Mother’s Day from Miles Away

Holidays were my favorite part of being a TCK because they were often celebrated uniquely. We spent Christmases in the dry heat of Nairobi, Kenya, Eid with our Bangladeshi community from Jakarta, Indonesia to Charlotte, North Carolina, birthdays renewed on breathtaking islands, riding elephants, flying in the air or surfing in the ocean…but always, always, my family was together.

Not this year, though.

This is my first year of being an “official adult” which means yet another transition. I’m used to them by now, but transitions still irk me. Not always, mostly on days like today, Mother’s Day 2018, when I am 470 miles away from my family. This is, of course, the way life evolves. But it doesn’t make the pain of missing people lessen by one percent.

This morning I FaceTimed my mom so I could see her face and pretend I was home. She was being pampered by my dad – banana-apple pancakes and watermelon juice, bright flowers, eating breakfast on our gorgeous patio at home in Charlotte. I put on a big smile and partook in festivities from this great distance, but internally, it utterly devastated me to not be there, making breakfast for her myself, gifting her a bouquet with purple flowers, enjoying heart-to-hearts with the sun beaming around us. My dad does a wonderful job, don’t get me wrong; regardless, it hurt not to be there.

That being said, Mom and I did get a chance to celebrate an early Mother’s Day a few weekends back when she came to visit me in Baltimore. Even though we had that awesome girl’s weekend together, it’s not the same as being there in person for the people you love.

I can’t speak for all TCKs, but for me, missing people is triggering as hell. It zaps me back into this uncomfortable limbo where I have to deal with the wounds Goodbyes inflict, while simultaneously reminiscing on warm memories. The juxtaposition of those two things is exhausting. And yet…glass half-full: “how lucky we are to have so many people to love and miss,” right?

While that’s absolutely true, sometimes I get tired of looking at things with optimism. I think it’s okay for people to just feel how they feel and not be pressured to feel anything other than whatever emotion holds them hostage in that moment. We need to normalize the release of emotions, validate them and let people thaw out in their own time. If my job (that I adore) has taught me anything, it’s to let the pressure gauge release slowly. It’s healthy, actually.

See, I miss my family every day, and that’s okay. I am still a high-functioning adult with responsibilities, job security, building a network, being social, trying to do my best on a daily basis. And because of that, I get to be tired and upset on days like this because it’s normal to not be okay one hundred percent of the time. In a perfect world, we would have the technology to beam across space in mere seconds so we could be back with our loved ones, then travel home to reality all in the same day. But we’re not there yet. So instead, we are responsible for facing and digesting our emotions. Pushing them down and ignoring them is not the answer. Feel what you feel so you can move forward.

I wanted to share my normal with you all, so if you ever doubt yourself, you have proof that what you feel is valid. Miss your family, miss your friends, miss your pets, miss your Life The Way It Was Before. When you do that, when you truly let yourself feel the intensity of your emotions, you will reach a peak, and then you’ll be able to descend into Acceptance. Liam wrote a post earlier this year on The Five Stages of Grief as Told by Moving, and I agree with him 100%. Moving = missing, and missing people is natural. So be natural, be normal. We are human, after all.

Hello > Goodbye

The word ‘goodbye’ has such a negative connotation, especially in the world of TCK’s. And as we grow up, we have to say goodbye to such pivotal people throughout the entirety of their lives, whether it be friends we have made along the way, or your parents traveling for work, or the grandparent(s) you just spent a month visiting over the summer in the country of your citizenship. But what if we switched from focusing on the goodbyes and started focusing on all of the hellos? I had never thought of focusing on the hellos in my life, so when a fellow ATCK (Adult – Third Culture Kid) talked about focusing on the hellos rather than the goodbyes in her life, it changed my entire perspective on the matter.

The words “hello” and “goodbye” are pretty much polar opposites, but not that kind that attract. The only thing they have in common with each other is if the word ‘hello’ is muttered, the word ‘goodbye’ probably will be at some point as well. It’s the cycle of life. After examining the large proportion of goodbyes I have said to people in comparison to the hellos, it dawned on me that without the goodbyes, I might have not made room for new friendships. Closing a door is equally as scary as opening a door. Yet the difference is, saying hello OPENS the door, and in that lay the opportunities for new friendships. From there, I realized that by saying goodbye to certain people, room was made for new people in my life.

