Tag Archives: TCK Life

Dear Scotland, Please Don’t Go

Dear-Scotland-Please-Don't-GoDear Scotland,

You don’t know me, and sadly, I do not know you. Not as I should at least, not as I’d like. I have seen so many countries in my life that admitting I’ve never set foot on your soil fills me with a massive amount of shame, especially seeing as I was so close just under two years ago, planning a trip en-route to a convention that unfortunately I had to cancel due to a snowstorm and your airport being closed. I was excited, too, to meet you. There’s something beautiful about knowing you’re going to step off a plane and be somewhere completely different, somewhere completely new that you’ve never seen before in your life. And while you’re so close to the country in which I spent the first measly four years of my life, sharing a border with it in fact, I have embarrassingly never managed to make my way up into your lands.

You see, I’m what the 21st century knows as a Third Culture Kid (TCK). I was born in one country (England), grew up all over the world with various 2-3 year stints in different countries, and adopted various cultures from each and every place I visited instead of a singular culture most common in children that grow up in a normal, mono-cultural lifestyle. One of the most interesting things that happens to TCKs is that they have an incredibly hard time learning how to relate to the concept of a “home.”

First Culture Kids (FCKs) form a natural attachment to their homeland, understanding that this place, the place that me, my family, my friends have all lived, is my home. Even when they move away from that location, should they choose to in their adult years, they always retain that level of connection to their home-town. TCKs don’t have that. We travelled from place to place in our developmental years, learning from various cultures, communities, and countries but never being tied to a singular cultural or patriotic experience. We’ve seen dozens of sides of dozens of coins, and each one has some sort of value to us, but that singular connection, that place we can call home, is completely foreign to us.

Take me, for example. I was born in England, but England is just the country where my parent’s lived, where my extended family lives, and another place I frequently visit to share in scattered moments once a year with family members that go about their normal day-to-day lives without me ever being part of them. In a sense, my brother and I are the forgotten members of the family, the ones that are of course still in the thoughts of our extended family, but never like everyone else, never truly connected to the daily lives that everyone else shares so closely. We’re just too distant, too different, and too… foreign.

The reason why I tell you this is so that you can understand the gravity of my plea. Not understanding the concept of a home, not being tied to the lives that so many people live on a daily basis, TCKs have a tendency to view the world quite differently from grounded, level-headed individuals such as yourselves. We’re a bit of a mess, you could say, but that mess has its moments of realisation, and I believe that one of those moments is now:

I have a passport, you see, my ticket to the world. With it, I can travel almost anywhere I choose, visit almost any place I could want to see, and continue to expand my knowledge of both individualised and globalised culture. It is a ticket to everything, this silly little piece of paper with nothing but my picture, name, a random number that was assigned to me as my life-long identification,  all tucked away in this lovely little red book embossed with a beautiful logo. This passport is special, because while it sits comfortably beside a blue passport that reads United States of America, this one, the passport I was granted due to my birthright, carries so much more meaning to a child of the world such as myself.

This passport is one for The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

I have spent years of my life trying to understand what it is about that passport, that simple little red book that brings me so much pride. And you see, while I carry two, one for a country in which I currently reside and one for a country in which I have hardly resided, the passport for the United Kingdom symbolizes everything that a TCK has come to learn about the world.

This book, formed because of pacts and unities dating centuries, was a truly glorious and unforgettable claim for unified globalisation. It is the success story behind attempts that preceded it and followed it time and time again, a truly world shattering statement that we free people are better together than we are apart. That through each other, we can achieve so much more, go so much further, and be so much stronger than we had ever even imagined.

Having seen this world through so many different cultural lenses, having watched so many people strive for exactly the same thing in so many different languages, looking at my passport and knowing that long before I set eyes on this world, there were people fighting to bring it together in a way that strengthened their neighbours, not weakened them or belittled them or scared them, I couldn’t be more proud to carry that document.

So please, Scotland. I beg of you. Do not leave. I have no home like you know, I have no sense of national self devotion, no patriotism the way you would understand. I am a child of the world. And as such, I beg of you to stay. I beg of you to claim the authority you seek, but as a nation united with others in a quest to bring people together, not force them apart. Both you and your neighbour nations, the community for which I hold the single most important document of my life, are something to be so proud of, something that I am proud of each and every day from thousands of miles away, knowing that at any time I can return and settle down with pride in what you’ve all achieved.

So please, don’t go. You have the power to push unity on, or show that further separating the world is the right thing to do. And believe me when I say, we are all just people of the world fighting to be heard. Please, don’t go. Please, stay with us for globalisation, and make this TCK proud.

