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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Musical Memories

I’ve always been amazed by the power music has to affect my mood and by how evocative a single song can be. Music can uplift me and cheer me up, or move me to tears, but it always does good and reaches deeply into my soul. Music and certain songs can also be tied so closely to specific memories that just a few notes can conjure up such clear images and sometimes very strong emotions too. For TCKs, there’s the added factor that certain songs remind us of one of the countries we lived in – it’s one of the ways we remember when songs (or movies) came out, because we date them from where we were living at the time.

Although I love many musical styles, groups, singers and composers, in a variety of languages, there are certain songs/groups that hold stronger memories. It doesn’t mean they are my favorites or hold a particularly special place in my heart, it’s just that somehow they have a very clear memory or location/event attached to them. Regardless of whether they’re my favorite or not, they almost always make me smile when I hear them. And I will never cease to be amazed at the clarity of images and memories they trigger.

I have written about musical memories before – listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival or Kenny Rogers during our road trips in Mexico – but there are so many more songs and groups that transport me around the world with just a few notes.

What led me to write this today was hearing a song on the radio that will always be linked to one exact moment/event: Killing Me Softly by The Fugees. That song came out in 1996 and since it was a huge hit it played over and over on MTV. I know that because we were in a hotel at the end of summer vacation, which meant we had cable and a lot of free time. I was 11 years old and we had just moved from Mexico City to Manila (Philippines). Killing Me Softly will forever be linked to that hotel room, to room service in front of a movie on HBO, to playing barbies with my sister, to that mix of anticipation and trepidation of being in a new place… I can see the hotel room so clearly in my mind, as if I had been there recently, and not 18 years ago.

The Philippines is also inextricably linked to Third Eye Blind. Their first CD was such a hit and we loved it. Even though I haven’t listened to it in a long time, I’m pretty sure I could still sing along to all their lyrics. Third Eye Blind is synonymous with walks around our “villages” (enclosed residential compounds) with my best friend at the time, discman carried between us as we shared headphones and talked about our latest crushes and gossip. Third Eye Blind (and OK, Backstreet Boys too) was also the background music while thinking about said crushes and doing homework.

A few weeks ago I heard All My Life by K-Ci and JoJo, which had also come out when we were in the Philippines… I could sing along to nearly every word and I could picture my bedroom in the Philippines more clearly than I had in years. The power a few simple notes can yield is astounding.

Interestingly, it’s only been while writing this that I realize how many musical memories are linked to the Philippines… I think that’s because I had my own room for the first time, my own radio/CD player, and I was in middle school. I was just discovering my own tastes, my own freedoms and beginning to understand the comfort/power of music.

There are definitely songs that remind me of the other countries I’ve lived in though. Blue by Eiffel 65 will forever remind me of Sydney, of hanging out with friends at the beach and parties at each other’s houses. It’s forever linked to sunshine, laughter, teenage angst and carefree days. It conjures up images of our house in the Sydney suburbs, under clear blue skies.

Then there were the other hit pop songs of the time, when we were introduced to Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears, with Genie in a Bottle and Hit Me Baby One More Time. Eagle Eye Cherry’s song Save Tonight was very popular when we lived in Australia to… All these songs remind me of putting the radio on in the living room, with family and friends, chatting, laughing and even dancing around.

Certain Australian bands will always take me back there as well – Taxiride and Crowded House. And the Backstreet Boys Millennium CD will always be linked to Australia, to sleepovers with best friends and conversations about boys and gossip. We were teenage girls, what could you expect?

In more recent years I have songs that remind me of the summer we moved to the U.S. 4 years ago, or Smile by Uncle Kracker, which was our wedding song… That always brings a huge smile to my face (pun not intended) and fills me with happiness and warmth when I think of that beautiful, love-filled weekend in Provence.

I’m sure there are many more memories and songs I could bring up from the different countries I’ve lived in, but I’ll leave you with those for now. These memories all make me smile and remind me just how lucky I am to have led such a life and have such incredible experiences.

Music is a means of comfort, of communication, of escape and relaxation… but it is also a means of remembering.

What sounds or songs trigger special memories for you? 

Please feel free to share in the comments – I would love to hear your stories!

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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2014 Families in Global Transition Overview

I had the privilege to attend the the FIGT conference as a Parfitt/Pascoe writing scholar, which allowed me to meet many wonderful people, do a lot of writing and learn a lot about this global community.

Another great thing to come out of the conference was the chance to write an overview of my experiences for Global Living Magazine, as I mentioned in an earlier post.

