Category Archives: TCK Thoughts

The Third Culture Language

Third Culture Kid Foreign LanguageLanguage has become our most dependent gateway for communication. It’s an essential part of human development, a crucial step in our species-wide expansion, and a method of expressing elements of life that were previously confined to the entity experiencing them. In a way, it has become the portal into the minds of those that surround us, giving us a brief flash of insight into the parallel universe of another person’s mind. Language is the ultimate foundation supporting the success of us our species.

And yet, in all of its power to connect us, to explain what we understand and why we understand it, to experience the world through the eyes of another, language has also become one of the greatest barriers of our species. There are over 6800 languages that are used in the world today, and with them comes a barrier of communication that we have become completely reliant upon in order to convey any conceivable message. We speak and write in the words we know, and yet in doing so we isolate ourselves to a community that’s severely limiting.

For native English speakers, we occupy a community of only 350 million people. That’s 350 million of a global population just shy of seven billion. So as you read these words on this page, if you have stumbled upon this collection seeking the views of a Third Culture Kid in a world full of cultures that outnumbers languages hundreds to one, know that you are one of only 5% of the world that will ever know the picture painted here.

To a Third Culture Kid, this idea is heartbreaking. This collection was put together to help explain to the world what it means to be a TCK, what a life of adopting culture after culture does to a person, and how TCKs view the world with such a drastically different approach to our single-culture brothers and sisters. We are global nomads, people of the world sharing a single culture that has nothing in common with any other culture anywhere, even the culture of other Third Culture Kids.

I have created the culture of James, a mess of different elements from France, England, America, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bali, Indonesia, China, and all the sub-cultures in the different pockets of those areas that I have experienced. I have picked and chosen who I am, what I love about the corners of the world I’ve visited, what I consider to be my home, but even for someone who has experienced exactly the same things as me, their Third Culture is completely different to my own. And I have evidence to prove it, having traveled the world with my younger brother, Robert, who experienced all the same things I did, and yet his Third Culture, his home, is nothing like my own.

And so I try to share this with the entire world, the experiences I have had and the person I have become, because there are so many TCKs out there that feel alone and confused just as I did as I went from my childhood into my adulthood, until I realized the sheer beauty of what being a TCK means. But as I share my experiences, I am touching only the five percent that can read through the barrier of my communication.

TCKs are a culture of the world. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what language you speak, or what cultures you have adopted into your Third Culture Home. And yet, even though we come from anywhere, are all born of the same development, are all part of one community of people that unites us as global thinkers and neutral worldly admirers. Yet we are all separated by the words that we speak and read.

The language that has given me the ability to write to each of you that gives you the ability to write back and tell me your experiences, the comments that inspire me to write more posts and discuss more issues that plague the Third Culture community, are all restricted by if you’re one of the 350 million people who can even understand the language I am forced to use order to communicate.

I believe there are TCKs out there that noticed this dilemma far earlier in their lives than I did. Many TCKs probably attended schools that didn’t even speak their native language, forcing them to add another method of communication into their arsenal. But even then, we are still only scraping the surface of our ability to communicate. Monolingual, bilingual, or multilingual, we cannot possibly learn in the short time we have on this planet the 6800 languages that span this insignificant little rock full of so much beauty. And so, we will always be restricted, always incapable of communicating with the people who will never be able to read into who we are and what we have to say.

Of course, this barrier is not the end of understanding. It’s not a culture’s language that inspires our ability to adopt new qualities of it into our lives. It’s the behaviour, the action, the style of life that inspires us and guides us. I have learned more about culture from people with whom I have not shared a single word than I ever have from those I communicate with.

Where language is the method we choose to communicate, it is also limited by the content available within it and our ability to manipulate that content to describe an experience.

I have said time and time again in this collection that trying to explain what it means to be a Third Culture Kid is impossible, however I will attempt the impossible all the same. The truth is, it’s not impossible to explain what being a TCK is; It’s simply impossible to verbalize the experience. To know what it means to be a TCK you need to experience it. My children will understand, because I will explain it to them just as it was explained to me; I will explain it by showing them the world, without words. I will explain it by presenting them with an ocean of cultures, cultures that do not care what language you speak, but how you behave and operate within them.

