Quote from,

Third Culture Kids- The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds
David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken*

Monday, November 17, 2014

Our families.

Family. There's all kinds.

There's your "regular" birth family -you know, the one you're born into and "stuck with" because well, they're blood.
There's the family by choice because we don't all "have it good" and sometimes you just find your group of people that become your family.
There's the adoption and foster processes that can create families.
There's the family by association of either community or culture. You know, you grow up in a village so everyone's just automatically family and they love you, bot because they have to but because that's what they're there for, kinda thing.

So where does that put me?

I'm adopted, I have a family by association of community/culture, I have my family "by choice" and I"m sure  somewhere out there I still have my blood family. And trust me, it is all very confusing sometimes.

For instance, I grew up overseas with my adopted family where all my aunties and uncles and brothers and sisters and cousins were my village tribe and church communities. Then every three of four years, we'd move back to my country of passport and I'd get to see my adopted family on mum and dad's sides.

And when I was little, that was fine. When I was in my childhood home/country, I grew up with my village tribes and church communities and I had a full set of grandparents, more aunties, uncles, sisters, brothers and cousins than you would think possible. I was guided and taught what to do, I knew my role in the culture and I knew I was loved. It wasn't because they had to love me, but because they chose to and they wanted to and they did. Time and time again I saw their love in their care, their discipline, their forgiveness -I could go on for ages... And I loved them all back. Then we'd head back to my passport country where I knew everyone by name, I hugged, was hugged back, I knew I was loved and welcome in my family but it never felt the same. I just didn't have the connection with them that I had with my village and church families (we'll call them VCF -village/church family, for short). I knew they loved me and I loved them too but...as much as I wasn't blood with my VCF, I wasn't blood with them either. And what made the difference for me was, the rapport just wasn't there. I hadn't grown up with them or in their culture for that matter. With my adopted family it was just awkward and strange and in the back of my mind, I could feel my loyalties to my VCF kick in that much more.

So what is it like today?

I have been living in my passport country for over four years now and I've only gone back to visit my VCF  once. In that same amount of time, I've only visited my adopted families maybe three or four times. The disconnect I feel, as time separates and changes us all, has grown and I feel a sense of lost loyalties. Yes, my VCF thinks of me often, but being in a third world country, there just doesn't exist the means to easily communicate and keep up to date with each other -so relations have broken down. At the same time, I don't know how to interact with my adopted family and in many ways, I feel more comfortable simply letting the relationships exist as they are, there but with a measure of distance. How could they understand the life I lived growing up? And how can I understand the life and the culture they all embrace when I've not been fully assimilated into it myself?

So in the midst of all this disconnect, as I needed another level of complexity -I have delved into my birth origins and began to search for understanding regarding my birth and real blood family. But that's a topic for another time.

Family. TCK you aren't alone. I know and I get it. You grew up overseas yet you were expected to maintain an up to date database of knowledge and cultural say on your passport country. You travelled into a large variety of cultures and created families around you in every location you lived in. Yet even as you were building that family, you were also withdrawing into yourself because you know it's not permanent and sooner or later you'll be uprooted again, going through that all too familiar process of goodbyes, heartaches and tears. Only to turn around again, pick up your luggage and roll into another new place, sleep, wake up and be asked to build your life all over again. Yea we keep up with our friends and families and sometimes we're even lucky enough to be able to go back and have the opportunity to try to pick up where we left off. But it isn't the same. And it hurts.

The distance between you and your various families. The time away and apart from everyone that ever cared about you. The way it's always different and just not the same whenever you try to pick things up again. It all adds up. And what makes it worse is when you look around and see someone else from the same boat as you, moving on and being so successful about it. There's that tinge of disappointment that they seemed to have just let go of their past, there's the anger that they have moved on so easily and there's the frustration that you haven't done what have because you're still holding on to your VCF's.

TCK I want you to know that it's not a bad thing. It's not a bad thing that they've moved on. And it's most definitely not a bad thing that you're still where you are.

The tears at night, the grumbling during the day -hey, listen. I get it. How could I possibly understand? Because I was right there with you.

Hang in there TCK. You and me, we'll get through this.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Back in May.

I've kept meaning to write. But every time I had something I wanted to share, either I didn't feel it was worth my reader's time, or it hurt too much to let surface enough to write about.

So let's back track a little bit.

