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.