But with you, I am limited to words. Words that only 350 million of you can understand. But with those words, I will continue to try to paint you the only world I understand. Because in the end, 350 million, 350,000, or just 350 people who wake up knowing they are part of something amazing in the TCK world, or are prouder of their children or their family or their friends by getting a glimpse into the window of our minds, is endlessly better than changing the lives of no one.

_________

The Author

Author

Post by: James R. Mitchener

Advertisements

A TCK Goodbye

The TCK GoodbyeI think that the silent enemy of every Third Culture Kid I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, both in person and digitally, is buried deep within the moment we pride ourselves on handling better than anyone. I don’t like the term “we’re only human,” because honestly, I don’t believe in universal truths when it comes to human behavior, but I do know that the issue in question is one that affects a great deal of people in this world, TCKs not excluded despite what we may want you to believe. Just like everyone else, perhaps more so for reasons we hide so very well our entire lives, we are in constant battle with Goodbye.

Goodbye for TCKs is a drastically different thing to what it is for First Culture Kids. At the risk of over-generalizing yet again, FCKs have a tendency to treat goodbyes with extreme finality. The weight of loss that couples a goodbye appears to be so much heavier for them, and as that goodbye grows with the reality of that finality, for example a death instead of a departure or an increase in distance, that weight appears to become unbearable. TCKs, on the other hand, seem to handle those goodbyes with a more nonchalant approach. But appearances are often deceptive at the best of times.

TCKs have had a lifetime full of loss. Some TCKs, like myself, may have been fortunate so far in their lives in terms of the permanent loss of death’s heavy hand, but there are other TCKs who have experienced it plenty. But despite the permanent loss, the number of goodbyes we’re faced with in just a few years are larger than most FCKs deal with across the span of their entire lives. And more often than not, those goodbyes are just as permanent as the finality of life’s end.

But for me, those goodbyes are handled so differently than the goodbyes of my FCK friends and family. I believe I have told the story before of when I left San Antonio on my most recent move and the way I handled that long string of multiple goodbyes, but for the sake of my point, I will tell it one more time. When I left San Antonio, I did so in what I consider to be the best way to handle goodbyes based on a massive history of goodbyes. I know that to me, saying goodbye to my friends that I have grown to love over the years is just a natural state of affairs. Nothing is permanent, and all great things pass eventually. So I handled the goodbye with a quiet, sneaky twist.

I invited everyone out, some in groups, some on their own. I told them I had plans to move, I said I’d be leaving soon, but never gave a date. I rounded them up, saw them all, and left every night saying “Yea, we’ll have to get together and have a big haza before I leave! I’ll give you a call before I go and let you know when I’m actually off. We’ll get together again before I get going, so don’t worry.” And then I never called. That was it. That was their goodbye.

I did this because I knew that saying goodbye for many FCKs is an awkward experience. The knowledge that most of them, if not all of them, would probably never see me again in their lives is an odd thing for anyone to process. We’d spent years developing that friendship, and while I’m not claiming to be the most impacting force in their lives, there’s always a sense of regret associated with saying goodbye to anyone you’ve established a relationship with.

The only person that got a real goodbye, or more the only person that I wanted to give a real goodbye to and never got to due to her busy schedule, was Erika. She has been quoted in this collection before, or perhaps The Illusive Home, under a different name. Possibly Elizabeth, but I can’t quite remember. She was the first girl I ever lived with, the first girl I thought “I will marry this one,” and even when all of that was behind us, she was the most influential and shaping person in my life. There are exceptions that prove every rule, and she’s my exception to my rule of goodbyes.

The level of understanding “goodbyes” that can be found in most TCKs, or perhaps just  this particular TCK, extends further than just saying goodbye to friends. Goodbyes come in so many forms, and one of the most interesting to me is the finality of death. That goodbye, more often than not, comes silently and sneakily, snatching life away in an instant. At least, that was the case for both of my most recent and highly life-altering losses, my Grandmother, Anne Mitchener, and my cousin, Jack Allison.

At both of these events, I held my ground better than I expected. I watched as my family crumbled, as tears were shed and as people mourned the loss of truly incredible people who should never have had to leave this world. But, like all amazing things in life, everything has an end just as definitively as it has a beginning. Even now, I have friends and family both that will break down and cry at the loss of both Granny and Jack, more-so Jack these days given his recent and tragic passing. The total sense of loss, the ultimate goodbye that was never said, it has broken many of my FCK family and friends so severely that it looks like they will never come back together. Of course, they will find the pieces one day. Eventually, everyone is at least partially consoled. But right now, that doesn’t appear to be the case.