January 2012, brought up the whole issue of family travel and how truly difficult it can be when a parent goes back to the homeland.

February 2012, saw a change in pace and I walked through the various definitions and portrayals of "love".

August 2013, I tried to express the inner thoughts of transition and what I was going through at the time.

Now? Here we are. May 2014. And not much has changed.

My family has all travelled back to the islands, leaving me here. I'm still struggling with love. And well, since my apartment lease is going to be up soon, hello to another upcoming transition.

All this, no-progress, to write about, makes me wonder, "Should I really write about it?" I've been debating with myself on this one, to write or not to write and I've decided, to write. Why? Because there's too much silence and that's a huge problem.

As a church-raised MK, I felt the pressure to be perfect, to be Bible-man and know all the answers, to be educationally ahead of everyone else and well, you MK's may know what I'm talking about here. So when it came to talking, to breaking the silence, I felt I couldn't. I didn't feel I had that freedom.

I wasn't the best in school, I didn't know the Bible as well as some of the other MK's around me did, I was short, I wore glasses, I was shy (so that made me socially awkward) and I was always scared to break the silence. I felt that my needs and my feelings, shouldn't be voiced because in the grand scheme of things, there were bigger issues to be solved. Therefore, why should I voice myself?

I'm supposed to be making progress. And I'm not. I'm not like one of my fellow MK's who's about to graduate with her bachelor's and who just got accepted into the master program she's been wanting to get into. I'm not even going to school right now. So why should I be talking?

This kind of mentality, the sense that I need to be quiet because my parent's work takes precedence, is such a common feeling amongst MK's and TCK's and it needs to be addressed. But how? And who is the right person for this kind of job?

Who minister's to the ministers? Are we even considered as ones in need when we come back stateside?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Swimming in a River

Have you ever been swimming in a river? You step in and the first sensation you feel is the slippery smooth of the rocks underfoot, soft heat emanating off of them, the water warm as it is too shallow to veil the river's bed from the sun's reaching rays. As you wade further in, the water becomes more and more cool, it's pull grows stronger and in its comfort you begin to relax. As you grow accustomed to the gentle tugging of the current you step out farther, into the the deeper waters of the river and suddenly the river isn't a friend anymore. It's a swirl and a rush pulling you along and you world goes from peaceful to chaos. You look around and see people on short, some you know, some you don't. You cry for help. But all they see is you swimming in the river. They don't see the current that's sweeping  you off your feet, or the branches and rocks that are scrapping you as you struggle against nature. Al they see is you, swimming in the river, where you're supposed to be.

I moved away from my homeland with my family and returned stateside. I attended school and when the time came, I began working full time. Each small progression, while being a general standard in the world I lived in, was more than just a meeting of a bar for me. For me, it was a constant struggle. I had had socially appropriate time to adjust and yet the continued feeling of internal chaos, disconnect and the general feeling of just being lost and disorganized despite being involved in consistent school, and eventually work, routines, I just wasn't cutting it. I had gone from standing on the shore, to daring to step into a river I thought I could handle, to suddenly finding that the river I thought I could swim in, was nothing I could have ever prepared myself to face.

I look at the shore and see people I know and I am surrounded by them. I am swimming, trying to find my way but this current is pulling at me, disorienting me. I look at the shore again and it is as though time is moving, but not for me. In the river time stands still, but on shore the people are coming and going and I am here. Floundering. I want to be back on that time line. Laughing the way I see them laugh.

Where in this river can I find waters gentle? How do I create stability where there is seemingly none?

Monday, February 6, 2012

To define love.

A friend recently texted me asking me, how I would define "love"? She also asked me, what does love mean to you? I sat there for awhile thinking over what she had asked me and as I sat there, memory upon memory of the appearance or presentation of love in my life came to mind. A hundred scenes had passed before my mind's eye before I had even gathered my thoughts in preparation for answering her question.

I recalled the hands of love that carried me when I was a child, playing on the sands of my island paradise. I looked back and saw the love that was carried on the winds of discipline and rebuke. I heard love call my name as I remembered the day of my baptism and the various mission trips and retreats that followed.

