The Other Perspective

Recently having spent a much longer time than usual away from a TCK environment, I’ve realized just how different perspectives can be. When you talk with a fellow third culture kid it’s very normal to talk about the different countries you’ve lived in and your experiences there. It’s an integral part of the conversation because those countries are where you’ve spent your life; they are where you’ve made your memories. Another third culture kid would not judge you for mentioning the places you lived and will even possibly ask you questions about them or mention that they lived there too or somewhere nearby. They are connections that bring us together – even if we didn’t live in any of the same countries, we have still lived the same lifestyle, and that is a much stronger understanding than many people might expect. It’s comforting, comfortable and familiar to be surrounded by third culture kids, even if they’re strangers and you’ve just met. When you suddenly find yourself far away from any TCK community and from any third culture kids, it’s a very different situation and experience. Now you’re the odd one out and people don’t really understand you or the life that you’ve led so far. That’s when the real challenge begins.

Hence the other perspective, that of a first culture kid, who lived pretty much their whole life in the same place and you almost seem like a foreign species to them. You can get different responses – some are amazed by such a lifestyle, others think it sounds awful…But whatever they think, they definitely don’t understand it or how it changes you and shapes you as a person. But perhaps the biggest thing they don’t understand is the way we refer so many moments and memories to the countries we lived in. I’ve realized over many conversation with first culture kids that this mentioning of countries, which is simply normal for us third culture kids, is deeply misunderstood by non-TCKs. They seem to think we talk about the places we lived or what country we were in at a certain date or event because we want to show off. Perhaps they think we are bragging or being condescending, as if we think we are better than them because we’ve lived in different countries. But that’s not at all what we’re doing. We built our memories in those countries, we can’t help that. We connect dates and events back to the country we were in at the time. Someone who’s lived their whole life in the same place just can’t understand that. They lost their first tooth in the same place they met their best friend, went to middle school, saw movies, had their first crush, their first kiss…We did all those things too, just spread over 3, 4, 5 or more countries. So when we have a conversation with a first culture kid and they share a memory, we want to share our similar memory…Yet sometimes when we do, we wonder if we shouldn’t have or if we should have modified what we said to not mention the country, like we’re so used to doing.

Now, I do feel I should mention that not all first culture kids react like that, and first culture kids from certain countries are even more open and receptive. I only wrote about those experiences to mention how differently the same comments and conversations can be perceived depending on the background of the people involved. It’s been interesting to observe and I’ve noticed the change in myself and how I speak with certain people. Sometimes it’s frustrating to feel like I need to modify how I would naturally have a conversation, but I’ve also learned that often it’s just better like that. It’s definitely been a learning curve and one that’s not always easy, but I know I’m not alone in trying to figure it out. I will never stop being grateful that my husband is also a third culture kid, because that makes all the difference. I know that no matter where we are there will always be at least one person who understands me, in every way.

Third culture kid, still learning and still growing, signing off.

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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.

Seasons of Change

Last year I got to see my very first New England fall. It was even more spectacular than I had imagined. I have never seen such an array of yellows, oranges, reds and golds; it was as if the trees were bursting into fire. When I was moving around, for a long time I didn’t have a “real” fall, as the climates I was living in didn’t always have 4 defined seasons. Then we moved to France, and I could finally enjoy all 4 seasons again, as I can here in Connecticut too. I love every season; each one is beautiful and fantastic in its own unique way. But I had never yet experienced an autumn quite like the one I got to see here. I’m looking forward to seeing the trees change color soon; I don’t think I could ever tire of nature’s beautiful art.

Nevertheless, as much as I love the fall, I don’t necessarily love everything here, just as I didn’t love absolutely everything in every other place I’ve lived in. But the fundamental thing I’ve learned is how important it is to focus on all the good things and truly take advantage of enjoying them. As TCKs, I think we have a more acute awareness than others that no single place is entirely perfect or entirely awful. While it’s important to be conscious of the more negative issues, it’s crucial to focus mainly on the positive and to make the most of those. We could live somewhere for 1 year, 5 years, 10 years; it doesn’t matter how long you live somewhere as long as you truly cherish that experience and take everything you can out of it. There will always be drawbacks and complications in every place, but there will also be magnificent opportunities, beautiful places, fascinating people who make your time there worthwhile.

It’s often easier in hindsight to see the things we missed out on and possibly regret that later; try to see the good in the present and you won’t have regrets. Well, maybe you’ll regret not having more time there! It may sound cliched, but the only way to really make the most out of any situation, any location, is to seize every opportunity it gives you, no matter how big or small. The humid, tropical climate of the Philippines was not a particular favorite of mine, but the vivid colors of the exotic flowers all over the garden will always stay with me. As will the taste of the juiciest, most delicious mangoes I’ve ever eaten in my life! Those may seem like minor details, and insignificant in the big picture, but I tend to think it’s the small things that really matter. We should never overlook the power of the smaller details in life; they’re the ones that complete the big picture.

Every place, like every season, has something to love, something to look forward to, something to enjoy, no matter how big or how small. Those are the things we have to hold on to when the going gets tough. Being a TCK isn’t always easy; changes are imminent, they’re just part of our lives. It’s how you deal with those changes that make all the difference. You can think that the trees will no longer be green, that the days will get shorter and the temperature colder; or you can think that the trees will paint the skyline with flames, that you’ll have more time to look at the starry night sky and that you can snuggle under a blanket with a cup of hot chocolate.

Life is only what you make of it, whether you’re a TCK or not. Enjoy every moment, and cherish all the beauty there is in this world. We’re lucky that we get to see so much of it. Don’t waste your time thinking of what isn’t there, or what could have been or where else you could be. Learn to appreciate what each place can offer; it will make your journey an exciting and fulfilling adventure.

