A third-culture kid (TCK / 3CK) or trans-culture kid is "someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more cultures other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture."


Sunday, August 21, 2011

For Those About To Leave, We Salute You!

By my 14th birthday, I had already lived in four different countries and visited seven others. Nine years of my life were spent living as a foreigner and the last three were spent at home base. I must have gotten accustomed to living as an expatriate, which contributed to a sentiment of self-alienation while in Ottawa. It was similar to admiring a beautiful painting from the outside as an art enthusiast rather than being part of the canvass. I had given this chance my best effort to become part of the Canadian picture, something I felt I represented while residing overseas. My increasing shyness had made the adaptation slightly more difficult than previous transitions. English was customarily the language when the big four were together, French was for school and Maman, which remained unchanged in Ottawa. My intake of Spanish with friends outside of school became seriously limited. Juan Alberto and his parents (my adoptive uncles) were my source of Spanish and a culture in which I felt naturally comfortable. It also made me feel uncomfortable that in my own country, people often suggested I was an outsider when I was trying to personify the Maple Leaf and all it stood for in my life, feeling pushed away from a successful adaptation.

Ottawa friends: Eric Soublière, Alexandre Mehiri, Adriano Damjanovic and one of Adriano's buddies

In the past, time played an integral role as a medium to make sense of my new transition and ensure stability quickly followed suit. As familiarity with my surroundings increased, I made good friendships and I immediately began feeling I belonged. I was just one more kid among the many people making up a beautiful uniform local culture and society. My presence in the melting pot was similar to adding spice to the recipe to kick it up a notch. After two years completed in our posting, having adjusted to a sweet new life that I worked hard to make, I could never imagine my time would run out. Of course I never blamed these circumstances on my father or his job, but it happened every time without exception. Departure was inevitable. I was born into this type of lifestyle so I had no point of comparison. It was becoming difficult to settle in, knowing things were temporary, having to uproot every three years sacrificing a stable life. It broadened kids horizons, but there were always pros and cons. After becoming somewhat used to this routine, Canada seemed as yet another posting, but having my father’s family nearby was a definite advantage. Although they were not exactly next door, it made a significant impact to the way I experienced this country as they were supportive and committed to spending holidays and special occasions together as a family. Perhaps if I could have gone from school to my Grandad’s, my Uncle John and Aunt Amy’s or my Uncle Rick and Aunt Margaret’s on a regular basis, Ottawa could have been different.

In the spring of 1995, as was customary after a two and a half year stretch, news came home once more about another move. This time, my parents felt unusual pressure, as their two boys were older and treasured the freedom of their suburban lifestyle along with the small things that contributed to their stability. Their major concern was regarding our possible dramatic, maybe volatile, reaction to leaving on another posting once again. This marked an end to our monthly visits to Grandad, our closer and more frequent relationship with the Ontario Bickfords, our basketball net, street games and our friends. My Dad and Maman sat Brian and I down in the living room where for the past years we had helped to put up our Christmas tree and decorations, to share the news. My father started the conversation by mentioning we were being posted to Lima, Peru for two years. The first thing that popped up in my brother and my mind was Brian’s school buddy, Daniel Seminario. He was obsessed with Michael Jordan and the Bulls and sacrificed most of his responsibilities as a young adult for basketball – which he was not particular good at - and had lived far too long away from his South American homeland. We figured it was not the best point of reference for Peruvians. My mother proceeded to quiz us about our knowledge of the country and both Brian and I responded with the Incas - an advanced pre-Colombian civilization that saw its demise at the hands of the Spanish conquistadors. They proceeded with a basic overview of the political situation, mentioning Fujimori was the political strongman and the Andean nation was resurfacing out of a quasi civil war against the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path).

I remember Brian was upset about the departure more than ever before. He had made some great friends, mainly Manu, Tariq and Grégoire who were great kids and were always really nice to me as well. They generally included me in their basketball games or outings to watch sports games. He had become quite the young entrepreneur in finding opportunities to make some money in our community, mowing people’s lawns, shovelling driveways and babysitting. Many Ottawa South residents knew him and this recognition was special for him. He was seen as the “go-to” teenager. Anything you needed to have done around your house, you could count on him. He saved his money to buy CDs, posters and other items indispensable to teens. With this new posting, he was witnessing his hard work slowly fading away helplessly along with his freedom of riding his bike anywhere he wanted. He did not want to leave. I saw my own life in retrospect and did not see a need to balance the pros and cons. My brother was two years older than I was, so the elements in his life affecting his attachment to the city of Ottawa had a much deeper meaning. My best friend, Juan Alberto and his family were also scheduled to leave for Quito, Ecuador (right next door to our destination), so this contributed to my nonchalance. If my best friends were going, not much point in me staying and perhaps the change could be for the better. It would give a jolt to a life that had become monotonous.

With my family during my confirmation in Ottawa

The last summer in Ottawa was short. It was relatively boring for me as usual since most of my buddies from school were off on summer camps and Juan was in solitary confinement as his family packed for their own posting. My Maman made her rounds putting stickers on household items each marked by transport method: air, sea and storage. I had grown used to seeing these tags. They marked the closing ceremonies of every posting. Eventually, the movers would show in a huge truck, sending our more necessary items in boxes by air, the heavier parcels in a container heading to meet us by ship and the furniture would rock out in storage until the owners would return - after two years this time around. Psychologically, it was easier to make this move because it was for a shorter duration than others. Two years can just fly by. The shipment however was always a burden on its own having to deal with customs upon arrival. After the house was empty, we hit the road one last time to our familiar Kingston, Varty Lake and finally, leaving Canada from the Pearson Airport, our point of entry three years ago. I was sad to leave my family behind and nervous wondering what Peru had to offer in my life’s adventures.

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