Wednesday, November 7, 2018


Sorry, it has been a little while since I last updated this blog. A lot has been going on in my personal life including some identity changes. Anyone know what that is like? 

In Korean there is a word, 헷갈려 (hesgallyeo), which means confused. The beginning of the word means futile and the end 갈려 means to be divided. To be divided futilely, or confused. Eg: Whoa, that TCK is so 헷갈려...

I heard it first from a TCK and immediately fell in love with it. (I already love language, more on that later.) It’s a word for the thing you feel when in one country you are the American and in the other you are the girl from Ecuador. It’s what happens when you are identified by your heritage in a culture you know and your culture in your heritage country. It’s what happens when you aren’t sure how to answer that dreaded question, “where are you from?”

I’ve moved once again. This was number 32 in my 29 years of life. It came unexpectedly. I don’t mind change, or maybe I don’t know anything different so it is comforting. But whenever I start over in a new place I have this strange opportunity to decide, who am I going to be? I am always me but what parts of me will these people know?

Sometimes we get to be intentional about what parts of us we are known for, sometimes they are decided for us, but with every move we get to reveal what we want to about ourselves. We get to share as much or as little of our story as we want. 

So here is the question, who are you?

In this season I have been struggling to feel known for the things I am used to being known for. A wise friend of mine asked me, “what do you WANT to be known for?” It’s a good question worth pondering. 

Right now I am in Alabama with a wonderful organization called Kaleidoscope that works with TCKs. My last trip with them was incredible; this one is too. Nothing is better for a TCK who loves to talk about what being a TCK is than getting to do that with other people who want to do the same thing and with a bunch of TCKs. I’ll do it next month and again in January because sharing and talking through what being a TCK is and means is so important to me. But also, being with a bunch of TCKs is where I feel most myself. Where the things I don’t bother to explain don’t need to be explained. 

I’m already thinking about moving again. Am I crazy? Probably. It will be in at least a year but after that I don’t know what will happen. If I move to a new community, who will I be? What will define me? I hope that all of us who live with a little 헷갈려 in us will remember we aren’t alone. Everyone changes and grows. Let’s all give ourselves a little bit of room to be confused and be ourselves. Let’s listen to stories and wait before we put people in boxes. 

Who are you?

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Mountains In My Blood

I was born in Lima, Perú, a city framed by ocean and mountains. Not just any mountains, though. The mighty Andes Mountains. I wonder if that is all that it took, to be brought into this world looking out over water and up at rock. If it wasn't enough, the years I spent in Quito, a valley surrounded by volcanoes and mountains, did it. The mountains seeped into my blood.

There is something about when the wind blows and the sky clears, and a mountain stands before me. It reminds me that I am anchored to the earth, that there are things that hold out and hold on. Placement. Protection.

In Pennsylvania I found myself feeling so lost and adrift as I looked over flat cornfields. I could see, and see, and see, too far with nothing to stop my mind and eyes.

When I was flying into Los Angeles my heart heaved such a deep sigh as I looked out the window to mountains and water. This place can hold me, it can be my home.

Malang, Indonesia, on a hilltop practicing riding a scooter on bumpy roads with no guardrails, the sky was clear and there stood a mountain. Yes. I can be in this place, my heart sang out.

My husband and I are buying a house. It terrifies me. I have never owned a house. I have never lived in a house we owned. It seems so permanent and if I think too long, I run out of changes to make, and run into a long stability that I have never experienced or known. I try to think what it would be like to just stay. Stay. To be the person watching others leave. I will do that next month. To know the same people and the same places. To have the same friends as the year before and the year before. What will we talk about? Will everyone get sick of me? Will I be able to do this? I have never done it before.

Austin doesn't have mountains. It has a lake of water and city, food and people. But no mountains and when I think about living here without my mountains I get nervous. But it is appropriate. Buying a house, "settling down" feels like a place without mountains. It keeps going with few and small interruptions but no stopping points. Small changes but with the on and on.

Once in Austria, we took a train down into a town shrouded by fog. We walked, talked, ate and shopped for a few hours, and then suddenly a breeze swept in and we looked up and there was a massive mountain standing, looming over the little town. It had been there the whole time, only hidden by fog, but now with the sun shining down it was impossible to miss.

I got a tattoo. It's behind my left ear. It is small, just a wave and some mountains. Simple. Whispering to the outside what courses strong inside of me. Ocean and mountains. Always a part of my story even if you can't see them. Just like every TCK, carrying their stories on the inside, the things that have shaped them and run through their blood that you cannot see until the wind blows a certain way and the sky clears, their hair blows back, and then there they are. The mountains.

What things make up who you are?

Friday, September 29, 2017

Places we carry

The air was heavy with unfallen rain, and my jersey was dirty and drenched in sweat. The family in the car parked across from mine said their goodbyes in Spanish. I was tired and satisfied from running hard and playing hard. As I drove home I suddenly realized I had to turn off the music and drive in silence. It hadn't happened in a while but it came over me so quickly. I missed Ecuador.

