Short Bio

So it’s a bit late, but here we go: a bit about me.

In this blog I’m talking about my experiences as a third culture kid, and occasionally about my diabetes, and through the posts I have already written, there has been a patchwork of facts thrown up about me. But I decided, albeit a bit late, that it would be a better idea to make a post that puts all those scattered pieces together in one place (I’ll admit I never expected people who don’t know me to read this blog!)

So to start off with: my parents. My parents were, and are, missionaries. They met in Africa working for the same organisation, Agape/Campus Crusade for Christ, in their respective fields. My dad, the American, worked with local people helping them improve their farming skills. There’s a specific word for this but I can’t remember it at all! My mom, the Fin, worked as a nurse. They met and fell in love and got married. Some time later (honestly, I have no idea how much later) my older sister was born in Finland. A little less than two years later, I was born in Swaziland, the African country my family called home. Three years or so later, we moved to America where we adopted my brother and brought him home at three days old.

 

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Cooking pancakes in Finland. From left to right: Taata (grandfather), mom, me, my brother, my sister

So already I’m a pretty mixed up kid! If my parents had met in America or Finland and lived in either country, I would still be a TCK: two cultures merging into a third one. Instead, I have four different cultures mixed into one. I’m still a third culture kid – the definition being that the first culture is that of your parents, the second the culture you live in which is different to that of your parents, and the third being the mix-up that we make out of the other two! The fourth culture is British culture. When I was five – a year and a half after moving to the States – we moved to England. We arrived about a month or so before my fifth birthday and my mom scrambled together a birthday party with other kids around my age whose parents they would be working with. So my fifth birthday party was celebrated with a bunch of kids I’d never met before! But it was fun and they are now really good friends of mine – and being five, you got on straight away anyway! 

So all my educational years have been spent in England – with holidays here and there to Europe when we’re not visiting family in Finland or America. During my gap year (a year out between high school and college/secondary school and university) I showed my true TCK colours – and ran off for six months to Japan! I had a great time and settled into the quirks of the culture really well – it helped that my mom always made us take our shoes off at the door, so that wasn’t so much of a shock! Whilst in Japan, I hopped over to South Korea for a week and did some sightseeing (and lots of shopping!) Then I came back to England to get my degree – in East Asian Studies – and now I’m making plans to get away as soon as possible. I have the typical “itchy feet syndrome”!

So now about the diabetic. When I was two years old my parents found out that I had diabetes. It’s influenced me in ways that I’ve seen and I’m sure in many ways I haven’t. I’ll talk more extensively in my next post about diabetes in general, but suffice to say – diabetes has definitely made me a different person than I would be without it. How? When I find a definite answer, I’ll let you know!

Of Intimacy With Airports

Comments made by TCKs:

“I think it’s kind of ridiculous how at home I feel in an airport.”

‘The question, “where are you from?” always throws me off. I now just say, “the world”. The airport is still where I feel most at home.’

Airports? Homey? I think not! I hear you cry. I beg to differ. Oh, sure I would hate to have to actually live there, or even sleep there, but to me they are like home in the sense that they are a familiar place where I can relax and feel comfortable – perhaps not always physically, but certainly mentally. I see the skepticism in your raised eyebrow and the sidelong glance that says “ooookaaaaaay…”. All airports are different, and I can’t have been to them all, you’re thinking. They’re crazy, busy places where you have to make sure you’re going to the right place, and there are time restrictions! It’s stressful, frustrating, boring. Boring, I’ll agree with, and yes I feel the occasional frustration. Stressful, perhaps for some TCKs, but not so much for me. My extreme laidbackness drives my mom up the wall, and she is ever so proud when I arrive at my train platform twenty minutes ahead of my train leaving. What on earth do I need so much time for? But I have since learned that it’s a good idea not to stress your mother out too much. So we’re back at square one. What exactly is it that makes airports feel like home to many TCKs?

Because they travel so much. Because they’ve seen so many. Because when you’ve seen one, you’ve pretty much seen them all.

Yes, and no.

We travel so much is a part of it. Yes, we are familiar with airports as a result. However, I do not feel nearly the same emotion towards train stations, and I pass through them much more often than I do airports! But more than just because we travel a lot, it is because we do not have a geographical home. We are not from one place. We are from many, and at the same time none at all. I am American. I am Finnish. I am British. Yes, and at the same time no, I am not really any of them… If I was to move to American tomorrow I’m sure I would experience a certain degree of culture shock. If I was to move to Finland I would be crippled by my inability to fluently speak the language. Living in England, I am not the same as the English. Along the side of the road runs a ‘sidewalk’, not a ‘pavement’, I accidentally said “aluminum” in class once, and I call my mother mom not mum. And that is only what is obvious. There are other, more subtle things that are different, that I and many others can’t quite put their finger on, but I am different. I see the world differently. So, why does the airport feel like home? Because it is a culture that we know. Airport culture? Yes. Rules that you follow that aren’t necessarily written down. Expectations that you understand. A place where it doesn’t matter where you come from, or where you’re going. A place that is transient. A place that is a rest between the stress of where you came from and where you’re going. A place where you can be yourself and not stick out. A place where you don’t have to constantly be checking to make sure you’re not committing a fatal cultural faux pas because the culture is that there is no definable culture. Everyone and no one belongs here. Everyone is the same here. It’s a small bubble where you can speak with your family in those 3 languages you’re all fluent in without anyone casting a second glance; a place where you can wear the traditional garb of that country you spent some wonderful months or years in without people sniggering; a place where you can chat with the person next to you about the places you have been without them judging you or putting distance between you.

