Foreign People

Family has an interesting connection to Third Culture Kids. I can’t speak for all of us out there, but the heavy travelers, the ones like me that bounced around their entire lives without ever going back to their birthing-country, family has always been one of those things we looked at through a dirty window. It’s out there, we know what it is and how different cultures treat it and interact with it, but the smudges on the glass make it impossible to really get a clear picture of what it all means to us as TCKs.

For readers of The Illusive Home, you’ll be aware that I was dating an English girl a while back. She was cousin’s best friend. I wrote in one of the chapters of The Illusive Home that I couldn’t help but push her away, as if I were testing her resilience to my ever-changing life. She wasn’t the first I’ve done that to. In fact, I’ve done it to everyone I’ve ever loved and thought “I could see myself with this one for the rest of my life.” They all get pushed away. Needless to say, they all end up leaving, too.

I’m telling you this because, with my cousin’s best friend, I began to notice something very interesting regarding the way I deal with family. See, my entire extended family lives in England. I, however, spent three years of my life there followed by short, once per annum visits back for a quick vacation of constant rushing. In that time, I would be lucky to see each cousin or aunt or uncle for more than a day or two. That’s one or two days per year that I would see these people. And yet to almost everyone else, family are those people you see all the time because they share in your lives. Not with me. Not with TCKs.

And like all TCKs that have grown up, I’ve started to wonder what life is like on the other side. It’s that whole “the grass is always greener” thing. I’m not sure it really is greener, but I am curious as to what the other side holds. So lately, with special thanks to the smartphone generation, I have been making a conscious effort to stay in contact with my cousins. WhatsApp and BBM are two fantastic tools for transcontinental communications. But that doesn’t change the fundamental truth of the situation:

TCKs that have constantly hopped around the world like myself don’t actually know their family. I know I’m supposed to be friends with my cousins, supposed to love them and hold them close and that if I say something bad about them it’s taboo because “they’re family,” but that really doesn’t mean anything to me. The truth is I really don’t know them. I will have conversations with my cousin Amy, the one I talk to more than the rest, and she’ll react to things in ways I would never expect. It’s like a loose cannon, or perhaps juggling active land mines. You never know when one is going to go off. It’s simply unpredictable. And that all comes down to the fact that where other families, where other cousins would grow up spending time with one another, I did not.

So the grass may be greener on the other side. It may be bouncier and softer and much more fun to roll around in. But the truth is, it really doesn’t matter, because the kids that are running around and playing in it will never know what the grass is like on my side, either. We are separated by an impassable wall. I will never know what it’s like to grow up around family, and they will never know what it’s like to grow up around the world. That’s just the way it works, and it doesn’t make me any less proud to be a TCK.

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Post by: James R. Mitchener

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5 thoughts on “Foreign People

  1. D

    I read The Illusive Home, it lead me here and I’ve been reading this. Man, its scary! I feel like you’re writing about my life. I also, now, have a ridiculous need to find other TCKs where I’m currently living, not the easiest thing to do.

    Reply
    1. jamesrmitchener Post author

      I’m glad to see that this is transitioning well for readers of The Illusive Home. I was worried people that liked The Illusive Home wouldn’t like this, or that people who enjoyed this wouldn’t enjoy The Illusive Home. I know completely what you mean about hunting down other TCKs. The sad thing is, I’ve been looking since I left Hong Kong 9 years ago. I can’t find them. But then, I live in Texas right now. It’s a different sort of place. I read the poem. It was beautiful. Thanks for the reference.

      Reply
      1. D

        I think the other reason they are hard to find is that we/they blend in so well. You can’t tell someone is a TCK until you talk to them, so they’re easy to miss. At least that’s how I feel. I live on an island off the coast of Vancouver right now and people generally just assumed I’m Canadian…then almost fall off their chairs when they hear the full story 🙂 I’ve been to Texas once, I can imagine its a difficult place to find TCKs — not exactly the kind of environment that would attract them. Glad you liked the poem, I felt like it summed up my sentiments about being a TCK in a beautiful and simple way.

        Reply
  2. Pingback: The TCK’s True Family | Third Culture Kid Life

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