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.

 

 

TCK’s ARE TEN-GALLON FRIENDS

“We are ten gallon people, but we may have been born into families of people that have pint capacities. When you are a ten gallon person you want love on a ten gallon level, but if you fool around and hook up with a pint person, then they could be giving you all that they have. Sincerely giving you everything, but it doesn’t fill you up because you are bigger than that. Because you operate on such a higher level that you say, ‘Is that it? Is that all you’re going to give me?’” – T.D. Jakes

This quote changed my life. These words finally addressed the absolute innermost part of my soul and being. Upon learning that who I am and have always been is ten gallons, my outlook on the people that I put in my life changed. This next post is going to be about the hardships of being ten gallons and the way that we ten gallon humans love. It will also be applied to being a TCK. This by no means speaks for all ten gallon people – this is just my frame of mind.

As TCK’s, when it comes to friendship, we have developed a solid method to get the most out of the human we befriend in the short time we have with one another. Acknowledging that at any moment, one of us can be ripped out of the equation and moved to a new place, the importance of making the most of that friendship becomes a priority. There’s almost a desperate level of initiation between two TCK’s – wanting to learn the most you can about a person, wanting to spend as much time as possible together, being grateful for the short time you have together and promising, but most likely failing, to keep in touch with them long after they move.

This is the only way I have known how to be a friend: fully, loyally, unwaveringly. Sometimes, that’s “too much” for some people to handle. I’ve learned after years of blaming myself that you can’t take responsibility for the lack of intensity people have toward you. You can’t force anyone to unconditionally love you. Part of unconditional love is acceptance, and people are intolerant, so when you do meet humans who choose to commit to you, grow with you, teach you and take your guidance, who love you when you are at your worst and love you even if you are not speaking to one another, that is when you know you have met a spectacular person that is worth making space for in your life.

I have been told by people I had once considered friends that I am too much. Not all of them have said this with their words, but when they disappear suddenly and I find myself estranged, I realize, there goes another one who wasn’t worth it; good riddance and goodbye.

People are always blaming others for their own insecurities. I’ve learned that it is not my fault or my job to pick the mirror up and show you your reflection. It is my job to work on being the best version of myself I can be, strive daily to empower myself and grow, learn how to deal with my emotions, and how to navigate through life with the “intense” love that has been graced to me.

I will never again apologize for being myself.

Sometimes it’s okay to not make things a big deal. If someone flips out at you, if someone projects their mess onto you, that’s not your burden to carry. Don’t let your shoulders be weighed down by those who aren’t accountable to themselves. You do not deserve this kind of treatment.

Instead, my suggestion is to deal with that unseaming dynamic with grace. You do no harm by being kind to others despite their cruelty towards you. You also don’t have to always engage with ferocity if someone tries to come for your life. You can take the tension, diffuse it, and step away. You have every right to do that.

I promise to put myself first. If I had given up on seeking out friendship every time there was a person who wasn’t ready for my kind of love, then I would have lost out on giving that unconditional commitment to the people who are in my life, who embraced it, who I am so grateful to have today.

Don’t let anyone make you feel like you can’t be one hundred percent yourself. If you let them take that power from you, you take your greatness away from people who have been looking for it their whole life. You take away your impact – your legacy. And that’s not an option.

Instead, let them deal with their own issues in their own time, step away, and work on motivating yourself toward making better friends going forward. Nothing has to end in tragedy, truly. It can be a simple simmering into peace and quiet, and you can be cordial and kind and move on with your life in a way that doesn’t overwhelm or disrupt your well-deserved, worked-on happiness.

Before you are ten gallons for anyone else, pour that endless love into yourself first.

[Positive] Culture Shock | Pt. I

Culture shock goes both ways. I wrote about some of the negative things I experienced in another post, but I would like to reflect on some of the pleasant surprises that came through living in the U.S.

