I landed back in the United Kingdom on Friday, April 6th. I had flown from Raleigh, North Carolina on a direct flight leaving the United States for the first time on my American passport, then arriving in England and passing through immigration on my UK passport. This is the first time I’ve done this since I naturalized and acquired my United States Citizenship. I was excited at first, feeling a bit like a spy or international man of mystery moving through the world with two forms of globally-recognized identification. It was going to be an auspicious event.
As it turns out, which is usually the case with me and the self-created expectations of my own emotional responses to new stimuli, I was wrong. It bugs me, sometimes, not having any control over what I think or how I feel about things. This was one of those times. As I passed through immigration and entered the country, I felt dirty, as though I were doing something I knew I shouldn’t. I felt as if I were betraying my heritage, having flown out on a US passport and then in on an English, something I am forced to keep secret so as not to annoy any governments to the point they revoke my nationality.
It didn’t take long, and I slipped back through into England with a quick glance at my passport and a “welcome home” from a man in a glass box. And that’s where it really stung. Usually I love hearing those words, walking into England and not saying a word so that my partial-american-accent isn’t noticed, and the first thing I am told standing on English soil is “welcome home.” Even though I know to my core this isn’t my home, that nowhere really is, it feels so nice to hear someone say it. Because the truth is, I really do love this country. I don’t have any desire to live her, mainly because I think it’s tinkering on the edge of total and complete catastrophic anarchy, but I really do love the country for all its natural beauty.
Last night, however, it hit me as to why this re-entry caused me so much grief. It’s not that I am sneaking around, it’s not that I’m violating some unwritten rule. Those things have never bothered me before, why would they now? It was something much more personal than that. Something deeper, more intricately woven into the substance of my existence. And I think it all starts with the simple fact that this Third Culture Kid happens to be at the point in his life where he’s realizing that the life he expected is not at all the life he is currently building.
It happens to all of us, TCKs or not, but I find it incredibly interesting now, with all that has happened since my arrival here, with my cousin’s death, with the distance between me and my family, and yes, the distance between me and the girl that I planned to start a family of my own with one day.
By getting my second passport, I finally solidified the fact that I have no physical home. And to take it one step further, I was reunited with the simple fact that as a TCK, my definition of home, in finding that one person that makes you want to be with them anywhere in the world, is an impossible lifestyle for many First Culture Kids. I have been seeing my ex a good deal, what with her relationship to my family and being closer to my cousins and aunt and uncle than my own relationship with them, and through this time we have spent together I truly understand the words I’ve been writing since the birth of The Illusive Home. A TCK is not designed, on a fundamental level, to co-exist eternally with a FCK. Unless one of the two are willing or able to change the root of their existence, the incompatibility is completely unavoidable. And no amount of love, attraction, or desire will change that.
So my shock and sadness wasn’t in just realizing I had abandoned any official tie to my passport country, but was in the knowledge that what I considered to be my home, being with the person I love more than anyone else, isn’t even remotely possible. Because in the end, I have no ability to understand her lack of ability to leave. To me, it seems like she simply doesn’t love me like I love her. While she says “I cannot leave my family,” I hear “I will not leave my family.” But the truth is, as a FCK, she simply can’t leave them. They are her life, and always have been. They have always been there, and that family extends to the friends she has grown up with, my cousins being prime examples. And to her, when I say “I might come back, but I will not stay, and one day we will have to leave,” I am saying to her that I do not love her enough to let her stay. But the truth is, I simply couldn’t come back to England and stay forever. I know, fundamentally, that I would never be physically capable of doing that.
Because when I gave up my single-passport life, I made the decision to say goodbye to the place I pretended was home. As I grow older, and the family that I have always visited here moves on with their lives, and grandparents and great-aunts come to the end of long and happy lives, the foundation upon which I built a connection to this country fades away. With every life that moves on, be it separating from the flock or passing into what theists would call the afterlife, I lose one more reason to ever come back.
And I think that’s what shook me to my core here. With the loss of my baby cousin who I hardly knew, I needed to come back home. But when I got here, I realized that in every single aspect of my life that I had been building towards, there is no home here for me anymore. The country never has been, and me pretending that it is via the lives of family members I am not that connected with is foolish. And with my ex, it only makes sense, for her sake, for me to give up and let go, because in the end one of us has to give up our home, and when it comes to people I love, I’d rather the one that gets hurt is always me. That’s just the high empathy-introvert side of me, I guess, combined with the knowledge that when it comes to letting go of things, I’m more practiced than most.