What shocked me, though, was how both my brother and I handled the situation. We were the buffers of the family. The ones that kept it together, held our own, and didn’t break down. I had a drunken moment with my cousin, Gregg, where I lost it, but the truth is I wasn’t losing it because of Jack, I was losing it because of how broken the family I love and know so little about had become. That was what hurt me. Empathy, more than anything, cut me to my core. But the loss, the lack of a goodbye to my baby cousin whom I loved so completely, that part didn’t hurt anywhere near as much as I had expected.

Why? Because like many TCKs in this world, I have learned more about goodbyes than anyone should ever know. I can taste their inevitability from the moment we meet. I can read them in passing words that others would miss. I can predict their arrival no matter how far down the line of life they will fall. I am always, always ready for them. And so when we lost Jack, when we lost Granny, the moment of goodbye was done. And while everyone was devastated he wasn’t there, that they couldn’t have just one more moment, that they never had a chance to say goodbye, I was fine with my memory. Because to me, to this TCK, a goodbye is just a door being closed, an isolation of memories, an acceptance that there will never be another created for as long as we live.

But the way I see it, whether we’ll meet again or not, that goodbye isn’t the end. If you simply don’t want to see me, or perhaps no longer walk this world, the end result is always the same. I am a TCK, and I have lived my entire life in a string of relationships that last not much longer than the passing of a season. But just because that relationship has floated on in terms of time spent face-to-face, the moments we shared have shaped me into a different person, and pieces of you will live on with me forever. In that single season, in just one tiny conversation, you changed me for the better. And even if we are never to cross paths again, I will carry you for the rest of my life, and share what you taught me with others.

In the end, I will always keep you with me, and the lives of those I meet will be made better because of the time we spent together. And that’s my TCK goodbye.

_________

The Author

Author

 

 

 

Post by: James R. Mitchener

The Third Culture Kid Minority Coefficient

North Carolina recently positioned itself for a vote on Amendment One, a change to the State’s constitution that would essential change the civil union partnership for gay and straight couples alike. Essentially, the vote in question was whether a civil union was considered an appropriate form of union. Of course, counter-gay-rights activists decided to use this extremely broad amendment to block out every form of union of the same-sex-couple community. And they did such a good job about it that almost nobody noticed that the same sex union portion of the amendment was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what was going to change for partnerships in the state of North Carolina.

Having only moved here five months ago, I hardly had time to get my paperwork in order and use my new-found American Citizenship to weigh in at the voting booth, so I simply got to sit back and watch as over three million dollars were spent in campaigning on both sides, then wait quietly for the results to arise.

As it turns out, North Carolina has decided that the “human” part in “human rights” is open to interpretation and not everyone was in fact born with equal rights. To me, that seems like an odd stance when it comes from a state that exists within a country that declared its independence with words that have come to be known across the entire world screaming for freedom and equality:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

And with those words, a country took its first steps towards becoming the first true country of the people since the Roman democracy of centuries past. The people wrote a constitution, set the laws of the land, declared the place to be the home of everyone, welcoming all. And when the french gifted a statue of copper to be placed at the port of the land of the free, the inscription read “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

So what is it that this Third Culture Kid sees that so many First Culture Kids appear to be missing? Why is it that when I heard Amendment One had passed I was overcome with a chilling wave of icy disappointment in my fellow human beings?

I think it comes down to what I’m coining the Minority Coefficient. As a TCK, it doesn’t matter where we are in the world, what the people around us look like, what language they speak, what their beliefs are, or what cultures define them; we are always, always, a minority. The type of person we have become, the life we have led and the world we have created forces us into a realm of our own. We are understood only by other TCKs, but even the TCKs that know us don’t know the cultural hodgepodge that rages inside of us.

For this reason, even when we are in our passport country, surrounded by people that conform to our political viewpoints, sitting in the place of worship of our choice, speaking a language we understand with people who are all the same ethnicity and gender, we will always be the odd one out. But why?