Next time you find yourself thinking about a certain goodbye, think back to the first hello with that same person. And by saying that one simple word, look at the course of events that played out between you both, whether it be negative or positive. Now, evaluate how that person impacted your life, and how they allowed you to grow as a person and into the person you are right now. If you had never said hello, you would not be the person you are today. The word “hello” snowballed the events in which you grew from. And self growth and learning are some of the most important things we have to continuously do as humans and it all ultimately stems back to the hellos you have said throughout your life.

Everyone and anyone that has graced my life, or is currently in my life has made an impact of some sorts. And each and every impact has been or is a learning experience. Every person I have said goodbye to, I have learned something from. Same with everyone I have said hello too as well. The only difference is, saying hello allows the person to grace you with the new learning experience in your life. If I never opened the door by saying hello, I would have never had to shut the door, and I would not have grown as a person. And so when I look at hello versus goodbye, the hellos I have said throughout my life are greater than the goodbyes. Yes, the goodbyes have brought sorrow and loss but through that sorrow and loss have come new friendships that budded into much more than I could have ever hoped for.

Noncommittal

“I get a strangely gratifying relief from walking away from situations that require commitment. I seem to have an aversion – not to committing, but to settling. When you have spent most of your life recovering from the great losses that come with relocating, when you have uttered too many goodbyes and shed too many tears to the point of gradually becoming numb, you find yourself loving in a way that’s safe – outside of yourself. That way, hurt won’t hurt so much.

When you have spent most of your life in comfortable solitude, when you have loved to the breaking point, when you have had to find your way back again, it’s hard to sit still. That’s what commitment feels like to me: being bound. I can physically feel myself retract from the possibility of being loved.

I have become entirely too comfortable in loving myself so no one else will have to. It is an armor that I wear boldly, proudly and daily. It is unbreakable. I have become my own guardian – a force to be reckoned with (although I wouldn’t suggest trying).”

10 days ago, I wrote the lines above. I was presented with a situation that would have been normal to most people. But as a previous child of the world who is now an adult, I have slowly been coming to realizations about how my childhood has affected my present perspective. This week’s theme is “The Accidental Effects of Goodbyes.” Liam and I did not intentionally write about this topic, it just kind of happened that way. It is yet another example of how we are processing our childhood and teenage experiences and trying to navigate through adulthood.

I realized that moving caused this noncommittal rift inside of me – something I hadn’t honestly examined until this year. Saying goodbye to friends, family, house staff that were like family to my parents and I, and those I was romantically involved with took an unforeseen toll. The stress of losing people over-and-over again can eat away at you. It’s a cycle none of us can ever truly prepare for as TCKs; losing a friend to relocation, or being the person who is forced to move yourself never gets easier.

It becomes routine: parent gets job in other country, family packs up in short notice and bodes tearful goodbyes, family relocates, family becomes so immersed in settling down in new place as quickly as possible that they don’t really have time to process the grief of the place before. Often, I felt like I was ripped away from a place just when I was ready to call it “home” – another trigger word for TCKs. But that was our normal. It wasn’t until I graduated from college last May that I felt overwhelming grief. As graduation approached, I panicked, realizing that this was a new start, and although I was excited about being a working gal, I was terrified of leaving behind a community I had so carefully carved into “home.” The goodbyes were not as deeply painful as I had prepared for. I unintentionally created a guard that would soften the blow of leaving the friends I loved behind. I was forward focused – work and relocating to Baltimore were next. This was routine.

The first two months were horrendously lonely. New job in a new city, I was forced to come to terms with the cycle of grief. This was the first time I was living separately from my family (college doesn’t really count, because you’re an adult without real responsibilities), my friends were scattered all over the country and world, and I was alone. Now, I have never felt uncomfortable with solitude, but this was different. This was the realization of the goodbyes that mattered. And damn, did they hurt. I was blindsided by the brutality of missing humans. It is both an absolute privilege and merciless damnation to have to process people.

As the months passed and I settled, it was my quickest turnaround in 9 moves over 22 years. I was getting comfortable in this new city, and I was so proud of myself for taking on the grief and allowing myself to go through it so I could accept it and move on. But, I also realized that I did not have space for the idea of love. I believe in love, I just felt like it was a foreign concept and for another time. Another place. The Future. I was content with being a good friend – it was and is my M.O. I have long felt comfortable with the idea of flying solo.