__________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

 

 

 

 

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I’m Not Done Here

TCK Life I'm Not Done HereIf you’re here, then you’re either a Third Culture Kid, the parent of a TCK, or have some sort of intimate relationship with TCK life and/or expatriation. In some way, you at the very least partially understand that TCKs are a mess of culture driven by this seemingly unnatural desire to get up and go, experience more, and jump from location to location leaving everything behind in hopes of capturing that next piece of the puzzle that makes up multiculturalism. People have coined us everything from Permanent Internationals to Global Nomads, and you know what, we’re proud of all the titles that non-travelers and international explorers alike have thrown our way. We embrace our multiculturalism with such ferocity that anyone would think we have in our possession something as precious and sought after as the fountain of youth.

We talk about how much we love the world, how much we always want to see more, how much we need to move and experience the next step. We talk about how we don’t mind saying goodbye, how we handle departure differently from everyone else, how nothing is permanent in our lives, even the culture we create. We talk about all the things we’ve seen, all the things we want to see, and how all these sights made us who we are or will make us into something better. We talk about going, moving, and the next step in what appears to be an endless path of places for which our thirst can never be quenched. But in all my time as an author for Third Culture Kids, the one thing I’ve never said is this:

I’m not done here yet.

It’s time that changed. When TCKs talk about what it is that makes them who they are, TCKs that have truly embraced their multiculturalism, there’s an oddly consistent trend in which we don’t really talk much about the place we are right now. We talk about the cultures of our past, the pieces we’ve already absorbed and are confident in explaining, the shining lights of memories past. We talk about the future and what it holds, the potential for new cultures and the promise of an ever-changing understanding on what it means to truly be a citizen of Earth and not a member of a single country. But we don’t ever really talk about where we are, right now.

In part it’s because we haven’t fully pieced together the elements of the culture we are currently experiencing, we haven’t decided on our final adoptions in regards to cultural development, and we know that by admitting that we are still learning, still adopting, we bind ourselves a little closer with the inevitable goodbyes that sit in our future. We know that by opening that door, we strengthen bonds to people that would start believing that they understand us, when the truth is we don’t want you to understand us because we aren’t like you. We don’t see the world as countries and pockets. We don’t believe that one person or culture is better than another. We don’t want to be another person in the herd of a like-minded community. We want to challenge everything, we want to make you think, and we want you to see the world as we do: That we are all just people, like everyone else, stuck here fighting to be more than just a forgotten name in a forgotten world.

But that’s not fair for the now. Because the truth is, as I sit here in Raleigh, North Carolina and look out at the rest of the world and consider the next inevitable step, a move that will absolutely come one day in my future, maybe soon, maybe not, I can’t help but shake that one thought in the back of my mind, one that counter-acts our entire external projection of what it means to be a TCK. The truth is, I’m not done here yet.

I know I’m not alone. I know that TCKs everywhere have whispered that same silent thought to themselves, maybe not everywhere, but somewhere. They’ve said quietly “But… I don’t want to go. I’m not done here yet. I need more time,” and no one has heard them.

Because who would we be, the TCKs that we are so proud of, if we let the world know that there was actually something about this place that was more special than all the others? Who would we be if we admitted that this culture is still growing, still adding to the pot of knowledge that we possess, and there’s more to it than we pretend to have already figured out? Who would we be, the people that are so confident in our ability to just let go and move on, if we admitted that in this place there are people that we just aren’t ready to do that with, that we just aren’t ready to leave behind and release from our world? Who would we be, if we admitted that we wanted to stay, if only for a little while longer?

But the truth is, we’ve all thought it. And we’ve all pretended we haven’t. And we’ve all moved on and gone to other places and left whatever it was behind just a little sooner than we would have liked.

But we don’t have to. It’s alright, you know. You can do it, if you really want to. You can look out over the trees or plains or deserts or mountains and think how beautiful they are. You can look at a colleague or a friend or a lover or a partner and think “I’m not ready to let you go.” You can get in your car or on the bus or on a bike and go from A to B without discovering anything new and know that you don’t really mind that you’ve taken this road before a thousand times and still find it fascinating.

You can admit that maybe, just maybe, you’re not quite done here yet. And if you really want, it’s alright if you choose to stay a little while longer.

