Tag Archives: traveller

The TCK Unity Era

As Third Culture Kids, we are constantly examining the cultures of the world, even when we aren’t in the process of adopting them into our own Third Culture. We are cultural pirates, pillaging the pieces we want and leaving behind the parts we don’t. We talk about these elements of TCK life all the time, sharing reasons for what we take and why we love that aspect of a particular culture, yet rarely do we take a step back to examine the culture we have created.

We are natural adapters, capable of surviving almost any situation in almost any culture. It’s for that very reason that we are so ill equipped to turn it around and look internally at what we have done. We are a mess of chaos and unity fueled by self-driven cultural evolution. We are constantly changing, constantly altering the core of our existence without care to what we are leaving behind in the process.

But the reason we survive so flawlessly no matter where we are is exactly the reason we do not step back and consider the universe we have given birth to. Every single person is different, and thanks to the adaptation of a TCK, every TCK is different within a completely unique self-culture. Sure, we group those cultures together and call it the “Third Culture,” but the Third Culture is different for every single TCK, and it’s even more different from the outside looking in.

Until the final years of the 20th century, our ability to unite and communicate was limited to physical interaction and personal relationships. The only opportunity a TCK had to cross paths with another TCK was simple luck of the draw. There was no unifying moment, no sense of shared community, only the knowledge that somewhere else in the world was another person who had grown up similarly to yourself. However, despite this knowledge, the distance created by a lack of ability to communicate the TCK experience made it almost impossible for a TCK to feel anything but being alone.

Today, however, TCKs have finally started to come out of the bubbles of their personal worlds. And truly, they are highly personal worlds. The cultures that each TCK has created are so uniquely different from any FCK or TCK anywhere in the world. The unique experiences couple with our adaptive nature makes our Third Culture like a snowflake in the middle of a rainstorm; we are surrounded my elements of similar qualities, yet while each drop of water that’s so similar falls to the ground, we float casually and unseen through the mist, so uniquely different and so uniquely complicated.

The world is smaller now. Transcontinental instantaneous communication is standard. We are even capable of looking into the rooms of others thanks to the increasing speeds and global spread of internet access, meaning with a computer and webcam, two people can sit in front of each other and have a conversation as though there were no oceans or borders or thousands of miles between them. We can fly anywhere in the world at a moments notice, travel wherever we want without much hurt or hindrance. And when we don’t want to travel, we can view the detailed lives of others through collections of data and information about their personality portrayed through a variety of social media tools.

Because of this boom in technology, this shrinking of our world, TCKs are being presented with the unavoidable truth that a life that was once built around the exterior is finally coming back home to the self. We are no longer isolated from other TCKs, having the ability to interact with total strangers that truly and completely understand what it means to be a Third Culture Kid. And they know not because we have to sit in front of them for hours or days or years explaining our lives, the decisions we have made, and the type of cultures we love. They understand because knowing nothing about our history or who we are that they too are as similar and different to us as two snowflakes in a rainstorm. Though we are similar in our name, the crystals of our lives that shape us make us different to the core, but when floating through a sea of droplets of water, there is nothing more comforting than that person that is completely different, and yet so very similar at exactly the same time. And though we may never see the world through the same lens, we at least understand the way that lens was crafted.

People, everywhere, spend their lives looking forwards and backwards in time, saying that “life must have been so much more interesting for people back then,” or “life will be so much better in a few years.” But honestly, I think that with the evolution of communication allowing for you, a reader, to sit at your computer and read the words of a TCK you have never met and probably never will, and me, a writer, getting to hide behind my words and engage you all through your comments on my posts or emails you send me, makes this the most exciting time in the history of TCK life.

These are the first days of our coming together. And just imagine, in fifteen or twenty years when this collection of individuals that fundamentally understands the intricate dynamics of cultural environments comes together, how powerful our impact on the world could be. We are the birth of a new era of realization, the fathers of tolerance and the mothers of understanding. And while we may have grown up TCKs many years ago, it’s here and now that we are finally given the power and ability to find one another.

Honestly, I cannot imagine anything more exciting.

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Post by: James R. Mitchener

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In the Sky

I left Houston, Texas on Wednesday, 14 September 2011 to head back to my passport country of England. As I’m writing this post 17 September, 2011, it’s clear that I’ve already made it safely through the sky and have spent a few days here in Eton Wick. I have a lot to say about that, because frankly, the experience I have whenever I arrive back in this small town in this little country is one that’s quite fascinating to me as a Third Culture Kid. That, however, will be a post for another day, because before I go into the depth and detail regarding what it’s like for a TCK to arrive in his or her passport country, I want to spend a little bit of time discussing my experiences in the sky.