We have seen many airports. Yes, perhaps we have. However, the first time I went to a small (at least, I remember it as small) airport in Uganda I experienced a cracked concrete floor, a single, cranky conveyor belt (at least, I remember it as a conveyor belt, but was there even one?), and a drug sniffer dog for the first time. I remember the dog clambering quite amusingly all over the piles of luggage. It was my first experience of an airport like this, but there was no discomfort, and very little surprise. Perhaps I hadn’t expected some of those things, but they all fit together into what an airport was. Do I presume wrongly that a non-TCK might be a bit more surprised and uncomfortable? Perhaps I do them a disservice! I had never been in such an airport before, but it almost straight away felt comfortable, felt familiar. I knew what to do. I knew where to go. I knew what to say. I knew how to act. And that is what makes all the difference. In other places we go to, we often don’t know one of these things. Or we are constantly on the watch to make sure that what we think we know is right.

My family moved to London. It’s less than three hours by car from Birmingham, my 12-year-old home, and yet I was still constantly checking if I was doing the right thing, and trying to fit in. I remember sitting on the bus with my dad, and these buses were different. They had two sets of doors, one in the front, and on in the middle, rather than just one in front. I had never seen such a thing before, and without consciously doing so, I was carefully watching the passengers on the bus. Then, when the time came for us to get off, I stopped my dad from heading to the front of the bus and told him we had to get off from the middle. My dad has travelled and lived far and wide, but he is not a TCK born and raised – watching, learning, adapting, simply isn’t hardwired into him the same way as it is in me, as it is in TCKs. I remember feeling quite embarrassed over my dad not knowing where to exit – a side-effect of this great ability to adapt being a great need to adapt. I can’t bring myself to carry a map of London around with me as my mom did when we first moved – it screams that ‘I am not from here!’ and I can’t abide not fitting in – of not seeming to fit in. In an airport? Not an issue – everyone is the same, and perhaps we are the ones who feel that others should be watching us and adapting to us since this is our home field, that the ball is in our court this time.

The Most Difficult Question

“Where are you from?” A question asked whenever you meet someone new – often just a filler question, asked more out of habit, or courtesy, or to make conversation, or find common ground. I have heard these conversations, where someone gives a simple answer to a simple question, and the other, or others, comfortably add comments such as “Oh, my grandmother is from there!” or “I’ve always wanted to visit __!” or “I went there on holiday once” or “Isn’t that where __?” And the conversation flows on.

But when I am asked that question, there is a pause. What do I tell this person? My whole life story? How much do they really want to know? I can simply settle for “My parents live in London”, but sometimes this doesn’t quite satisfy. It isn’t quite what they’re looking for – Your parents live there? What, so you’re not from there? Where are you from? Sometimes I’ll say, laughing, that I’m from “everywhere!” and any friends with me that know will answer their skepticism with knowing looks and say seriously, “She’s right” or “She really is!” I’m not really – not from everywhere, but living amongst grounded, rooted people it often feels that way to both sides. I’m exotic – and am often asked if I have an African passport, or told that I am African, even though I was only born there and spent only the first three years of my life there. Being born somewhere doesn’t mean you’re from there, but they don’t seem to understand. They were born in England and are English. I was born in Africa and am therefore African. I’ve given up trying to reason with them. And when the conversation doesn’t burst into cries of “no way!” and “so, you’re African?!” it settles into a somewhat uncomfortable silence when the other person doesn’t quite know how to respond. Insert laugh and topic change.

It’s a whole different story when a TCK asks this question. Sometimes neither of you knows that the other is one too, but when you find out, it opens a whole new world of understanding. Non-TCKs don’t find common ground with where you’re from, because they aren’t from more than once place. But TCKs instantly click with you and common ground is found even though your cultures are a completely different mash-up. I don’t often talk about it openly, but three of my best friends are TCKs – and that’s one reason we get along so well. We’re all outwards looking. None of us quite fit into the cultures we live in. We’ve seen the world from different viewpoints. So when I tell them that I want to leave the UK as soon as possible, they don’t give me odd looks, or assume that I just want a bit of “adventure” before I settle down at an office job, or ask why and where I want to go. Instead, they say that they, too, want to move on to somewhere else at some point, for an unspecified period of time. And we talk of all the different places we might go, talking of climate and food and culture, of a society we want to experience, or a language we want to learn to communicate in. And we encourage each other through understanding.

In the future, I know that when someone asks me where I’m from, my story will only take longer to tell.