I had flashbacks to soccer during rainy season. To walking home in cleats and shin guards to eat my weight in a late dinner. To tin roofs and high walls. To a sun that shines closer and a world that moves slower. To rich, warm coffee and people with dark hair and dark eyes. 

And I had this distinct awareness that I carry this inside of me. When I walked by the display for the upcoming Latino Heritage Celebration at the school I coach at, I looked for my flags. My flags. When people speak Spanish there is a place inside of me that feels warm and comforted. When the other coaches are yelling "goal" I realize that I am yelling "gól". When I say my name to myself in my head it is in Spanish. 

I don't usually miss Ecuador because the memories and people that make that place to me are gone or have changed. But that place is a part of me. Those mountains, now etched into my skin, have been etched into my heart for a lifetime. It can be uncomfortable to carry around though. 

Yesterday, when it hit me, I drove home in silence, trying to learn how to sit in that moment and allow that part of me to actually be a part of me. I let myself miss those places and moments. I don't know if I did it well. Did I stay too long? Did I let go too quickly? I'm not sure. I'm still learning how to balance this world and the ones I have left. 

I hope I can go back to Ecuador one day and see my mountains, smell the rain, breathe the thin air. 

What places do you carry in you?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Starting Over

Scrolling through job postings all I could think about was how I didn't want to start over again. It was the same thought I had as we walked toward the ice cream social our new apartment complex was having. I don't want to start over. 

Starting over means introducing myself. Starting over means small talk. It means not being known and trying to be known. But worst of all it means that I left a place.

It means I had to say goodbyes and don't know how to keep a hold of the people I left and also reach out to new people. Inevitably, I end up sitting someplace between, not having the people I left and not having new people. It's uncomfortable but living between is something I am used to, between cultures, between worlds, between here and there, the home I left and the home I am learning to make. Again. 

As I press submit on an application, I feel like I have also started a complex machine with levers and pulleys and shoots for a little metal ball to slide down that ultimately ends in the pressing of a reset button. It's one step toward starting over.

So I raise my head up and sit tall and look ahead to what I know, from the many times I have done this before, lies ahead of me. New and beautiful friendships, stories of people I have never met before, the culture of a new place, delicious foods and experiences. The road to those things may be awkward and I know I will have to sit on the side of it along the way and mourn the things I have left, but it will be okay. 

When I was young I thought starting over meant I got to choose who I would be, and in some ways I do get to leave behind the things I don't need if I want to, but now I think maybe it means I just get another chance to be who I am. 

What does starting over mean to you?

Monday, November 28, 2016

Share Your Story

The room was full of people chatting and laughing, checking their phones and searching for people they knew. And I sat there quietly listening. Here was a room full of people who were dedicated to people like me.

It's a strange thing to sit and listen to people talk about you without realizing they are talking about you. But that is what I did all this last week. I went to an entire week dedicated to educating kids at international schools, meaning educating international kids which often means TCKs (with the good ol' CCK, Cross Culture Kid, mixed in). So on the one hand, I was listening to ways that I could do my job better, talking and interacting and teaching TCKs, but on the other hand, I was listening to people talk about me. I was listening to people talk about how to best deal with that strong-willed child (me). I was listening to people talk about the issues that come up with international kids (me). I was listening to stories of adjustments and problems in schools (just like mine). It was strange.

High School Maia. Not much has changed.
At one point I was sitting at a table with several other people who work in the international education world and we were asked to answer the question of whether our job was a career or a calling. Was this our job or our heart? We ran out of time so I didn't get to answer and, honestly, I was a little bit relieved. As I sat and waited for my turn I began to realize that this isn't just my career, this isn't just my calling, this is my life. My life is international school. My life is international kid. I have and am living those things they were talking about and theorizing about.

And as I sat in that room full of people I knew that there were several other people with whom, the thing that they are doing isn't their career or their calling, it is their life. A TCK stood up to talk about how international schooling prepared him for the world and he thanked all those people who were dedicated to shaping people like him and my eyes teared up. I glanced over to another TCK I know and his eyes were teared up too. Because while the people sitting next to me were there and dedicated to TCKs, there were some of us in that room that were the TCKs.

I've always intended this blog, this space, to be the start of a conversation. The hope being that a TCK will read here words that speak to a part of them that may have been silenced or may have been forgotten or may have just felt too different, and suddenly awaken a very important part of who they are and validate that in them. The other hope being that the nonTCK will read this and begin to ask themselves if the TCKs around them see the world the same way and maybe venture out to ask the TCK about their life, about their worldview, about who they really are.

