Howdy, my name is Sarah Carpenter-Nwanyanwu. My story starts well before my birth. My Texan mother, Nigerian father and older brother were living in Malawi (place of conception) and traveling the world. I was born at Columbia Women’s Hospital (no longer exists!) in Washington D.C. And it wasn’t too late after when my international journey started. At 2 months old, my family, along with my nanny, Catherine, jumped on a plane and headed to Mozambique. I have travelled to 6/7 continents, lived in Africa (Mozambique, South Africa, Nigeria), South America (Guyana), the United States (Falls Church, VA) and I currently reside in Austin, TX🤘🏼.
I have seen the richest of the rich, the poorest of the poor and at the end of the day have come to realize that we’re all just trying to make it…so don’t take life so seriously. Trust me, being a third culture kid is tough. 16 hour plane rides, jet lag, and moving across the globe frequently is no walk in the park. It takes a lot of grit, intuition, resilience, hands on experience, drive and sleep to adapt to different cultures and be just as curious and kind at the same time.
For me, traveling as a young adult is a trip. One minute you’re here the next you’re there. It really solidified that YOU shape your reality. At some point you will realize you need to abandon control and just let your wit guide you through this wild adventure…trust that the turbulent ride will be so worth it.
Many expat families end up getting split up overseas however, my parents worked incredibly hard to keep our family together. Growing up with the continuous presence of both parents was a privilege in itself that many TCKs don’t have and I am incredibly grateful that they were able to keep us all together.
My family previously lived in Bhutan and I am incredibly thankful to have been given an opportunity like that. Life did however, come full circle and my dad moved back to Bhutan February 2017 and last summer I was privileged enough to visit him there. And I am incredibly grateful to be able to visit him there again this summer and be volunteering at an animal shelter.
I’m so thankful for an opportunity to go back to such a beautiful country so I’m incredibly grateful for the life I have been able to lead as a result of my parents hard work.
My mother was the first of her German family to be born in Canada and my father is a second generation Irish Canadian. Both of my parents ended up working for the World Food Programme and were working in the field in Africa when they decided to have a family. I was born in Rome, Italy and I have spent the majority of my life identifying as a European Canadian. Even after all of these years spent in Africa, Rome, Canada and now New York I will never forget my time in any of my homes. The years that I have spent living in New York and Canada has been consistently spent with my German relatives who have instilled in me the customs that their parents passed down before them. My family never allows me to believe that a suburban single cultured society is all there is. With constant parties and family barbecues that are normally far more multi-cultural than any school cafeteria my parents never allow for me to believe that one home is all there is. They have taught me that the world is my home, and a difference in skin color, gender, sexuality or religion does not determine what true family really is. I am blessed to have a multicultural background that encourages me to love and understand where people come from along with their customs and cultural differences.
I designed this tattoo inspired by my life as a TCK to keep traveling and exploring new cultures and countries. It embodies what I think everyone should do and that is to drop whatever you are doing and just ~G🌎~
The entirety of my childhood and most of my adolescence was spent living a semi-nomadic lifestyle in a world where knowing the exact arrival and departure dates of the post you were stationed at. When I was a kid, it was hard to conceptualize that a lifestyle existed outside of the one I was living – that somewhere in the U.S. there was a child my age who was living in the same house she was born in and didn’t spend so much time in airport lounges.
I thought moving this much was normal. I didn’t know it wasn’t normal to have a passport before a driver’s license.
My rough transition from a lifetime overseas to a quiet, rural, predominately white town in the outskirts of Northern Virginia was the most challenging experience of my life and my biggest accomplishment to date. No one told me that holding an American passport didn’t make me American. I experienced an unprecedented level of culture shock during my sophomore, junior and senior years of high school, and an identity crisis so painful that I ached for years after. I knew that there would always be a transition period (usually of one year) when you are inserting yourself into a foreign country, but it took me two years to start settling into my passport country, and three more to fully heal from the wounds that came with it.
I don’t regret my childhood. I have had many years to reflect on how being a TCK (in an era where TCKs were a bourgeoning breed) changed me as a kid and impacts me now as an adult. Because of it, I have many stories that set me apart from others.
When I was a young child, my parents moved every couple of years until I was 12. Even though they settled, my wanderlust was insatiable. At age sixteen I moved to the US, then to China, then to France and back to the US again.
