives feeling like outcasts, because it’s not, and we don’t. I’m just saying that certain places feel more like home than others…and those places are not necessarily where our parents are from or what our passport says.

The saying “home is where the heart is” rings so very true for a TCK.

Third Culture Kid – Past, Present and Future

I figure it’s time to tell you a little more about me and how I came to be a third culture kid.

Where to begin?…

Well, I generally introduce myself as Lebanese-American. No, I don’t have one parent of each. I know, this leads to confusion and questions every time I say it, which leads to explanations, which leads to more questions and confusion. It’s a vicious cycle. But I digress.

Both of my parents are of Lebanese origin and grew up in Lebanon (although not both were born there), but by the time I came around they had already lived in several countries and my older sister had been born in one of those. Then they moved to Cyprus. And lo and behold, that’s where I showed up, in 1985, to be exact (yes, for those of you who can do math that should allow you to figure out my age, if you weren’t paying attention in my first entry). About a year later we all moved to the U.S.A. We spent several years there before heading over to Mexico City, el D.F. Those of you who know Mexico City will know what those letters stand for. Following a beautifully colored and culture filled few years in Mexico, as well as the addition of my brother to the brood, we moved to the Philippines. Then came sunny Australia, and finally enchanting Paris, France, where I completed my final 3 years of high school.

Paris was to become the final pit stop of my family’s adventures together. My brother will be the only one of us three to have done all his school in the same place. He’s a different type of third culture kid (oh yes, there are types – did you really think we were all the same?!).

In recent months, after a long and incredible time in France, I have added yet another stop to my journey. A few months ago I moved back to the U.S. – this time with my fiancé (who, by the way, is also a third culture kid, and my high school sweetheart, but perhaps I’ll divulge more on him later…).

A lot of things have changed since I last lived in the U.S., most of all myself…But I know this is not the final stop.

But that, I believe, is a story for another day.