Quote from,

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

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.

Saturday, August 27, 2011


I recently attended a F.O.C.U.S. (Fellowship of Christian University Students)and the speaker spoke on a really interesting topic for me -belonging. He spoke of how he "knew" no one wanted to "belong" to someone because it suggested being the property of something and then went into further detail on how the sense of belonging to someone can actually turn people off etc etc... But for me, what he was saying just didn't apply.

I love belonging. I love having my people around me, knowing who I am in them, with them and being part of the collective so to speak. I love hearing the words, "you belong to me" because to me, it's not a suggestion of property, to me it's an aspect of identity. Tying this aspect of identity into what the speaker was saying (about how "we all like our freedom and individuality"), I've found that a lot of my identity, comes not from who I am as an individual, but who I am within the body of Christ. Don't get me wrong, I love my freedom -but I also know my boundaries, and am beginning to find my place in "the big scheme of things".

For me, growing up in the islands I was surrounded by my village family, or by my church family or by those who simply cared and looked out for me as if I was family. I always had people teaching me, growing me in the customs of their culture; I was constantly asking questions about the boundaries regarding girls and our place in society, I was surrounded by people who were open to sharing their language and custom stories with me -I was in a place where I was accepted and made a part of the family there. I belonged with them. When I'd go out of my house, I knew that I had my people looking out for me. It was safe. I was safe. And when I began to familiarise myself a bit more with the culture, I began returning the favours. For so long it seemed, I had been babied. My "family" had had to grow me in their ways for a long time before I finally began to understand the way of things. But once that understanding began to develop, I found myself enabled to the point where I give back into the culture that had already given so much to me. When I was out with my "sisters", they no longer needed to constantly correct me and with my younger "sisters" I found that I was able to help guide them and teach them the ways of our culture. However, when I came to America, I found a very different culture awaited me.

Attempting integration into the culture here was and has been and has continued to be, a very difficult task and time for me. I don't have a family of people to help guide me in the socially accepted and the socially unfavourable rituals and standards. I don't have a community I feel I can call myself "one of". I've noticed people here are so independent and so loving of their freedom that it's come to a point where it's almost "too extreme". Instead of having a village to which and whom you can be held accountable to, you are an individual striving to break away from the "bondages" of family ties. Aspects such as responsibility have such a different meaning here, that at times, it doesn't even feel like the same thing. While I can recognise the human drive for individuality and freedom from the social constraints of ones community or family, I can also see an underlying (and in this western society/culture -suppressed) need to belong. Maybe it's this suppressed need that drives young teens into early and destructive relationships. Maybe it's this internal battle between wanting freedom and wanting to belong that births so much of the identity crisis that teens and young adults go through. Now, I'm not saying that the islanders don't go through their own struggles, in terms of identity, but I am thinking that maybe...maybe belonging to someone carries a greater impact that what many westerners care to realise.

There's so much I have to say on this topic.....all of it based on personal experience. But I won't keep rambling. I've taken up enough of your time as it is.

Just a clock.

Monday, July 25, 2011


It's amazing how much a simple, material item, can mean so, so much. My parents recently removed a couch from my room that I had always known was only a temporary establishment. But when it actually came to them removing the item I felt another piece of me, somehow taken by that event. I keep thinking, I always knew this would happen, and, we need the money so selling this will profit everyone. But my thoughts keep turning back to the loss.

Loss. Not matter material, like the couch that I just lost, or friendships or the physical aspect of moving from one place to another as so many TCK's experience -hurts. We all grow and handle the situation in our own way but loss, in whatever light you put it in, is loss.

The space in my room is a painful reminder of the ever present space in my heart. I've been so far removed from the place I've grown up calling home, that having this taken away, hurts more than I think it should. The space will take a lot of getting used to, and seeing that space as more than the symbolic representation of the space in my heart... I'm not sure how that's going to work. I saw the couch as more than just physical comfort. It gave my room meaning beyond a place to crash. It provided safety. Safety to sit and read, or laugh with my friends. It had a lot of memories. But I guess that's the lesson -don't hold onto the material. Nothing lasts forever. Take hold of the moment right? I'll have to find something else to fill the gap, both physical and symbolic. Moving on -it's never easy.

I'm not sure which hurts more -seeing something removed from my life, or seeing the space left behind.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Identity through culture.

When we were in Solomon Islands I had friends who, at the time, seemed overly protective of me. To the point when we'd cross a main road, they'd hold my hand, or when we were in a crowd of people, they'd put their hand on my shoulder. On mission trips or retreat my "sisters" would lay their mats down next to mine and we'd all sleep together.

At first I resented the way they treated me. Then I began to understand the culture. Family looks out for each other. Family never gets left behind. They weren't babying me as I had initially thought. They were in fact, treating me just like one of their own. They were accepting me and welcoming me into their family.

I soon adapted to their ways and before long I was treating others the same way. I knew that they were looking after me, that if a drunk man came strolling down the road they'd be there and we as a family would be safe. They began to teach me their ways of cooking, let me in on traditional medicines and would entertain me with their custom stories. They had made me theirs, and so much of my identity rested in who I was in that tribe, the clan, that people/language group.

Then we moved to America. At first I clung very strongly and stubbornly to my identity as a "Solomon Islander". I wore my traditional necklaces and jewelry all the time. I maintained all the cultural values that I had adopted when we were living overseas. I spoke pijin constantly and refused to accept the fact that we were no longer in Solomons.

That brought its own set of problems =applying Solomons customs and values to American culture and traditions, just didn't work. So I attempted a go at a whole new strategy. I attempted to "Americanise" myself. I tore down the walls of cold bitterness that I had against Americans and began to absorb, without thought or censorship -the "American "way".