I kept moving to new places because I was restless and hungry for culture and experience. Nothing in the world is more exhilarating than exploring a new city, a foreign culture, a language or the strange candy that the locals eat.
What I lost, however, was a home and a sense of belonging which left me feeling rootless. I often felt lonely because I was a teenager living by myself in China, graduating by myself and enrolling into university by myself. I often envied my classmates who lived in a real home with their families or who would visit their grandparents during the holidays. I had always lived in temporary apartments, and visiting my parents in Germany was really just that: being a visitor- I did not have my bedroom or friends there anymore. Therefore, I don’t have all my memories attached to one place, which makes it hard sometimes to answer the question ‘where are you from?’, instead, I have many cities which represent a piece of my identity.
The most precious lesson I learned through my TCK experience is finding my sense of being and belonging through people and relationships rather than a place on the map. With this lesson, my loneliness slowly faded: Ever since meeting my fiancé I came upon a whole new sense of belonging. A feeling of stability I did not think existed before. Home is where the heart is. And my heart is where he is. Having found my significant other who I know will be a constant in my life is a blessing so big, that not having a physical place to call home seems almost trivial. I found my sense of home and belonging in our relationship. By being with him, I will always have someone to come home to no matter where we will move next.
Talking to other TCK’s I am amazed how much we share the same feelings, fears, and joys even though our lives are so different. That is why I became passionate about writing about experiences and lessons learned growing up globally on www.jezmeralda.com . I hope to help others who are living the TCK lifestyle to find comfort in the fact that we all share similar emotions and that we are not alone.
The last few weeks have been challenging, I have felt as though I have had tunnel vision, wanting to be done with my degree but not able to see the end. I have really been questioning if I am on the right life path, however, there is no way to know for sure. Life is strange and all you can do is look for the light at the end of the tunnel and hope that your decisions will lead you to where you ultimately want to be.
For now I realize I have to focus on school and put the majority of energy towards my engineering degree which is my ultimate goal. I hope to one day be able to use that degree to help solve the issue sustainable living in developing countries and help impoverished communities. I hope to one day look back and realize I made a global impact.
Happy #tcktuesday !
This week has been monumental in that I have made some decisions about what I want to do with my life. It’s kinda crazy how your childhood can set you up to come back full circle. Being a third culture kid allowed me to experience the beautiful human beings in countries like Kenya, Thailand, Indonesia and Bangladesh. As a college student, I knew my career goals were to go into humanitarian work, and as a first year professional, I’m lucky to be in human rights work through criminal justice & social justice in the USA
The resilience I saw in communities of underprivileged people around the globe helped define my purpose : to give back
We can’t be selfish & egotistical to think we have all the answers. To truly help, you have to listen openly and hear what people need if you want to make a difference in their lives
TCK me was absurdly lucky to have parents working in international development to guide me to my purpose. I didn’t realize, back then, how invested I already was in
giving back by going back overseas but also, serving right here in the United States
This week’s #tcktuesday is a drawing by the awesomely talented Leah Sidhu (@leah.m.s) a Jakarta International School (JIS) Alumni. read her reflection below
“So where’s home?” pretty simple question right?
Singapore. That’s what my passport tells me.
And I think that answer suffices most of the time, I don’t think many people are looking for the long answer:
“Technically…Dad’s Punjabi (from North India), Mom’s Tamil (from South India) but both of them were born and raised in Singapore. I’m from Singapore too. But I grew up in lived in Jakarta, Indonesia for 18 years, then moved to the the US for a bit, and now am in Australia, but I pretty much live, breathe and eat at McDonalds most days”
Some people miss that joke completely. Jokes aside though, I really do like a good burger.
It’s been more than a privilege to get to travel and see the world, I would not have had it any other way. To be honest I never really thought about being a “Third Culture Kid” until I left high school – because everyone at school was a TCK. But when all the close friendships you made, with some people that I have known for 15+ years, suddenly becomes 10,000 miles away, you realize that “home” is where you decide to make it. When we travel – “home” is the hotel that we are staying in. When I lived at college, “home” was the bunkbed in my dorm. For a long while, “home” was Jakarta, but now it’s Singapore, and soon to be Australia. I’ve always been pretty rigid and lived by a schedule, but I have had to learn that flexibility is imperative, because people will move, and so will you. Home isn’t a concept to do with a place, or a house, it’s more to do with the awesome squad of people that you have by your side as you experience these countless changes
So to answer to the first question, “where’s home” – that answer will always change. Today it genuinely is McDonalds. I just bought an Egg McMuffin
Happy #TCKTuesday! Our featured TCK this week is Sarah – here is her story.