I once talked to someone that told me that I was the first TCK they had ever met and I told them that I didn't think it was true. There are TCKs everywhere. You might not realize that's what they are (we are pretty good at blending in when we want to). There are some people who might not want to admit that that is what they are (a lot of TCKs work hard to be "normal"). But whether you know it, or they admit it, or not, it is a part of their story. It has shaped them and how they think.

And honestly, I think that was the best part of the conference I was at. Over and over I got to hear TCKs tell how international education shaped their story, which means I got to hear the TCK's story told over and over. I got to tell my story over and over, maybe not in completion but definitely in meaningful ways. And there is something so important and special about TCKs sharing their stories with other TCKs and having those nods of understanding and smiles of shared experience. It is a rare thing to have someone know that part of you.

So let this be the start of a conversation. Share your story. Share your heart. Ask someone else for their story. Listen to their heart. You don't know how much it might mean to them.

What is your story?

Monday, July 25, 2016

Growing Up Expat

Hello all. It's been a busy summer and I have had about a million ideas for things to write but haven't sat down to write any. However, I did write something for a friend's blog over at Growing Up Expat.

Go take a peek at my post and then stick around for the others. She is awesome and there is so much more to come. Seriously, go look:

And I promise there is more to come here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


I can still hear the music of an eerie yet beautiful climb of the violin leading into a strong and defiant, "TRADITION!"

After my high school did the musical Fiddler on the Roof, we boarding students sang the songs ad nauseam while we walked around the dorm, each song spurring on another. I have no doubt it was due to their contagious melodies but the more I live amongst TCKs and their families the more I am convinced that those songs may be meant for crowds like us.

List I made this year of Family Christmas Traditions
In my family, Christmas Traditions have grown a bit into a fun-loving, warm and cuddly monster. We were gone at school for most of the year so we didn't have time or opportunity to have traditions for any other holidays or moments which led to the time we did have as a family at Christmas being cherished and often christened as momentous by a plethora of actions. The worried face I have in this particular photo is due to being far from family, far from the familiar, but suddenly finding myself very close to the holiday with so much to accomplish without any knowledge of how.

The list isn't all about the little goofy things we enjoyed so much that they have become tradition. It is compiled of German traditions from my Dad's family,  special things from my Mom's Finnish family, pieces from my brothers and extended family, even little hints of left over dorm traditions. Some traditions were born from when we were children, others are rooted in the more modern times. And a surprising amount were founded in where we lived, or how we lived in different countries, which we have brought with us to each and every following country and Christmas season.

No matter where they are from, each tradition is special to me and this last Christmas, away from family, hit me hard. The traditions mean a lot to me.

Another TCK (grown up now and raising TCKs of her own) told me about a fantastic tradition they have involving pizzas and picnics and basically it's made of all things lovely and delicious. It was a tradition squeezed from a hard time but it has become hard to find a way to squeeze this tradition into the everyday life they know now. They do, but it's hard and looks different sometimes.

I think traditions are really important to TCKs. There is so much change in our lives, so many things we have to adjust to, so we hold on to the little things we can, in the midst of it all. Traditions are really important. They let us depend on something. They let us feel we have some sort of control or some sort of steadiness in our lives. I always tell parents of TCKs and in doing so, remind myself that it is really important to have traditions in your family that you keep no matter where you go. Everything else might change but your kids will settle into those traditions and even in a new place they will feel like they are home. 

But how great is that tree, right?
So, this last Christmas I found myself drowning in a busy schedule and with no time for traditions. I don't even think I sang the song once! (What a terrible Grandma Tzeitel I've become.) I was emotionally wasting away. After a pointed and tearful talk with a friend of mine, I realized it was time to make room for some traditions. I dragged my husband to the store to try to buy things you aren't supposed to have in Indonesia, like molasses (which turned out not to be molasses at all) and held back tears when the Ace Hardware store didn't have Christmas lights but remedied the situation by indulging in a few cookie cutters. I attempted the 4 hour long process of making Finnish Biscuit alone for the first time and cut out and frosted about 30 German Love Cookies made with whatever it was I bought that wasn't molasses mixed with a random amount of (vaguely) brown sugar. I bought candles for an Advent wreath I didn't have and set up a host of bamboo angels with no manger scene to sing over. Our house was decorated with left over church decorations after the Christmas Eve service and we taped a paper star to the top of our hand made wooden tree.

Because, quite frankly, TCKs are raised to adjust, but also, somewhere in the constant making room for others' cultures, we need to learn the importance of making room for our own. I had to let myself mourn what I didn't have this year and then dried my tears and made the most of what I did. And when I think about it, our greatest family traditions were born out of adjusting to changes and places around us. I'm starting to think that maybe all the best ones are. 

So make room for your traditions: let that goofy song, the puzzles or foods, the sayings and ideas that follow you, beat on steadily to the rhythm of h-o-m-e.


What are your family's favorite traditions? Which ones were born out of change and which ones lasted through change?