TCKs have spent their youth moving from place to place. Many of them have experienced cultures that are so vastly different from their passport-countries, and in that experience they have learned through cross-cultural absorption that those stark differences from place to place are all elements of exactly the same human condition. With the power of technology, every FCK has seen hunger and famine. They have seen wars of god and government. They have seen oppression and succession. They have watched as people have been refused the freedom to say what they want, to confront their government, to vote, to make more money than their neighbor, to buy things they want and not just the things they need, to earn a wage that isn’t all taken by the government.

But we as TCKs did more than just see. We lived and breathed around those people. We learned so much from them, grew up around them, adopted parts of their lifestyles into our own culture. We, in a sense, partially became those people. And in becoming them our understanding of the sheer magnitude of global diversity achieved partial-realization. We began to see that no matter how much we adopted, no matter how many different cultures we found and made our own, we were hardly even scratching the surface of what’s really out there.

By becoming, even if just a little, these people that are now so far away, we developed a level of empathetic understanding. As a TCK, it becomes almost completely impossible to not feel the frustration or indecency done to fellow human beings. The level of intelligence and cultural understanding that runs through the TCK population is incredible. As a group, we are some of the most open-minded people in the world. So when we are confronted by a decision by the majority that suppresses the lives of others, we feel that pain even if we are not part of that group.

I believe that is why, when I read that Amendment One had passed with only 26% of the population voting against it, I was overcome with disgust and disappointment. While I am not gay, nor do I have any immediate desire to form a civil union with anyone, I am endlessly troubled by the idea that 74% of the voting population of the state I live in believes it’s okay to oppress the lives, liberties, and happiness of multiple groups of people that want nothing more than to just live their own lives without bothering anyone.

To me, it’s heartbreaking enough that this even came to a vote. The idea that oppression is allowed in the land of the free worries me, but what worries me more is that it’s not just voted on, it’s voted for. Because in the end, that’s all that happened this week. And sure, North Carolina isn’t the first state to vote on this issue. And sure, the state was expected to vote out this way months ago. But how does that make it better? How does knowing it would happen or that it has happened before make the lives that are damaged by this passing vote any less meaningful?

In the end, we are just perpetuating a belief that all men (and women) are not, in fact, born into equality. And to this particular Third Culture Kid who has spent his entire life as a minority, I worry that there will never come a day when people finally recognize that despite our differences, we are all seeds of the same soil, and we all need the same sunlight to grow.

_________

The Author

Author

 

 

 

Post by: James R. Mitchener

The TCK Barrier Between Parent and Child

For the most part, the Third Culture Kids produced in my generation were TCKs like myself. They were born to First Culture Kid parents, then yanked from that birth-culture and thrown into one or many different cultures throughout their development. At the time, if those TCKs-in-the-making were anything like me, they moaned and complained incessantly about always having to leave their friends. They cried and threw tantrums, made harsh exclamations of frustration, and spat empty threats at the prospect of leaving wherever they were to move somewhere different. But in the end, without fail, we always moved on, and our opinion of the matter meant little to nothing in the grand scheme of our parent’s expatriate lives.

Then one day, those TCKs grew up. We passed out of that bitter, hateful, aggressive teenage phase that everyone seems to pass through and became substantial members of society. We started being treated like adults, garnering respect for the things we said and the knowledge we had acquired throughout our lives; and that knowledge was impressive. Being natural cultural adapters, we had developed an eye that saw things that all but the most intuitive FCKs were blind to. And we did it naturally.

But there was something strange about it all, this internal belief that we were completely normal and yet, externally, we were regarded with incredible worldly knowledge and cultural intelligence, a feature of ourselves that we had always believed was a natural state of individual understanding. And when we realized in our early-maturity that what we had experienced wasn’t the natural state of affairs, we began searching for an answer as to why. In doing so, we were united with a world of TCKs that were scattered all over the planet who were so incredibly different to ourselves, who had experienced such vastly different things, but who truly understood exactly who we were and how we felt.

This, of course, is a highly condensed compilation of events, one that I will undoubtedly expand upon in greater detail in a later post, but it’s important to understand the development of our understanding before approaching the larger issue in our developmental realization; as we grew up, we realized that our parents who had spent all that time travelling the world with us didn’t understand a single thing about what we experienced.

