Tag Archives: United Kingdom

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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Where is my Second Passport?

Having recently naturalized to acquire my dual citizenship, incorporating a United States passport into my United Kingdom and EU travel opportunities, then moving to a new city in a new state to start a new job and find a new apartment while getting a new driver’s license and learn my way around my new place of residence, there are certain things that get lost in the transition. I naturalized in Houston, got my certificate, even took my passport photographs and filled out my passport application. However, with the move very shortly positioned thereafter, I never got around to stopping by the post office and getting it signed and sealed to be sent off to the American Passport Office for completion. It just sort of fell behind the curtain. After all, I still had my UK passport, so I was still a person, and I knew I was getting my US one, there were just other more important things happening at the time, and my travel plans weren’t set until the middle of 2012. I had time.

Time is an interesting thing. There’s tons of it everywhere, and you feel like there will always be a little more, and there’s always that one thing you wanted to do today but didn’t have time, so you just push it back until tomorrow. The days blur into weeks, and weeks into months. Even as a Third Culture Kid, one that travels the world and gets itchy feet if he stays in one place, I foolishly believed time was on my side when acquiring the single most important document of my entire life, my Passport, my key-card to the world.

Take, for example, the 18 year old boy that was driving his car home two nights ago. He was with his mates, enjoying life, approaching the same crossroad he always approached every day that was just minutes from his house. He crossed the intersection at a green light, a system we trust and expect to protect us. But as he did, a van ran the redlight, slamming into his vehicle and knocking him unconscious as the side of his car caved in upon him. Not long after arriving at the hospital, still unconscious, the driver’s heart stopped beating. It was a normal day for him, and if you can find any comfort in a story like this one, he passed with it being still just another normal day, completely unaware that anything had even happened, hopefully without any pain at all.

But for that boy’s family, normality shattered. That day was the most abnormal and horrible day imaginable. It produced a sense of numbness, shock, depression, and catastrophe that cannot be described, only experienced. It changed everything forever, a moment that the family will never forget, a life snuffed out of existence too soon and taken away from so many that loved him so dearly.

That boy was my cousin.

I have written an article about the cost of a TCK life and how TCKs deal with family loss, or near loss. But words don’t explain a thing, and no TCK handles loss the same way. All I know about how we handle loss is that we have a natural ability to do it. We don’t do it better than others, we just do it differently. We live in a perpetual state of being torn between getting attached and being ready to let go. Letting go is inevitable in our lives, it is something we have decided to make part of who are because our upbringing has made us into travelers. But every time we let go, we always know in the back of our minds, “I’ll see them again, one day.”

The last time I saw my cousin was in August of 2011. It had been over a year at that point since I’d seen him. He was becoming a mechanic and electrician so he was always busy with school and work. I remember I caught him changing the tires on his car. We chatted in the driveway as he went from tire to tire, talking about nothing. Then he rolled me a cigarette, something he called a “rollie.” I’m a seasoned smoker, but the concept of rolling my own cigarettes was a foreign one. He stepped into the garage and used a table covered in tools to roll me one. He handed it over and it was covered in grease and oil from his fingers. I lit it up and started smoking, the grease sitting on my lips and tickling my taste buds. It was salty. He asked how it was, and I told him it tasted better than a regular cigarette, which was true if it weren’t for the grease. He laughed, a smile that revealed a broken front tooth he had gotten repaired once but kept breaking, so he decided to call it quits and leave it snapped. He told me he didn’t like his job much, and that school was hard and he wasn’t having a lot of fun, but he loved his car, and his work paid for his car, and that made it all worth it. He finished putting the tires on his car, then he said goodbye and he left.

I thought about telling him I loved him. I thought about telling him I was proud of him for everything he had achieved, that our grandmother would have been so happy he had found something he was good at and a passion he could pursue. I thought about telling him that I was sorry for never being around, and that I wished I could come back and spend some time with him, maybe stay with him on my next trip. But I’m an introverted TCK. So instead, I said nothing, thinking “meh, I’ll tell him next time.”

Yesterday, I spent the entire day getting my passport in order. Fortunately, I have a friend that owns a premium travel agency for high profile travel. He used his contacts to expedite my passport processing, getting it back in my hands Wednesday of next week. But for now, I am sitting here feeling trapped and lost. Everyone is in England, dealing with the loss together, but my brother and I, the TCKs of the family, are over 4000 miles away trying to figure out how to get back.

And when we do, the question of dealing with loss will come into play once again. On the inside I am a mess, a storm of depression, sadness and spiraling thoughts, but on the outside I will be as I always am when it comes to goodbyes. I will be a rock, locked up and shut down, an emotional wall that cannot be broken while the sadness raves inside of me until I am alone and cannot contain it a moment longer. I see no benefit in being strong for others, but it is simply the way I work. I was trained to behave this way in the event of loss, and even when that loss is my little baby cousin who I loved to an unimaginable level, I am still just a TCK with a mess of issues.

———————————–

In loving memory of my cousin, Jack. I wish I hadn’t waited for next time to tell you how proud of you I am, and what an amazing impact you have been on the lives of our entire family.

