Tag Archives: romance

When an FCK Falls in Love with a TCK

When an FCK Falls in Love with a TCKThis post is special. It is one I’ve been working to share with you for some time, one I kept hustling and hustling for, undoubtedly being the enormous pain in the ass I have a tendency to be when I get locked into an idea; a fantastic quality for work, not such a great quality for my girlfriend.

I have been asked many, many times from partners of Third Culture Kids how they can reach their TCK significant other when they themselves are First Culture Kids. I have always tried to answer as best I can, but in the end, we are always speaking two different languages. I know what I want as a TCK, but I am not the only TCK out there, nor am I in any real position to tell you as an FCK how your brain is going to relate to the things we say. We don’t understand a lot of the stuff you say, so I can only assume it goes both ways.

So, I thought to myself, how can I answer this question that will best help my FCK readers to resolve the issues inherent in the TCK-FCK barrier?  And that’s how you got this article. I went to my girlfriend and asked her to write it for you, instead, detailing what it’s like being in a relationship with a TCK. I gave her no guidance, made no edits, and told her she could put anything she wanted on this page, so long as what she said was 100% true, even if she thought it might hurt.

After all, that’s the point isn’t it? To be an open book to help all of my readers find truth in the words of these pages? So, time to pull off another layer of the armor: Here is the single greatest answer I could have asked for. Here you’ll see how this little FCK managed to get past all the struggle that is… well, me… and decided that not only did she not hate me (well, not all the time at least), but that she wanted to stick around as much as I wanted her to never leave.

Oh, and as a side note: Happy Anniversary Chelsea Poole!

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The following is a Guest post by Chelsea Poole:

I have a type. At least I had one before he came along. I didn’t realize it until he made it abundantly clear that he was a different one. I’ve dated brunette, blonde, tall, short, big, small, arrogant, humble, white, black, put together, and broken. But until he came along, I only dated Christian boys who were raised in the South and, with one exception, were born and lived their entire child and teenagehood in the exact same city as me. I dated FCKs. (To all my friends and family who I sent here, this is what WE are. Kids who were raised in the same culture as their parents… to put it simply.)

But then this one came along and from the moment I asked the elusive question, which for me went something like: “So, wait, you’re English, right? Where’s your accent?…Where are you actually from?” I knew that this guy was not my type. He is an atheist TCK and I a Christian, FCK and for the first time in my life I have crossed the line into unfamiliar territory that I didn’t ever think I’d ever make my way into. I’ve learned a lot about the TCK life from this blog and I learn more every time he posts something new. Something tells me I’ll never stop learning new things about him or this life I still struggle to understand. So now its my turn to steal his spotlight and try my best to show you a point of view he, and most of you readers, struggle to understand: the life of an FCK who has fallen in love with a TCK.

I would consider myself well-traveled. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to much of Central America, Bermuda with a few European jaunts as well as many different states in the U.S. But after hearing that he’s lived in places like England, France, Thailand, Singapore, and Hong Kong (all before age 15) I suddenly felt a lot less cultured than I thought I was.

I always always had a “home” to come back to in Raleigh, North Carolina, where we both live now. I’ve lived in the same square mile my entire life. Home to me is Raleigh, NC and it always will be. My entire family, immediate and extended (for the most part), lives here and I’ve gone to the same school with the same people since elementary school. My biggest adventure was moving into a dorm room at my University…3.5 miles away from my parents house.

If I had to name just one thing about the TCK life that I don’t understand  it is the lack of a home. “But if you HAD to name one place…” or “So like, what do you write on doctors forms and stuff?” were popular questions for awhile until I finally realized I might never even get the same answer if he did finally fold. One time it was England, a few times it was Hong Kong, and through exasperated sighs and cringes he even said Texas a couple times. With time, this question evolved from the idea of home into the idea of multiple places of residence. Instead of trying to weasel a “home” out of him I began asking him to tell me specific things about each place he lived.  The typical general questions couples ask in relationships, like “so what did you do for fun growing up?” turned into “what was your favorite food in Paris?” or “what do you miss the most about Hong Kong?” When provided with a specific question about a specific place, the answers came faster and he seemed more excited to reply.

Early on, I felt like he was judging me for having lived in the same place my whole life. I felt like he looked down on me for not understanding things about other cultures or assumed I was close-minded.  I still get twinges of it from time to time, for instance when he calls NC a “backwards state full of backwards people.” He’s not entirely wrong but I can only assume that since he doesn’t quite understand what it’s like to have a hometown that he can’t relate to the feeling of me hearing mine constantly insulted.

What I understand now is that judgement is inherent in everyone. Everyone is raised differently and everyone will think their way is the way to do it. I constantly found myself in the beginning feeling sorry for him, asking myself, “how could his parents do that to him?” or “how could anyone live like that?” What I didn’t understand was that he LOVED it. He has never known anything else. Just like I loved living in the same place my entire childhood. I never knew anything else. Our lives were, ARE, different and though we still don’t quite understand it, that’s what we love about the other.

I am the one he never thought he’d be with and he is the guy I wrinkled my nose at. I’m a little, Christian girl who spent every weekend on a farm growing up and is kind of a prude in more ways than one. He’s a tobacco smoking, English-Chinese-French-American-Etc.-Etc., who hates the twang that resonates through some of my words and doesn’t quite get why I bow my head before eating. But we are still changing and learning the ultimate word that is necessary in any FCK-TCK relationship: compromise.

I realize now that I’ve made myself seem like your typical southern belle who goes to church every Sunday and repeats everything my Daddy has told me when it comes time for political conversation. But James will be the first to agree with me when I refute that. I want nothing more than to break out of the bubble and live in as many different countries as life will allow me. I tend to disagree with most of North Carolina’s politics and I don’t feel the need to go to a church to find God. But as different as I think I am, I am an FCK and that’s one thing I can never unknow or unlearn.

I can’t speak for James but I could probably write an endless list of things I’ve learned in the past year of life with my TCK. I’ve finally perfected how to use chopsticks after 21 years of immense failure. I can say more than bonjour and au revoir in French. I now know that I would fit in perfectly in the Chinese culture because of what a messy eater I am. And I’ve finally caught on to what he’s referring to when he tells me to throw something in the “bin” or when he tells me, in the ever so blunt way I’ve come to expect from him, that it’s probably time to get my “fringe” cut again.

Our relationship is back and forth, give and take, my one culture clashing with each of his. When someone asks me where my boyfriend is from, I say “the world” and I find myself grinning and laughing and hoping for the day when I’m the one getting on the airplane with him, packing up my life to take on a new adventure, a new culture, a new chapter. I will always have “home” but sooner or later I know that will cease to be Raleigh and will start to become, much like the way my TCK sees it, the people I love.

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Chelsea Poole

Guest Post by: Chelsea Poole

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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?

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Post by: James R. Mitchener

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