Third culture kids are used to having to adapt to new places, new cultures and new people. We’re used to learning to settle in some place new and how to tackle the challenges associated with that. But ‘used to’ doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy, or something that we always manage to do quickly and with great ease. Some places are easier to adapt to than others, some cultures are more familiar than others, and some people are more welcoming than others. Also, we have good days and bad days, like anyone else. And the truth is, as stoic as we may seem on the outside, the inside is often in turmoil. It could just be my opinion, but I think we internalize a lot of the struggles. I think we do open up more around other TCKs, but even then, I don’t know how much we truly get into the nitty-gritty details about how we feel. We don’t necessarily share the emotions we felt at leaving a place we called home and all the chagrin that caused. We won’t particularly talk about what went through our minds when we arrived some place foreign, feeling completely lost, intimidated and often sad. We put on a brave face and try to pretend we know what we’re doing. We try to hold back any fears and any tears. Bringing them out in the open makes them too real, and often once they’re out, they’re very tough to box back in.
In my family, we were always lucky that our parents talked about the moves with us and we always had several months ‘warning’ before we would actually move. This at least allowed us time to let the news sink in and to let us enjoy the last months there as fully as we could. I also believe that as a third culture kid, you eventually develop a sixth sense that forewarns you that the moment you dread is approaching. The one time that stands out the clearest in my mind is when I found out the news that we would be moving from Sydney to Paris.
It was a sunny day and my last class must have been P.E., because I was in my sports uniform – navy blue shorts and a sunflower yellow polo – sitting in the car with my mom, on the way to the dentist after school. I remember my mom saying she had some bad news to tell me (did she say ‘bad’ or just ‘news’ and my brain registered ‘bad’?), and I just knew. Maybe it was something in her tone, which felt more gentle than usual, maybe it was a sixth sense…Whatever it was, I knew the news was that we were moving again. I didn’t worry that perhaps something had happened to a family member or that someone was sick, because I knew exactly what she was going to tell me. So I turned to her, already feeling the knot in my stomach, the tears in my eyes and hearing the crack in my voice…I must have said something along the lines of “please don’t tell me we’re moving”, but to be honest, I don’t quite remember. I just remember the confirmation and how I felt at that moment. I just asked why and probably pleaded for us to stay, as silent tears rolled down my cheeks. We were in my mom’s little red car, the afternoon sun was peeking through green leaves, and my world had just been turned upside down. All I could do was dry my tears and go see my dentist.
I doubt many people know this story, as it’s not something I’ve often shared. And to be honest, I don’t think I’ve heard many, if any, similar stories, yet I highly doubt that I’m the only TCK to have had moments and feelings like these. But how often do we actually share these stories? How often do any of us truly talk about the emotions we go through during the usual pattern of our TCK life? I happened to touch upon rather sad emotions in this post, but the truth is, I don’t think we talk about the happy moments either, and there are so many of those as well. The life of a third culture kid isn’t easy, and there are a lot of tough moments, but in the end the positive moments and the amazing experiences you gain outweigh the harder times. I know I’ve said that before, but it’s because I believe it so strongly. I also believe that it’s important to share these emotions and these experiences – both the good and the bad (and yes, also the ugly).
So here I am: I’m a third culture kid and I’m sharing my stories.
What’s your story?