In my public school years, I made friends with two people who have changed my outlook on life (I have changed their names out of respect for their privacy, and disclaimer, as a hardcore Gryffindor, whenever I substitute names, it will be in reference to a Harry Potter character): Grindelwald and Slughorn. Grindelwald was the first friend that I ever had who was openly out of the closet. I suppose my junior self knew that gay people existed, but it was so not a big deal to me that it didn’t matter then and it doesn’t now. By that I mean I have always viewed people as humans, and I love them regardless of who they love, what they believe in, what color their skin is, etc. Grindelwald introduced me to gay rights. I don’t think he realizes the impact that he had, but having a friend who loved himself and put forth nothing but kindness and good humor in the face of North Carolina’s conservative mentality was bravery that you don’t typically expect of a seventeen-year-old. Slughorn was my best friend, and we were and remain opposites in many ways. I believe it was our differences that empowered our friendship. He was a football-playing band geek and excellent in STEM. He was chill, composed and calm. I was loud and passionate, with a knack for writing and social studies, with little understanding of how football works (because I moved from Indonesia, where rugby was revered, to America, where football is its own religion). He is a Christian and devoted to living his life in a specific way. He lost his dad in the early years of high school, and instead of diving off the deep end into all things terrible for you, he turned further into his faith and focused on being a good person, excellent student, and wonderful friend. I believe it was his influence that kept me balanced at a time when I felt so unstable. Our friendship was built on growing and learning from one another. We viewed entertainment, relationships and liberties differently, but nonetheless, participated in each other’s lives. I attended church with him several times as an observer, there to hear the message regardless of difference in faith, and he ended up spending one New Year’s Eve with me and my crazy, amazing college friends. We talked about religion often, disagreeing on concepts and dismantling areas in which we clashed so that we could understand where the other came from. I cannot stress how important it is to make friends with people who are completely unlike you. If you build trust and understanding, and have patience, you will learn, and you will grow.

In university, I had the privilege of being among leaders. The positive culture shock came in the form of dedicated students who took on the challenges of a Predominantly White Institution (PWI) and fought for representation, their rights, recognition, etc. I was fueled by their passion, kindness, courage and dedication. #PositiveCultureShock was spearheading diversity initiatives, planning and hosting cultural events, attending probates for the NPHCs on campus, becoming friends with dancers who were from all walks of life and sexual orientations, being part of a community that supported love without limits – gay rights, marriage equality, pronoun identifiers, transgender folk, etc. I could not have asked for a more immersive, brilliant college experience.

Then, there was the military exposure. Camp Lejeune Marine Corps Base is 45 miles from the University of North Carolina Wilmington. I befriended enlisted marines and am friends with a handful of them today, along with soldiers, airmen, naval seamen, and also proud to say that my cousin was the only Bengali-American Muslim soldier to graduate from Basic Training two years ago. College was full of learning experiences, and this was perhaps my biggest: being friends with those who serve will expose you to a different reality. Military guys live in a machismo culture. I watched my friends struggle with expressing emotion, and often it turned into physical expression, over-drinking or downright suppression. I think for those of us who hope for gender equality, our definition forgets to take into account those who are often left out of discussion, such as our service members. There is a very particular stress and pressure that comes with military service, and we have to accept that unless we ourselves are or have been in the military, we may not understand. And so applying a sense of respect outside of your comfort zone is uncomfortably necessary because these are the people who ultimately protect us, and allow for America to be the greatest fighting force and military power in the world. Which means, regardless of your political standpoint, we are lucky enough to have our freedom. And because of their sacrifice and the hardships that they put up with, please remember to be grateful, patient, kind and honor them fairly. My neutrality was challenged with certain service members whose political views differed from mine, but once I learned how to communicate at their level, I realized that being respectful doesn’t take away from upholding your own values. You have to build a bridge to communication that is purposeful for both sides, and communicate in a way that the other person can understand and benefit from.

In America, where there is racism, sexism, xenophobia and ignorance, there is also an impassioned fight towards social justice, equality, fair immigration and profound understanding. It just took until getting to college to meet people who were motivated to face these challenges with educated discourse and peaceful protest.

[Negative] Culture Shock | Pt. I

Most often, people believe that culture shock happens when one travels from their western, “civilized” culture to a less-developed nation. Culture shock is different for everyone. For me, it was the other way around: the biggest culture shock(s) I experienced were in the U.S.  Before moving back here, I had never really acknowledged my Americanness. My being American was merely associated with that navy blue passport. Everything about America, besides my nationality, was foreign to me. The America I had visualized was a melting pot – a country forged on advocating for human rights and progression, a happy place where everyone had equal opportunity to succeed. When I moved back to the United States, I found that it actually wasn’t so united.