Third Culture Kid and Proud

It’s been a while since my last entry and to be honest I think it’s because I don’t realize just how fast time flies by! I’ve had a lot of ideas to write about, but was having difficulty transcribing my thoughts into coherent words. Moreover, I was really looking for a topic that was close to heart, but something that all third culture kids could relate to. And then I received an email, a comment on my blog, and a subscription, all from the same person. That person happens to be one of my high school teachers, a good friend and a fellow TCK.  Then I learned that some teachers from my high school are using my blog in their advisories with their students.

Now, you could wonder why this would be of such importance or even worth writing about. Obviously there was the initial excitement at having my first subscriber and knowing that more people are following my blog. But more importantly, it was a source of great joy and pride to know that what I am writing can reach out to other TCKs, especially those in an environment that is so important to me. My high school isn’t just my high school. I spent 3 years there as a student, then I returned to work there for a year following my bachelor’s degree, and again after my master’s degree. It is probably the place where I feel the most in my element and the most at home. Strange, isn’t it, to say that about a building essentially, rather than a city or country? In truth it’s not about the building though, it’s about the people; they’re the ones that make a place what it is. There’s a comfort in being surrounded by people like you, people who understand your life. Going back to work in the library there or as a substitute teacher was perhaps the most personally and professionally fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. Knowing the students all had similar stories to mine, being able to connect with them, both as an alum from the school and as a TCK was a much more intense experience than I had expected.

I’ve lived my whole life as a third culture kid, in all the roller-coaster emotions and events that it entails. As an adult today, I’m still a third culture kid. This will be the case for a lot of TCKs. It’s not just something you are or did at some point in your life, it’s something that played a role in defining you and will always be part of who you are. Sometimes it’ll feel like a great thing to be a TCK, and other times it won’t be so easy. Being a third culture kid comes with a lot of baggage. I believe most of it is fantastic, and I’ve loved having the opportunities that this life gave me, but sometimes you see that in hindsight. When you’re leaving your friends, leaving a home that you knew so well, knowing that you have to start from scratch somewhere new, it doesn’t always feel like it’s an enriching and exciting adventure that will leave you with an amazing openness and awareness about the world. It just feels awful, empty and hollow. Then you arrive at that new place, make new friends before you know it, and everything is back to how it should be.  Yes, that’s easier said than done, but then again, it’s actually not that hard, is it? We are resilient beings, us TCKs, never forget that. The things we learn and the way we adapt as third culture kids will forever come in handy, even if you are no longer in a TCK environment. The qualities and skills we pick up as third culture kids will only serve as assets later in life. Use them wisely and you’ll go far no matter what you do and where you are.

I love being a third culture kid, even if it’s not always easy (as a child, a teenager or an adult). I love to write, read and talk about being a third culture kid. I love belonging to such a global community. It may be a ‘hidden’ community to those who don’t know it’s there, but for those of us who are a part of it, we know it’s thriving and growing. It stretches from one end of the globe to the other, spanning great distances and yet all the while proving that it is indeed a small world after all. If you ever have those ‘negative’ TCK moments, where you curse the endless moves you did, all those friends you had to say goodbye to, or if you find yourself surrounded by non-TCKs and you feel lost or alone, remember that there’s a whole bunch of us out there, and we understand. We’re lucky to be part of such a global and encompassing community. And trust me, when you’re no longer in a TCK environment, you’ll miss it, and you’ll seek out the comfort of those who are like you. For all its ups and downs, its complexities and endless twists, I love my third culture kid life, and I would never trade it.

I am a third culture kid, in everything that it means to be one, now and always.

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.

“Third Culture Kid”?

Third culture kid. I always thought that was one of the strangest expressions I had ever heard. I only heard that term when I was in high-school. By that time I had effectively lived my whole life as a third culture kid, without knowing there was a term to define “our kind” or that we were considered a separate “species”. In a world where we love labels, someone needed to find one for us. I don’t know if third culture kid was the best one, but as I have no viable replacements to offer at this time, I guess we’ll go with that for now. I did always wonder, however, why “third” culture? Why not second culture, or multi-culture? Why not every-culture kid, while we’re at it?

I also wonder if all the people who study third culture kids (third-culturism? – hey, if we’re giving labels, why not isms?) were third culture kids themselves. I’m guessing that not all of them were, so how can they really study it? I know, I know, not everything we studied we lived through ourselves. I realize that is impossible, especially in some areas (trust me, I know, I’m a history major), but not in this one. Being a third culture kid isn’t something you can understand by reading up on it. It’s just something that has to be lived to really be understood. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s impossible to explain or describe, just somewhat impossible to understand and know what it feels like, if you haven’t lived through it yourself.

How do you make someone understand what it’s like to pack your whole world into boxes, say goodbye to the places and people you know, and just start somewhere new? How do you explain the feeling when your parents tell you it’s time to move again? How do you describe what it’s like to think “this time I won’t make any friends, that way it’ll be easier when we have to move again” but know that as soon as someone talks to you, and or tells them to sit next to you, you feel you’ve found your new best friend? How do you make them understand that “home” isn’t a place you’ve been your whole life, it isn’t a specific location, or where you’ve grown up…Home is the place you’re in at that precise moment. Home is the family you go back to at the end of your day, it’s all those belongings that you pack into boxes that travel the world with you. As Pumba rightly and succinctly says in Disney’s The Lion King, “home is where your rump rests”. Who knew Pumba was a third culture pig?

And how in the world do you ever make them see that possibly the most complicated question someone could ever ask you is “where are you from?”…