But the way that I disconnected from dates and the possibility of romance is something that I have had to admit is unhealthy detachment, with a good push from the person who knows me best: Mom. She came to visit me this weekend and we had a nice, long introspective look at the way I am quick to disconnect from those who pursue me romantically. She encouraged me to take on a new challenge: let go of the past and the pain of goodbyes and give the limbo between dates and a relationship the chance normal people would.

I was taken aback at how I had gradually come to view relationships and love. When you are you, you don’t necessarily pay attention to how you think what you do all the time. So I had to be intentional about my perspective and realize: oh man, I’ve really been shutting people out, huh? I didn’t mean to, but it’s a form of coping and self-preservation. Why? Because of vulnerability. Vulnerability is essential in building any relationship (friends, mentors, teachers, family, etc.) and the scariest vulnerability is when you give it to someone romantically. You can never go back once you go there, and that place made me uncomfortable and shut down in ways I was finally ready to admit.

I say all this to say that I think it’s complicated and beautiful to look back at the journey that created You. It’s ongoing. But it’s a relief to come to new places of understanding about yourself so you can be truly comfortable with all aspects of who you are. The next challenge I’m taking on is the adult version of my Third Culture Kid self. Fingers crossed, folks, and stay tuned! This is all part of the wondrously complex self-growth journey!

 

 

 

Loss and Vulnerability

 

Vulnerability is my worst enemy. Opening up to someone is the hardest thing to do when they could potentially be ripped out of your life instantly without warning. And it’s because of that sole fact that vulnerability is something I struggle with immensely. When you have moved every few years and lost friendships that had the potential to be so much more than they were, it’s hard to even want to make new friends. Thus resulting in the feeling of loss that is so prevalent throughout the lives of many TCK’s – so much that if our lives were a work of literature, the underlying theme would be the emotions around loss. Every time a friendship ended without warning, it felt like a loss. Every time I had to pick up and move, a little piece of myself was left in that country. And that little piece of me was the potential that those friendships could have been. But unfortunately they were not meant to be and it’s accepting those losses and realizing that there is nothing you can do about it that will get you through.

As for the vulnerability aspect: being vulnerable is a scary thought. Laying yourself out in the opened for someone to see is an anxiety-inducing feat. However, once those walls break down and all the masks come off, you’ll feel free. As soon as you let the walls that once stood crumble and let the people around you see yourself for who you truly are, you will also feel more comfortable with yourself. After all, if the people who you surround yourself with accept you for all your flaws and insecurities and love you unconditionally even with those flaws (whatever they may be), then why should you not be able to love yourself? And it is this very aspect of being vulnerable that allows us, as humans, to grow and love deeper. If you can love yourself for who you are regardless of everything you hate about yourself, then you can also allow the people around you to love you. And it is this love that we feel that ultimately makes us feel vulnerable and this is why I have always shut people out. But I have learned, if you let them in, life is so much brighter and better.

It is the people who love you that make all the losses bearable. The wounds are still there; trust me I feel them. And the thoughts of all those friendships that could have been something more than they were sting me to my core. But the people that I surround myself with on a daily basis allow me to move on and accept those losses for what they are. Everyone deals with loss but not everyone moves on. And as a TCK you have to let go. If you hold onto something that could have been, for too long, you’ll never progress. Learning to cope and let go of the losses will allow you to be vulnerable and will ultimately allow you to feel more content with your own life. And on those days, when it stings, remind yourself how incredibly lucky you are to have people in your life, that make you love yourself to your core and that love you to your core. And all those losses cannot compare to the amount of love that you feel each and everyday from the people currently in your life. It won’t heal the losses but it’ll make them a little more bearable.

UN Day

One of my favorite events every school year was United Nations Day. It was a day where students directly participated in multiculturalism rather than sitting in a classroom reading about it. Students were encouraged to dress in their country’s traditional clothing (ex: saris, dashikis, hanboks, sarongs, etc.), wave flags of their country of nationality – or wear them, and not in a disrespectful way, and even dress up in cultural clothing that was not of their own heritage. This does not mean cultural appropriation – in fact, it was an appreciation of a culture other than your own.

