Welcome to my blog. Presumably you are visiting with me because you are or were a Third Culture Kid, or because you are the parent of a TCK, or maybe because you’re a shrink or a social or cultural anthropologist seeking to understand. Whoever you are, I’d appreciate your letting me know through a comment below so I’ll know who’s interested and why—and maybe we can start talking.
My credentials as a TCK are impeccable, possibly extreme. (Please see my blogger profile.) Not only did I live or go to school in six countries and seven cities by the time I was ten, I did it in the 1950s and 60s, when living overseas meant something profoundly different than it means today.
In the exuberant post-War years of the 1950s, American companies began sending a new wave of expatriates overseas. My family was part of that wave.
After receiving his Master’s in International Relations at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, my extraordinary father, from a small town in Pennsylvania, went to work for Socony Mobil on the condition that they never post him in the United States. (He was hardly a naif about living abroad. He’d spent World War II and the years leading up to it living in the Andes and the Amazon working first for a mining company and then the U.S. government, but that’s another story.) My brilliant mother, in the same class at SAIS, turned down a job offer at the American Embassy in Caracas to marry Dad.
It was an exciting time. Political upheavals rocked the world: The Cold War. Sputnik and the space race, the Vietnam War, Khrushchev, Castro and the overthrow of Batista, the Kennedy assassination, desegregation and civil rights. A new glamour and style debuted on the international stage: Bardot and Loren and Mastroianni, Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant. A music revolution…Chuck Berry, Presley and the Beatles… The polio vaccine and the first transatlantic telephone cable made their first appearance.
The experiences of American corporate expats in that extraordinary era has been chronicled scantily at best. If you’re interested in what it was like from a more personal perspective, please see my companion blog Expat: A Memoir (going live in November 2015).
With time and experience, the effects in adulthood of having been a TCK become ever more clear and consequential. While my experiences were of course the product of the times and places and of my home life, certain truths can be culled from them that hopefully will resonate with many adult TCKs.
It is the fate of many TCKS to be misunderstood by those who haven’t lived overseas as children, and who can’t understand or, sometimes, imagine. Expats who want to talk about their experiences are often met with a polite stare, glazed eyes, and a change of topic. We end up feeling distant from even our closest friends, reserving stories central to our lives for other expats who do understand.
When I read pieces by other TCKs and expats, I feel a kinship and a profound relief to see parts of myself in them. They assure me that I wasn’t alone then and am not alone now in my expat consciousness. It is my hope that in these posts you will have a similar experience and perhaps see something in your reflection that you will share back with me and other readers.
I hope the observations here will also be useful for the expat parents of current TCKs. The experience of moving overseas as an adult is different, of course, than it is for a child, especially when that child is born overseas or has not yet set down roots in the culture of his or her* parents.
Once a child expat, forever an adult expat. It hardly needs saying that whether we are eternally rootless and restless, or establish and nurture roots in one place, we are the product of our childhood. None of us can escape the imprint of living in foreign cultures at an impressionable age. If you are like me, you wouldn’t want to. Far from it. For all the challenges I’ve spent decades dealing with because of this unique adventure, the gifts it has brought continue to dazzle, amaze and comfort me.
Adult TCKs, then, will be my focus in this blog.
It will be a work in progress. I hope you enjoy it, and I’m looking forward to our conversation.
*A cautionary note: I won’t be writing “his or her” very often. I am not politically correct. Common sense will prevail.