Thus gathering my thoughts, this is what I wrote:

What is love but the essence of purity enacted in such form as that which is tangible to the human heart, bearable to the human soul and present in the truest appearance of any emotion created by as failing a creation as mankind himself. Born of such roots as shallow masks of
smiles and hollow riddles of love poems scratched into paper and made permanent by the ink that put it there, love is diminished and its meaning so degraded that love's precious name should not even be put on as such a label as those who do not truly know it, would place it.
For such love as that, is not love at all but merely lust justified by "love's" pure name. True love is all things unattainable by man's futile efforts. It is above us. It is held but not understood in its fullest nature.

Love in all its beauty is more than the surface of a hug or the victory completion of five months of maintaining a relationship with the person you've chosen to "be with" as your high school sweet heart. It's deeper than anything anyone could ever imagine. It's greater than the chasm that it's absence creates. It's greater than the void of its own departure. Its greater than life and even in death, love is the victor.

So what does love mean to me? Love is the relationships I had, but then lost. Love is desperation I felt when my closest friends slipped away and disappeared into the night. Love is mother who raised me, who gave me her passion, her persistence, her patience. Love is the father who protected me, who taught me what it means to give when you have
nothing, to provide even if it means giving up all you have so that another might gain. Love is the friend who showed me the grace of forgiveness. Love is the teacher who taught me the discipline and consequences of wrong from right. Love is the reason, I am who I am,
for had love not shown its face in a manager hundreds of years ago, or had love not shed its blood that I might live, then I would not be here. For love, true love, in all its mystery and wonders, is the sole testimony that gives me life.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

“Probably only an MK would know”

This new year has been deemed, “The Year of The Suitcase” by our family, as my parents will be spending a lot of their time traveling to various parts of the world in order to fulfill business needs as well as their own missions related trips. The first of these trips began with my dad leaving to go to Europe on a business trip, the second trip was my mum’s.

She went to Solomon Islands. My homeland.

How do I describe the screaming pain inside me? How do I communicate the way I don’t just long to be where she went, but I would die and in a way, am dying, just to be there. To feel the island sun again embrace me as hers, to know the ocean’s arms around me as he reclaims me as his daughter, to again be one with the islands that raised me, to again be with the family I left behind, to hear their voices calling my name, to have my eyes behold the beauty of seeing old friends, familiar places –my home. How do I describe the way the knife of distance cuts into me as miles upon miles of land and ocean separate me from the land that made me who I am, how do I describe that gut wrenching pain that’s so suppressed within me that at times it’s nothing more than a numb, cold core of hidden, buried hurt? How do I describe the loneliness I feel when this chasm of heartache seeks to, and sometimes does, consume me, when the darkness of sorrow and bitter remorse takes over and the present becomes no more and I find myself reliving memories as if it were the “now” instead of the “then”, the “here” instead of the “there”, how do I describe that? How do I describe the way I’m caged, the way this prison of memories holds me hostage, yet I, as captive, don’t always want to necessarily escape, for once freed, where am I? Probably only an MK would know.

My mum wrote on our family blog,
“Bittersweet emotions punctuate my building anticipation. I can’t forget (my family*). They long to be winging their way to the Pacific, but it’s not yet their time. In the meantime I will be the family ambassador who will enjoy the sweet reunions with friends, smelling the salty Pacific Ocean, tasting tropical fruits while bringing the love and well wishes of the family.
Probably only an MK would know how my girls are feeling at the moment. I know this trip isn’t easy for them. But I salute their selfless release and blessing to make this trip. I love you, (girls*). Since you were little, you understood the sacrifices of this lifestyle and have freely allowed us to go. Thank you for making it easy to make this trip even when it hurt to see me go be where you can only dream of being here at the moment.”

Yes, it’s true –probably only an MK would understand; the sacrifices of our lifestyle, the dreams of going back and of being back, the pain of seeing someone else go where you can only imagine being. How do I describe it, this, everything –me, probably only an MK would know.

*Names have been omitted

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Feeling the differences.

In my last blog post, I wrote on how I was going through a transitioning period and how, going through this time in my life has made me feel so between worlds that I didn't feel like I fit in anywhere. I also mentioned that part of what made the transition difficult was the knowing no one would miss me. And I didn't want to go into detail about that in my last blog but I did want to share a bit about how socially affected and influenced my life here in America varied from my life in the homeland, and how just that one aspect really affected me, emotionally, mentally and even spiritually.

Previously, I wrote, "But what was there to return to? I had no friends. I had zero social life. My introverted nature had taken care of that, and to a point it was comfortable for me. It was comfortable for me to exist in the solitude of my own company, to have my family surrounding me and my dog constantly by my side. The knowledge that no one would miss me...that tore away at me."

