I was in New York City last weekend for a high school reunion. I went to boarding school on Switzerland and they have “all school reunions” in different cities around the world throughout the year. Anybody who went there can attend. –
When I was 16, Alice Cooper blared out over the stereo.
School’s out forever.
Well… not forever. But for the summer. My parents flew up from Lagos, Nigeria to pick me up at boarding school in Switzerland. We met up with my cousins and aunt and uncle and hopped a train to Genoa, Italy. From there we made our way past Monte Carlo to San Rafael. I bought my first bikini and found my patch of sand on the French Riviera. How could life be any better than that?
Unfortunately we couldn’t stay there forever. We spent time in Paris, the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Champs Elysee, the Palace of Versailles. It was hot. It was crowded. It made me crabby. Touring Europe with family. How droll. I was way beyond that. I was 16, after all.
From Paris we split off and my cousins went to London and my parents and I went to Madrid. I ran into some old friends at the Museo Del Prado. I saw Las Meninas by Velazquez, one of the most famous paintings in the West. I remember there was a mirror placed opposite so you could view the painting in its reflection. The king and queen are painted in a mirror on the wall of the room. It is a mirror within a mirror. Anyway, it is a complex painting and I don’t remember all the details but I do remember what struck me the most about it was how apparent the inbreeding was.
We ate tapas, we watched Flamenco, we dined out. We boarded a train to Portugal and traveled across the plains where the bulls were bred. After a couple of days by the pool in Lisbon we headed to the beach at a resort north of town. It was not the French Riviera as I recall, it was below par and possibly raining. Also the end of the tour.
PanAm non stop to New York City. From there my mind goes blank.
Jill and her husband were school teachers in Wisconsin USA when one day they moved half way around the world and their lives changed drastically.
Like Jill’s children, I was born into the nomadic life of the serial expat. I lived in West Africa, Mexico, Asia, South America, and Europe, so I can identify with many of her experiences. I grew up speaking different languages, like her children did, and I continue to have the travel bug today. Like her children do.
What truly amazed me about this book was that they just jumped headlong into it with no safety net and blinders off. They made the decision to move to Guam almost on a whim. They didn’t even know where Guam was. That was either very gutsy or completely crazy. And what was even more interesting was that they stuck it out, learned, and grew through it all.
It didn’t sound like Guam was the dream South Pacific location we all imagined. It actually sounded pretty challenging. But they worked through it and learned a lot. That made their next posting to Singapore a bit easier. Of course Singapore was probably not a hardship posting. But they were still half way around the world from family and friends in a place with a different culture. They seemed to breeze through that one.
By the time the got to Ghana they were seasoned travelers. Although, having lived in Nigeria myself, I know that Ghana was probably not paradise either. But as they came to understand, there are wonderful things all over the world. You just have to be open to them. Jill and her family discovered the joy, frustration, sorrow, and unending surprises one finds when traveling.
I might be reading something into this but it seemed to me they decided to return to the USA for the sake of the children. Their children spent their high school years (or most of them) in the USA learning to be US citizens. This probably made it a much easier transition for them in the long run. It might have given them a clear identity at a young age. However, from my experience, it doesn’t work. My son returned to the USA when he was six and now that he is about to enter college all he dreams about is going overseas. And it seems their children were the same. They were happy to continue traveling.
Returning to the USA was a difficult transition for all of them. Jill says she realized people were not interested in her stories and could not relate. I know exactly what she means. It is so far from what people know, it is difficult to imagine and therefore not interesting. Re-entry is a challenge for all expats but travelers know how to adjust and tweak and adapt. Jill and her family were no exception. They had a good few years back home with friends and family but the itch was still there.
At the end of the book they leave the USA again for distant lands and new experiences. I think Jill has more to tell. Perhaps she will write part two some day!
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….