My mother, who like all supportive parents is a regular reader of my works, called me from England where she’s been staying for almost a month now helping with post-funeral family situations to say that she had read my most recent post about being an expatriate everywhere. I thanked her, as usual, and asked how things were going back in the UK. Conversation continued along those lines before jumping back to the blog, where she said, with a hint of sadness in her voice, “Why don’t you write something happy about your experiences sometime?”

I paused for a minute, letting the words flow through me, and though I have always known it to be the case, and have in fact discussed it on multiple occasions in this blog and The Illusive Home, I realized just how disconnected from my experience she truly was.

Sure, we had traveled to all the same places, had seen all the same things, had gone on all the same tours and walked through the same foreign streets, but with every single trip we made, my perception of our travels was as different to hers as an apple is different to an elephant. She saw everything through the eyes of an FCK expatriate, a woman traveling the world with her family, always far away from home and the world she grew up in. She always had that stability, that memory of a lifetime of growth and development in a constant environment. She had memories of meeting her husband, my father, back in the UK, of getting married there with both sides of the family only an hour away from each other at most.  She remembers bringing two children into the world there, the first few years of our lives spent in that home that she had always known. And then she remembers leaving home, and always missing home, and always going back home to see the people she loved and grew up with.

And for me, the memories of my youth really began in Hong Kong. That home that she remembers so clearly was never a fundamental part of my life. I never had a stable set of friends that I grew up with. I never had grandparents that I spent years with and could escape to. I never had aunts and uncles and cousins that were right on my doorstep. I never had a place that felt like that word “home,” a word that means so little to a TCK. I never had the life she had.

Instead, I had a life of travel, of constant uprooting, of my formative and developmental years laced with culture after culture. I grew up transitioning from country to country that had starkly different political viewpoints, different caste systems, different streets, different smells, different laws, different educational systems, and different styles of general life. I had no stability, where she had an endless string of it.

So our unique perceptions of the world we experienced together were destined to be endlessly different, destined to be unrelated. And no matter what I said to her, she would never understand that what I write on these pages, when I say that I have no home and that I am endlessly tormented by the constant need to leave everything behind and travel, to give up the entire world I’ve created and move on to something new, that this isn’t in any way a sad thing in my eyes.

It is simply my life.

Sure, it’s a drastically different life compared to the incredible number of FCKs in the world. Sure, it’s completely odd to many and impossible to relate to for the rest. But in the end, it’s who I am, and who I am is a man of multiple cultures with the gift of a life that is full of understanding, respect, and appreciation for every corner of the planet.

So I responded with an explanation I knew she would never understand, one that would give her no happiness and would answer no questions. But it was one that I knew she would not be able to argue:

“It’s not sad, Mum. You just see it as sad because of something you know, something that I have never experienced. To me, it just is. And to the TCKs that read my words, they always see the pain, but in that pain they see the beauty. My need to move was grown from a seed you and Dad planted when I was very young, one that you watered with every single move. But that’s not the reason I travel today. It’s just the catalyst. The reason I do it now is because I need to continue to water that seed. I restart my life because of my unquenchable love for that next unknown culture. I travel because, while I simply cannot stop due to my conditioning, I can’t imagine a time that I would ever even want to stop. And sure, it causes me a great deal of pain and frustration, and sure, it causes me heartache and loneliness. But in the end, it gives me a life full of understanding, knowledge, and possibility. And why would I ever want to trade that for anything?”

_________

The Author

Author

 

 

 

Post by: James R. Mitchener

The Question I Can’t Answer

I feel that today, of all days, I must address the single issue that has plagued me with complication my entire life. As a writer, a knowledge seeker, a sharer, and an educator, I have dedicated a large portion of my life to fully understanding what it means to be a Third Culture Kid. There are just so many of us out there, all scattered around the world with such a small idea of what the gifts our upbringing have handed us along the way, and so it only made sense for me to do everything I could to help spread that understanding to anyone who wanted to know about it. It has been a difficult journey, one that has forced me to confront countless aspects of my past, my present, my future, and my highly subdued consciousness in order to become the educated TCK that I am today. But it has been rewarding, too. Because of my willingness to stare that bitterness in the eyes, I have been fortunate enough to develop a strong and consistent fan base, give advice on a personal level, and even have been asked to be the featured writer for the ThirdCultured website, creating all the ThirdCultured Blog copy targeted towards the importance of growing up a TCK.

