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.

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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.

“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?”…