In America, I first realized the color of my skin was, well, a color. And that it apparently mattered. The acknowledgement of one’s race is a peculiar thing. In many countries, race matters, but in America, race and history are bound to politics, legislation and the overall functioning of society.

When we moved back to the U.S., I cried every day for eight months. I was in boarding school in New York for the first six months of my family’s transition to the U.S. I thought this would have been an opportunity to slowly settle into America, because the boarding school was seemingly diverse. I try not to remember too much about my time there, but what I do recall is lonely nights spent trying to fit into a culture that I would never be welcomed into. The day students were from unbelievably wealthy families and essentially ignored or were rude to people who were not in their cliques (although this kind of behavior is common for teenagers,  no matter where you are in the world). The boarding students were made up of sweet Korean, Chinese and Japanese girls who were always kind to me, and religiously-devoted girls who were either alarmingly naïve, or regarded themselves virgins despite having anal sex in the hallway of our dormitory, claiming that their hymens were still intact so, “it doesn’t count!” It’s horribly funny. Truly, it is. Sex was a taboo, so was kissing or any kind of physical contact with the opposite gender, as was drinking or partying or enjoying anything other than PG-rated fun. Needless to say, this was not my cup of tea, and I was glad to leave such an undesirable, suffocating place.

The things I mentioned above may seem like they should be off-limits for teens, but I had just come from a culture that was open-minded around teenagers. Expat culture, in my experience, has been that of relaxed openness, which is how I would like to parent one day. Drinking was introduced at dinner so that you learned how to handle yourself, partying was a norm so that you learned your limit but were still able to have fun – similarly to what growing up in modern Europe would be like. Teens were taught carefully about how to drink and be careful while enjoying themselves. I distinctly remember that at my international school, we had a speaker from an Australian company that gave seminars on how to prepare yourself for a night out. He told us that he was here to help us be safe, not to ban the things we were going to do anyway. He taught us that eating a fistful of food one hour before drinking was essential, how to check for the signs of alcohol poisoning and how to help someone who may unfortunately have drank too much; he armed us with the tools necessary to be smart partiers. The idea was better safe than sorry. I wish that schools in America would be open like my previous school was, because too often we hear about tragedies such as drunk-driving.  Cringingly, I learned that here, kids were just barely taught about mental illness, and I watched them suffer because they didn’t know how to navigate the pains of adolescence and overwhelming burdens of anxiety, depression, mood swings, potential bipolar disorder, eating disorders, etc. Collaborative, open-minded conversation is essential to uplifting individuals. It blows my mind that we still live in a culture that strives for discretion.

Some of the things people have asked or said to me that resulted in my being culture shocked:

“Bangladesh…that’s in Asia right?”

“Never heard of it.”

“What’s Indonesia?”

“All the Muslims are in the Middle East…everybody knows that.”

“You lived abroad? You must have been like really rich.”

“So like…did you have WiFi?”

“Did you live in a hut?”

Yes. For real. That last one was asked by a curious freshman when I was in a World History class, and a junior in high school at the time. I laughed because I thought she was joking; she wasn’t.

These questions were posed to me when I attended a prestigious public school in Charlotte, North Carolina. I was shocked at the lack of diversity in education.  Imagine my surprise when, in an Advanced Placement U.S. History class, the impact of colonization on Native Americans was only one section of a chapter, and slavery perhaps three chapters of a massive textbook. America is the pinnacle that less-developed nations look up to (or, before this past election, used to) and I was expecting the education here to be challenging, accurate, productive and fair. Even if you reside in an area where high taxes pay for your public schools, that is not the case. Education is extremely different here. It is based on statistics and data rather than in knowledge and exposed learning. But it is because of those barriers that I and many of my peers pushed their mental capabilities to meet their academic needs, and were ultimately successful.