But hey, I have two passports now. I am not bound to a single state of existence. It’s just a shame that I don’t consider any possible existence within those passport-accessible countries to be anything more than a ticket to another place that just doesn’t quite make me happy.
Post by: James R. Mitchener
Once again another great entry in your journey of the TCK life! I love the way you express your conflict and longings in deeply felt language. Even though I don’t have two passports yet as a TCK I definitely identify with the conflict of not truely belonging.
Thanks Mike. It certainly doesn’t take two passports to understand. I’ve been feeling this way for a long time, and I think the struggle of deciding to even get the second passport was entirely built upon the foundation that I subconsciously knew all of this already. It just took this trip to make me realize, or verbalize I suppose, that internal battle that has been raging so quietly inside of me. Thanks for the comment, it’s always excellent to hear your views.
Glad to see the entries are back. They’ve been missed. I’m completely with you on the FCK – TCK relationship revelation, I’m at the same point.
Thanks! I’m glad you’re back on the blog and reading my often scrambled words. I’m sorry you’ve been experiencing the same dilemma. I know how difficult it is, especially seeing as the cuts are still so fresh on my heart. If you need to chat about anything, I’m always an email or comment away. Thanks for reading, and I’m glad to see you back in the comment stream. You were missed!
Just found you via another TCK (@DrieCulturen) who mentioned you on her blog — so happy to meet you! I’m also a TCK, American born in France, lived in Belize, Kenya and Uganda but also all over the USA growing up…. I blog but only occasionally about TCK life (today I guest blogged at a British blogging friend. Looking forward to reading more of your posts!
And an absolute pleasure meeting you, too. I’ll have to extend my appreciation to the DrieCulturen blog for the referral. I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts. That sounds like an incredible upbringing. I’ll stop by your blog and have a read. Thanks for the link, and the comment, and I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts.
I agree with the FCK-TCK thing. One of you always has to give up something. Although I know there are plenty of FCKs who have the lust for travel. Look at all the expats out there! You just have to find the right one!
You know that’s very true. But in the end, I think there’s a very fundamental difference between a lust for travel and that broken need that makes TCKs incapable of not traveling. But trust me, I would love to be wrong about that one!
Hi again James – I absolutely loved this article and can totally relate. I hope you don’t mind that I shared it on my FB fan page: http://www.facebook.com/chasinghiromi
I, too, carry two passports – German & Japanese. I’ve only spent 5 years of my childhood living in Tokyo, and only the first two years of my life in Germany. The rest of my time was spent in other countries. Unfortunately I’m making it really difficult for myself by living in a country that I feel most comfortable in – the US. I find it unfair that the country I call “home” isn’t technically “mine”, and that instead have to go through immigration, and deal with the hassle & stress that it comes with. Americans don’t understand this; they simply say “why don’t you apply for citizenship?” “Umm, it’s not that easy…” is what I typically say. Every time I step on Japanese or German soil, I don’t feel at home. I feel like I’m simply visiting, and feel somewhat guilt when they say “welcome home”. It confuses me.
I am finding myself nodding my head to many of your articles – I’m glad to know that there are people out there who have similar mindsets. If you’re ever in LA, hit me up!
I relate to a lot of what you say. However, I dispute the classifications TCK and FCK and your characterization of the relations between them. Whenever I see someone donning the TCK label, their words too often carry undertones of implied superiority and self-victimization. FCK is too often associated with being static, ignorant and fearful. Those denominations are just all-around negative. Better would be to keep in mind that there are analogs for the hardships you face in the lives of people who’ve been more geographically consistent. Trouble is something you have in common with everyone on this planet. Just discard those stupid acronyms and the divisive ideology that underpins them, and you will find yourself a lot closer to people. I’m not saying that relating to people who don’t and seemingly won’t share your migratory experiences isn’t ungodly difficult. What I’m suggesting is that you never write them off and always keep trying. Home never was a place, but a process. Home is the creation of value. Home is making memories, making love, making things. Whom you chose to make Home with shouldn’t be a decision based geography because, strangely enough, place has no meaning in Home. Your melancholic conclusions about your life and your supposedly doomed relationship with your ex-girlfriend are reciprocating, driving each other and your whole narrative here. You could probably interrupt that sad cycle by adopting a new definition of Home and ridding yourself of some harmful borrowed notions. I’m not in a great position to be giving advice, but doing what I’ve said has kept me happy enough not to be blogging to the contrary. Good luck. And, if nothing else I said means anything, remember that a “TCK” is typically born to two “FCKs” that were braver and more adventurous than that “TCK” ever gave them credit for.
