Longing (reprint)

This poem was published in the December 2015 issue of Among Worlds (first published on my blog in 2014).

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I long for something,

Without knowing what.

I long for somewhere,

without knowing where.

 

I long for change,

For that next adventure…

I’m restless and bored,

Ready to start somewhere new.

 

And yet I long to settle,

To put down roots.

To call some place home

And know it’s my own.

 

But where is that illusive home?

That place where I belong,

Where I am neither other

Nor outsider?

 

I am homesick,

But I don’t know for where…

For which country, which place,

Which home?

 

My heart aches,

Without knowing for what.

It longs for something

That I cannot define.

 

Such is the path

Of my third culture kid journey:

Sometimes confusing, often contradictory…

And forever longing.

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Moveable Roots

In the nearly four and a half years since I returned to the U.S. as an adult, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be an accompanying spouse. Although I knew that’s what my situation would be when I chose to accompany my husband where his work would take him, I’ve only fully realized what it entails by living it these past few years.

When we were growing up, we didn’t have to deal with any logistics of the move, understanding health insurance, figuring out credit systems etc. As children, we had a regular routine, surrounded by many others like us at school. But as an adult, especially as an accompanying spouse, none of that applies anymore. Now we’re the ones with responsibilities and it’s up to us to figure it all out. There are no teachers or fellow students to help you out. This is very individual, independent learning – for better or for worse.

Since we’ve moved here, I’ve had to learn about living in the U.S. as an adult. Just because I have an American accent, people assume I’m from here and therefore I am aware of all the intricacies of daily life here. I only lived here as a young child, and although it is my passport country, it’s not where I’m from originally and it’s not where I’ve spent most of my life. This adds a further layer of complexity to this transition. This makes it a confusing mix of familiar and totally foreign. It makes us hidden immigrants and repats and neither all at the same time.

I’ve suddenly become acutely aware of what it must have been like for our parents – trying to make a home and figure everything out in a foreign place. And I also realize more than ever what a challenge that probably was for my mom, or any accompanying spouse. While the working spouse has a job to go, a routine, people they regularly interact with, the accompanying spouse often has none of those. I’ve learned just how difficult it can be to meet people when you work from home, don’t go to an office/school or have kids.

I had assumed that being an accompanying spouse in my passport country would make certain things easier – no need to get work permits or apply for visas, and no language barrier. And yet finding work has been extremely difficult, despite trying many times and in many different domains. I find myself competing with locals who have lived here, studied here and worked here most of their lives. I clearly have a foreign name, and have lived, studied and worked all over the world, but never in the U.S.

I also assumed I would find it relatively easy to adapt, to speak with people, to figure things out quickly… I had done it so many other times, in foreign places, while having to learn a new language; how hard could it be this time? Well, I didn’t realize how much the culture shock and loneliness would impact me. It was more acute than I expected, especially living in an area where there are very few foreigners and even less (if any) with TCK backgrounds/experiences like us. I have found it quite difficult to connect with people here. I have acquaintances and have no trouble carrying on a conversation, but I have forged few real relationships.

It has been a struggle and a steep learning curve. But thankfully it has also been a blessing in disguise. I suddenly found myself with a lot of free time, which allowed me to reignite my love for writing. I have started building something of my own, one brick at a time – first my blog, then some published articles, then my writer’s residency, published book reviews and soon a book with my name on it (as a writer and assistant editor). Those have led to other opportunities, little bits and pieces that slowly add to the puzzle. There is still a long way to go, but I’m proud of where I’ve gotten.

When we first arrived here, I never imagined that things would develop in this manner. I thought I would find a regular, part-time job and take a more ‘traditional’ path. Instead an unexpected path opened up and I’m continuously surprised by what it’s given me and by what I’ve learned about myself along the way. These last few years have allowed me to plant seeds for a career that I can carry with me wherever future plans may take us.

And what could be more fitting for a TCK, expat and accompanying spouse than a career with moveable roots?

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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.

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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!

Living In Between

In between worlds,

In between cultures,

In between languages,

In between moves,

In between homes.

Living in between.

 

Never fully belonging,

Just used to blending…

Like a chameleon.

Never one of them,

Always the ‘other’.

Living in between.

 

We are many things abroad:

Immigrant, expat, foreigner.

And many things at home:

Hidden immigrant, repat, foreigner.

How do you reconcile

Living in between?

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Six Letters of Identity

I never would have thought that six letters could be the cause of such confusion and complications.

Six letters.

D-O-U-N-I-A

Six letters that make no sense in most of the world and whose pronunciation apparently has endless possibilities. Six letters that formed my identity in more ways than one since my parents bestowed them upon me.


