Where I Belong

Mambo!  I guess I’m in the States now, so…what would be the proper greeting?  Hello?  Unfortunately, I haven't been able to write another post in a long time, but it has been an absolute whirlwind during furlough.  I just got back from camp a little while back, so I'm still trying to catch up on sleep!

While I was at camp, I had the privilege of meeting a couple of guys who had recently been adopted from Ethiopia, and I had a blast with them. One of the things that I enjoyed so much about them was something that didn’t really stand out to me at first.  It’s something that almost every third-culture kid struggles with.  It’s actually the entire reason we’re called third culture kids. (It's kind of a big deal)

I loved the fact that the guys noticed and appreciated my background. They noticed it when I said or did things that totally fit their culture. We would joke about tons of sugar in the coffee and tea, and I always knew they would show up late for everything. (I did too)  I understood their culture.
It made me think of something that I’ve struggled with for years.  That—in all reality—I don’t really belong anywhere.  When people ask me where I’m from, I don’t have an answer! 

I’ve grown up in Africa, but Africans don’t accept me because of my skin color.  They chuckle when I say I’m from Africa, but they just humor me.  I know they don’t believe it.  They will always see me as American, because of my accent, my skin color.  

In my school, many of the kids speak Swahili.  Whenever I walk up to sit with my friends and they have to switch to English so I can understand, I feel awful.  I've become an intruder, and it becomes glaringly obvious that, in all reality, I don't belong in Tanzania. 

In America, many people assume that I’m American, that I think of America as home. But I don’t!  I don’t quite fit with the culture, don’t quite belong.  As a small example, whenever I don't hear what someone says, I respond with "pardon, pole, sorry?".  My friends will chuckle at that, because it totally does not fit with the American "whaat?".  I never know the latest styles and slang, and am absolutely clueless when it comes to celebrities.  Whenever people ask "do you know this song?" "have you heard of this actor?" the answer is often times no, which makes me feel awkward.  But then, the three times that I do know who it is, they can't believe it and blow it out of proportion...making me feel even more awkward.  

It's just a small reminder that, after growing up in Africa, I really can't blend in.  Not many Americans eat a hamburger with a fork and knife.

One of the big ways that TCKs don't fit back into American culture is because of their experiences.  When I come back to the States, I'm like an oddity.  When people ask where I've been, and I respond by listing all the countries, their eyes glaze over.  When I return the question, their response is "I've never left the state/country".  It's hard for TCKs to always be in the spotlight.  People get upset with their answers because it sounds like they're boasting, and the TCKs get depressed because they don't have friends they are able to share experiences with.  

This is the reason TCKs absolutely hate being asked where they are from.  They are not being snobby when they can't answer...it's just too complicated of an answer!

In this way, all MK’s form a “third culture” so to speak, combining the culture of their family with the culture of the country they live in to form a completely unique culture…that doesn’t really fit in anywhere.  

Because of this, the questions always come back to taunt me: Where do I belong?  Where am I from?  Do I have a place I can call home?  Is there any place where I can fit in?

And in all honesty, I don’t have an answer yet.  I probably never will.  So, for those who are wondering the same thing, I’ll give you the one piece of advice: Don’t try.  Just don’t!  We have each formed a special, unique, never seen before mix-and-match of cultures…don’t try and blend in.  Enjoy who you are! 

I’ve found that sometimes, that’s one of the best parts of being a third-culture kid!  We don’t fit in!  Okay, I know that sounds crazy, but if you aren’t a third-culture kid…it would be a tad bit hard to explain.

There ARE people who do understand and accept you for who you are; they enjoy your unique perspective and background; they encourage it instead of mock it.  Those people may be a little harder to come by; but I assure you, they are there.  

My final thought is that…ya know, I think third-culture kids are just meant to be that funky jigsaw puzzle piece that stands out; it doesn’t quite match with the picture you see.  It takes awhile for you to find out where it fits in, but once it’s there, it makes perfect sense.  That probably sounds just a wee bit, umm, “out there”, but that has become my outlook.  As silly as it sounds, it fits.   (Did you like the pun? I’m normally awful at them)

If you aren't a TCK, I hope that this post at least opened your eyes a little bit where third-culture kids are concerned.  We’re not easy to understand, and most often we’re not easy to deal with (I’ll admit to that; don’t deny it).  But I promise you, we struggle with much more than meets the eye.  We want to feel like we belong, like we are accepted, and that can only happen if people like you hear that silent plea and respond.  If not, we still say silent, but the feeling of loneliness just keeps growing.

All that to say, I did not start out to make this a depressing blog post.  Third-culture kids are not a miserable group of kids!  (I’m sorry if it came across like that)  But, I do hope that your perspective on third-culture kids has changed a little bit after reading this.  I would encourage you to, next time you meet with an third-culture kid, try to appreciate their unique outlook on things; help by being a place where they feel that they belong and ask a lot of questions.


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