__________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

 

 

 

 

The TCK Foreign Reality

TCK Life Logo and TextProbably one of the most unique and challenging elements of detailing what it means to be a Third Culture Kid is confronting the differences between the TCK community and the Expatriate community. To non-TCKs, or I suppose to anyone who doesn’t understand the internal workings of a TCK mind, the two are extremely similar. A TCK has lived all over the world, an Expat is living all over the world; a TCK doesn’t see their family often, an Expat doesn’t see their family often; a TCK is a frequent flier, an Expat is a frequent flier; a TCK knows the world in boxes and moving vans and shipping containers, an Expat knows the world in boxes and moving vans and shipping containers; and a TCK shows elements of cultures from around the world, while an expat shows elements from cultures around the world also.

To an outside observer, the two may very well be the same. But to us, the TCK community, we are entirely different from our expatriate counterparts. We are all built out of a sequence of events that has led to the development of our personality. Every structure capable of weathering time, especially the structures of our lives, must start with a strong foundation. This foundation is the blueprint for everything that’s built upon it, and each brick that’s laid on top of the next will either hold strong if it matches the plan, or will crumble if it doesn’t meet the requirements that our foundation has produced.

Like many things I write about in regards to Third Culture Kid Life, I make a conscious effort to find a neutral and core principle that encompasses the entire doctrine, then build up my explanation around that single idea. I do this for the sake of the parents of TCKs that read these pieces, not for the TCKs like myself that already understand on a fundamental level what it means to feel the way we feel. This collection was created to help explain who we are to those who simply cannot understand. So, when you’re taking on the impossible, I find that the items that are relateable to both parties are the only bridge to partial understanding that we can create.

When it comes to understanding why we as TCKs are not in any way the same as the traditional expat, even when we are living an expatriate life, I find it all boils down to one simple word with a sea of meaning; That word is “foreign.” To an expat, all travel is foreign. They are foreigners in a foreign land, outsiders, people living in a country that isn’t their own. Some of them love the place they’re in. Some hate it. But no matter how they feel about it, that country is never their home. They will always be intrinsically connected to the culture of their youth. They will have customs and lifestyle ideas that cannot be changed at all, and even more that cannot be changed without a great deal of effort.

It’s because of this interwoven knowledge that they are foreigners that will either make or break the experience for every single expat. They will either love viewing the world through their first culture lens, saying “Look at how different this is!” or “Back in [Home Country], you’d never be able to find one of these!” Or they’ll hate the entire experience for exactly the same reasons. But in the end, that lens through which they are analyzing their experience, the way that they are viewing the world, is built out of a single culture and a single line of experiences that was developed in their youth. They will always be First Culture Kids living in a world full of other First Culture Kids that are just completely different to themselves.

Of course, this does not mean an expat will not adjust. I have met many expats that have done their absolute best to assimilate into the life of a different country and culture. Plenty have even succeeded, at least on the surface level. But the truth is that during the developmental years of their lives, the years that built the foundation for the person they were going to become, their personality was constructed from the brick and mortar of a single culture.

This is where the TCK split comes into play. The stability that the Third Culture lacks, the one that has been a rampant part of almost every single article of the TCK Life collection, means that we view an expatriate life in a completely unique way. When we move to a foreign country, it isn’t anymore foreign to us than the last place we lived or the place our parents call home. The most common similarity with every TCK is that home to us is nothing more than a word other people use to describe the place they grew up in.

We are the children of the world, the global nomads that pick up and go not because we are wanting to experience something drastically different to what we already know, but because we are trying to add to the foundation of our development. The baseline of our lives, one that for FCKs was built out of stability and consistency, was built for TCKs out of country after country that had nothing to do with the place from which our parents originated.

For me, moving isn’t a burden. There is no fear in packing my things and starting my life somewhere I know absolutely nothing about. There is no discomfort in having no friends for the first few months of my stay in a different place. There is no paranoia in knowing I will not be able to understand, to interact, to survive with ease and simplicity. In truth, all those things inspire me. They motivate my internal cultural mixing pot and drive me to absorb everything around me. They make me adapt, to change, to understand everything I possibly can. Where an FCK will attempt to understand a foreign country by drawing parallels to the culture of their youth, a TCK will view a foreign land without bias or commitment from a land called “home.” I walk into any situation believing I will absorb and change in any way that inspires me.

I am English by birth, American/UK by passport, and Global by culture. None of these things define me. All of them define me. Really, the difference between an expat and a TCK is simple. To an expat, a new country is always a foreign place full of differences, good or bad. To a TCK, a new country is a place that makes the entire world a little less foreign, and a little more part of who we are.

_________

Post by: James R. Mitchener

The Author

Author

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.

_________

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 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