Growing up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK), identity becomes a complex issue. It’s tough to define your identity when you’ve grown up in different countries and have assimilated many cultures. I usually present myself as Lebanese-American, but that statement is only partly true. I am 100% Lebanese by blood and heritage (but have never lived there), American by passport and I grew up all over the world, in six countries spread over four continents.

The only constants in my life and identity were my family and my name. A name that I loved but at times grew weary of, having to spell it and explain it all the time. Enduring mispronunciations, mockery and confusion, no matter where we were in the world. Sometimes I longed for a simpler, more common name, ruing my parents for giving me such a difficult name. I resented it even more because my older sister had a far easier name to spell and pronounce.

Although we generally attended international schools, it was still a name that stood out and that most people had never heard before. Even within the more tolerant and worldly community at those schools I heard jokes about my name, my background and certain physical traits from my cultural heritage. Interestingly enough, it was when attending a non-international school that I started to develop a stronger sense of self and didn’t feel the need to shy away from my background. I had always loved my name and where I was from, but I began to accept my name and my identity with a newfound confidence.

As I grew older, the way I viewed my name changed. I would still get frustrated at having to teach people how to pronounce it and it was never fun being the new kid with such a unique name… But the older I got, the more I embraced my name. I was always the only Dounia. People might have had trouble saying it or spelling it, but they usually remembered my name and me. My name, like my heritage, became a source of pride as I became old enough to piece together the different parts of my identity.

I’ve heard my name pronounced so many different ways and I’ve heard it with the lilt of many accents. I’ve been given countless nicknames – some that I love and others not so much. But my name is mine and I love it.


29 years later and I would never change those six letters. I am grateful that my parents gave me a name that stands out and that is part of my cultural heritage. And unknowingly, they also prepared me well for my TCK identity: in Arabic, Dounia means world. My name, my heritage, my background, my TCK experience, all wrapped up in six little letters.

D-O-U-N-I-A

Six letters that say it all.


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Early Summer Sights

It may have taken a while to get here after a long winter and short spring, but thankfully summer is just beginning… I’m looking forward to many more sunny days, walks in the evening, beautiful sunsets and hopefully some much-longed for beach time. For now, I leave you with a few shots of some early summer sights!

Happy summer to all (or happy winter, for those in the Southern hemisphere!)

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Living History – Normandy Landings

Seventy years ago, on the 6th of June 1944, the Allied Invasion of Normandy began.

Of all the countries I’ve lived in, none matches France in terms of seeing/living history. History in France is part of your every day life, whether you realize it or not. Roman ruins and aqueducts border rivers; Romanesque, medieval, gothic churches and architecture is side by side with modern and contemporary structures. Buildings and streets have plaques explaining which historical figure lived there or which battle it commemorates. Bunkers and war shelters remain from world wars, as do pockmarked lands that never recovered from bombings. Studying the world wars in France meant seeing parts of history with our own eyes, not just learning about them in class and reading about them in our books.

In 10th grade we visited the fields of the Somme – where thousands of soldiers were killed in the bloody trench warfare of World War I. The fields where red poppies bloom every year, said to be colored by the blood of the fallen. There were no grandiose cemeteries or monuments here – simply fields of white stones set in the lush green grass and a few wildflowers. Unfortunately I have no photos of our visit to the Somme, but the image remains clear in my mind, as if I saw it yesterday. I recall the reconverted bomb shelters – now a museum with artifacts and documents, to give an idea of what it was like in those underground tunnels. But mostly I recall seeing those green fields with stark white crosses, under a blue sky with the sun passing behind the drifting, fluffy white clouds, as we drove by in our bus. I sometimes wonder why I remember it so clearly, but something about the natural beauty and simplicity of those fields touched me.

Later that same school year, while we were studying WWII, we spent a few days in Normandy. After that visit I returned twice more to Normandy and every time I was awed by the living history I could view with my own eyes. I remember that our first stop was Arromanches – the beach where the Allies built Mulberry harbor, the floating harbor used to land the troops and equipment in Normandy. There are still parts of the harbor standing today. Seventy years later, and we can see still parts floating a distance away from the beach. And to help you visualize it better, there is a museum near the beach that has a full replica model of the harbor… Although nothing beats seeing the actual remains. Yes, it is technically simply debris floating in the ocean, but imagine the circumstances in which it got there. Remember all the history and stories behind it. If you’re still not awed after that, I don’t know what to do with you.

While we were in Normandy, we also visited a small town called Saint-Mère-Eglise, where parachutists landed and many lost their lives. One parachutist got caught on a church steeple, stuck there until the Germans cut him down and took him prisoner. He later escaped and rejoined his regiment, but the town has kept a mannequin parachutist hanging off the steeple since. It is a tribute to the fallen and the town’s way of commemorating the event. A medieval church, with a WWII parachutist hanging on it – history clashes, mingles and reconstructs itself in France. It never ceases to amaze me.