Update: The boy in the car sitting behind my cousin, who will remain unnamed out of respect to his family, was taken off life support two days ago. He passed away yesterday evening. I extend my dedication to him as well, and even though I did not know him, he was one of my cousin’s closest friends and a friend to many that have made me into the man I am today, and that’s more than enough to know that this world would be a better place with him still in it.

_________
Post by: James R. Mitchener

Long Distance Love

As a Third Culture Kid, I see the world in a very different light to other, more ground-loving people. I’m a child of the sky. I love airplanes, love to fly, and love those 6+ hours in the air as I embark upon a transcontinental journey to a distant land. It’s blissful, freeing, and it gives me the sense that when I touch down and cross through that airport on the other side, I’ll be somewhere that isn’t the place I’m accustomed to. There’s so much excitement in those moments, going through immigrations, getting your bag, walking through customs, and then walking out into a sea of excited faces, of people waiting for those they love to step back into the country and back into their lives.

The arrivals terminal in any airport really is the happiest place in all the world. You’re never standing, waiting for someone and all of a sudden a nice big man comes charging forward and punches someone right in the face as they come through the gate. You only get the smiles, the little children sprinting at full speed towards their mother or father, the young couples finally reunited after however long they have been apart. It’s so beautiful, so perfect in every single way. And I know this because I’m a traveller, a Third Culture Kid that has walked through that gate countless hundreds of times. I’ve seen it first hand, from being reunited with family to being reunited with the woman of my dreams.

Like I said before, as a TCK, I see the world through a different lens to most. It’s small. Very small. So small in fact I can get to the other side of it in less than 24 hours. It’s so insignificantly small, in fact, that when I dated a girl 4,500 miles away from where I was living, it wasn’t the distance that bothered me, just the fact that I didn’t get to lie down next to her at night to go to sleep. To me, distance isn’t an issue. It never should be. I’m a global nomad, and I plan to stay that way. I will always be pushed and pulled around this planet, jumping from A to B, B to C, C to D, all the way down the line until I have to start using chinese characters instead of letters. It’s just the way I am.

So to me, that taboo of a long distance relationship, or LDR as I hear it called all to often when I’m in one, isn’t so much of a taboo. Instead, I think it’s the greatest test, the strongest evidence of whether or not you as a couple can stand to be together. If you can look at a LDR and think “I don’t care how far apart we are, nothing will ever stop me being beside you,” then you’ve got the makings of something spectacular. It’s that crucial flaw, one I’m guilty of and will never do again, of thinking: “I’ll see her in a month,” or “It’s only for another year,” that brings it all crashing down. The second you let that little idea crawl into your mind, you’re doomed.

The thing is, to a TCK, I don’t think a long distance relationship is that big of a deal. So many of our relationships are long distance, with networks of TCK friends scattered all over the world. It’s true, we are incredible at cutting people out of our lives when we move, of letting go of the past and starting again, but there’s always that network in the life of an adult TCK that never dies, that never fades, that’s always there despite how little you talk to them or how little you stay up-to-date on each-others lives. And so in a way, we are built to survive the distance.

The hard part is in realizing that not everyone else is. As wonderful as it would be for TCKs to find and marry other TCKs, the chances of it happening are slim to none. I’ve met thousands and thousands of people in the past six years, four and a half spent at university and one and a half in the adult world, and I can safely say that of those thousands, I’ve met no more than three TCKs. Three. That’s it. So the idea that we are going to stumble across a person we find captivating, beautiful, interesting, clever, and sexy who is a TCK just like us is slim to none.

So instead, we look for people that have characteristics of TCKs, ones that enjoy similar things. We hunt for the people that say things like “I’d love to live a life where I travel from place to place all the time,” or “I’ve never really had much of a family anyhow.” We look for people who are like us, slightly damaged and ready to live their life to the fullest by experiencing everything their is to experience.

The problem is, they aren’t TCKs. I have done this time and time again, looked for that girl that wants all those things. I thought I’d found her once, beautiful, smart, funny, gave me chills just looking at her. She wanted to travel, to see the world, to be brave and explore and never worry about anything else. And so we gave it a shot, with a 4,500 mile gap that to me meant nothing but to her meant everything. I saw it in her eyes, heard it in her voice, and so I would say those words that I knew, even then, were the words that called heartbreak up from the pits of hell. I said “we’ll see each other in a month,” and “we will get you out here soon, I promise.” I sang empty promises across the Atlantic Ocean, and in the end, heartbreak heard me calling and came to settle its score.

The truth is, as TCKs we will always be looking for someone to love, to build a family that we’ve never had and one that’s so unlike all the ones we know. We will look for like-minded thinkers, first culture kids who want what we want. But in the end, we must always remember that they are not like us. They do not see the world through the same lens that we do. They do not bear the weight of three, or four, or ten different cultures. They will never be as comfortable with distance and loss as we are. They will never stare heartbreak in the eyes, and say “you can hurt me all you want, but I will keep looking for her.” So remember, no matter how hard you try, do not believe that they see the world just as you do. Because the truth is:

They will never be Third Culture Kids.

_________
Post by: James R. Mitchener

The Price We Pay

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

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

We have been given the entire world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The thing is, I’ll never know.

———————-

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

_________
Post by: James R. Mitchener