While it was comfortable for me to live a quieter lifestyle here in America -that wasn't who I was.

In the homeland, I had a fairly colourful lifestyle. The weekends were pretty consistently filled with church activity, during the week I had either school events or youth programmes to attend, weekend evenings were spent with the family or hosting a dinner with friends (my mum's an amazing hostess! We've put on so many events on a large scale as well as smaller, more personable gigs), week day afternoons were spent at soccer practise for a local church denomitaion... During the last couple of years we spent out on the field, friends from the village moved in with us so we had my "aunt", "uncle", and "little cousin brother" around to socialise and interact with -I had a busy schedule. And it wasn't just busy, it was fun, it was interactive, it was a learning based culture so I was constantly being taught new things, it was a family based society so no matter where I went I was always belonging, always protected, always laughing, always loved.

Then we moved to America.

My life shut down.

I had been torn away from everything and everyone I knew. I had been removed from my natural element and placed in a chemical group so different that, like water and oil I seemed to separate at the seams.

The laughter I had known died. The smile I had been used to carrying was packed up and put away. The knowledge that had been passed down to me from my "aunts" and "uncles" overseas was suddenly rendered useless. I had nothing going for me. Even my english seemed out of place. I didn't know the slang. I didn't know what all the texting abbreviations were. I didn't even recognise the brand names of clothes or shoes. Going into restaurants and ordering a burger was hard because once I said "cheese burger please" then next couple of questions were, "what kind of cheese would you like?" or, "what sauce would you like to go with that?" And ordering at fast food wasn't much fun either. Most kids have the menus memorised. But not me.

I remember going on a missions trip with a church I had recently been nudged into. I wasn't comfortable with it, but I pushed past the discomfort and gave it a shot. The first couple of days were okay, it was just painting a house (and that in itself is another story), but one night the youth leader decided to treat us fast food. We all piled in the van. Everyone was so excited. I remember sitting there, nervous and a little anxious because -I had never been to a fast food without my parents around. At 16 that might seem absurd, but the only other times I had been to order fast food was in England, before that was Australia and both times I wasn't the one ordering -it was my parents. Anyways...the youth pastor asks the bus where do we want to go and everyone starts calling out names of fast food restaurants that I barely recognise (at this point I had only been in America a couple months) and we finally settle on Sonic. So we pull up to the Sonic drive through and the youth leader passes around a pen and a piece of paper for us to write our orders on. The paper got passed around, and then it came to me. I held in my lap and read over the other kid's orders. I was nervous. The spotlight was on me and everyone was waiting. I held the pen and tried to put ink to paper. But I couldn't. How could when I didn't even know what I was supposed to order? So I asked, "what's on the Sonic menu?" and to my dismay, and total embarrassment, the entire bus bursts out in laughter. I remember sitting in that quiet corner of the bus, hugging the wall, head bowed, pen still poised above the paper resting on a now trembling lap, just listening to the laughter. I remember the helpless embarrassment I felt because I didn't know something as "simple" as the Sonic menu. I remember the renewal of heartache for my homeland where I knew this sort of thing would've never happened. I remember longing for family to run to and find refuge in. I remember feeling everything inside me shut down even more than I already had, feeling the slow tears that fell as I turned my face away and being immersed in the cutting echoes of the subsiding laughter and teenage ridicule. I remember waiting to hear the friendly voice of the youth pastor cut in and stop the critique. I remember hearing none and slowly slipping away even more.

It's events like that, that led me to shutting down. I was living yes, but I wasn't living the way I had for the past 16-17 years of my life. I wasn't in my natural environment and I wasn't with people I felt would be willing to help break me into my new surroundings. So I closed down. I let go of what social life I had been making attempts at and I allowed my introverted nature to take full control of who I was.

