Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Another Place, Another Time

I was fine. I was fine until I watched that show "An Idiot Abroad" and found the Egypt episode. The call to prayer, even though my ears were immune to it by the time I left, felt nostalgic as it blared through the TV. I was fine until I recognized streets and buildings, concepts and cultures. I was fine until I found myself correcting the televised merchant as he said "welcome to Egypt". "No, it's welcome FROM Egypt... silly TV..." My heart began to ache.

With that, everything shifted. I made hot chocolate and longed for my special iced hot chocolate, a drink developed solely for me by my local Cafe Grecco. I heard traffic outside my window and for a second it sounded like the overpass by my flat in Cairo, missing only the obsessive horn honking. I heard a man outside our window yelling and for a moment didn't understand him because my ears expected to hear Arabic.

I have experienced this phenomenon before. When it is really hot out and the right flowers are blooming I am back in Ecuador. When I smell eucalyptus trees and concrete I am in Peru. Incense is Egypt. Crisp ocean air is Uruguay.

Studies have shown that smell is one of the most potent tools for memory. It triggers places and people and worlds better than any other one of our senses. As a TCK my world is made up of many worlds. Each one has its own smell, feeling, sounds, ideas. It's why in college when ash was falling from the sky I felt a surge of comfort. It's why the sounds of riots and tear gas feel like an old friend. It's why trash baking in the sun, or the presence of a "pee wall" don't make me grimace but grin. My many worlds contain many things, and even the gross or dangerous parts seep into my soul and become a part of me. They edge in on my soul in the strangest moments and they remind me that I am a person between worlds, adding more worlds to my own the longer I live and the more I love.
So I was fine. I still am.

Where do your worlds pop up?

TCK dictionary from Communicating Across Boundaries (link)

Hello all. I haven't forgotten or abandoned this. My mind has just been elsewhere (like the many, many educational theories I have been writing papers on). I just discovered a great post from Communicating Across Boundaries, another very well done TCK blog. This post offers 20 words that fit beautifully into the TCK experience, calling them the TCK dictionary. Here is a small exerpt:

There are some words that describe better than others the TCK journey. Some of them don’t exist in the English language, so for the English speaker we rely on words from other places, languages. In this post I’ve compiled twenty words that I believe best describe the TCK experience. Some are funny, some are sad, but all work well when we struggle to articulate our particular journey.

Find the rest of it here. How have you seen these words resonate in your life?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

We're the same, but not

One of the biggest things I have struggled with as a TCK is outside perception. I had run into it many times before but it hit me hardest in university. Not only was I different, but my circumstances were different too, only from the outside I seemed the same. I was living with two dorm siblings I had essentially grown up with who were now adults. One was attending the university I was headed to, and so it made sense that when he got there, that I would go too. He was going early for a men's choral group, and because I wanted to see what college was like without being glued into a group, I was there a week before orientation and with no good reason aside from that I needed a ride.
Sitting alone outside of the dorms in college

I ventured out of my lonely dorm room and found people one day. I remember it vividly, I was standing in a circle of girls, all who were, for all intents and purposes, the same as me. We were all young females starting a new chapter known as college. It began with names. My name is still a struggle for some so the quizzical looks were not a shock. What happened next was.

Where are you from?

We all hate this question and I had anticipated it by deciding on an answer I felt would give the most information about me without having to give the full list. When each girl said where she was from others would chime in acknowledging any contact they had with the place. Most cities were California based, since that was where the University was located, but unrecognizable to me, others were from other states. When it got to me I proudly announced: "Ecuador." Silence. Then like a collective waking from a trance they all moved on without comment.

Why are you here early? Soccer, Choir... etc. Each answer brought squeals from others who were doing the same. I felt the doom approaching.
"My friend goes to school here, he gave me a ride."
It didn't explain everything fully but it was the best I could do without explaining boarding school, and my parent's work, why I chose a school so far from family, etc. I don't know if what happened next was on purpose or if it was instinctive to the female human being in a group of like others, but seamlessly they moved around me, in front of me, and closed me out of the circle. I was shunned.

My theory on the phenomenon of the closed circle is part unrelatableness and part surprise. Unrelatableness isn't technically a word, but the concept is real.

What did those girls see? They saw what I saw: that we were all a bunch of american girls going to college who had arrived early. We were all the same! Only, we weren't. I had experiences to draw off of to relate to them, I had been to places some where from, I knew how to say their names. But none of them had been to Ecuador, and none of them could comprehend why I would be there early, the only reason being that I needed a ride. Where were my parents that they couldn't bring me? Why wasn't I joining the choral group or soccer when I was avidly involved in both of those all four years of high school? And if I was from Ecuador why did I look like a white girl? Where is Ecuador exactly (people would ask me that later)?

