Resilience is defined as the ability to bounce back quickly, to cope with stress and adversity. According to some people Third Culture Kids are very resilient. I never thought of myself that way. I just dealt with things as they came up and moved on. It was like being on auto pilot.
When I landed in a country I had never been to before and there was nobody to meet me at the airport, I didn’t hesitate at all. I changed money and went looking for some kind of transportation. I wasn’t going to sit around worrying about it. Although, had I sat around for a while, I might have seen my father come looking for me instead of missing him as we crossed paths.
When I went to boarding school at 13 and people thought I was weird I did whine about it a little. But I moved on. I slowly figured out that I needed to adapt and try to fit in. I was young for my age and had lived overseas all my life. I landed in the USA in the middle of a cultural revolution I knew very little about. I absorbed all the information I could and not only did I adapt to it all but I embraced it.
When we moved to Africa a few years later and I went off to boarding school in Switzerland, I was prepared to live away from home and up on world topics. I was ahead of the curve.
Once again it all broke down when I went to college in the USA. I was too international now. I had to rein it in and become more local. I had to adapt to another culture. I was so used to discussing travel, European art, and world politics with my peers that I didn’t think before I opened my mouth and blabbed about my high school experiences. My new peers could not relate and thought I was bragging.
My new persona emerged and I was quiet inside my shell for a long time. No more story telling here. But I managed to eventually adapt to that as well. I made friends and existed on a different level. I became one of them.
So who was I? How could I find myself and figure out what I should be doing? All I wanted to do was get out of town. To move on. That’s what I had always done, wasn’t it? Just dealt with the immediate problem and moved on. I didn’t know why. I never really thought about it that much. I just knew I was not comfortable. I was searching for something but didn’t know what it was. I was living between cultures. I didn’t feel American but I didn’t feel Mexican or Colombian or Nigerian, or Swiss. I was unique, I was different.
Years later I learned I was a Third Culture Kid – somebody who grew up in a culture not their own. I discovered I was not the only one who felt this way. Norma McCaig of Global Nomads wrote:
The benefits of this upbringing need to be underscored: In an era when global vision is an imperative, when skills in intercultural communication, linguistic ability, mediation, diplomacy, and the management of diversity are critical, global nomads are better equipped in these areas by the age of eighteen than are many adults… These intercultural and linguistic skills are the markings of the cultural chameleon — the young participant-observer who takes note of verbal and nonverbal cues and readjusts accordingly, taking enough of the coloration of the social surroundings to gain acceptance while maintaining some vestige of identity as a different animal, an “other.”
I wish I had read that when I was eighteen! 🙂
Does knowing all of this solve my restlessness, make me more comfortable? No, it doesn’t solve it but it helps me understand it. I know what it is and why I am the way I am. It isn’t a bad thing. But as I grow older, I think I have become less tolerant of ignorant people. If somebody doesn’t know where France is or hates Muslims, or thinks Berlusconi is a type of pasta, I just don’t really bother to put any effort out. I let it go. When I was younger, I would try to educate or sometimes I would just brush it aside and try to make myself acceptable to them. I don’t do that anymore. I move on.
I recently published a book about all my trials and tribulations, joys and challenges and adventures growing up all over the world. But it was not easy. I spent a lot of time writing with tears streaming down my face. I suppose I need deep psycho therapy to figure that out. But when it was all done. I felt better. Something had been resolved. I had accomplished what I set out to do and I felt positive. I still do. Although I am now facing another hurdle. Being single for the first time in many years. Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad one. Oh, well. I guess I will just have to deal with it and move on….
I’m feeling resilient.
This post, like your book ‘Expat Alien’, shows the depth and breadth of your lifetime spent crossing cultures. Understanding what makes you tick is an important step toward acceptance of the challenges and opportunities that combined to forge your strengths. Being single when we thought we wouldn’t isn’t always easy, but as you note Kathleen, you’re resilient. Some doors are harder than others to close, but I’m a firm believer that somewhere, somehow, another door is going to open for you.
Thank you Linda! I am sure a new adventure is waiting for me! 🙂
Lovely post. Gives me hope for my children’s future, wherever it may lie…
I’m going to have my son read this post. He still struggles being back in Norway, talks mostly English instead of Norwegian and takes off to The Hague every chance he gets…
Hopefully it will make a difference hearing it from someone who’s been there… an adult TCK. Thanks Kathy!
We share so much more than I imagined… i can’t believe I never visited this page on your blog… Like you, I used to try to educate, now I tune out. Oy vey! We TCKs could do more in the diplomatic corps than your average bureaucrat. 🙂