Regardless of how much I try, though, how much I learn and understand, there is always this one tiny place in the recess of my mind that is just untouchable to my logic. It has hidden away so quietly, protected itself so well that no matter how much I try to use common sense or logic to break it down and explain its importance to the world, I find myself struggling to describe the impact it has on me as a TCK. I fit it in to these posts as often as I can, a word here or a sentence there, but the explanation never follows, and it only works to support an argument that already has enough backing to stand alone, without this tiny fragmented addition. The thing that gets me, that I hope confuses other TCKs as much as myself, is love.

I will try now, because I believe given the fact that this blog is about TCKs, but also about me as a TCK, to use my experience yesterday to explain why the topic of love confuses me to no end. I know that it plays a crucial role in the life of an Adult Third Culture Kid, that it plays a crucial role in the life of anyone, but even though I cannot explain why, I just know to my core that the way it effects a TCK is unlike the way it effects anyone else on this planet. It’s more than just love to us. It’s a gateway to something terrifying, because the entire principal of it all requires so much access to things we as TCKs have given up to be who we are.

Statistically, TCKs are the group with the oldest first-marriage rate. We don’t do it young, and we generally wait until we are in our early 30’s before jumping into the marriage game for the first time in our lives. Likewise, we are also one of the most stable marriage groups on Earth. We generally don’t get divorced, and we generally don’t want to. So far, I can explain why to all of these things. The problem comes here: If all these things are true, then what is it about us, or perhaps just me, that makes love so terrifying?

It’s time to give you the background, I suppose. It has been scattered in fragments throughout this blog, and detailed a little closer in The Illusive Home, but it’s time to put it all out on the table so that the potential for understanding is right before your eyes. I fell in love with a girl, we will call her Lara for the sake of not putting her name out into the world, the very first time I laid eyes on her. That’s not a joke, and is important to understand because like many TCKs, I’ve always been the guy that falls for people very quickly, but falls in love slowly. That tactic gives me the ability to open up enough to see their value, but close the door too if I don’t find what I’m looking for without pain or frustration. So when I first saw Lara (and this is difficult because I’ve actually known her her entire life, but went many years without seeing her until she came to visit America with my cousins well over a year ago), I had no idea what was happening. Love at first sight is such a stupid concept, a foolish one that leaves you open to so much hurt, but there it was, unavoidable and uncontrollable.

Lara felt the same. We said “I love you” after 15 days, of which we had seen each other for no more than six of those days. She left America, then came back three weeks later. We had a long distance relationship, and it really didn’t bother me except for not getting to lie down beside her at night and kiss her when I woke up in the morning. We did well, and violated every standard relationship protocol and wall that TCKs are so fantastic at creating. Then we broke up. Neither of us wanted to, but it happened. It’s complicated, and I still don’t fully understand what happened.

I spent six months and sixteen days working to get over it. I’m usually pretty good at that. A couple weeks, maybe a month of heavy drinking and spending far too much money followed by a whole lot of writing and severe depression, and then one day I wake up, anything from 3 weeks to several months later, and I feel fine. It’s just… gone, plain and simple. I still love the person, but the TCK side of me has conquered it all and cut the emotions and ties out of my life. A remarkable skill, one that I love so very dearly in times like that.

With Lara, that didn’t work.

I arrived back in England on Thursday, and we met up yesterday. My TCK side did what it always does, it put up walls and protected me. And like always, my level of perception or situational awareness or whatever you wish to call it had already mapped out exactly what would happen. We would meet, we would talk, and all those days in the recent past as my return to England grew closer and her saying she missed me and loved me got stronger would fade away, because like me, she would have protected herself. And like usual, I was right. Down to almost every minute detail, I was right.

So here’s where it all comes together. here’s where curiosity and developing a TCK understanding hits its wall. I understand how we behave, why we behave the way we do, and why we are so good at letting people go that have meant so much to us. So why, then, is it impossible for me to do so here? Why, when love comes into the equation, does it become so nearly impossible to do what we do every single day of our lives without any issue or frustration at all. I ask only because the collective minds of TCKs are just such powerful tools. I mean, I understand that to me, she was always the closest thing to home I could ever ask for. But why should that matter? I’ve never wanted a home before, and I don’t want one now. So the real question, the one I want to leave everyone with to ponder or respond to or mock me with, is this: Why when you love someone more than you ever thought possible do all the skills of cutting loose and letting go you developed in your life fail to work? What about that situation makes our unbreakable castle feel as though it was built out of Lego bricks?