But in letting go of Solomons, in letting go of my culture and knowledge of the culture -I was also rejecting so much of what made me as a person. An entire aspect of my identity, simply tossed aside.

At the time, I didn't realise it, but I was wandering trying to find my way around -without any of the boundaries or securities that I had known while we were still overseas. When I pushed Solomons customs out the door, I was also, unknowingly, eliminating my sense of respect, giving honour, responsibility etc... From my life. Why? Because the only way I knew how to carry out those values were through the traditions and customs I had learned while being assimilated and assimilating, Solomons culture.

So what became of me then? I blundered through the first few months of being back -making friends, losing friends. Getting lost, getting found. Right when I thought I had figured out how to navigate through conversations and life as an "American" I'd slip up. Whether it was a communicational error, confusion on a topic relating to pop culture or just not knowing something that was "common knowledge"... I just wasn't fitting in. I was constantly confused as to what to do in situations. How do I honour someone, when the only way I know how to show that respect is through the traditions I learned overseas? Well, a lot of times -I just didn't. Why? Because Solomons wasn't my life anymore. But then again -what did I know of American culture?

I kept going down that muddy path, slipping into depression, getting swallowed by confusion and often times anger. Who was I? I was in America, yet I was still very much an islander...

Not that long ago, I received an email from a friend and towards the end of the email it said, "when I first saw you (at MK) I claimed you..." And it was the words, "I claimed you" that really got to me. "Claimed" me? That only happened in Solomons...

Since that email, I've been digging around, looking back and reflecting on the things I've learned/gone through. I realised what had really happened to me. How, in the process of moving to America, I had 'lost' my identity. Granted, our identity should be in Christ and in Him alone.. But sometimes, even the best of us fail and look to other sources for identity and belonging.

So where am I now? Still confused. Still adapting. I'm in the process of figuring out ways that I can apply Solomons culture into American traditions... Mostly because, it's from my culture, that most of my values have been formed and rooted in. I'm learning American values and how I can portray them appropriately. I'm trying to make, what essentially boils down to my TCK/MK culture, fit into my life here in America. Somehow, I'll get them to mesh. I'm taking the best of all three worlds (Solomons Islands, America and the worlds in between those two) and applying it to life today. But at least now, I know that I'm claimed. Even if it's just by one person. In Solomon Islands, I was "claimed" by an entire tribe of people. Here, I'm still finding my people. But if one person can "claim" me.. Maybe other's will too. What's so important about being claimed? It's the sense of belonging. The knowledge that there are others around you to support you, to help you. Just knowing that -they're there.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Scattered snippets, relationships and self.

I think my earliest memories of "the homeland" are when I was five and living in a village called Tawatana, on Makira Province, Solomon Islands. You're wondering, where is that? Well, the country itself is located on the Ring of Fire, South West Pacific and is part of a chain of islands inclusive of Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and New Zealand -best described as, "go to the northern tip of Australia, then go about a thousand miles east and you'll hit the Sols."

Location acquired -that's where I first lived. I can remember following my "aunts" and "uncles", being carried by all my "cousins" and just, being a part of the tribe. I held my first knife and was peeling potatoes with my younger sister in that village. I had my first taste of the mouth-drying skin of the betelnut fruit and ate my first sea-worms there. They were my first family in Solomon Islands. But how do I explain that, the relationships, the growing up with strangers to the point where I call them, and consider them family, more so than I do my own here in America -how do I explain that? Relationships is everything there in islands. Friends aren't just friends -they're family. When I came to America, I struggled to learn the dynamics of friendships here, the culture may be mine by right of citizenship, but it's not what I grew up with. When I came to America, I was expected to call my real aunts and uncle, "aunt" and "uncle" but I found I almost couldn't. Those titles were ones I associated with people I actually knew, not these foreigners.

I've learned to adapt, but I still do struggle. I'm an adult, but my relational skills here, having not grown up here, are comparable to that of a child.

1 Corinthians 13:11-12, "11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known."

Maybe I am a child in the area of relationships here in America, but as the verse says, "for now we see only a reflection as in a mirror" -I'm completely out of my comfort zone, my natural habitat -who I am here, isn't who I've been for almost every year of my life up until I moved.  I can let you see me, who I am, but I ask for patience.  Patience to let me keep learning.  Patience to help me learn.  It's as if I have to build from the ground up.  Every part of who I am was left behind when I moved here.  I can't fully be myself because the culture here doesn't allow it, so whoever said "America is the land of freedom and liberty" -I think you need to revise that statement, or at least put a footnote along the lines of, "as long as what you're doing falls into acceptability of the Americans standards, expectations, rules etc."

I'm still learning and I have a long way to go.  "Now I know in part, then I shall know fully."  I hope the latter comes quickly...

Friday, July 15, 2011

Where is "start"?

I would paint you pictures with my tools, but sometimes the artwork of one's words are the best tool mankind could possess; so with these words I'll share my islands with you.  I'll tell you about the way Dawn's fingers extend themselves reaching across rivers and mountains, the way she climbs her slow path awakening her children along the way, leaving them drowsy and drowned in her sunlit wake.  I'll tell you about the sea, with his white-capped smile, his treacherous voice.  I'll let you feel the sands between your barefoot toes, I'll let the wind comb your hair wild, reckless.  I'll show you how somethings just can't be tamed and how, sometimes, it's better that way.  I'll draw you into the simple pleasures of my world.  I'll teach you games with five stones or three sticks.  I'll show you the innocence in someone's trashed soup can and the hours of enjoyment it can bring.  I'll teach you the unsung songs, I'll read you the unwritten stories and soon, you too will be writing your own.  Sit down, let me tell you, let me show you -my islands.