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 27, 2012

To Visit, Or Not To Visit

Expats and TCKs all get caught up in this game at one point or another. Regardless of experiencing a positive or negative exile, when they gather around the coffee table in the living room, the question “When are you going back home?” inevitably turns up in the conversation. The end of a posting, mission or secondment for these people becomes synonymous to an inmate’s interminable wait for parole and trips back to the homeland to conjugal visits. We all need something to look forward in our lives, don’t we? Of course there are tremendous differences between both of these lifestyle, but the fact that you are taken away from your loved ones and everything your home court advantage is shared among the two sample populations.

The Bickfords in Lago Grey, Chile

Another common topic for those removed from their natural habitat, following the flow of the discussion, is the lead up question: “What do you miss the most? Simply put, the best answer is “everything”. The same reply applies to the interviewer. Sure you can be having the time of your life at the present moment, but your things aren't as fine and dandy as the good old days back home. Everything always tends to look much better in retrospect – even though in reality, it probably was not. Often times people miss their traditional food: you have tacos in the US, French cheeses in Chile, Wendy’s in Venezuela, but the food on your plate never tastes the same as back in its place of origin. That special dash of spice is forever stored in the memory of your taste buds. Back in [fill in the blank with your hometown], your favourite dish tastes better because there, they know how to make it properly. Step away amateurs. In your mind, everything is spectacular back where you are no longer living. It becomes a romantic idealization. Sometimes, there are even worse scenarios, such as a Canadian living in Peru, where there aren’t any beavertails or poutine! I wonder how I was able to survive without these important Canadian staples – I am sure the sarcasm was immediately detected.

On your trip down memory lane, the most important missing ingredient to the perfect pizza pie of life is definitely the family. These temporary refugees begin to put their family on a pedestal along with the relationship they fostered over the years and the good times they have shared. They pray for the months to breeze right by in order to be reunited once more and feel so good. Unfortunately, Father Time stays on top of the ball, ensuring each months go by according to plan and your family's life evolves without your presence. Suddenly, sufficient time has stepped in to separate you during special occasions, Sunday dinners and any other usual activity you used to partake. When you are able to return for a brief visit in a flash tour, you certainly find yourself wondering if it was worth the sacrifice to spend on expensive airfare and schedule leave for this lukewarm reception. You begin to feel as if you miss them more than you are missed. Your cousins are off at some friend’s beach house, your favourite uncle is occupied with his regular duties and your grandmother’s dog passed on so you can’t even take him out for a walk. It is generally your own parents who are pleased you could make it, but there is already some kind of funky void between you. It’s all normal and unavoidable. You have become like the friend that never calls or picks up the phone.

Remember your buddies? They fit in to the equation of what you miss the most. After all, as the notorious “they” say, “no man is an island”. We all need a friend or two in our times of trouble and/or for throwing a party to celebrate a momentous occasion. In those moments when everything is going your way, you just know your best buddies will be there through thick and thin. All of a sudden, 6 months come between you and right off the bat, there is a lot that happened while you were gone. Their lives went on without you as well. You feel cheated in a certain way. As more months are added onto the balance turning this short absence into a more prolonged one, there are more gaps that become harder to manage and it is now even more complicated to relate at a genuine level. The prized relationship is now based on the past, what once happened rather than your present together. Some friends resent the fact you abandoned them for living on “the lap of luxury”, others could not tell the difference without your presence and the last lot firmly believe that what once brought you together can keep you together. Granted, the last ones are usually very few.

Bill Cosby never underestimated the power of family

When it comes to visiting your home country, do it for yourself and your children and no one else. It is truly an investment for the entire family. There are so many unanswered questions floating out there in the unknown and understanding where we are from is the easiest question of them all to answer. Whether you fit in or not is a different matter altogether. I believe we can all make it work when we are called upon. We may or may not like the answer of where we are from, but it is part of who we are. We carry this around, even those who reject their ancestry. It’s there. Living away from family is a sacrifice not everyone can effectively cope with but making the effort to see your genealogical tree before you on a regular basis does pay off. Someone has to take the lead when dancing the tango of life and why not take the first step? Allow the others in home base to join in on the dance, and if they do not follow, at least you tried. Sooner or later, actions done with positive intentions are recognized.

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