_________
Post by: James R. Mitchener

Long Distance Love

As a Third Culture Kid, I see the world in a very different light to other, more ground-loving people. I’m a child of the sky. I love airplanes, love to fly, and love those 6+ hours in the air as I embark upon a transcontinental journey to a distant land. It’s blissful, freeing, and it gives me the sense that when I touch down and cross through that airport on the other side, I’ll be somewhere that isn’t the place I’m accustomed to. There’s so much excitement in those moments, going through immigrations, getting your bag, walking through customs, and then walking out into a sea of excited faces, of people waiting for those they love to step back into the country and back into their lives.

The arrivals terminal in any airport really is the happiest place in all the world. You’re never standing, waiting for someone and all of a sudden a nice big man comes charging forward and punches someone right in the face as they come through the gate. You only get the smiles, the little children sprinting at full speed towards their mother or father, the young couples finally reunited after however long they have been apart. It’s so beautiful, so perfect in every single way. And I know this because I’m a traveller, a Third Culture Kid that has walked through that gate countless hundreds of times. I’ve seen it first hand, from being reunited with family to being reunited with the woman of my dreams.

Like I said before, as a TCK, I see the world through a different lens to most. It’s small. Very small. So small in fact I can get to the other side of it in less than 24 hours. It’s so insignificantly small, in fact, that when I dated a girl 4,500 miles away from where I was living, it wasn’t the distance that bothered me, just the fact that I didn’t get to lie down next to her at night to go to sleep. To me, distance isn’t an issue. It never should be. I’m a global nomad, and I plan to stay that way. I will always be pushed and pulled around this planet, jumping from A to B, B to C, C to D, all the way down the line until I have to start using chinese characters instead of letters. It’s just the way I am.

So to me, that taboo of a long distance relationship, or LDR as I hear it called all to often when I’m in one, isn’t so much of a taboo. Instead, I think it’s the greatest test, the strongest evidence of whether or not you as a couple can stand to be together. If you can look at a LDR and think “I don’t care how far apart we are, nothing will ever stop me being beside you,” then you’ve got the makings of something spectacular. It’s that crucial flaw, one I’m guilty of and will never do again, of thinking: “I’ll see her in a month,” or “It’s only for another year,” that brings it all crashing down. The second you let that little idea crawl into your mind, you’re doomed.

The thing is, to a TCK, I don’t think a long distance relationship is that big of a deal. So many of our relationships are long distance, with networks of TCK friends scattered all over the world. It’s true, we are incredible at cutting people out of our lives when we move, of letting go of the past and starting again, but there’s always that network in the life of an adult TCK that never dies, that never fades, that’s always there despite how little you talk to them or how little you stay up-to-date on each-others lives. And so in a way, we are built to survive the distance.

The hard part is in realizing that not everyone else is. As wonderful as it would be for TCKs to find and marry other TCKs, the chances of it happening are slim to none. I’ve met thousands and thousands of people in the past six years, four and a half spent at university and one and a half in the adult world, and I can safely say that of those thousands, I’ve met no more than three TCKs. Three. That’s it. So the idea that we are going to stumble across a person we find captivating, beautiful, interesting, clever, and sexy who is a TCK just like us is slim to none.

So instead, we look for people that have characteristics of TCKs, ones that enjoy similar things. We hunt for the people that say things like “I’d love to live a life where I travel from place to place all the time,” or “I’ve never really had much of a family anyhow.” We look for people who are like us, slightly damaged and ready to live their life to the fullest by experiencing everything their is to experience.

The problem is, they aren’t TCKs. I have done this time and time again, looked for that girl that wants all those things. I thought I’d found her once, beautiful, smart, funny, gave me chills just looking at her. She wanted to travel, to see the world, to be brave and explore and never worry about anything else. And so we gave it a shot, with a 4,500 mile gap that to me meant nothing but to her meant everything. I saw it in her eyes, heard it in her voice, and so I would say those words that I knew, even then, were the words that called heartbreak up from the pits of hell. I said “we’ll see each other in a month,” and “we will get you out here soon, I promise.” I sang empty promises across the Atlantic Ocean, and in the end, heartbreak heard me calling and came to settle its score.