My childhood self was thrilled when UN Day came around. I was excited to choose which country to represent, what new foods to taste, and what my friends were going to wear. I realize as an adult that I am the minority in most spaces, which is a label I am happy to be. I came to realize it’s not common to meet a chick with a white dad and a brown mom, who is one third of a biracial, multicultural, interfaith family. As diversity is one of my biggest values, I am fully comfortable in my own skin. UN Day was a chance to wear that skin proudly. As a Bangladeshi-American with a Muslim, Bengali mother and a Catholic, American father, there was plenty of room for creativity. Usually, I chose to sport a sari or salwar kameez – traditional Bengali clothing. A sari is a long cloth that desi (which refers to South Asian) women drape around themselves, over a petticoat (similar to a crop top) and accessorize with heavy jewelry. A salwar kameez is a two-piece outfit: typically ankle-length pants (that look similar to what someone who is unfamiliar with this desi culture would see on Princess Jasmine from the Disney movie, Aladdin) and an intricate shirt that comes to upper thigh lengthwise. Stick a bindi (traditional accessorized mark) to your forehead and voila! – I felt like a brown princess!

The day would be spent circling around a massive food festival (thank you, moms and dads for cooking!) and trying delicacies from at least 40 different nations – chicken satay on sticks, rice wrapped in banana leaves, beef bulgogi, flavorful pasta, funnel cakes, simmering curries, samosas, vegemite on tiny toast, bratwurst, Swiss chocolate…you name it. We would then traipse into the auditorium to watch a slew of cultural performances like bhangra dance, Korean mixed martial arts, a flag waving ceremony where students would saunter onto stage with a flagpole from a different country, and finally end with a chorus of “We Are the World.” Living in India and Indonesia, there were often spotlights on the history of those countries during UN Day. At the American Embassy School (AES) in India, students from over 30 countries would gather to hear the ferocious tale of the Ramayana. At Jakarta International School (JIS) in Indonesia, we would watch in awe at performances of Wayang puppets, accompanied by gamelan – percussion and gong instruments. The point was to appreciate the country we were residing in at the time by being immersed in their traditions.

The beauty of UN Day was celebrating diversity and multiculturalism in such an engaging way. There is nothing like an open environment that welcomes questions, allows for you to try new things, and most importantly, emphasizes that differences should be celebrated. It was remarkable to walk onto school grounds and see the pop of color from people sporting their traditional dress from their country, hear the excited chatter as kids darted to-and-from food stalls, giggling and slurping down whatever delicacy they had chosen.  It was beautiful to see parents of all skin colors and nationalities intermingle, to be in classrooms where teachers came from all corners of the world so being taught in accents that ranged from American to Japanese to Australian was normal. When I moved back to the US, it wasn’t that culture lacked in any way here, it was that it wasn’t part of the curriculum at the school I attended. I missed hearing people converse in their native language, of  lunchtime filled with intriguing smells as peers indulged in food that ranged from chicken katsu to burgers, of seeing people from different backgrounds interact – because it was normal. It was our normal. And that is something I took for granted at that age.

It was my favorite day of the year, and an event that I try to bring into adulthood so that people can enjoy culture in a way that is open, warm and welcoming. JIS was the final international school I attended, so UN Day in 2010 was my last one. The most impactful idea that I brought back to the U.S. with me is the official national motto of Indonesia: bhinneka tunggal ika which translates to unity in diversity. There are some things that as a TCK you are lucky to bring into your new life, and for me, celebrating culture with my friends is just that.

The Five Stages of Grief as Told by Moving

Just like the seasons, life will change. It’s almost a given that no one likes change. Take a look at Spring, your body rejects the change and that’s where allergies come from. However, change is a fundamental part of life and with change comes new life obstacles. Change comes in many forms and will not be easy. But whatever may be adjusting, people have dealt with the same adjustments in the past and have gotten through it. The only way to get through adaptations is to eventually embrace it and accept it. Everyone deals with changes differently and its important to remember that it will be hard. You will need the support of your family and you need to remember that a lot of the time they are dealing with the same challenges you are.