North Carolina was perhaps the most interesting place I have lived in. It is generally regarded a purple state, politically, but I will say this: it is mostly a red state with blips of blue scattered around it. For the first time, I became involved in political conversation. I realized that there was in me a desire to understand the complexities of human decision-making around peoples’ values and reasoning behind political decisions. I enjoyed challenging, uncomfortable conversations with people who didn’t think like me whatsoever. I met people who thought Muslims = terrorists, or that Spanish-speaking folk were illegal or Mexican (which again, why is that a negative thing? Mexico is a spectacular country with rich history and glorious culture, not to mention, America functions on Mexican culture, food and workers…but that’s a discussion for another time), or that Southern Baptists are the only ones who go to Heaven, or that the United Nations was a conspiracy and as such, did not exist. I can look back now with a rueful smile, but during the time we were settling into Charlotte, I was perplexed and constantly irritated. My high school in North Carolina was quite diverse for an American public school in the South. But in my perspective, cliques seemed to be mostly split up into racial or ethnic groups. I even remember being excluded during one lunch for being Bengali rather than Indian. My good friends at the time who were Indian came to my defense over such a ridiculous reason for discrimination, and although I greatly appreciated them standing up for me, I wish they didn’t have to in the first place.

The things that shocked me about North Carolina, and therefore, America, were centered around social justice. And thus began my journey into discovering the roots of racism, legislation and impact. And I am happy to say that in college, I became a student leader in diversity awareness and advocacy. College is a whole other blog post where culture shock is concerned. What I wrote about here may seem extensive, but again, these were just a few examples of the encounters I experienced. You will hear more about some of the horribly hilarious things that were said to me, and the blatant, physical forms of discrimination I was unfortunately subjected to, in the coming months.

I would never take back any of the experiences I had, because I would not be who I am today. Trust me when I say all culture shock comes to fruition. It may motivate you in ways you didn’t even know you had in you in the first place.

“Where are you from?” An Anxiety-Inducing Question

Adri

When someone asks, “where are you from?” most people find this to be a welcoming question. It reminds them of home, of a specific place, of blissful, smile-inducing memories that warm them as they enthusiastically respond.

For Third Culture/Expat Kids, this question produces a free-flow pool of anxiety. When you ask someone who has lived an unconventional lifestyle – that is, between worlds, time zones, natural disasters, combat zones, cultures, religions – where they are from, that seemingly harmless question produces a complicated web in their brains as they struggle to answer. Why? Because, “Where are you from?” could mean any of the following (at least, to us):   

  • Where were you born?
  • What is your heritage?
  • What is your nationality according to your passport?
  • What other places encompass your identity?
  • What is your ethnicity?
  • What is your race?
  • Where have you lived?
  • Where is your family currently located?
  • What is the specific location that you were in for the longest period of time?
  • What is the specific location of the place that feels most like home?
  • How do you define “home?”

In a split-second, a TCK has to figure out which one to answer. Often, when I was asked this question by my peers, I froze. My response would be, “Uh, what do you mean?” They would eye me, confused and slightly judgmental, as if it couldn’t possibly be that hard to formulate an answer to such a simple question. So, what do you do in that circumstance? I personally make it a point to run through my entire lineage (born in Queens, New York, childhood in Nairobi, Kenya, puberty in New Delhi India, adolescence in Jakarta, Indonesia, the second half of high school and university in North Carolina) almost as though I was pinpointing red dots on a map of the world. My brain has seen it as such since I was young, and now, at twenty-two, not much has changed. This visual is a complete history, because the question cannot simply be answered in a few short words.

“Where are you from?”

“Everywhere.”


Liam

To even attempt to write about where I am from and who I aspire to be is only going to scratch the surface of who I am. I can, however, bring you back to the moment that my five-year-old self realized who I wanted to grow up to be. I was in kindergarten, living in New Delhi, India. It was International Day at the American Embassy School (AES) and I had to choose one country to represent where I was from for the day. However, I struggled with this concept. Coming from a bicultural household and having already lived on three continents at the age of five, it is not surprising that I didn’t know how to pick where I was from. I felt as though I was a part of every country and culture I had been exposed to and because of this, I represented every country I felt connected to in a very unconventional manner. I felt like I represented the United Nations. This is one of the most significant moments in my life and this one decision I made at the age of five exemplifies the person I wish to be. For the entirety of my life, I have been trying to grasp an identity and I have come to terms that I am from everywhere, yet nowhere at the same time. The world is my home. The people you surround yourself with are what ultimately makes a home a home, thus resulting in the identity problem I have faced my entire life. What home is home, when you have had lived in seven houses over the last twenty years. And that one moment when I was five years old was a subconscious self-realization that identity would be my biggest obstacle in life. This obstacle would also shape the platform that I needed to help mold me into the tolerant and opened-minded person that I ultimately aspire to be.