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, May 6, 2012

Reverse Cultural Shock

I am pretty much nearing the end of my teen years in my blog entries so I decided to change the structure of my future publications. Anyone can continue to send requests which I strongly encourage (and appreciate) as it assists me to identify topics you wish to read more of. I am most pleased to oblige. This is much more interactive than television, isn’t it? Quality programming at your finger tips. From time to time, I will write about trips worth mentioning, but my primary focus will be more on issues (pros and cons) typical to third culture/transcultural kids - some of us are no longer kids but the term still applies as we become adults. The record of experiences and challenges shape our person: who we are, what we are and what some of it means. I cannot claim to be an expert, but hopefully by sharing my stories, some light can be shed on similar situations others encounter. Who knows, maybe I have an answer for you or you may have one for me.

The beautiful city of Ottawa

Returning to Canada after four years in Peru was quite the challenge as an 18 year old. From the moment I first landed in Lima, I counted the days until the glorious occasion where I would get back on the plane, Canada-bound. The Littlest Hobo would not have been proud of me. I was extremely enthused to be in Canada now, as my family and I cleared customs, but so much of my person felt incomplete without my best pals. It was like the Mario Brothers playing only with Luigi: something doesn't feel quite the same without Mario. I did manage to get quite attached to each of my friends during the posting, as I had in previous instances. None of them were accompanying me on this new stage, as in previous instances as well. I am sure many of us returning home from the psychological and emotional battlefield of the expat life have similar expectations: we secretly wish for a victory parade like those in Hollywood blockbusters where brave triumphant soldiers parade down streets filled with people celebrating, confetti falling from the heavens and bands belting out joyful, celebratory tunes. Unfortunately, there is no real fanfare. On the contrary, many times there isn't even someone standing outside the terminal with balloons or a home-made sign displaying “you did it!” or “welcome home!” You certainly won’t get that welcome from the passport control officer. They are trained to not have much of a sense of humour the poor chaps.

Instead of the hero’s welcome, there is a much finer parallel with a returning Vietnam veteran. Not many understand why you were away from your country or really care to connect the dots. It is a pointless war with no real winner. "It doesn't apply to me," people say. Most grown-ups who contribute to the tax base from their own income consider families like mine as leaches sucking the blood out of the federal piggy bank. Well-dressed thieves. The perception, as I previously mentioned in earlier entries, is that Foreign Service officers and their families are vegging on beaches, sipping piña coladas with the locals and perfecting the ultimate tan. It is a shame I was not posted to one of those places. Sounds like fun, wouldn't you agree? It is impossible for others to imagine the level of hardship these people undergo - it is usually difficult to understand others not having been in their shoes - and do so with their heads held high, proud of representing their country. Most people my own age seemed to consider all my accounts of having visited Aztec pyramids, Incan ruins, getting lost in Curaçao - the smallest island in the Caribbean - the rainforest in Venezuela, as cries for attention. Either that, or just that I was some kind of snob gallivanting around the globe with my bottomless pockets full of cash. The pedantic world traveler. This does contribute to a feeling of alienation and leads you to consider that everything you have done in your young life was wrong. Don't worry, you didn't do anything wrong. We all have our own lives and do what we can.

Before heading off on posting, the diplomat is generally coached about what to expect overseas in an attempt to mitigate ‘culture shock.’ There is no perfect transition except trying to keep an open mind. It is hard to prepare for military coups, terrorism, dictatorship, and all these unplanned events just to name a few I have enjoy. Certainly not a picnic but a great learning experience. The least you expect, the better things can be, that is my motto. Anyway, the Foreign Service Officer is then recommended to pass on the new intel to his or her dependants since now he or she is 'fully prepared' for culture shock. However, upon the conclusion of the foreign assignment, there is no coaching whatsoever for anyone in the family to transition back home. No support. The mentality from headquarters is that you are heading home now and you know what it’s like. This is rarely the case of course, especially after long postings. As I said earlier, a lot can happen over a period of four years, including the younger members in your tribe of nomads. Perhaps the closest parallel to the weird feeling of being somewhere somewhat familiar again – the so-called return to home - but not being able to fill in the gaps made during your prolonged absence is waking up from a coma. Even your closest people think it is bizarre that you cannot remember things that happened while you were gone. This was much tougher since we had no internet back then - man, I feel like an old man saying that. You walk around YOUR city until someone stops you to ask for directions and you draw a blank. You realize you have no idea where this person is trying to go. But you are from here, right? Happens to us all.

Amen to that

The common reaction when returning home is to seek the familiar. This was a primary reason why I chose to attend the University of Ottawa to pursue my undergraduate studies. I had lived in Ottawa before. Surely it had changed much or at least some things could have remained the same. I also tracked down some of my friends from back in the Claudel days and once again, I realized my four years away from this city were just a whisper in the history books. Some long lost, dead and buried chapter. Nobody cared I was gone or that I came back. One of my friends from back then had battled cancer and barely scraped by. I was glad to see him again. Another friend had suggested that it was better not to be friends. The good old days were just that.  According to him, too much time had passed since we played in the schoolyard and we now had absolutely nothing in common. It was not even worth the effort to try to find out if in fact that was actually true. I realized I would have to switch my chip to convince myself that Ottawa was going to be just another posting. I was going to have to rebuild a life from scratch on my own with my parents posted to Mexico, my brother in London and no one else to help ease the pain or understand my troubles. ¡Aurrerá!

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to reading your blogs on TCKs and their "issues". So life in Ottawa moved on without you, the city changed, your friends grew up and most importantly you were changed due to your experiences abroad.
    When I went to study in the Netherlands I was more like a "hidden immigrant". I was not returning, I was going to a country I had never really lived in. I had even been born in Africa!
    Have you heard of the book "A Global Nomad's Guide To University Transition" by Tina Quick? Wish it had been available at the time....