Well, that article is now available to view on their website, so I wanted to share the link and the layout of the article. I hope you’ll enjoy reading it, and if you’re interested in any further information, please don’t hesitate to ask!

READ THE ARTICLE HERE: The 2014 Families in Global Transition Conference

As seen in Global Living Magazine www.globallivingmagazine.com

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Patience is a Virtue

Transitions are never easy, no matter your age or where you are. Times of change and going into the unknown will always be simultaneously scary and exciting. As third culture kids we have more experience with change and so we may understand the challenges better, but it doesn’t mean we have it all figured out. Sure, we have more practice with adapting and we know it gets better, but even we feel lost, lonely and confused. Even we question ourselves and doubt our capabilities when we’re thrown into a completely new environment. And surprisingly, we question ourselves even more when we are in a supposedly familiar place, and still struggle to adapt. We pride ourselves on being resilient and being able to settle in anywhere, so when we have a hard time doing that we doubt ourselves. We get frustrated and feel something must be wrong with us for not figuring it out.

This is something I’ve experienced during these past years since I’ve returned to my passport country. I wondered why it was taking me so long to adapt here and why, even years later, I was still struggling. I couldn’t understand and I was frustrated, questioning how I could call myself resilient when I couldn’t even settle here properly. I’ve written recently about my struggle to adapt, sharing my realization of something crucial: I was being so hard on myself because I kept viewing it as a re-entry, when really it was a new entry. This experience also helped me learn a very valuable lesson that applies no matter where you are or what you are going through: be patient and kind with yourself. I have read this before and my mom recently said it to me, but I had never truly understood its meaning or importance until these last few years. It is one of the most important lessons I’ve ever learned, but also one of the toughest. You only learn it the hard way and it’s very difficult to stick by. It’s so much easier to doubt and question yourself, to get frustrated and feel inadequate… It’s so much easier to do that than to say, “Hey, this is tough and I’m doing the best I can. I just need time and I’ll figure it out.”

We can be so patient and understanding with others, yet we refuse ourselves that same kindness. We forget that what we are doing is no easy feat and that years of experience doesn’t mean we have everything figured out from day one. We (or at least I) also seem to forget that the challenges we faced as third culture kids are not exactly the same as adult third culture kids.

I’ve written this from my point of view as an adult third culture kid, but I believe this is a lesson that applies to everyone. The words ‘you are your own worst enemy’ or ‘you are your harshest critic’ ring so true for many us. But we should learn to not be so hard on ourselves and not be so quick to doubt what we’re capable of. Whatever transitions you may be going through, wherever you are in the world, however old you are… Remember to be patient and to be kind – not just with others, but with yourself too.

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Who I Am

I am a third culture kid.

Of that I will never be rid.

 

I’ve grown up among worlds,

Like many other boys and girls.

 

I am made up of one travelling heart,

Which is often spread worlds apart.

 

I am internationally grown,

But I have a hard time defining home.

 

I am made up of many places,

Like a dice of six faces.

 

The places I’ve lived and loved,

And those that run through my blood;

 

Each of them is a part of me,

Part of my story and my journey.

 

Much of it is yet to be told,

But to one thing I will always hold:

 

I’m an adult third culture kid,

Of that I never wish to be rid.

The Hidden Story

I started this blog to share my experiences growing up as a third culture kid and trying to navigate life as an adult third culture kid. Lately I had started wondering if I was still doing that or if my blog had moved away from its initial purpose and goal. I thought about all that and more for quite some time, not sure where to go from there…

My blog does have a whole mix of things: posts specifically on being a TCK/ATCK, photography, poetry, posts of simple observations and memories… It does not follow a simple straight line – it twists and turns, sometimes ending up in an unexpected place. Growing up as a TCK, I quickly learned that life does not follow an easy linear path. There will always be unexpected curves and surprises. I am learning that life as an adult third culture kid has just as many (if not more) challenges and hidden turns. That is what this blog has always been about, even when I didn’t fully realize it.

The blog posts that are not specifically about growing up as a TCK or adapting as an ATCK may seem out of place, but actually they are a very important part of my journey. They are how I see my current world and how I feel about this particular home. I realized that the posts I initially thought were deviations from my original purpose were, in fact, simply part of the story. They were just telling a different side of it.

To Enter or to Reenter: That is the Question

Recently I read a couple of blog posts written by an adult third culture kid about expats and reentry, and TCKs and entry. I thought the differentiation she made was very telling and made perfect sense to me. When you consider reentry, it means returning somewhere you’ve already been and that you can consider as home. For an expat who left his/her home country for a ‘mission’ elsewhere, coming back to their home base is indeed reentry. For a third culture kid however, moving to their passport country is not necessarily a reentry. They may have never lived in their passport country or only lived there as a child, or perhaps don’t return to the exact same location in that country. Some aspects of settling back in may be the same for reentry and entry, but the TCK often goes through more struggles to adapt.

