Love and the TCK


I just finished reading My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss. Luisa was born in Berlin of an American father and an Italian mother. Her parents divorced and she lived her grade school years in Boston and her high school years in Berlin. She ended up in New York City, mainly for her career as a cookbook editor. In New York she fell in love with a man named Sam. Sam was nice and easy to be with and had an extended family in New York who included Luisa in all that they did.

This is where she ran into trouble. She loved New York, she had friends, she had an amazing career, and she had a great boyfriend but something was missing. She felt unsettled. One night she asked Sam if he would ever consider moving to Europe. He immediately said no and volunteered that he didn’t even like traveling. Huge red flag.

As a cross cultural TCK she went through all the confusion, uncertainty, itchy feet feelings we all have. She was pulled in different directions. She went through depression. She knew she should move on but had trouble finding her way. Intellectually it made sense to stay in New York and marry this man but it just didn’t feel right.

I won’t tell you how Luisa resolves her problem but I do recommend her book, especially if you like food. It is full of beautiful descriptions of the food she eats and cooks and each chapter ends with a recipe.


However, I will tell you about a similar experience I had. When I was in college in Boston, I fell in love. I mean the real kind of love where you are gaga most of the time and happy and everything you do together is meaningful. I met Chris at a dance at Simmons the first week I was there. He owned a Triumph Trident motorcycle (that he swore didn’t perform well under 90 miles per hour) and he offered to show me around the Boston area since I had never been there before. I accepted and we spent most of our time together after that. He taught me a lot about America and its history. Or at least his view of it. He also showed me everything there was is to see in the Boston area and more. And he loved to dance.

His father was sent to America from Germany at the beginning of WWII with his entire inheritance to get away from the war. Chris’ father spent all his money getting a PhD at Harvard and he taught philosophy at MIT. His family was killed in the war.

Chris’ maternal grandparents fled Belarus during the Russian revolution and went to Paris. His mother grew up in Paris and when she was 19 they immigrated to the USA. She spoke English with a French accent. Her father had died by the time I met her but I met her mother on a couple of occasions and she only spoke Russian. Chris grew up in a house where his parents spoke four languages combined and he only spoke English. The family lived in Europe when his father was on sabbatical but other than that he had done no traveling and had no desire to go anyplace. He wanted to live in Boston the rest of his life. And actually it was suburban Boston that he wanted to live in, not far from his parents.


Of course things were not always perfect but I felt very close to Chris. I was never afraid to talk to him about anything. We were very open with each other about everything. If we were feeling smothered we said so and would take a break for a couple of days. We rarely fought. I almost always got whatever I wanted. I felt totally secure and adored. I reveled in it. I had my 21st birthday that summer and we had a wild party where neighbors were threatening to call the police – I think maybe they did show up at one point – and people were asleep on my couch the next morning. Chris cleaned the house and by the time I got up you never would have known there had been a party. It all seemed too good to be true.

One night that summer Chris asked me to marry him. I said yes.

The following Christmas I returned to Nigeria to see my parents and I met a guy named Peter who was studying at the University of Ibadan. He was funny and quick witted. We shared the traveling bug and a variety of experiences that come from living overseas. He made me realize how boxed in I had become by being with Chris. I had been living in a safe, predictable, all-American environment with few challenges and little true excitement. I can’t say it was boring because I wasn’t bored but it was maybe too normal. Normal is good sometimes but not all the time. At least not for me. Meeting Peter triggered a lot of feelings and I realized marrying Chris meant chopping off a part of myself.

Could I spend the rest of my life living in Boston and going to the in-laws on Sundays for dinner? Could I live without seeing more of the world? Could I live with a man who didn’t understand my story? It made me feel one-dimensional. So in the end I ran away and broke his heart.

Funnily enough he did move to Texas and traveled to Asia for work, although he said he didn’t enjoy it. He returned to suburban Boston and lived out his life there. There was a time in my life when I had some regrets. I wondered how different my life would have been had I stayed and married him. My life hasn’t been easy or safe but when all is said and done I think I made the right decision for me.

Exchange Student

The Esplanade, Boston

The college I attended in California had an exchange program with several colleges on the East Coast so I decided to take advantage of it and spent my Junior year in Boston.

I arrived in Boston by myself on a hot September day.  I was excited.  I had no idea where I was going or what I was getting into but I loved Boston right away.

I met this great guy, Mike, at a dance the first week I was there.  He owned a Triumph Trident motorcycle (that he swore didn’t perform well under 90 miles per hour) and he offered to show me around the Boston area since I had never been there before.  I accepted and we spent most of our time together after that.  My ass was sore a lot of the time because of the vibrations on the motorcycle.  He literally would go 90 whenever possible.  He taught me a lot about America and its history.  Or at least his view of it.  He also showed me everything there was to see in the Boston area and more.  We were always going someplace, doing something.

Simmons College is just down the street from Fenway Park where the Boston Red Sox play baseball, right in the middle of Boston.  I could hop on the subway and be anywhere in minutes. We were just down the street from the Harvard Medical School so ambulances with sirens screaming went past our windows day and night.  I lived up four flights of stairs – no elevators.

I had some interesting classes and I was amazed to find out that they took attendance and counted it in your grade, so for the first time in my college career I started to attend classes.  I couldn’t believe how easy school could be if you actually went to class.  It saved all kinds of time making up for missed lectures.  I found that I didn’t have to spend my time doing all that reading because they reviewed everything in the classroom and if I took notes I rarely had to study at all.  I did a lot better in school that year and when I returned to Mills and attended classes my grades went up considerably.  Quite a revelation.  I only wish I had discovered it sooner.

