Tag Archives: Third Culture Kids

Longing for the Other Place: Guest Blogger

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This is a reblog of a blog that I personally follow.  As a matter of fact, it was written as a guest blog for Communicating across Boundaries last Sunday.  It is well written and touches on the theme that I will be writing about periodically for the next 2 weeks:  Homesickness and longing for Heaven.  This is Anne Alexander, Third Culture Kid (TCK) from Taiwan.

Yesterday I went to a funeral for a dear friend. It was a true celebration (the most joyful, Christ-honoring I’ve ever attended), but that couldn’t stop the tears, even in worship.

As funerals and farewells often do, this one brought up the pain of losing my brothers in childhood, and all the related pain of leaving relatives and friends on both sides of the ocean time after time after time. It brought up the longing for the ‘other place’, whichever one I wasn’t in, and the people I love around the world.

TCK lives are filled and colored with losses of all kinds.

Some of us stuff feelings really well for a long time (for me, until middle age), but some of us are blessed, unable to do so.

In the long run, the ‘expressers’ are less likely to develop physical or mental aberrations because ‘the truth must out’, and our pain is truth to us.

The angst the world feels because of the God-shaped, Heaven-shaped longings implanted when we were created for Him hums in their experience like an irritatingly loud refrigerator– sometimes softer, sometimes louder, but ultimately ignorable until the margins of our lives are used up.

As TCKs we live with less margin most of our lives, continually pushed into areas of growth, change and challenge. We may disguise the irritation and angst of being  between homes and Home, but we can’t hide it any more than a person with 3 arms can hide it under a 2-armed shirt.

Growing up, we’ve sampled more fulfillment and full-use of our potential, more of and varied pleasures and experiences, more pain and loss, than many of our passport-country friends do in an entire lifetime.

We are accustomed to adrenaline in traffic and true life-threatening experiences, to fox-hole friendships with those we work and worship with, to ‘relatives’ closer in spirit, purpose and faith than any blood relatives we could find in our passport country.

We have lived life without the bubble wrap, warfare without boxing gloves, and the exhilaration of seeing God come through when it really matters.  And we know it’s more than just making the next traffic light green so we can get to work on time.

Is it any wonder that we grieve the distancing from LIFE that sometimes seems to accompany return to our passport country? Is it any wonder that we long for friends and ‘relatives’ like those with whom we grew up, or worked with in our country of adoption?

Thank God for a word like ‘saudade’ that helps us express the inexpressible longing for that remembered world of discovery, friendship, growth and possibilities. We are not alone. And there will at last be a place where all potentials will be realized as they were meant to be.

But until then, my heart will go on singing (even if sometimes the minor key spirituals of hope);
But until then, with joy I’ll carry on (knowing that even if no one else understands, my Creator, Companion and Burden-bearer does)–
Until the day my eyes behold the city,
Until the day God calls me Home. (Until Then chorus by Ray Price)

And in the meantime, that third arm comes in handy for all kinds of tasks, like wiping the tears I sometimes can’t hide, or helping a friend in need.

Kindergarten in Mandarin was TCK Anne Alexander’s introduction to Taiwan, and for 44 years she has called Taiwan home. At present she’s teaching and researching Bible storytelling in Mandarin for a doctorate from Biola’s Cook School of Intercultural Studies. 

 

Third Culture Kids- Living overseas with children

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Loving this life! My three monkeys in Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica.

A Third Culture Kid is someone who is not a native to the country that he or she is growing up in- think missionary families, military families or foreign business families.  In our case, our TCKs are not entirely American, nor are they Costa Rican.  They have spent more years living outside of America than inside.  For my kids, “home” is Costa Rica.  Because of this awkward way of growing up, TCKs make a third culture among themselves.  They best relate to other kids that have grown up living abroad.  They seem to “get” each other, regardless of the country they grew up in.

This blog will give you a little taste of what it’s like to be a Third Culture Kid.  This is the opening of the book by Heidi Sand-Hart called “Home Keeps Moving”.

You might be a Third Culture Kid if…

*You can’t answer the question, “Where are you from?”

*You speak two languages but can’t spell in either.

*You flew before you could walk.

*You have a passport, but no driver’s license.

*Your life story uses the phrase, “Then we went to…” five times.

*National Geographic makes you homesick.  (I love this one.  I would also add that walking through EPCOT’s International Village felt oddly normal.)

*You don’t know where home is.  (Indicated by the long pause you get when you ask them “where are you from?”)

*You’d rather never say hello that have to say goodbye.

*You read the international section of the newspaper before the comics.  (what’s a newspaper?)

*You have friends in or from 29 different countries.

*You wince when people mispronounce foreign words.

