Tag Archives: Families

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.

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Post by: James R. Mitchener

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The TCK’s True Family

I believe that at this point, it can be fairly well agreed upon that Third Culture Kids who have been constant country hoppers have a problem with family. I use the word problem lightly, of course, because the truth of the matter is that our disconnection with our families isn’t a problem, but simply a trade we were forced to make to have the experiences that were handed to us. Despite all that, the end result is always the same: TCKs have been forced to distance themselves from establishing relationships with people they are supposed to trust.

Like I said in Foreign People, we were never really given the opportunity to connect to our family. A couple days a year, even a couple weeks a year for those longer trips back to our parent’s passport countries, is never enough to establish that sort of tight-knit family bond I keep hearing about. When people say to me “my family is the most important thing in my life,” it makes me let out a little mental laugh. Of course, they never know I’m reacting that way, and I usually mask it by saying “I know what you mean,” but the truth is I really don’t have a clue. I’m oblivious, because my family has never been a staple part of my life. In fact, they really are the most distant parts of my regularly occurring life.

The reason for this is that when TCKs hop around the world, they usually end up in places where there are other TCKs with them. If I’ve noticed anything in my life, nobody forms bonds better than Third Culture Kids. The bounds of social situations that exist so clearly in First Culture societies are completely nonexistent in TCK worlds. Where an American school in the United States has the geeks, the losers, the popular kids, the theatre kids, the band kids, the cheerleaders, the football players, the jocks, the pot heads, the science geeks, the honors club, the over achievers, the under achievers, the bullies, the bullied, the goths, the emo kids, and every other type of defining separation, TCK schools just have kids.

From ASP to HKIS, I never once felt like there was a separation between any of us students. Some of us were assholes. Some of us were quiet. Some of us didn’t get close and some of us wouldn’t let go of each other. Some of us had huge welcoming hearts and some of us couldn’t care less. But the truth is, we were all aware that we were all so similar that, despite the fact that some of us didn’t get along and that we may feel drastically different regarding certain situations, we were all in it together. And the “it” that we were all in wasn’t just a day at school or a field trip to a museum. It was the full, all encompassing aspect of our lives. We were all thousands of miles away from what had once been home, and now was simply a land full of strangers like the one we lived in at the time.

What that did to us was pull us together. We bonded in ways that kids in a First Culture Kid community never would. Things that made us different, things that would make FCKs run away from each other or hate one another instead drew us together. We wanted to learn the differences between us, embrace how we were uniquely different from all the other kids all over the world that didn’t know what we knew. We learned to love one another not despite our differences, but because of them. We learned that multi-cultural viewpoints and different perspectives were not something to be feared, but something to embrace. By using each other, we learned that multiple minds were better than one. And in the end, we understood each other so well that there wasn’t a team on the planet that could work together better than us.

What was so strange about this is that, for the most part, TCKs are natural leaders. We would walk into a room and every single one of us would have a presence that’s only met by a collection of CEOs. We are commanding, we understand things on such an incredibly broad level but at exactly the same time see all the little cogs that build our entire product. We can explain things so amazingly well and motivate people with the passion of a king or queen. We are leaders, thinkers, and doers. And yet, unlike most leaders, when paired with another TCK we are made stronger, not weaker. There is never a conflict, never a butting of heads or a pissing contest to see who’s stronger or smarter. There’s just harmony. Complete and total harmony with the most blissful balance of collaboration and achievement. It’s absolutely glorious, and it has been too long since I have seen it in action.

Why then do TCKs have the ability to work together where other leaders would never have the ability? Because we were built to coexist. In learning that we were never going to fit in anywhere in the world again, we built our own country. In finding out that we were never going to be understood ever again in our lives, we built our own support group. And in knowing that we would never again see the world like everyone else, we stared at each other and understood that we at least had each other. And out of that mess, out of the chaos of losing everything every other normal person clings to in order to define themselves, we decided to define ourselves by the way we impact the world. And in doing so, we created the strongest family that no one else would ever understand.

We created the Third Culture Kid community.

And no matter where we go, no matter who we run into, if we ever meet another TCK, we will smile and know that we have just met a family member we never knew existed. And without saying a word, we will both understand exactly what that means.

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Post by: James R. Mitchener

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