Even now I can still feel the differences, the transition in character that took place and took over me. My laughter is far more contained than it ever was -to a point where, I barely laugh at all. My smile feels unnatural. Jokes don't come easily. Words are rarely spoken in public. Actions are kept conservative. ...I'm just not who I was. And that effected me, not just socially, but emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

Emotionally, I began burying things. I had no one to talk to, so I began keeping things to myself, internalising everything from jokes I may have heard somewhere but had no one to share it with, to the degree of homesickness that I had been harbouring and that had been slowly building inside of me. Mentally, I became very quiet, my mind worked fast to process things but knowledge was hardly ever shared. Eventually the thoughts built up where my internal dam couldn't even keep up and things began spilling over, flooding me with depression -a depression that I didn't share until it was almost too late. Spiritually -I fell. I fell hard and I fell fast. I didn't recognise God here in America and I felt suddenly abandoned. I reached out my hands in desperate longing for His reassurance but found my fingers return clenched but empty. The emptiness tore at away me and the abyss that I had once been but an observer of, became a chasm that found myself falling down in.

Time has passed since my initial arrival into that valley of darkness and I've found Light again -but the road wasn't easy. Healing was and continues to be, a long journey, but at least it's one I'm walking on. In terms of my character transition, I'm still the closed child that I became when I moved here, although I am learning to open up some. And despite the passage of time, my laughter is still carefully held in reserve and my once active social life is still just a thing of the past. Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever be the person I was. Sometimes I wonder if going back could bring me back, or at least a part of me back. I'd like to know laughter again. I'd like to feel the freedom and safety I used to know. But for now, I'm still in survivor's mode and I have a long way to go.

(Note: I'm not saying that my lack of friendships is anyone's fault, this is just me expressing myself in regards to the situation I went through).

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

In between worlds.

After having moved from high school to university, I've found myself going through, yet another period of transition.

I don't know how to describe the helplessness I felt as I faced the days leading up to the departure, the initial leaving process and everything that came up in the days and weeks that followed. It wasn't like I was leaving and could never go back, I had the assurance, the safety net of having my parents an hour's drive away. I had the comfort of the knowledge that, I could return if I wanted. This transition...it's been nothing like my past transitions.

Usually, when you leave the homeland to come stateside, you know you have no choice. You know you won't be able to go back for at least a year. You know that in that time you probably won't have any communication whatsoever with those you leave behind. There's a sense of finality. There's a need for closure. It's a conscious and sometimes suppressed need, but it's there. But when I left and drove the hour up to university, I felt like I was thrown through a loop hole. I knew I could go back, so why initiate the sequence of closure? I knew it wasn't the end of things because I knew that just by pressing a couple buttons, I could be instantly connected to my family, so there was no sense of the finality in the leaving that I had become accustomed too.

I felt so -lost. My heart was going through the ripping process that I've always gone through when I've had to make a major move, but my mind wasn't following suit, it wasn't following through the normal stages of mental departure that I was used to. I found myself confused, bewildered at times. What I knew, and what I felt were in horrible conflict with each other. For the first time in my life, I experienced a "leaving emotion" that I just didn't know what to do with. My heart was burdened with the sorrow of leaving, but my mind was at peace because there was the assurance of return. But what was there to return to? I had no friends. I had zero social life. My introverted nature had taken care of that, and to a point it was comfortable for me. It was comfortable for me to exist in the solitude of my own company, to have my family surrounding me and my dog constantly by my side. The knowledge that no one would miss me...that tore away at me. The entire process has just been so different from anything else I've ever gone through. I'm not really leaving anything (in terms of a social life) behind, and I have no one "here" that excites me to come. When I was going between the homeland and stateside, I was knew I'd be missed by my family, my tribe. I knew who I was leaving behind. I knew who I was going towards. But not this time. I left. That's it. I just left. No one to miss me. No one for me to look forward to seeing. It felt so empty. So empty and yet so filled with emotion.

I was so confused. So filled with remorse. And it came to a point where the emotion within me was weakening me, the magnitude of the emotion seemed beyond my own capacity. Eventually, I found myself second guessing my own sorrow until I finally gave in to the survivors instinct to just, suppress. I felt the emotions become buried until all I was, was the thoughts. I began operating, as much as I could, without emotions because, every time I felt something, it felt so out of place that I didn't know what to do with it, or myself.

The confusion's still here. I'm still learning how to deal with this loop hole I've found myself thrown through and maybe when things "get better", maybe then I'll be able to pull back the covers and look at the emotions that I've found myself so utterly confused by.

It's a confusing road I'm on, emotionally and mentally. It can be dark sometimes, but I'm holding onto Him. He's guided me this far, I trust Him...it's really hard sometimes.

Which brings me to another point -why does the admittance of the Christian struggle on a personal level suddenly make you appear like a "bad Christian?" But I'll write on that another time.