TCKDating

Third Culture Kid Dating; adults who have spent their developmental years outside their parent's culture


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What does Home mean to you?

I had a good dose of reality on Thursday.  I was in Cardiff for the day doing interviews for my Master’s degree.  And if you remember my earlier post about ‘that niggling feeling’ of always wanting to run to a new city and start afresh. Well, this is what I found out when I went to Cardiff for a day. 

I was on a 9:45am train from Paddington station.  I was there sitting on a very empty train, ready for a 2 hour journey alone.  I had my Economist subscription, and I spent the first hour reading it.  It had been a while since I’d done this; I practically did it every week when working at Bloomberg, traveling to Paris to meet with clients.  I didn’t miss it for a second. I thought I’d like the escape. It was the opposite.

Arrived in Cardiff, cold wind and rain proved that the black pencil skirt and white blouse had definitely been the wrong choice.   I quickly found the train to Heath High Level that screeched into Cardiff Central.  And there, off I was to another empty station.  There was green and trees everywhere, and a bit of sun poked out for an hour or two. I was early for the interviews so I walked through the small streets, past the University of Wales Hospital, and sat in a small cafe and ordered a diet coke.  The cafe barista was so friendly and warm; it felt almost personal.  But that’s the thing, it wasn’t personal. I didn’t know him. This wasn’t my local. And I didn’t know anyone in this town.

Then and there, I realised that this was what moving to a new city was about.  I had completely forgotten the parts where you walk around, not knowing anyone. Knowing your friends don’t live 20 minutes away. That you can’t meet up with your girlfriend for a drink at your local pub. That your boyfriend isn’t a tube ride away.  You don’t know the good store to go to to buy that bread you like.  You have no idea where people go out.  You don’t have your ‘home’ to go back to with all of the small decorations you’ve put up over the years.  You don’t have that familiar street to walk down. The sports team you play with on the weekends when you’re feeling a bit hungover isn’t there.  You have to start all over again.  Not knowing anyone.

I finished my interviews and without an umbrella, I continued to be soaked in the rain as I walked back towards the train station.  Freezing and with no store to buy an umbrella, only houses and hills surrounding me, I eagerly walked into the warm train towards the central station. From Cardiff Central, I ran out to the commercial street to find a Boots Pharmacy, and bought one of those little umbrellas that last about a day and a half.  I was so ready to go home. Instead, I realized my train departure was still 3 hours from then.  I walked around the centre, thinking whether I wanted to walk into a pub or not to watch the World Cup match.  It was 5pm and after a long day, all I wanted was to see was a friendly face and grab a beer or glass of wine in a pub with some friends. Instead, I resorted to a small cafe (for a cheap sandwich: student life).  I didn’t feel like sitting in another empty pub without knowing anyone.

I crawled into the train at 7.30pm, cold and tired. Those two hours I had left on the train journey back home felt so incredibly long.  It dawned on me that I’ve created a home for myself in London.  My apartment has the novels and startup books I’ve read over the last four years, the red candles and black and white photo frames my sister bought me when I moved into the flat to make it cosy, the wall we decided to paint bright orange in the living room, the pink and grey blankets we bought the first winter to keep us warm. My best friends and boyfriend were again a tube ride away.  I could call up my girlfriends to watch the World Cup match on Saturday in a pub.  My brother would be in the living room watching the football.  I have built a home here in London.  And for Third Culture Kids, I think we know how important it is. And we also know that it’s more than a country your parents are from or a city where you were born. Home is about the connections you’ve made, the habits you’ve formed, and the familiarity you’ve built over time in the city you live in today.

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What I remember about the American International School of Johannesburg

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about my strongest memories of the American International School of Vienna.  Today, I thought I’d go back even further in time and tell you all about what I remember from the American International School of Johannesburg in South Africa or AISJ.

I moved there when I was really small in elementary school.  And the thing I remember most is how everything seemed to be outdoors. The school I mean! The hallways were outdoors.  You would walk from class to class on the red-orangy tiles, while seeing grass and blue sky.  Now looking back, it seems so strange that we spent so much time outside even though we were in school. Since the climate was good there, it was never an issue.  As a Third Culture Kid, you’re so used to adapting quickly to a new environment that you adjust very effectively to a new setting. This means that things are not much of a surprise for very long.

I remember these red tables on a hill outside where everyone would have their lunch.  There was a cafeteria, but on the majority of the days we’d eat outside under those red umbrellas.  It was so nice. And it just felt like it was always sunny.

Something else that was amazing was the pool.  There was an outdoors pool where we would have swimming and life-guard lessons.  And whenever there was a fair or what they used to call ‘Sports Day’ we would very often end up in the pool, splashing around for hours.

