Tag Archives: Growing up

The Itchiest of Feet

When we were young, moving was never a decision. Maybe for some, their parents sat them down and told them this was what was going to happen, asked for their opinions and said they’d take them into consideration when deciding what the next step in their lives was going to be. Mine didn’t, but I’m not excluding the possibility for other Third Culture Kids. Some families have alpha mentalities, and some have democratic mentalities. Ours was an alpha household. Decisions were made at the top, and they trickled down the caste system until they hit the bottom, which was always my brother and me. It was just the way it worked. So when it came time to move, Dad would tell Mum, then some other people would find out and be told not to say anything, and then one day we’d find out. And that was the end of that. By then, it was law, no longer a debatable bill still passing through government.

So for me, traveling was never a choice, it was a requirement. I was told when I was going to move, told that I needed to say goodbye to my friends, told I was going to start a new school in a new land, told what apartment we were moving into, told what country we would land in, told with which grandparents I would stay with while we waited, told where we going on a family holiday, and told that everything would be alright and I’d meet new people and make new friends and uncover new and exciting things. But the strangest thing about being told all of these things by my parents is that, after reading my works in The Illusive Home, my mum sat me down extremely concerned and asked me if I believed they had ruined my life in moving me to all those places. She told me she had no idea that I was adopting cultures, that I didn’t believe I had a home, that there was no country that I completely fit into. She truly believed that my experience growing up all over the planet was exactly the same as hers as she moved from place to place as an adult; it was just a long trip away from home.

What she didn’t understand was that in a way, she was right. It was a long trip away from home. But the length of the trip was infinite, a permanent trip that was like a classic science fiction story in which humanity all boards a shuttle and jettisons themselves into space, saying goodbye to the Earth as it burns up into nothing behind them. I was that shuttle. When I started my life as an international nomad, I watched as my home burned to nothing behind me. I would never be able to return to it, because everything that it was to me ceased to exist. It was nothing but shattered memories and distant echoes.

Like that shuttle full of refugees escaping the destruction of Earth, I was looking for another place full of strangers to be my home. I wasn’t looking to take over, to claim control and oppress my views. I was just looking for somewhere that I fit in, somewhere that I could safely say was mine and mine alone. The unfortunate truth of the situation is, however, that the only place that existed was in my high school in Hong Kong. At the Hong Kong International School, or HKIS, I was completely at home. I was surrounded by other TCKs, other kids that had no idea they were part of the Third Culture Kid community. We were immersed in each other, trying to do the best we could with the lives that were thrown upon us. Everyone on the outside called us lucky. They knew us as the rich white kids that came to this foreign land because we were special. But inside that community, we knew were weren’t what everyone else thought. We were something else. We were different.

With the life that was given to me, I grew. I adopted everything I could, learned how to survive to the best of my abilities. I knew that my time in Hong Kong was limited. I knew that the end would come, and I would be moving again one day to somewhere so foreign that I’d have nothing in common with anyone. I never thought it would be Texas, though; a backwards world of people so proud of a state they’ve never left. But that’s where I ended up. And so I survived. But in the time that I survived, I adopted a trait I never expected.

I got itchy feet.

Today, at 24 years old, almost 25, I sit at home and think “where can I go next?” I don’t want to stay here, I can’t stay here. Texas isn’t for me anymore, and I know that I’ve learned all that I’ll ever learn from this culture. I’ve adopted what traits it has to offer, and so I need to move on acquire new ones. But while I was in University, I was a prisoner. I couldn’t go anywhere but where I was, and so I did what little I could to satisfy the crazy. Every year, without fail, I moved apartments. I moved every single chance I got, 6 month leases, 12 month leases, it didn’t matter so long as I got to pack my things and start again somewhere else. It wasn’t the same, moving down the street, but it was enough while I was there.

Then one day, something strange happened. I met that girl you have all read about, the one that lived across the ocean, and through her I no longer wanted to move. She loved what I had, and it made me love what I had. I was proud to live in America, maybe not Texas, but I was proud to be in this country. It made me want to stay. But all the while, I still wanted to move somewhere new. And that need to move, that feeling of incredibly itchy feet, could be satisfied in one of two ways.

I could leave America, and go somewhere else. Start my life with new people in a new land and never look back, or I could move someone I loved to me. I could start my life again and see all those places I’d seen before in a new light, visit all those sights I’d seen a hundred times, but add a completely new value to each of them. I could share what it meant to grow up a TCK. I could be proud of who I am.