*You never take anything for granted.  (Except the fact that you live where others vacation.  We are less than impressed when people on Wheel of Fortune win a trip to Mexico or Costa Rica.)

*You speak with authority on the subject of airline travel.  (and know how to handle your passport and fill out immigration paperwork.)

*You know how to pack.  (and wait until the last minute to do it.)

*You feel odd being in the ethnic majority.

*You feel you need to move after you’ve lived in the same place for a month.

*Your pocket money makes you a millionaire in one country and a pauper in the next.

*You’ve had more vaccinations in your lifetime than your neighbor’s dog back home.  (Amen!)

*You consider any travel under 8 hours to be a “short trip”.  (So true!)

*You’re an expert on jet-lag remedies.

*You have frequent flyer miles on 5 different airlines, but not enough on any of them to get a free flight.

*You can easily guess a strange’s nationality by their accent.

I can truly agree with every single one of those.  Our missionary life is wonderful and different- full of blessings and difficulties.  Last week I stood on a beach with my children and examined a nest of sea turtle eggs that we found.  Then we took 10 steps into the ocean to catch sand dollars.  We live an amazing life and it’s nothing like America (not that we don’t like America, we love it too!).  I don’t begrudge one hardship when I think of all the benefits that come with this lifestyle.

Do you know a TCK or are you an exPat family?  Please add to the list by making comments below.  It’s fun to share our experiences of living and thriving overseas.

Yes, she’s Mexican and yes, she’s supposed to be that color.

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In the hospital, we were all excited to finally have our little Lulu in the family. Notice that they didn't give me a hospital gown. They told me to change back into my own clothes. Weird.

Today is the 5th birthday of our daughter Lucy, our little Mexicana.  Lucy was born on Labor Day, May 1st in Mexico City.  When I tried to explain the pun that I was in labor on Labor Day, it just didn’t translate well.  My friends just smiled politely at me.

Having a baby in a foreign country was the biggest set-up for culture shock that anyone can experience, in my humble opinion.  It was like having a baby in the 1950s with all the modern technology of the 2000s.  I was totally unprepared for my own intense reactions to “the way things are done” in my new country.  Maybe it was the pregnancy hormones, maybe I was just at the brink of “losing it”.  It’s not an experience I recommend to anyone.  I was just glad that I had done this before in America.  I knew what was medically necessary and what was just local traditions imported into a modern medical facility.

The hospital we chose was one of the best private hospitals in Mexico City, and really, they had all the most modern equipment anyone could want… it’s just that not everyone knew how to use it!  For example, my doctor who had studied in America for a while and finished his degree in Spain, had a new 3D ultrasound machine right in his office.  For each visit, I received a DVD with a copy of his ultrasound exam for that week.  It was really cool… but I quickly got the feeling that he didn’t really know how to read the thing and was just playing with his new toy- testing out new features of the machine each week.  It was amusing, but it didn’t raise any red flags yet.

My first hint that this was not going to be the smooth sailing that I planned was when we had our final visit before our due date arrived.  Sitting in his office he said to me, “So, do you want me to do anything else while I’m in there, like tie your tubes or give you a tummy tuck?”  I sat there with a blank look on my face as I contemplated, “how the heck to you do THAT from THAT angle?”  Not that I was opposed to a tummy tuck, but that’s when it occurred to me that we were talking apples and oranges here.  Apparently in our socio-economic class ALL women schedule a cesarean birth, for the convenience of everyone involved and for the esthetics of being bikini ready just days after birth.  I said, “What do you think you’re going to be doing IN THERE?  You just show up and catch the baby- I’ll do all the work.”  Because he was eager to please his only American patient, he nervously consented.

The night that I went into labor, my doctor was on a plane returning from a conference in San Francisco, California.  He begged me to hold on until he arrived at the hospital.  I obliged.  We met him at the hospital and though he was cheerful (and a bit more excited than I expected a doctor to be) he scolded me a bit.  “See this is why we schedule it, so the doctor doesn’t miss it.”  I thought, “I’m sure I could have managed this without you.”

I DID like my doctor though.  When he was in the room, I was sure to get my own way on every detail.  I wasn’t a diva about the whole thing, but I knew that certain things were not necessary so I refused to consent to them- you do not need to be totally naked nor shaved anywhere in order to give birth naturally.  Then I would hear the nurses in the hall way complaining loudly.  When the doctor left the room, the fear of the nurses gripped my heart.  It really is the nurses that kill you or keep you alive.  I knew that.