I absolutely love your analysis of this post. I get giddy when I trigger a reaction like this, mainly because responses like this one bring the entire collection full circle to the primary intention of my writing: to show that even though I am a TCK, I am one of none, one of many, and one of all. We are all the same, we are all different, and we are all hung-up and self destructive based on the experiences of our past in some way or another. You elude to that briefly, but unfortunately, your words don’t extend to the length of as many articles as mine and I cannot read into the depth of your upbringing to understand what has created the person you are. In a way, I find it much more exciting that way. In others, I feel like I’m at a tragic loss.
I will try my best to continue to be evade a direct response. While I love the stark disagreement in my words, I certainly don’t want to say anything that would pull away from your comments. They are accurate based on your perceptions. However, I do want to address that I think you got caught up too much in the romantic side of this post rather than in the mental side of this post. I hardly believe the romance, if that’s what it can be called, is the motivation behind the writing. Instead, the topic at hand was as the title so elusively announced; it was an article about the way this particular TCK views the word Home, primarily in comparison to how the FCKs I am surrounded by view the same word. The romantic side of things was simply a catalyst to explain the situation in a way that could be understood by TCK or FCK alike. After all, this collection was designed to explain what it means to be a TCK to a world of FCKs. However, there is a great deal of emotional turmoil in this piece, just not for the reasons you’re seeing. You’re looking at the surface, and so now I invite you to look a little deeper. Perhaps your responses will be the same. Perhaps not. Either way, they will remain completely interesting and inspiring.
I believe the emotional turmoil you’re reading comes from the fact that I wrote this post two days after I arrived in the United Kingdom for the funeral of my baby cousin who died in a car accident after getting hit by a drunk driver at the ripe young age of 18. I didn’t know him as well as I’d have liked, a lifetime of traveling the world has a tendency to rip the relationship standard for an FCK right out of the life of a TCK, but that’s the price we pay for globalization I suppose. In fact, I am confident that’s the sadness you’re reading because I remember as clear as day sitting at the table in his house as I wrote it listening for his little 1980’s volkswagon to pull up outside, music blaring with the sound of several of his friends all crammed into the all-too-small seats. Of course, that sound didn’t come.
In regards to the separation of TCKs and FCKs that you disapprove of in my writing, as I said before I shall not defend my words because it seems so meaningless when the beauty of the written word is how the reader takes what’s on the page and interprets it based on their own preconceived notions regarding a situation. A strong example would be (and I will use my current area of residence, The South in the United States) to describe a man to a room of people by saying “he was black.” This is The South, and I know that by saying “he was black” to describe someone in a room full of people would inspire racism, empathy, hatred, sympathy, fear, disrespect, respect, and any other reaction imaginable under the sun. Those reactions are all preconceived based on the experiences, and yes, the upbringings, of those individuals. Our TCK and FCK upbringings inspire similar responses. But black is just one word. It tells you absolutely nothing about the person, and yet here in this historically racist part of the world, just by using the word I can make people imagine someone who doesn’t take care of his family, claims welfare, steals, is a habitual drunkard, and doesn’t have the same rights as anyone else. It doesn’t matter that he was my doctor who correct a broken ankle and saved me form a lifetime of limping. All that matters is that he was “black.” Of course, to me, I was simply saying “black.” I meant none of the racist impacts or connotations that were perceived by this room full of friends, and yet, those thoughts would jump into the minds of oh-so-many who have a narrower and misguided view of the world. An even better example today would be to say “Muslim.”
See what just happened in your mind? It doesn’t matter what reaction you just had, you had one based on one word like everyone else in the world has. It could have been one of empathy, respect, love, and excitement. It could have been one of racism, hatred, and fear. The response doesn’t matter. What matters is that it happened based on a single word.
Language is fun like that.
I think the acronym FCK, and of course TCK as well, inspires similar knee-jerk reactions based on our experiences and exposures to those acronyms. Especially for us that believe we understand them. In some posts I’ll use them generally, some I’ll use them with targeted and intentional antagonism. In the end, isn’t the point of globalization to recognize we’re all just people, albeit people with starkly different experiences and upbringings making us so uniquely different?
I don’t know. Maybe in another 1000 posts I will. But I doubt it.
Thanks so much for the comment! It’s a pleasure to have you here at TCK Life!