And that’s the curse of itchy feet. It doesn’t matter how we approach it, but a TCK is always going to want to move. One day, we’re going to feel that burning desire that we simply cannot avoid. We’re going to need to get up and go, to experience something new and unique. There was a time I believed that meant that I had to get up and go and experience an entirely new country with a completely new culture. Maybe that is still the case, maybe I will always end up back at that belief, but I’m pretty excited to see if there’s a way around it. What if all I really need is someone there to show me a different perspective? What if I just need someone to make me proud of what I have, because they’re walking me through it like I’m seeing it for the very first time?

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Post by: James R. Mitchener

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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

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?

The Price We Pay

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This is a simple law of existence, a governing rule of the universe. You cannot have a push without a pull, a cause without an effect, an action without a reaction. Everything is perfectly balanced. For everything we gain, we lose something of equal value in return. It’s simply the price of life. The thing that you lose may not be something you even notice. It might not even be something you cared about. But it is weighted evenly with your gain, and so the trade is made all the same.

For Third Culture Kids, that give and take is one of the largest forces that have shaped us into the multi-cultural creatures we are. In growing up around the world, we have gained culture. We have gained world experience. We have gained knowledge and pride and level of understanding in people that’s almost completely unmatched by any other type of person on the planet. We have gained an insight into the “big picture,” along with ways to explain it and justify all that we know. We have gained the ability to up and move to a country that would terrify others. We have gained the ability to let go, to move on, and to experience the world through a lens shared only by other TCKs.

We have been given the entire world.

And that is the cause leading to our effect. We have been given so much, and so we must give up just as much as well. And in a world where family has always been the most important thing in existence, since the dawn of humanity, we have given up that very thing that keeps us connected to everyone else. We have lost our family. We have lost our home. We have lost what makes us relatable to everyone else on Earth. We have lost our sense of community.

It has been two years today since my grandmother passed away. She had cancer of the everything. It took her by surprise. We didn’t know until it was too late, and when we knew she was gone 5 days later. It all happened on this day, 730 days in the past. I got in a plane two days after it happened. I flew back to England with my cousins who were staying with my family in America. They were younger, all three of them below the age of 18. So I took them home, and waited with my grandfather until my parents arrived.

They asked me to do the Eulogy.  Well, they didn’t ask, they just sort of assumed I was going to do it. It makes sense, I suppose, with me being the writer and the oldest grandchild. But like I’ve said before in The Illusive Home and in this very post, nobody understands a Third Culture Kid other than another TCK. The only other TCK in my life at that time was my brother, and he was not in attendance at the funeral. He had just changed schools and couldn’t miss his first day, and so I stood alone in the crematorium at a pedestal in front of over 250 people and talked about my role model, Anne Mitchener.

And here’s the kicker. Here’s what no one else seems to understand, and yet what every TCK that is reading this blog already sees and understands completely. I was talking about a woman who I idealized, but hardly knew. My cousins who sat in the audience, my mother and father, my grandfather, my aunt and uncle, even my ex-girlfriend (who I had not started dating at the time) were closer to my grandmother than I had ever been. They knew her in a way I never could. They knew her as a caregiver, as an integral part of their lives that was always there. They knew her as a home they could drive to and visit, as a person that never missed a birthday and gave them pocket money every week. They knew her as someone that “just stopped by” their home. They knew her as Granny.

And there is the greatest trade and largest sacrifice of my life. The woman I loved and respected I knew no better than someone who I hoped to see once a year for a couple of weeks at most. Sometimes, I didn’t even get that. In fact, at the time of her passing, it had been two years since I’d seen her, three since my brother had seen her. And because I was in university and didn’t have a phone capable of making long distance calls, I would Skype-call their home once every few months at most.

That’s the price we pay. It’s here that all the benefits of being a TCK come crashing down. I’m telling you this because, even though I love my life and am so proud of the experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to have, I sit and wonder every single day of my life: “What would my life be if I’d never left the United Kingdom?”

The thing is, I’ll never know.

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Dedicated to the memory of Anne Mitchener, my Granny, the most amazing woman I never really got to know, and with whom I wish, every single day, that I had gotten to have just one more conversation.

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Post by: James R. Mitchener