Aeroplane (back to UK spelling now that I’m here, I suppose) flight has always been a wild and exciting experience for me. I’ve been doing it my entire life, since before I even had cognitive thought or higher level thinking. It has been a simple part of my existence, one that I became accustomed to long before I had any realization that many people on this planet do not enjoy sitting in those tightly packed seats and soaring through the air at 600mph (ground speed) at 28,000 ft. Flying has never really bothered me. Granted, since I have gotten taller, and at 5’11” I’m not exactly a giant, I don’t really like the lack of leg room, but the overall flight experience has never really been all that hampered by my size. I mean, to hop the atlantic takes around 8 hours from Houston, and I’ve sat in a desk at work longer than that, so I think I have it in me to remain seated and just suck it up.

The thing is, it’s difficult for me as a TCK and global nomad to really sum up what makes the flight experience so completely pleasant. It’s not just one thing, but a sum of all the little pieces that takes something that most people are completely terrified of and turns it into 8 hours of ecstasy for me. But honestly, it begins and ends with one simple thing: traveling across the world reignites a primal and instinctual sensation that has developed in all TCKs. It’s the very beginning of experiencing and adapting to a new culture. And though, at the time of our youth, almost all of us hated giving up our friends and jumping on a plane, as we have grown and matured we have learned to love the things we hated. Like brocoli or spinach was to our taste buds, we have found in our adulthood that the things that we hated really weren’t all that bad, and if we’d just taken the time to look at it a little closer, we would have seen how much healthier and stronger those things made us.

After the reignited glory of global travel has passed me by, the tiny little pieces of just being on a plane begin to kick in and continue the ongoing relaxation and bliss of flight. The sound of the engine humming in my ears is incredibly soothing. It calms my nerves and relieves all my stress. It’s like listening to a motivational tape where someone is constantly whispering how proud of you they are, forcing all that negative energy out of your body and calming your mind so that you are ready to do something incredible. The seats, though uncomfortable, are tiny little cubicles of personal space. Babies crying in the distance make me laugh, because even though everyone else is getting frustrated and annoyed, I know that once upon a time I was that little baby, and that baby may just find itself growing up in a world where it is constantly hopping on planes and traveling from country to country. It makes me smile because maybe, just maybe, that kid is on its first flight that it will never remember, but will one day look back on its life and think “my days of a TCK started there, on that flight I have no memory of, traveling across the Atlantic to England from Houston. That was where I started the journey of becoming the TCK I am today.”

The food is horrible, but there’s just something about it that makes me smile. It’s only two meals, and I’m in no way a picky eater after all the places I’ve been and some of the garbage I’ve eaten, so when I eat the bland and tasteless microwaved meal with my plastic knife and my plastic fork, I smile and think back on the days when planes had knives and forks that were made of metal, and people weren’t afraid of someone using that metal knife to kill a pilot and hijack a plane.

More than all those little things, though, it’s the people. The people are what make that flight so interesting. So many of them traveling as families, so many traveling alone. Some are going home to see loved ones, some are flying away for the start of a trip. Some are moving for good, and some are going on the holiday of their lives. Some are scared to death, and some are busy working away at their tray table. Some are happy and full of joy, and some are on the brink of tears missing the people they love and will not see again for what could be days, or months, or years… or maybe even forever. And I sit and watch, and listen, and talk to no one as I pick up all the tiny pieces of all the lives that surround me, and I am filled with joy for those that are happy, and I ache for those that are sad, because I know that every single time I have sat on a plane, I have at one point in my life experienced each and every one of those emotions that are raging around me.

And then it all comes to a close, and you touchdown in another country and pass through immigration and collect your bags, and then you walk through those double doors into the arrivals terminal, and there they all are, the sea of countless people waiting with smiles on their faces unmatched by any kind of joy you’ve ever seen. And children run up to their parents and wrap their arms around each other, and lovers kiss each other as though they’ve never loved a single person in all their lives but each other, and grandparents smile proudly as they pick up their kids and grand-kids. And then there’s the people like me, all alone walking through the terminal with no one to greet them, but happy all the same, despite anything else that’s happening in their life at the time. Because who would you be, standing in a sea of people filled with so much joy to be around each other, and not want to stop whatever it was that you had to do, if only for a minute, and see what pure and total human joy looks like. And if you’ve ever wanted to know what true happiness looks like, there’s the answer: Go stand in the arrivals terminal of any international airport. Only then will you truly understand just how beautiful this world can be.

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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