Ever since I moved back to my passport country as an adult I’ve been struggling with the notion of entry versus reentry. When you’re living in a foreign country, people know you’re not from there so it’s acceptable to be confused, to grieve, to be lost, not know local customs etc… When we return to our passport country we can suddenly find ourselves feeling like ‘hidden immigrants’. We sound like others here, we’re technically “from” here, but really we’re not. But how do you explain that to non-TCKs? It doesn’t make any sense to most of them. How can we feel and act like foreigners in our “home” country? It sometimes feels like we have to hide our confusion, our grief and our disorientation. We might even feel like something is wrong with us for having such a hard time adapting when we’ve had to adjust to far more difficult situations. As third culture kids, we pride ourselves on our resilience and adaptability, but suddenly we’re struggling to find our way. That can be because we view this move like others might see it – as a reentry – when really it’s another new entry. If we consider it a reentry, then it’s no wonder we question why it seems so much tougher than other moves we’ve done.

Little by little I’ve been figuring out the difference between entry vs. reentry and understanding why it’s taking me so long to adapt here. Even now, 3 years later there are still days when I feel as lost as when we first arrived. Those blog posts I mentioned have helped me realize that there is nothing wrong with that and I am not alone in my struggle. These years of reentry have made me grow the most as an adult third culture kid. I’ve experienced a very different kind of move and adaptation from what I was used to. Some parts were easier than other moves – no new language to learn, no first day at school…But many things are much harder because I am “supposed” to know them and it is assumed that I do. We’re not afforded the luxury of patience and understanding that foreigners would receive. Sometimes it can be very difficult to navigate this complicated situation and find common ground with people here. Communicating with others here has definitely been a learning process and I’m still figuring it out, 3 years later.

Despite these struggles, however, there have been many good moments and there is a lot that I love here. Growing up all over the world taught me many things, but one of the most important lessons I learned is to enjoy every moment and make the best of every situation. And that’s what I’m doing. Although not every day is easy, not every day is a struggle either. And every year has been better than the one before. Every year I find new strength and new joys, which teach me more about myself. This past year I have felt the most at peace with myself since moving here, and the most in tune to what makes me happy here. That in itself tells me I’m on the right track to figuring out my entry.

New Kid On The Block

I opened my eyes and looked around the unfamiliar room. The walls were bare and for a moment I wondered where I was. Then with a jolt I remembered, and I could feel the knots in my stomach. I knew this day would come again, but I was never really ready for it. Today I was the new kid. Again.

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Growing up a third culture kid (TCK) meant that being the new kid at school was just part of our lives. I attended 5 different schools all over the world; sometimes there were a lot of other new kids and other times there weren’t. Regardless of how many there were, it was always a difficult experience and a time when TCKs can feel very lonely. September came to be synonymous with these struggles as that was usually when we started at a new school and when the real challenges began. June was usually the sad month of goodbyes and September was the scary month of new beginnings. It is often a month of turmoil for kids moving somewhere new – settling into an unfamiliar house, finding their way in a foreign city, and most daunting, starting at a new school.

Growing up as a TCK, I was the new kid many times, and I know how difficult that is. So whenever I saw new kids, I would always go and ask them if I could help out. I would look out for them and if I ever saw one who looked lost or lonely, I would go introduce myself and offer to help them find their way, or just simply talk to them. Often the smallest gesture makes the biggest difference, especially when you’re feeling lost or alone.

Throughout my years as a TCK, I realized how much those little gestures of kindness and comfort make such a big difference, especially during transition periods. The countless teachers and students who reached out a helping hand when we felt lost and alone slowly made that new place feel more like home. And the way my parents were always supportive and reassuring, while making sure we were involved helped us cope with all the changes in our lives. With time, I also realized just how resilient and adaptable us TCKs really are. I’m not going to pretend that moving was (or is) easy and that there aren’t moments of sadness. But the truth is that, before you know it, you’ll know your way around school, you’ll be giving directions to tourists, and you’ll be calling that strange, foreign place home.

– – – – –

I opened my eyes and looked around my room with a smile. I knew that the dreaded conversation of leaving would happen again someday and that my heart would once again feel as if it were breaking into a million pieces. But I also knew that for now, I was home.

For now, I was no longer the new kid.