Mike was on a work-study program at Northeastern University where he would work for three months and then go to school for three months.  He was studying engineering – he started out in electrical, then went to mechanical and ended up in civil.  For the three months when he was working we were rich and we had a lot of fun going out all the time.  When he was in school we were poor and watched a lot of TV.

Mike’s father and uncle had been sent to America from Germany at the beginning of World War II, with their entire inheritance, to go to the university.  Mike’s father had spent all his money getting a PhD.

Mike’s maternal grandparents had fled Belarus and gone to Paris.  His mother had grown up in Paris and when she was 19 they had emigrated to the USA.  She spoke English with a French accent.  Her father had died by the time I met her but I did see her mother on a couple of occasions and she only spoke Russian.  Mike grew up in a house where his parents spoke four languages combined and he only spoke English.  He wanted to live in Boston the rest of his life.

Of course, being a Third Culture Kid with very itchy feet and an international background, I had trouble relating to that and ultimately it led to the end of our relationship but in the meantime, Boston was great.

On the Fourth of July there was a Boston Pops concert on the Esplanade. This particular summer, 1976, it was the Bi-Centennial of the USA and so I was excited to go and see it live in person.  We arrived early in the day and marked out our territory where we could see everything.  By the time the concert started, the place was jammed and the police were getting irritable.   There were 400,000 of us cheering on Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops Orchestra.  Luckily there were no major incidents and it was a concert to remember.  The concert ended with the 1812 Overture, cannon shooting over the Charles River and an amazing fireworks show.  This was also the first time the Fourth of July Pops concert was televised.

The funny thing is, almost 20 years later I saw the 1812 Overture performed at another outdoor concert.  This time I was in Red Square, Moscow, Russia.  It was winter and the square was jammed with people.  We were so smushed together we were all keeping each other warm.  A Russian cellist and conductor had been living in exile and this was his first concert after being welcomed back.

“Washington Chorus Society and USA National Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich, perform the finale of Prokofiev’s Cantata ‘Alexander Nensky’ and Tchaikovsky’s ‘1812 Overture with Kremlin Cathedral Bells and Cannon Volleys.”

They were both significant events.  However, standing in Red Square on that cold winter day it dawned on me, the 1812 Overture is kind of a strange way to celebrate the Fourth of July.  Tchikovsky wrote it to celebrate Russia’s defense of Moscow against Napoleon.  I had been to the fields of Borodino where the final battle took place.

I guess when it is such a great piece of music, it doesn’t matter where it comes from.



Moscow Metro Station    (Christophe Meneboeuf)



The Moscow Metro opened its doors in 1935.  The line was 11.6 km.

“Thirteen stations built on the initial section had island platforms long enough to take eight-car trains.  They were the first stations in the world to be completely faced with granite and marble and all had unique designs.”

When I arrived in Moscow, it took me a while to get up the guts to tackle the metro on my own.  All the signs were in Russian so I would have to sit down and concentrate to figure out what the Cyrillic writing said in order to know which way to go.  Once I started riding it regularly, people would always be asking me something I could not understand.  I had no idea why they kept asking me questions.  Like, were they lost or something?   Eventually I figured out that most of them were asking me if I was getting off at the next stop because they wanted to position themselves for the push to exit.

Today there are 12 lines running 305.5 km through 185 stations.  On my first visit I was impressed with the Metro.  All the stations were different.  Some had beautiful chandeliers hanging down the main hallway, some had marble statues and archways, some had mosaics in the ceiling, and one had colorful stained glass windows.  By the time I left, the stations were starting to look a little run down and were not very clean.  Before the fall of the Soviet Union, the number of people who could live in Moscow and use the metro was limited.  By the time I left 9 million passengers were using it on a daily basis.  It was taking its toll.  Today it is one of the busiest metros in the world – 2.3 billion rides per year.  Just for comparison, New York City has 1.6 billion rides per year.


The Mexico City Metro opened in 1969,  just as we were leaving.  It had 16 stations. During construction many important archeological finds were documented and rescued.  Today it has eleven lines and 451 km of track with 163 stations.  I remember going on it a couple of times when it first opened but I didn’t like riding on it.  When I went back in 1989 with my friends Jane and Tina, we decided to take the metro  home one day after being out sight-seeing and ended up getting onto a car jammed full of men.  Jane and Tina managed to make their way over to the window and somehow, found seats.  I stayed nearer to the door because the whole car was so full.  The men closed in around me and there were a million hands all over me.  I looked around to see who the guilty parties were and everyone I looked at was staring at the ceiling.  Finally I decided I had to take some action.  I managed to get my elbows perpendicular to my body and I rotated with as much force as I could.  They all scattered to the far corners of the car, which made us all laugh.  I then managed to make it over to where my friends were.  When we got back to the condo where we were staying, we found out that there were separate subway cars for men and women to reduce groping.  A little late for that!


Boston is home to the first subway in the United States dating back to 1897 – the Tremont Street Subway (now known as the Green Line).  I remember riding on it many times during my year in Boston.  It was not air-conditioned and at rush hour was very crowded and hot!  Hopefully it has been upgraded since then.  The Red Line was brand new when I was there and was quiet and comfortable and never seemed to be too crowded.

Washington DC 

The Metro in Washington DC is modeled after BART in San Francisco. I met and became friends with a guy in Moscow whose family built the DC Metro.  It is clean and sterile.  It is expensive.  There is nowhere near enough of it.  It opened in 1976 and has five lines with 86 stations and 171.1 km of track.  It is the second busiest subway in the USA after New York City.  They are currently extending it out to Dullus Airport.  What they need is a ring line around the city.  But nobody asked me.

Do you have a favorite Metro?