Specifically, to my own life, moving has always been the biggest change I have had to face. Regardless of if its just to the next town over or half way around the world, moving is always a big deal. It felt as though my entire life has been uprooted each and every time. I knew that the familiar was about to disappear and the unfamiliar was rapidly appearing and the unfamiliar was on the horizon. Everything I knew changed, but I didn’t know is that it’s perfectly alright not to be fine.

So how did I deal with change you may ask. For a long time, I buried how I felt about moving. I have initially rejected the change of each and every move and each time, it has gotten me nowhere. The hardest move was when I was fourteen. I had lived my entire life up until this point in Southeast Asia and the thought of moving to New York was daunting. And as a result, I rejected this change for an immense period of time. The first year I lived in New York was the hardest year I have ever undergone. I was holding onto the past and refusing to let go of the life I had in Bangkok, Thailand. I couldn’t see myself making friends and the friends I did eventually make, had nothing in common with me. And not having friends I could confide in was definitely the hardest part about moving to New York.

Just like death, the stages of grief directly apply to moving as well. The first stage is denial and isolation. With parents who work for the United Nations, change can hit our family out of nowhere, depending on where they have to go for their job. I got a definite answer from my parents that we were moving to New York the night before my last day of 8th grade. And when I received this news, I didn’t know how to process my emotions. I felt angry, sad and confused all at the same time. I knew that change was on the horizon, yet I flat out denied change was going to come. And the fact that it was the night before the last day of school made it that much harder. I hardly had time to process the idea of moving, let alone tell my friends that I was no longer going to be in their lives each and every day. With the denial of moving, came a lot of anger and frustration that I buried for a long time and this led to isolation. Personally, I hate change, and I have never been great at dealing with it and I knew this was about to be the biggest change I had ever undergone. Don’t get me wrong – moving anywhere is hard – but this wasn’t just moving to the next country over like it had always been, it was moving half way around the world. I had only ever been to Western New York and that was during the summer. I do hold a U.S. passport but never considered myself American, and now suddenly I was expected to live in the U.S. and call it home.

Along with the denial and anger of the entire situation, came the inability to let go of my life in Thailand and this is what sparked the isolation. I had moved several times before but this move was much different for me. For the first time, I felt like I had someone to say goodbye to. There were people I was going to miss not having in my life everyday. There were memories that I didn’t want to come to an end. Not to mention that I didn’t want my life in Thailand to end. I felt as though my life was perfect at that point in time. And due to that I had a very difficult time making friends in New York. And not having friends is hard, but its especially hard when the people you are trying to surround yourself with do not understand what you are dealing with either. The first year in New York was me putting up a façade and pretending to be happy, when in fact I was hurting deeply.

The next stage was bargaining. I would continuously tell myself that I was alright, when I was not. I was continuously coming up with ways to keep living in the past and not try to assimilate to life in New York. And these two things created a larger issue. And that brings me to the fourth stage: depression. I was in a very dark place, and leaving behind the people you’ve come to grow so close to, especially at such a prominent age, was very hard. The lack of acceptance I had for the situation created an emptiness inside of me. Every emotion I was feeling was negative but I would act like everything was alright. No one had any idea of the pain I was in, and it really would have helped if I had shared how I was feeling with my parents. After all, they were going through the same transition I was.

I remember getting on the plane in Bangkok and the emotions were overwhelming. Sadness over took and I just sat on the plane, numb. I felt nothing in the moments the plane was taking off. I felt as though nothing would have meaning for a long time. And nothing did have meaning for a long time after that move. The sadness and anger I felt over the duration of that first year in New York… I do not know how to describe it. It truly felt as though a part of me was ripped out of me. I was hurting but didn’t know how to express myself. The stage of depression continued for a long time and did not come to an end until I accepted everything and that was the first step in the healing process.