I continued to be amazed and awestruck as we visited the wide, flat expanse of Omaha beach, imagining all those soldiers seeking cover where there is none. I was moved and overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of crosses and tombstones at the American cemetery. It is a beautiful and peaceful place, with pines lining a path overlooking the ocean and Omaha beach. There are walls of commemorations, maps showing the invasion and numbers of how many were lost. It is lush and green, with stark white stones, but there are no wildflowers here. It is a tidy, man-kept beauty, less wild and simple than the Somme. It is not more or less beautiful, simply different.

And finally we visited Pointe du Hoc. I think I was most touched and moved by this place during our Normandy visit. Pointe du Hoc is a cliff top, overlooking the ocean. There are no easy climbs or soft slopes to the top – just sheer edges and rugged cliffs. At the top of the cliffs there is barbed wire – a lot of barbed wire. The cliff top is riddled with craters created by shelling. Deep, large craters now covered in grass, but forever part of the landscape. There are bunkers and bomb shelters that you can enter, being careful about the barbed wire that is still present in many areas. The wind from the ocean blows hard and adds to the sad beauty of the landscape. It is a place I like best when there are few people and little man-made noise. There is something infinitely sad yet peaceful about that ravaged landscape, with the sound of the waves crashing against the cliffs below and the wind lifting my hair around my face. It is truly a place of living history, although so many died on both sides to protect it, capture it and liberate it.

There is obviously so much more to Normandy than the D-Day landings, but the occasion called for these particular memories. On this 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings I felt compelled to share some of my memories and experiences there. There is something so incredible about visiting historical places and touching a piece of history. My visit to Normandy was the first time I really understood that and it was a powerful lesson.


You know there is a saying

That sunshine follows rain,

And sure enough you’ll realize

That joy will follow pain.

Let courage be your password,

Make fortitude your guide;

And then instead of grousing,

Just remember those who died.

This is the final stanza of an anonymous poem that was found written on the wall of a solitary confinement cell at Dulag Luft, where most captured Allied airmen (in WWII) were sent for interrogation before being assigned to a permanent POW camp.

“If You Wish to be a Writer, Write…”*

Twenty-nine years. I don’t know exactly how many of those have been spent writing, but I know it’s many of them.

I started keeping my first diary in elementary school and although my writing notebook isn’t a diary it’s still a journal of sorts. I don’t remember when I wrote my first poem but I know for sure that I have been writing poetry since middle school. Many of the themes are still the same – love, nature, growing up a Third Culture Kid… Although the way I write about them has definitely evolved and matured since those first poems!

I’ve written for a long time and I hope to keep writing for much longer. It brings me a joy and a comfort that I don’t often find elsewhere… And writing has carried me through many ups, downs and transitions. This blog is proof of that as I started it after one of my biggest transitions, and it has been a constant source of inspiration and comfort. It has kept me busy and connected, at a time when I felt otherwise idle and lonely. It has opened the door to many wonderful people and many unexpected opportunities.

Writing continues to be such a source of joy and I hope it always will be. Thank you for following me on my journey. Thank you for your support, your company, your comfort and your inspiration.

Here’s to many more years of writing – about love, nature, being a Third Culture Kid and everything else in between.

“You can make anything by writing.”  C.S. Lewis

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(* Epictetus)

Winter Beauty

Since this year we have the winter that keeps on giving (I actually say that genuinely since I absolutely love winter!), I figured I would share some photos I’ve taken along the cold, snowy way. Make sure to click on the photos to see the slideshows!

During the snowfall it may be overcast, but the beauty is nonetheless apparent:

The day after the snow falls is often a spectacular day – crisp blue sky, golden sunshine and a breathtaking world of glistening diamonds:

And finally a little bit of sunset snow:

Here’s a little extra for a fun comparison:

Since we just got a fresh snowfall again yesterday and we also have some pretty impressive ice formations, there will probably be more snow and ice photos in the near future, so stay tuned…

Joyeux Noel

Growing up I was lucky to spend my first Christmases in winter wonderlands, surrounded by grandparents and cousins. They were magical and perfect in every way. When we started moving around there wasn’t always snow and extended family couldn’t always join us but it was still a magical time. No matter where we were we always celebrated with the same joy and love as those first snow-filled Christmases.

My parents did an amazing job and passed on a love and appreciation for Christmas that we will always have. The most important thing they passed on is that Christmas is a time to be with loved ones. They taught us that as long as you’re together it doesn’t matter where you are in the world. Today we’re heading off to join my family for Christmas – to talk, laugh and make new memories together. I hope that this Christmas you are surrounded by loved ones, wherever you may be.

 

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

(Please share in any other languages you may know!)

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