For someone who loves running around and playing sports, ‘Sports Day’ at this international school was a dream.  You would be put on a team and play football on one of the huge football fields we had on the playground.  You would play competitive team sports until you were sun-burnt and aching from running around all day.  These are memories that will never fade away.

The playground was huge, just space, grass, and some trees. That’s the thing about South Africa, just so much more space than you would find, say in Europe, so these kinds of things made sense over there.  I remember playing football, very often the only girl, on lunch breaks with the boys. It was a blast.  Sun was expected. Living in London, let’s just say, that’s not the case.

And a strange thing I remember is the sunscreen. We always had bottles and bottles of sunscreen that the teachers would give out at lunch breaks.  We were constantly being taught how to apply it. You can’t just spread it on! You’re meant to rub your hands with it first and only then when it’s activated, start applying it.  Of course, looking back, they had to do this, for skin cancer.  But as a kid, you wonder why they’re telling you this so often.

And there are millions of other things I can remember, but for now, that’s it.  I will always feel nostalgic when it comes to Johannesburg. And that’s most likely because 1. it was absolutely gorgeous and 2. because I spent six and a half years of my childhood there, the longest time I spent anywhere in my life.   There’s so much more to say about Jo’burg, but that’s for another post!

This is a picture of the beautiful golf course they have at Sun City. Does anyone recognize it?

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English men… it’s the banter

I’ve been thinking about something.  I find English men incredibly attractive. Their sense of humor: their sarcasm and self-deprecation.  Unsurprisingly, the person I’ve fallen for is in fact English.  It’s the banter.  They find banter so natural and easy because they’ve grown up with it. Their parents gave them banter from age 5. Their friends at school were quick and cheeky.  Characters in TV programs showed them that banter was the norm.  A man that can make you laugh. That has to be what counts.  What else is there?

Well, seemingly quite a bit. After asking some friends on different occasions who they’re most attracted to. I’ve had such a wide range of answers. One of my friends said she thought American men were “so hot”.  She explained the following: American men are sporty. They love their sports: American Football, Basketball, Baseball and list keeps going.  They’re rugged and manly.  They like to be outdoors, love barbeques, and wear casual shorts, plain sneakers and white T-shirts.  They don’t banter in the way British men do, but they’re easy-going and fun.  Of course, this is a huge generalization. But funnily enough, I was straight away able to picture an American guy in a baseball cap in Boston.  Obviously, for her, the banter and dark humor that British men have was completely irrelevant. She didn’t want that. She liked the ‘American’ type.

When I continued asking around, I found so many different responses. Another friend exclaimed that she loved Spanish men!  She explained it was their playfulness. She liked how quickly they’d walk up to you in bar if they thought you were cute and start chatting to you.  There was no coyness or reserve. It’s direct and fun.  I thought about this and realized this was what I found unattractive.  I didn’t like the pushiness and directness.  But then, as a Third Culture Kid, I also wondered if that didn’t have something to do with the fact that I grew up with French and Belgian parents, who unconsciously showed me that reserve is important. And charm is also about not being direct and obvious but keeping a bit to yourself.   What I did wonder was, why, if I spent years in South Africa and time in Austria and Germany, did I prefer the ‘English’ type?  Or what about the ‘TCK’ type? Well, to be honest, I haven’t met enough to know what that ‘type’ even is. Again, of course, this is a huge stereotype!  It’s built on the small number of people you’ve met.  Your opinion starts forming, and it could only really be accurate if you met every single person on this planet.  It doesn’t mean that every British guy will make you roll over with laughter. Or that all American men like to go hunting and after having gone fishing in the lake nearby will have a BBQ ready for you.  Or that there are no shy Spanish men.  Come on. We all know that’s ridiculous. I just find it fascinating that each of us still has our ‘favorite’. And I’m quite curious as to why we are attracted to certain nationalities more than others. If it’s formed by where we grew up. Our past relationships perhaps? Or maybe the customs and culture we experienced at home with our family, which for TCKs could be very different to where we’ve lived.  What do you think? 


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Still that niggling feeling…

ImageI know I am happy about having settled down and lived in one city for four years now.  But once in a while, I still get that niggling feeling of wanting to jump on a plane and move to a new country!  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I know it’s important to build relationships and bonds with other people.  And I’ve said that I find it easier to do this by sticking to one place.  I think it can help in terms of support and just overall happiness levels to have strong friendships.  Gretchen Rubin wrote a book called the Happiness Project.  She explains how important friends are in life.  I read the book and I strongly recommend it.  I think it’s just a great way to be more aware of yourself and others and to not take life for granted. She also writes a great blog on how you can proactively choose to be happy by making the effort: to challenge yourself, to try new things, to put energy into your friendships, to strive for more in your career and so on.  But that’s for another post on happiness!