“Life as a TCK is close to indescribable because it is something one must experience to truly understand it, and I feel incredibly lucky that I was raised as a TCK and hope to do the same for my children. My story begins in Incheon, South Korea in 1997 where I was born. Back in the United States, my parents had completed the long and arduous process of adoption and were eager to meet me. After I arrived in the USA, we lived in Arizona on a Navajo reservation for the first couple years of my life.
When I was five, we moved to a small country in Southern Africa; Malawi. Although I do not remember much, seeing photos of our life there helps me remember small details. Life in Africa was much different to what I had known before. The houses were much larger with a grandiose garden or yard, a long driveway and a staff home on the property for the housekeeper and their family. We had a guard to open and close the gate to our house, a gardener and a housekeeper/nanny. I went to Bishop Mackenzie International School and sometime soon after we moved, my parents began asking me if I wanted a sister. Soon enough, we started going to foster homes in Lilongwe (the capital where we lived) until we found a group home with lots of children. I remember playing with several children but having a great time with Jessie who was younger than one at the time. Jessie started to come to stay with us, first only for weekends but soon it grew into longer periods of time. We realized we loved her and my parents decided to begin the adoption process. It was unfortunately difficult to adopt Jessie, and part way through getting her passport, my parents had a surprise. Jessie and I were told that my mom was pregnant and that we were going to have another sibling. Due to the unpredictable health care in Malawi, my parents and I traveled to Cape Town, South Africa to wait until my second sister was born. Since Jessie did not have a valid passport she had to stay at home with our nanny.
We lived in Malawi for four years before moving to a neighboring country; Zambia. I remember the three years we lived in Lusaka, Zambia better than I remember Malawi. The housing followed the same patterns, we even had a pool! We also had a similar group of staff, our nanny was named Maureen and she had several daughters that were around Jessie and my age. Life in Zambia was special, with opportunities for safari only a few hours away and Victoria Falls about a seven-hour drive away. My sisters and I attended the American International School of Lusaka. Looking back, I realize that our campus was very large and very nice and our school trips were unconventional. In 6th grade we went on a safari camping trip to do team building activities, and before that we had field trips to the Zambezi river, Kafue National Parks and other amazing places that Zambia has to offer.
When I was 12, we moved cross continent to a South East Asian country; Cambodia. All I can say about my six years there is that it was beautifully unique and now because of how much everything has developed, that memory is all I have left. We settled in Phnom Penh (the capital), and began attending the International School of Phnom Penh. The first campus was on the main road and was a series of treehouse-like buildings originally meant for housing or office space linked together by staircases and hallways. In my sophomore year, administration began building a bigger, more modern campus further outside of town. We moved there in my senior year of high school, however I feel that we lost the sense of uniqueness that the previous campus held.
I had an amazing, and slightly insane experience with everyone at school over those six years. Some people I know will be in my life forever, even though they may live on the other side of the world. When I arrived in 7th grade, I began the MYP (Middle Years Program) to prepare for taking the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma courses. Although it was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in terms of education, I realize that doing the IB made me an incredibly strong student and I am thankful I was pushed so hard to succeed. Like Africa, we had a housekeeper/nanny, a guard and a driver. Our housekeeper’s name was Sok Thy and she was with us the whole time we lived in Cambodia. When we first moved to our neighborhood, there was one very small limited coffee shop and now it is one of the busiest parts of Phnom Penh due to all the shops and fast food restaurants. Most international posts have an American Embassy, they help people and hold events for American’s living abroad. My family and I had the amazing opportunity to meet both Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama through the embassy. This is just one of the many examples of the benefits of living abroad. Cambodia was extraordinary and I cannot stress how much love I hold for that country. I consider it one of my homes as it is the place I’ve lived the longest. I was lucky enough to travel back after a year and a half at university, it was a great experience though I felt that everything was different. Being in that region gave my family a lot of opportunity to travel around Asia and Europe, each place has been different in terms of culture, food and atmosphere. I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to see the beautiful world we live in. After six unbelievable years in Cambodia, it was time for us to move again. By this time, I was headed to University and my family had their next post: Almaty, Kazakhstan.
