A couple of months ago I was having a conversation with Zenia about the water tragedy in Flint, Michigan. She looked at me and asked me why people didn’t just move out. I told her that it wasn’t that easy. She asked me why.
To Third Culture Kids, moving is a very easy task. We don’t even think twice about it. As a matter of fact, most of us are experts at it. Damn the emotions, we will trudge along and make it happen! Of course, only later, sometimes decades later, do we count the cost. But for now, Terra Incognita beckons. And we fail to realize that what for us is as easy as tying shoelaces (OK, perhaps tying shoelaces is… harder…?!), to non-TCKs it can be a daunting and challenging task.
I am reminded of Samwise Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings. When he stops Frodo Baggins and says:
“This is it… If I take one more step, I’ll be the farthest away from home I’ve ever been.”
Try as I may, I cannot and probably will never be able to relate with Mr. Gamgee on this one. But he makes me realize that not everyone just ups and leaves. He also makes me realize that this may be a healthy response to many of life’s curveballs. And he gives me an amazing amout of respect for those who left home for the first time as adults; the Global Nomads minted after the developmental years.
From a developmental standpoint, we were nomadic for thousands of years. In small bands of 25-50, we traversed the land looking for (what else?) food! But since we discovered agriculture some 10,000 years ago, we have become a pretty settled species (save some exceptions). Humans, just like the agriculture we’ve developed, like to “put some roots down”. Familiarity makes some feel comfortable, safe, and happy. For many TCKs, however, this very idea breeds anxiety. We Third Culture Kids are a lot more like our hunter-gathering and foraging-nomadic ancestors. No doubt we develop a love and nostalgia for places we’ve lived in, but we are also looking for the “next” place. So much so that by now I can even predict certain elements I will miss and develop nostalgic feelings for once I leave the place I am currently in.
Third Culture Kids and Global Nomads don’t leave a little piece of our heart wherever we go, on the contrary, we pick up little pieces that make up who we are everywhere we go.
But back to Samwise. Brave Samwise. It takes a lot of guts to take that step out of a comfort zone that some of us TCKs never developed. We perhaps never had a paradise to lose it; instead we are building our own paradise once place at a time. For those who did not grow up like us, however, stepping out is an act of bravery we will never fully comprehend.
When we TCKs decide to move, our parents are usually supportive. I mean, they also moved around, so how hard can it be? Meanwhile, when a Global Nomad (minted in adulthood) decides to move out, parents might just freak out, panic, and research the many ways one can die in the place where they decided to bravely move to.
The brave Global Nomad, who leaves home for the first time as an adult, does not know how to be the “fish out of water”, but bravely leaps out. For us TCKs, being the odd one isn’t just easy; we find it exciting. Being exotic does not bother us and strange new customs do not offend us as we know that all people have “strange” customs (including our very own parents, who brought these from THEIR culture). The nascent Global Nomad has to learn this while traveling, and (hopefully) learns to leave their prejudices at the door and accept that different is not wrong, just… well… different!
The courage needed to move out is so incomprehensible for us TCKs. I remember my mother telling me that she did not even know that there was a country called Paraguay before my father’s job interview. And she marveled at the fact that both my of sisters and I uttered our first words in Spanish, a language she had never even heard spoken till she was in her twenties. She could have never imagined, growing up, that her children would never identify with her home and her culture, her people and her language, the way they would identify with the culture(s) of the nations they would move to. After all, it is only this year, and with the help of my Aussie friend Dave Burke that I am learning the rules of cricket, a sport that was practically a religion to my father.
It takes guts to be Samwise Gamgee. So to all of you Global Nomads around the world who left home for the first time in your adulthood, I raise a glass (OK, I’m having a coffee while I write this, so my coffee mug!). You are braver than I could ever probably be, though I will never know. And I will never know the struggle you faced to make this happen. I am impressed and blown away by your courage. And I am grateful for it, for in doing so, you’ve created Third Culture Kids like myself.
This post is dedicated to two such brave souls; my very own parents Syed and Tazien. Your parents gave you hell when you moved to the other side of the world. Your courage is inspiring. Thank you!