So yes, Gretchen, reminds us how important it is to put effort and energy into friendships and to continue to build these connections.  And in so many ways, I’m so happy with the friends I’ve made here in London.  I have an absolutely wonderful time with each of them when we go see the new movie that’s just come out at Cineworld, drinks out in Clapham Junction, birthday drinks at that busy beer garden or simply a lovely afternoon in Hyde Park. They make me laugh.  We exchange stories.  We talk about the latest issue at work or the most recent date on Tinder. I feel like I can help when they need advice. And they’ve been amazing about just being there for me. 

But once in a while, very randomly, I’ll get this strange niggling feeling of wanting to start over new. Start afresh. Move to a brand new city.  I mean, very honestly, that feeling has reduced quite a bit since I first moved to London. It happens much less often than it used to. Just once in a while.  I guess the trigger can be when I meet someone new.  For example, at a recent TCK event from the Meetup group in London, I experienced that sort of event that makes you question things.  We’re out for drinks at a lively, noisy bar in Soho.  And one of the TCKs I’ve met tells me all about how she’s thinking of moving away again for a new job, maybe New York City, maybe Hong Kong.  She’s ready for that next move.  And while I’m listening to this, I get this strange elation and energy.  And I start thinking, “ah, me too! I want to do that.  I miss it. I miss the excitement. The intensity.”  That feeling will then usually remain until I go to sleep that night. I’ll think about it. Wonder how much I want it. How much of that feeling is real.

And the next morning, it’s gone. That feeling is no longer there. And I’m again so content and satisfied of what I’ve built here and what I have in London. I know that it’s because I’ve put effort in my friendships, my career, the football team I play with on the weekends, and all the other things.  If I leave and move, all of that would go away.  And then and there, when I do a quick cost-benefit analysis, I realize that the small benefit of the excitement of a new city does not outweigh the huge cost in terms of losing the community I’ve spent so long to build, the friendships I’ve taken to form, and the professional network I’ve slowly acquired.

Will that niggling feeling ever totally go away? Ah, I don’t think so.  I mean, who knows, I could surprise myself.  Hard to erase 22 years of moving around though. How do you feel about this? Do you ever get that feeling?


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Okay, but where are you really from?

Hilarious post following my ‘Where are you from’ piece. My favorite part is the following: “Okay, I don’t have trouble answering the question either. It’s the people asking the question who have a problem with my answer.”

A Collection of Musings

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Most people don’t have trouble answering the question ‘where are you from?’. Okay, I don’t have trouble answering the question either. It’s the people asking the question who have a problem with my answer. And thus I’m just as familiar with the question ‘where are you really from?’.

Recently on a flight I had one gentleman ask me if I was British. When I said I wasn’t, he asked if I was American. I would have excused him for not being able to distinguish between American and British accents had he not been American. He spent the next few minutes telling me it was a rarity to be competent at English while being from neither of those nations. He’s in for a big surprise if he ever goes to Australia or Canada.

I’m often puzzled at how a person who has known me for about 3 minutes thinks they have…

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What I remember from the American International School in Vienna, Austria…

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I thought I would tell you the things I remember from my time in middle school at the American International School in Vienna.  And who knows, maybe some of you will recall similar things.  I know there are plenty of AIS alumni out there so it might be fun to see what our memories are from that school in particular.

I attended AIS during middle school and two years of high school (9th and 10th grade).  There are certain images that I can still easily recall.  I remember the beautiful football (soccer for Americans out there) field we had. It was made of real grass, not that synthetic grass you find nowadays.  I remember playing teams from all over Europe on that field. We would play against the International School of Dusseldorf or the St John’s International School from Belgium.  I remember that AIS was so good at organising games and tournaments. I remember hosting a girl or two from the team that would come over. They would stay at our house in Vienna.  We would share dinner with them and breakfast in the morning. When it was a longer tournament, we would get to know them better as we would have them for the full weekend.  I absolutely loved team sports, and I still do. And I really loved moments like this.  I couldn’t wait to get onto that pitch to play with my team. 

And when we didn’t host the team, we would go over for a weekend. We would go to Dusseldorf and do the same thing. We would stay over (usually 2 or 3 girls) at one of the girl’s house from the home team. It was wonderful because again it gave you an insight into what it was like in that city.  Dinner always consisted of chatting about where we were from, what city we lived in, and finding out about the city we were staying in.