Sports Fan – TCK Style

As I watched the Miami Heat and the San Antonio Spurs battle it out for the NBA championship and the Italian soccer team work its way through the Confederations Cup, I realized that even with sports I display signs of being a third culture kid.

As a kid, basketball was the only sport I really watched because we lived in the U.S. at the time and my dad was a huge Chicago Bulls fan. He also loved soccer, but it was harder to find soccer games on television in the U.S. back then. Basketball was easily available and the Chicago Bulls were the team to beat. I have very fond memories from watching those games and to this day whenever I see a basketball game on t.v. I always think of watching the Bulls games with my dad. I know there will always be arguments over Michael Jordan and which players today may have surpassed him, but I will always be a true MJ fan – those years of watching the Bulls can’t erase that. I was always a huge Scottie Pippen fan too… Let’s just say that, in my opinion, no team today will ever match up to the Phil Jackson-Michael Jordan-Scottie Pippen era Bulls team. We would watch those games, often with a bowl of popcorn, waiting for the introduction (“And now…YOUR CHICAGO BULLS!”), cheering on our team and calming down our dad too. When Michael Jordan came back to basketball after his odd stint at baseball, and the Bulls soared again to the top, it was a glorious time! Those memories always bring a smile to my face, and I’ve thought about them a lot since moving back to the U.S. a couple of years ago…

But after spending years in the States and following basketball, we moved to Mexico and that’s when soccer entered my life. Suddenly soccer was not only easily available on t.v., it was a much revered sport in that part of the world. And once I started watching it, I loved it, and I proudly cheered on the Mexican soccer team. I even met the coach of their team when he came to visit our school. I was a little young to fully appreciate that encounter, but I was old enough to know how cool it was and to remember it to this day. We stood in a line on one of the fields at school, we listened to him talk, and then we could ask for autographs… Sadly, I don’t know where that autograph ended up, but at least I still have the fun memory.

Although Mexico was my first taste of soccer, I was still young and mostly enjoyed watching it with my dad, without really understanding the game or the excitement. But many years later, after hopping to a couple more countries in between, we ended up in France and that is where the true love affair with soccer began. In Europe, soccer is also very big and I quickly became a huge supporter of the French team. I loudly chanted “Allez les Bleus!” and proudly wore my Zidane t-shirt. For several years they were my team – I cheered them on, I defended them and celebrated when they won. Then a few things happened which slowly caused my allegiance to waiver – my favorite players began to retire, and I met my husband. Let me present the situation: my husband is Italian and he is a huge soccer fan. So naturally, we argued over which team was better and if they played against each other – like they did at a World Cup final (!!) – there was a lot of trans-Alpine rivalry! But then the structure of both teams began to change: the French players I adored left, and the Italian players I so disliked left as well. And yes, I slowly but surely fell in love with the Italian team. I am now an avid supporter of the Azzurri – yelling at the t.v. when unfair calls are made, shouting at them to get their act together, stressing at the edge of my chair when it’s a close game and whooping madly when they score. It’s a deep love now, made stronger by a couple of things. Firstly, we met one of the main players on a beach in Italy, with his lovely wife and adorable kid and he was so nice, despite us ‘interrupting’ his vacation to tell him how great it was to watch him play. And secondly, because of my unwavering, unfaltering adoration for their goalie Buffon and their ‘maestro’ Pirlo. Sadly, there is a very real possibility of them both retiring after next year’s world cup… Here’s hoping they have a beautiful and successful final year.

Throughout the years living in several countries, we cheered on many different teams and we tried a wide variety of sports too. We learned about sports we never knew existed (netball, for example) and until this day we’ll support the national teams/athletes of the different countries we lived in. I have cheered Mexico on with “GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL”!!!; I have worn green and gold for the Australian athletes; I have painted my nails red, white and blue or red, white and green for the French and Italian teams; I have proudly displayed my cedar and “I love Lebanon” t-shirt… During the Olympics we almost always have someone to cheer for in each sport, and we just love seeing the joy of whoever wins. Sometimes it might be tough to choose who to support when two of “our” countries are competing, but usually it’s just wonderful to have so many nations we know and love. Even in sports this mixture of cultures and countries is so important, and supporting those different teams is just another byproduct of being a TCK. Moving back to the U.S. reminded me of this yet again as I found myself watching sports that were part of my childhood, all while watching sports that I came to love much older. Going from expat to repat has brought all sorts of lessons and revelations, even in sports.

Right now you’ll have to excuse me – I have to go cheer on Italy in the hopes that they beat Spain in the semifinal of the Confederations Cup…