The truth is, as TCKs we will always be looking for someone to love, to build a family that we’ve never had and one that’s so unlike all the ones we know. We will look for like-minded thinkers, first culture kids who want what we want. But in the end, we must always remember that they are not like us. They do not see the world through the same lens that we do. They do not bear the weight of three, or four, or ten different cultures. They will never be as comfortable with distance and loss as we are. They will never stare heartbreak in the eyes, and say “you can hurt me all you want, but I will keep looking for her.” So remember, no matter how hard you try, do not believe that they see the world just as you do. Because the truth is:

They will never be Third Culture Kids.

_________
Post by: James R. Mitchener

What if They’re Like Me?

I’ve been feeling exceptionally old lately, what with all my friends pairing up, getting married, expecting babies, having babies, being engaged, or buying property together. Through all of this, I’m still here, still single, and still without prospect. I can’t seem to bring myself to pursue anything. What with not having a place of residence, going to England for a month, and then having absolutely no idea where I’m going to end up, it seems very immature to pursue anyone who doesn’t understand what it means to be with me. Here’s the catch: All those people who know what it’s like to be with me have decided that it’s not the life they’re looking for. How can I not respect that?

So for now I’m living life in the classic Third Culture Kid nomad style; I’m living life alone and without attachment, going where I can whenever I can. But the funny thing is, that’s very counter-TCK in my books. I am extremely relationship dependent. There are three people in existence that I’ve ever truly opened up to, and all of them have been girlfriends. They know me better than anyone on this planet, with a level of detail and insight into my personality that if they were to share what they knew with other friends of mine, no one would believe them because it’s so starkly different to what everyone else knows.  So living life like this is a strange and uncomfortable experience for me, because currently, I have no one I can talk to that really understands what’s going on inside my head. And honestly, I don’t like it.

At the same time, however, I think it might not be a bad thing. I want to be with someone, find that life partner that completely understands me and this TCK brain built of chaos and confusion that exists in my head. But at the same time, finding that life partner means that I am going to end up with kids. And frankly, that’s absolutely terrifying. It’s not because I don’t like kids. Honestly, I love them. I would love to be a dad, really, truthfully. But if I were to have them, I will be forced to face the concern of turning out to be like me?

See, I’m a Third Culture Kid. I know that, I respect that, and the woman I marry will marry me because she loves that part of my life. But she chose it. She chose me. Our kids didn’t. So there are two options: the first is that I stop moving and keep them in one place, raising first culture kids and living a normal life. And even as I type this, I’m shaking my head negatively because I know so completely that I would never be able to buy a house and settle down and stay put. I’m getting nervous just thinking about, the idea of being trapped and tied down to a single location, of never getting up and moving to another country again. It simply isn’t an option.

That leaves only one alternative; If I were to have kids, they would end up being TCKs, just like me. I would live an expat life, take them around the world, and force them to have absolutely nowhere they can call home. I’ll throw them headfirst into the life-long crisis that is being a TCK, and leaving them to learn how to deal with it just like I did. And honestly, as an adult I still don’t have a clue how to handle a lot of the aspects of my TCK upbringing.

The way I see it, it’s like religion. People who take their kids to Sunday School breed nice little Catholics. They are forcing a belief on youthful and malleable minds. You can argue all day long that it’s not forcing at all, that faith is a choice, but when you teach something to a child, developmental psychology has taught us time and time again that even the most irrational beliefs are almost impossible to shake if they were taught at a young enough level. Kids believe their parents completely. It’s how they learn to survive. So for that very reason, I will never take my kids to church. Until they are old enough to know that it’s a belief, not a law, they will not go. They can then make the decision when they’re older if they want to believe, and if they do, then off they go without a single complaint from me. It’s their life, and they should be happy with it. But they should get to choose.

And there in lies the greatest problem. If I were to have kids, I would take away their choice to be a TCK. I would force something upon them that will change them so completely, so fundamentally, that I would hate myself for doing so. And though I love being a TCK, I understand all the drawbacks. Sure, I got a hundred skills and experiences from what I’ve been through, but I’ve lost my family, my homeland, and the ability to keep my partners happy. And maybe that’s just me. Maybe my kid’s personalities would make them more resistant to the crazy that grows inside of me with every passing day. But what if that’s not how it ends up?

What if they’re like me?