The Age of Convenience

Our society has made love, romance and everything in between a convenience. With a tech-savvy generation of blaringly interconnected people, there is little room for spontaneity. Romance is dying.

These days, you can swipe your approval or rejection of another human being within seconds. Most of us barely look at profiles individuals have spent time building, spinning a web of how they want to be perceived, to be appealing, with the hope that someone will recognize their worth just enough to hit the “like” button. That maybe the conversation will lead somewhere out of the shallows and into the facets of who they truly were rather than who they had painted themselves to be.

I used to believe that my love story would be epic. I don’t know how true or realistic that is anymore. The teenager who daydreamed about meeting her significant other in the dim, peaceful corners of a bookstore, or during solo adventures traveling the earth, would be sorely disappointed in the change of mindset that has reluctantly settled into the twenty-two-year-old version of herself.

Maybe the way romance and courting took place decades ago is just a fantasy that was relevant to that era. If that’s the case, I wish I had grown up in the sultry Jazz Age, dancing with a handsome, dapper man to Louis Armstrong’s husky voice in a dark nightclub somewhere in New Orleans or New York.

It hurts to think about the way romance has dulled for our generation. Don’t we deserve the soul connections, the spark of meeting someone for the first time, the excitement of dating and being swept off of each other’s feet? We have grown mundane. We swipe, text and forget. Repeat.

The cycle is, frankly, exhausting. There is an ease to which we temporarily latch onto people – whether it’s for sex, a short-lived relationship, or for one night only, but at the end of it, we are left to our own devices. I rarely see room for growth in these online/app-based connections. That means people stay stagnant, and that thought is truly forlorn.

Re-frame: I believe we can do better. That we deserve better.

Maybe it’s not such a negative thing that we have instant access to potential connections? Maybe we need to rethink the way we see dating apps. It’s fine to hook-up and get that release (trust me, I am more than supportive of people’s needs) but it’s not sustainable long-term. To thrive, we need human connection. We need to get to know another person, swim into their depths and see them. We need to give ourselves a chance to actually feel something for more than one night or a few weeks or three months. I am just as guilty of the Barney Stinson Method as the next guy – the quick release, the ruthless cutting of ties. I have unintentionally hurt egos, choosing numbness over the opportunity to feel something more than fleeting. It’s just easier that way.

But it’s not enough anymore.

As an adult in the quote “real world” we don’t have the same opportunities we did in college. There, you could meet somebody briefly, hook up and get the hell out, and be nonchalant about it. You had class, extracurriculars, internships, friends, parties – a stimulating social life – to keep you occupied. Relationships weren’t usually the priority, but if you happened to be in one, it’s because you were lucky enough to meet your person while you were there.

But as a post-grad and young professional, I’ve found life isn’t that effortless anymore. You don’t have a campus to meet people (friends or romantic interests), you don’t really have “after-school activities” per se (except maybe hitting up the bar?). You have to figure out how to build a network and a social life without even really having an in. Most of us turn to our coworkers and find solace in those friendships. But even that gets too repetitive.

I don’t know about y’all, but I need several circles to feel truly fulfilled. I don’t like mixing too much because I appreciate different types of people for different needs (ex: inner circle of best friends, the acquaintances you get coffee with, study-buddies, etc.), but it’s a lot harder to find those sets of people in this realm of Adulthood. I’m tired of my cup being filled merely through FaceTime or phone calls. I appreciate catching up with my friends and family, but I also yearn for real-time human connection. And this doesn’t have to be in the purely romantic sense. People should be able to easily access friendships – I mean we have all these damn apps, but they’re so focused on split-second attraction. What if we used them to find friends (as well as for their original intention)?

We are an online world. We live vicariously through social media, portray ourselves in a positive light – beaming, radiant – and though that may be truly how we were feeling when we posted, it doesn’t diminish the loneliness. Such is life: we grow up and move on and friendships dwindle. We hold on to those who have truly made an impact, and that’s beautiful and should be cherished. But I also think, again, that we deserve better. If we have such easy access to other humans 24/7, we may actually be lucky in that regard. It’s easier to filter out and zero-in on what you’re looking for. But let’s take that to the next level. Let’s go on those dates and really try. Let’s have a genuine conversation, cut through the layers, feel and be seen and do the same for the other person. Maybe that’s the only date you’ll have with them, but hey, at least you weren’t numb. At least you gave it a real shot.

I know a few successful couples that have met on these apps. Their love stories turned out to be sweet. Maybe they didn’t meet in an epic way, but they’re still together, and their love is no less valid than it would be if you happened to stumble across your soulmate in a coffee shop in Peru. So don’t please get me wrong – I’m not saying don’t use these apps, because ya girl sure does – I’m saying take advantage of them. We may live in an Age of Convenience, but that doesn’t mean it has to be any less romantic.

We all deserve some kind of epic. Whatever that looks and feels like is up to us to decide.

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.

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!

 

 

 

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.

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.