There was really something magical about those weekends. The mix of sports, friends, food, and a new city to discover. As a teenager, there was nothing more I could have asked for. 

There was something else I remember about AIS.  I remember the hallways. I remember them because in the American International School of Johannesburg, where we had recently arrived from, they had hallways outside because the majority of the school was outdoors (well, besides the classrooms of course!).  The climate was so good that you would walk around outdoors from class to class. And eat outside on the tables that were set on a hill (but that’s for another post!). And maybe that’s why those hallways in Vienna seem to be fixated in my mind.  I can still see the lockers.  There were people from every nationality in those hallways. You would mostly hear English, but sometimes you would hear German or French or Korean.

I also remember the International Food Festival at AIS.  Basically, the parents of the students would cook food from their ‘native’ country, and they would bring it to school on one special evening.  On that day, we would have amazing food from different countries.  It was so hard to choose. Everything smelled amazing. And because it was all home-cooked food, it had that wonderfully authentic feel to it.  I remember my mom (whose Belgian) would always make crepes (married to a French man; she had to learn how to make crepes!).  They always sold ridiculously quickly.  You could choose all kinds of toppings: Nutella, sugar, butter, lemon, cinnamon and the list goes on.  After a while, she started bringing maple syrup.  Proper international school parent, you know there’s going to be an American student who will want maple syrup.  I guess crepes can be compared to pancakes, well, at least to some. We might offend the French saying that!

Something really special about International Schools.  I can’t wait to hear what you remember from your experience at International Schools.  What are your fondest memories?  Oh and if you’re trying to figure out what that scrumptious looking chocolate cake is in that picture, it’s Sachertorte from Cafe Landtmann in Vienna.  I would kill for one of those right now!  That’s a whole other post! Everything I loved about Vienna…Wiener schnitzel anyone?


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Where are you from?

How many times have you had that question? I think this topic has been done again and again. But I think the reason that it’s been covered so many times by third culture kids and global nomads is because it happens so frequently in our lives, and it always takes us 20 times longer to answer the question than anyone else.  And we either feel uncomfortable or arrogant in answering the question.

I think we (TCKs) all have that little 1 minute speech memorized by now.  I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly trying to shorten it.  Because I just always feel that it sounds so pompous: “My dad is French; my mom is Belgian. But I’ve never lived in either of those countries. I was born in Tokyo, moved to Dusseldorf, Johannesburg, Vienna, Hamburg and then did my undergrad in the US.”  And I have no desire to sound arrogant about it. There’s no reason to be.  I mean, come on, the majority of us (TCKs) only traveled around the world as a result of one or both of our parents’ jobs. It’s not from our own risk-taking behavior.  What are you going to do as a kid? Say no? Question it? Why would you? You’re five years old. And after the first or second move, it becomes so normal, that you never really feel the need to question it. I wasn’t bothered. I absolutely loved it.  If I had the choice to do it again in the exact same way, I would. 

This is why I don’t think people should be impressed by our ‘where are you from’ response. I’m much more impressed by people who say they’ve traveled since they left their parent’s house.  Living somewhere for six months, a year, in a foreign country on your own. That’s amazing.  It means that you were willing to take that risk. To go off on your own and see where it would take you. Not following the regular path of uni and that full-time job. No, you chose to pack your bags and not stick to what everyone else expects of you: your friends, your professors, your parents, society in general, really.  I’ve met people who have traveled a lot since they were 18, and they’re always surprised when I say how fascinated I am by that.  It’s a completely different thing.  Yes, I’ve lived in different countries. But that was because my parents moved around. And, well, after I continued moving around (Boston, Auckland, London) because that’s what I knew.  I loved getting out of my comfort zone. But I had years of practice.  I’m more interested by those people who didn’t do it when they were growing up and yet have this yearning and curiosity for different cultures (purely from their own interest).

And that’s why, I don’t think it’s ‘impressive’ that we, TCKs, have lived in all of those countries.  Our parents were impressive, maybe. As they took that risk, to be expats, to intentionally move to another country and have to learn a new language. To learn new customs.  But us?  We just followed.

This is why I try to shorten my spiel when I’m asked where I’m from.  I’ve tried only saying “French-Belgian”, but it never works. They’ll just ask me why I have an American accent.  Which, to be fair, I completely understand. If I heard someone with a British or American accent, of course, I would just assume they’re from the UK or the US.  Why would they be from Europe?  I mean, I get it, all of my cousins and extended family on my dad’s side have such a thick French accent when they speak English.  So immediately when you meet a French or Belgian person, you think they should have that sort of accent when speaking English.  It’s misleading.  How do you feel about all of this?  Are you also constantly shortening your response to the question ‘Where are you from’?

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