The acceptance stage was definitely a relief once I had come to terms with the move. Don’t get me wrong, I was still hurting, but I saw hope. I could see myself building a life in New York and because I saw that, I was able to slowly start to make friends with a select group of people who did understand me to a certain extent.  It took me a year to get to this point. A year of feeling alone and out of place later, I slowly started to feel at home. I had to accept that I left people behind and that if they truly were important to me that I would see them in the future. Accepting the change allowed me to start to build a new life, and allowed to me grow comfortable in a new place. And the acceptance was ultimate healing. Accepting my new life allowed me to let go of all the emotions I had been feeling and it allowed me to move on from my life in Thailand. I needed to allow myself the time to accept the change, but in the end I did need to accept it.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with changes – especially changes this big. Its alright to feel lost and alone. Its alright to deal with it in your own way as long as you ultimately accept the change. Acceptance is the greatest healing and without the acceptance, you won’t be able to move on with your life. What I learned is that if you live your life in the past, there will be no progression. And that was the single most important thing I’ve took away from moving half way around the world. Now as I look back and put everything into perspective and being able to connect the dots years later, I realize it was in fact the perfect time to move. It may not have felt like it at the time, and my emotions clouded my fourteen-year-old judgment. But with that being said, it would have been harder to move any other year. Finishing middle school and starting high school in a new place was the right choice. Although, I would not have chosen to move to New York, things have worked out beyond well and I am so fortunate to have had the opportunities I have had in New York.

 

Racism Exists?

Growing up abroad as the expat and attending international private schools was a privilege in itself, but one thing that wasn’t taught in depth when I was growing up was racism, because for me, diversity was the norm. I attended International School Bangkok (ISB) for the duration of my years in Thailand. From grades four through eight I was privileged enough to attend this prestigious institute, and I call it an institute because it was more than just a school. It was a safe place and it was one of the most diverse and opened-minded communities of people I have ever been exposed to. Now having lived in New York for the last six years, it may seem strange that to me, New York is not as diverse as ISB. And here’s why: although in America, New York is definitely amazingly diverse, and I realize the privilege of living in such a diverse city (especially with everything occurring politically in the US), despite the diversity of this state, the opened-mindedness of my peers and teachers at a school like ISB is something that will never compare to anywhere.

When I moved to the United States, I took for granted the President was African-American. When I lived in Thailand, I took for granted that I had friends from the Netherlands, Bolivia, Italy, Ethiopia and South Korea. When I lived in Bhutan, I took for granted that I was considered a VIP in that country due to the fact that my dad was a United Nations official. And those things I took for granted became the hard lessons I learned when I moved to the United States and first encountered the undertones of racism. This realization came to me when I was in public high school in New York. I did not know how to even begin to grasp the concept that skin color actually mattered. Everything about moving to the United States was foreign to me, but the concept of racism was by far the most foreign thing I experienced, and it was racism that really set the culture shock in motion.

Now culture shock is a strange concept in itself, and culture shock is ultimately what made me so unhappy for the first year of living in the US. On top of my inability to let go of the past, culture shock also prevented me from connecting with anyone on an emotional level because I felt as though we did not have anything in common. Now add racism into the mix – something I had never been exposed to – and the culture shock I was feeling sky-rocketed. Now, when I say racism, I don’t mean racial slurs being said aloud to people. I mean the small comments made to fellow students, such as as stereotyping all people of Asian decent for having small eyes, or all African-Americans being good at sports. These stereotypes fueled the undertones of racism within American public schools. However, not once have I thought about a person as a stereotype, so I considered what was happening in high school to be racism. When living abroad, I had peers and teachers from six continents all coexisting in the same space, and not once did the shape of someone’s eyes, or the color of someone’s skin cross my mind as something to make fun of or dislike. And the sad truth of it all is that I did not know how to cope with this concept, and that is why I say I took the diversity I was exposed to for granted.

I moved to the US under the Obama Administration. He was elected President of the United States while I was attending ISB and at the time I was thrilled but not for the right reasons. I was thrilled solely because I liked Obama and when you’re in sixth grade, the person you are rooting for in an election is solely based on whether or not you like them, not their political standpoint. I was beyond happy that he won the election because I favored him, not because he had made history as the first African-American President to be elected. He broke every social norm up until this point in the United States and it took forty-four elections to do it.  And it was not until the most recent election in which I could vote, that I truly understood the magnitude of the impact that Obama being elected had on not only the US but also the world. And that is because I was so sheltered to the concept of racism due to living in such a diverse community of people abroad. And although that community is something I would never give up, it sheltered me from a very real and uncomfortable topic in the world, so being exposed to racism at fourteen was that much tougher. I truly took the diversity of the community I was living within for granted. Once I was no longer surrounded by such an opened-minded community and I was thrown into a community that was less opened-minded than that of the international community, it was a difficult transition to make.