Tag Archives: Paris

From Home to Discovery

When I was in university, I was asked to do a visual exercise that was to detail the limits of our memory and the power of our imagination. I was asked to think about my home, and imagine a car. I was told to climb into that car, and start driving away from my house. Where I went wasn’t important, but I had to drive away from my home, and I had to continue driving in that same direction away from my house for as long as I could. We were given several minutes to think about the scenario, and when the timer ran out, we were told to write down our imaginary drive so that we could share it with the class and see how far we had each made it along the road of memory’s imagination.

Everyone in my class in Texas made it far. But they all made it right from the central point of a home that existed within that state, within that city. For me, the question itself had fundamental and confusing issues. Did they want to know about my drive from my birth country of England? Did they want to know about my current house in Houston? Or did they want to know about the other corners of the world that I considered equally as influential in my development as any other I’d resided in? Without knowing the answer, I chose them all.

Before I begin my drive, my brother and I run from the door and head straight for the tree that seems to always be in blossom, tiny white buds of fur that resemble caterpillars creeping from the branches until they grow too heavy and fall to the grass beneath our feet. Together, my brother and I run three circles around the tree before returning to the door, hopping across the concrete-rainbows that separate the grass of the garden from the walkway to the car. Once in the car, we reverse from the drive and pass the complex where we go to see the dentist. We drive along winding roads and past fields and tress until we arrive at the all-to-small road that leads to my grandparent’s house. Down lanes barely big enough for a single car, we soar past oncoming vehicles that run off into the shoulder to avoid collision, just as we have done. Just after we pass the oldest dove house in the world, we pull onto a road that winds past several pubs, including The Pineapple. Entering Dorney Common, we slow to a stop to allow the cows to cross the road. When they have made their rounds, we continue on into Eton Wick, Windsor Castle in sight not more than a thirty minute walk away, and turn down Queens Road to my Granny and Grandad’s home.

As a family, we step into the elevator and my brother and I fight over who gets to push the button to go to the ground floor. I win, being older, unless my mother explicitly tells me not to push the button, and even then I may slip an arrogant and defiant jab at the ground floor to beat my brother.  In mere seconds, we arrive at the bottom of the building and walk past the gateway to the garage and start our trek down the hill, past a pile of rocks that we had salvaged for stones to allow our terrapins to sunbathe in the warm, incandescent lighting of our apartment. When we reach the bottom of the hill, we step into a red taxi and continue our trip towards downtown, soaring along roads far too narrow for any car to handle within the bounds of normal human safety. When we arrive downtown, we walk to the bank and pass by two enormous stone statues of Fu Dogs, where my brother and I climb upon their bodies and try to scale them to their heads. After the bank, we move through crowded city streets and make our way to the peak tram, passing through a park with a mushroom waterfall that, through age, no longer possesses a safe and dry approach to its center. Together, my brother and I attempt to dodge through the scattered droplets that fall upon us, then run back to our mother. Climbing onto the tram, we rush to seats that are positioned flat with the floor of the tram, but are slanted backwards to almost 45 degree angles thanks to the extreme incline of the tracks.

My brother and I climb into the captain’s chairs of an enormous van parked in the driveway of our suburban house. Our father finishes loading the cooler between our two seats, then he and my mother get into the front and pull out of the drive. We head towards the freeway, driving up into the air on an elevated crossing before veering right and entering the on-ramp of a three lane freeway heading towards San Antonio. We drive for what feels like days, but in reality is only a few hours. The road is straight, flat, and plain. The heat of the road makes the hills look like water is resting on the concrete a few hundred feet ahead. As we get closer, the mirage vanishes and we are left with waves of heat that pass us by. When we arrive in San Antonio, we drop off the car and start walking to the River Walk, a man-made structure of nearly stagnant water that brings tourists to San Antonio without anything more to offer them. I think nothing of the place, and continue on in childhood ignorance.

I sit on a bus passing French buildings and tiny Renault Twingos. The trees rush by my window, their branches occasionally scratching along the side as we dart down the suburban streets outside of Paris and head towards our school. When we arrive, the gate slides open, razor-wire lining the perimeter, and we drive into the compound that is the American School of Paris. Large aircraft hangers that are now gyms are scattered across the campus, long buildings that were formerly offices but now house classrooms for students sit peacefully in the center. There’s history here, the history of an American military base that now is home to the education of TCKs in a land they don’t belong.

I ride a bus alone, darting down faintly-memorable roads of a city I once lived in years before, one that rests in my mind like a drunken dream, a chaotic haze of flashes in time. I feel the weight of the bus tip as we pull around tight cliff corners, and I look out over the water that surrounds the tiny island I live upon. Around me is nothing but trees, rock walls, and water, but then out of nowhere a skyline appears, and I am driving down Queens Road and pulling up to the stop that connects Queens Road to the fish market. I walk from here, the smell of rotting flesh and neglected garbage wafting into my nostrils, a smell I have become so familiar with over the years that I smile. I look up into the sky as I walk and see the signs that will soon be illuminated in the night, but currently hang lifeless and old, a mess of clutter blocking out the sky that slices between the buildings of compact streets.

I am driving now, back in Texas and sitting behind the wheel. I’m heading back from college in San Antonio to visit my parents, taking the same straight and boring road I have driven dozens of times before. I listen to music loudly as I ignore the lifeless and uninspired flatness that surrounds me. I am sad, but I am hiding it well. I miss the world, I miss the culture, and I miss the life of my youth. I want to be on a plane, I want to travel the planet again, to see the things I never saw before in the places I never had the time to visit. I want to be free again, free to get up and go and do whatever I can wherever I land. But I am stuck, stuck in school and knowing that when I have finished my education, I will be stuck in a job, a prisoner to a life and a world that doesn’t understand a man like me.

I am all grown up now. I am in my job and I have finished my school. And I have moved, but I have moved from a city that didn’t understand me to one that understands me even less. As I sit in my car and drive the three miles to work and back every day, I think back to a question my professor once asked me in college: “How far can you drive before you can’t remember what the next part of the road looks like? Tell me about the drive you remember.”

I smile to myself, because I know now that she missed the entire point of the question she was asking. So I ask the question she should have asked, but one she never would have understood, to you, the only group of people who can grasp the depth of what I am asking:

How far do you have to drive away from your memories until you are free to discover the world you do not know? Tell me about the unknown.

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The Author

Author

 

 

 

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