In between this transition during the summer, my family and I traveled through China for a month. Leaving Cambodia and everything I had known for six years was incredibly difficult for me and as the days grew numbered over summer I got more nervous about moving to the United States. I knew nothing about UC Santa Cruz before I arrived, but had chosen it since it was the only Californian school I got accepted to. I wanted to go to California because my aunt who I’m very close to, lives in Santa Rosa. It was important to me to be near at least one family member for support since my immediate family would be so far away. A week before they were scheduled to leave to Kazakhstan, my family drove me to the UCSC campus and through all the craziness of freshmen move in, we got my stuff settled in my dorm room. Saying goodbye to them that day was one of the most painful things I’ve had to do and it never gets easier to say goodbye to them. I still remember the first night after they dropped me off, calling them that night telling them I needed to see them again before they left the country. I felt so panicked that we were going from a span of not seeing each other a week maximum to months at a time. They were unfortunately able to come see me before they left and for the first month of college I cried myself to sleep. It was difficult for me at first because I truly felt out of place.
As I adapted and made friends, things became easier but I remember that the tipping point of being “okay” was when I began Tango. I’ve always loved dance and I wanted an opportunity to have an outlet for the separation anxiety I was having. At the beginning of my freshman year I began attending lessons with UCSC Tangroupe, the Argentine Tango club on campus. I was the only new person who stayed with the club that year. It was a place I felt safe and where I finally felt like I belonged. And now here I am, halfway through my junior year and I have the amazing opportunity to co-captain for Tangroupe. Tango is something that has helped me exponentially and I can’t explain how beautiful and confident it makes me feel.
I realized that I had changed the first time that I went to visit my family on Christmas break after Fall quarter. It had been around three months since I had seen them and the first time I was doing cross-continental travel alone. I flew the first 11 ½ hours from San Francisco to Frankfurt, then the other seven-ish hour flight to Almaty. It was a picturesque white (and very cold) winter. Seeing my family again was a huge wave of relief and I tried to spend every second I could be soaking up how it felt to be in their presence again. However, I did feel different and more independent even after one quarter of college. I’ve been back to Kazakhstan three times since then in the winter and in the summer. Each time has been a unique experience with wonderful people.
Having the opportunity to travel and learn about new cultures is addictive and I can never see myself staying in one place. Perhaps that’s part of being a TCK. I feel so extremely lucky to have had the beautiful life that I’ve lived so far, I think that the transition from Cambodia; a place I’d known for six years with some of the best friends I’ve had and wild, indescribable experiences to the U.S.; a completely new place where I had to adjust by myself was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. The good news is that you can make it through the tough times, social support is important. I found my niche and now that I’m in Santa Cruz for these four great undergrad years, I can’t imagine being anywhere different.”
Happy #TCKTuesday! The cold weather in Baltimore is making me nostalgic for traveling.
My favorite trip of all time was climbing the Anapurna mountain range in Nepal . At age 14, vacations like this were easy to take for granted. I vividly remember this particular moment: my Dad and I woke up before dawn to watch the sun rise over the mountaintops. I remember my lungs ceased breathing just as the light’s rays caressed the snow-tipped hills, the sky bursting with lilac, soft pink, burnt orange, and finally, the brilliant blue you see captured in this very photo. I was overwhelmed by the beauty of nature, astounded that this was real. It certainly didn’t feel that way. I long to venture back to Nepal one day to relive this very moment.
Happy #TCKTuesdays !
When I was 3, I fell asleep in my suitcase a few nights before going on our big summer trip to visit family in Ireland and the US because I was so excited. Travel was something that was normal while growing up and is something that continues to be normal
Everyone has been asked by at least one person if they can hide in your suitcase and travel with you. TCKs need to travel and when we don’t travel, we feel an itch inside, as if something is missing. Wanderlust is a gaping hole that we cannot fill on a daily basis but once we book a flight, the feeling seems to fade. I have always had an itch to travel and although I may have been 3, I felt the exact same way I do now at 20
Every Tuesday, we want to feature one person on our Instagram, Facebook page and website. We want to give people an opportunity to connect with one another by sharing their stories. Is there a particular memory conjured by a photo from your travels? Have you written a piece that encapsulates who you are? Are you an artist (of any kind – vocal, dance, paint, etc.) that find you can best express yourself in those ways? Do you want to help others feel connected by sharing a bit of yourself?