Sparing the details, at the hour of delivery I had to point blank tell everyone that I wanted my husband in the room with me- so MAKE IT HAPPEN NOW!  They balked, I threw out my trump card:  That’s how we do it in America.  So Josh was suited up and ushered into the room just moments before the anesthesiologist leaned down to me and asked, “do you remember how to push?”  I smiled and said, “watch me.”  I asked the doctor if he was ready on his end and in one push, Lucy popped out.  When my doctor said “WOW!” very loudly, I wondered if this was the first time he had ever seen that done before.

I didn’t get to hold Lucy, they showed her to me and then whisked her off to the nursery and threw me into a recovery room all by myself.  After about an hour I decided I wanted my baby and started asking for her.  About 6 hours later, someone brought her to me.  I kept saying, “I want to nurse her”  and they insisted that I didn’t make any milk yet.  I counter-insisted, “bring me a baby and I’ll show you!”  What they meant was, women in your social class don’t nurse their babies.

At some point the nurses wrapped my stomach and my legs in very tight ace bandages.  I wondered if they could see that I didn’t have any stitches on my stomach… and the legs, well, if I didn’t die of a blood clot then I would surely succumb to heat stroke!  When my feet swelled up and turned purple I took off the bandages.  My nurse about had an INFARTO (heart attack).  I just persisted in telling them that I don’t want them or need them so quit worrying about those dumb bandages!  What they were telling me was that women in my class care very much about looking skinny.

The nurses also told me that Lucy was looking a little pale and I should lay her in the sun.  I told them, “I’m a white woman- this is the color of white babies.”  I couldn’t wrap my brain around that one.  I just shrugged.

In addition to all of this, a lawyer came to our room and filled out the paperwork for Lucy’s birth certificate.  That was very convenient for us, but she was terribly confused when we didn’t want to give Lucy the traditional Mexican last name of father’s family name + mother’s family name.  We debated and then stuck to our guns, we are Americans, she will have an American first, middle, and last name.  It about threw that poor lawyer into a fit.

Later in the day, I found myself all alone in the room.  There was a knock at the door and in walked a tiny woman in a Catholic nun’s habit.  She asked me if I would like to take The Lord’s Supper (Communion).  Being a Christian, I knew what that this was part of the Catholic heritage of Mexico, but it was also part of MY religious heritage too.  I gladly accepted.  She gave me the elements (a tiny cracker an a plastic cup of juice), said a prayer and then I took over.  I grabbed her by the arms and burst out in worship to the Lord- the Spirit just took over me!  I started praying in the Spirit.  This poor woman was clearly shocked and overwhelmed by what I was doing.  But I couldn’t help it, I worshipped.  When I released her arms, she left the room shaking from head to toe.

I needed that moment with God to sustain me for the rest of my time in the hospital.

The next day and a half was filled with more new Spanish vocabulary than my sleep deprived brain could absorb.  Hospitals come with their own language and if you don’t know what a Tamiz is (a lab exam for the baby) or a Dia de Alto (discharge day) then you won’t learn those words any faster when someone yells them at you like you are deaf.  Speaking louder and faster does not explain the definitions.

Eventually I broke down and cried, “I just want to go home!  Someone bring me my baby and let’s get out of here”  After hours and hours of asking the nurses to bring Lucy to me, we finally called the head nurse to our room and asked what the hold up was.  Apparently, no one had told us that we must PAY FOR OUR BABY before we would be allowed to have her back.  Josh had to find the person who had our hospital bill, go down to the administrative office and pay the bill, return to the nursery and show the head nurse the receipt, THEN they would start the check list to discharge me and the baby.  No one had explained this to us.  It did not occur to one person that we did not know the hospital procedures.  Not one person bothered to explain step by step what was required of us.  Live and learn.

Even if someone had warned me in advance that this would be a traumatic experience, I think I would have believed that I could handle it.  The next few months were filled with more culture shock moments than I could have anticipated.  Being a new parent in a foreign country means opening yourself up to all kinds of “helpful” advice and vicious criticism.  You will never “do it right” in the eyes of others if you “do it” the American way.  It’s amazing to me just how much culture is subconsciously packed into the theme of parenting.  But that, my readers, is for another blog another time.
She is a child with dual citizenship.  She is a “Third Culture Kid“.  We have had more trouble than you would imagine crossing borders with this child who looks American but whose passport says she was born Mexican.  It’s just a difficult concept to grasp when the color of the kid is “wrong”.  But through this whole crazy experience, our family was blessed with our Bonus Baby Lucy who is turning 5 today.  It’s hard to believe that we have all survived this long.  🙂  My baby is growing up.  We love you Lucy Lu!

Our friends Nely and Izi visit Lucy on her first day home. We violated tons of cultural rules within the first few weeks of her life. It's amazing the child didn't die of a draft! :0)