All of these are valid questions but combined lead to something along the lines of: information overload, does not compute.

TCKs find this anomaly often, in both their passport country and their host country. The perception from the outside is at odds with what is on the inside. My little brother suggested I construct some infographics for this blog so here we go:
A collegiate Maia amongst other collegiate females was the enactment of the Hidden Immigrant. You could see how that would be a surprise for everyone. TCKs in their host country often bring a similar surprise when they display the Adopted pattern. They look different, they are expected to be a Foreigner, like a tourist, but instead they share the same thought process as the people they look nothing like. 

When we lived in Egypt we were constantly explaining that we actually LIVED there, that we weren't some tourist passing through. In Ecuador people were astounded when a herd of white dorm kids would flow through the mall food court speaking perfectly accented Spanish. We were like them in all but looks. As one friend of mine states bluntly to me often: "Your Ecuador is showing."

When I travel on vacation I find myself fighting to be anything but the Foreigner, or at least not so easily identified as such. But put me in a room full of TCKs and it becomes evident that we share a culture, and sometimes we even look alike. Justin Timberlake, you said it, it's like they're my mirror. 

Perceptions can cause a lot of anxiety and hurt, but if we take the time to ask those questions that would cause the "does not compute" rather than lead to "abort system" to end in some great discussion and, often, friendship. 

Just remember that everyone has a story, and it takes time to share it. 

When you feel different, it means that someone else feels different from you too.  Knowing why you feel that way can help you find ways to connect with those around you. These relational patterns can show up anywhere. Think about family dynamics, teacher/student dynamics, even marital dynamics. 

Where have you seen these relational patterns appear in your own life? 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The year I didn't want friends (a story of loss and denial)

It was a different time then. The digital world was waking up; MySpace and AOL messenger were the popular kids. Facebook hadn't started its global stalking, calling and counting any know person as a friend. SD cards were still inked, paper note cards and your contact list was your brain holding only as many digits as you could remember. You had to get off your chat if your brother wanted to call his girlfriend from the home phone, cause it was the only phone you had, and the computer and phone hadn't learned how to share.
My Journal

This was the time my parents had to spend an entire year in the United States. And a year was longer then than it is now. Much longer. Everything was slower; life was a six part BBC movie, not a TBS sitcom.

I offered to stay behind. After all, boarding school would be the same if they were in South America or North America. But it made my mom sad when I said it so I stopped saying it.

It wasn't that I didn't want to be in "the states". Who wouldn't want to have gushers in their lunch every day and root beer in a never ending flow called "free refills"? It wasn't that I didn't want a yard and my family, or a place where I didn't still stumble over the language, where I looked like everyone else and clothes fit every time, all the time. It was that I knew what it was like when you left people who were always being left. You vanished and it didn't matter. It was a liability to hold on. I knew cause I was one of them. A letter-goer.

The start of the year of "non-friendship"
My parents thought I was worried about making new friends, but I had perfected the process through years of practice. Making friends was like breathing, it just happened.

Only I didn't want new friends. I already had friends. I knew where they were, what they would be doing, and I knew I wouldn't be there and that no one would notice. The world would keep spinning only I would be at the wrong end of the table, trying to yell across the distance, hearing the laughter but not the joke.

So that's when I decided, I decided not to bother. I decided not to make friends.  I would count this year as a mulligan and just move past it. Why bother when it's just one year. That phrase, just one year, was the anti wrinkle cream that sucked the sand out of the hourglass in my mind. I resolved to be the wind, passing through with nothing more than a whistle, unseen by the world around me while inflicting a hurricane of connection to my friends back in Ecuador. Email would be my surrogate and somehow I would find a way to channel into that world leaving only a body to go through the motions in this one.

I failed miserably. Just a year lasted a whole calandar year as it usually does, all six BBC VHS cassets with both opening AND closing credits, including the time it takes to rewind them all. And like those that lived on without me, so I lived on without them. And at the end of that year I hugged my friends who sobbed into my shoulders and penned into my yearbook email addresses based on my well intentioned, yet empty, promises to keep in touch, knowing my promises had the strength of tissue, able to dry tears but lacking the fortitude to stand upon.

I said goodbye to friends who only spoke one language, English, which I now knew was my second language, shadowed by the language of the sojourner, primarily composed of hellos followed directly by goodbyes.

And when I returned to Ecuador I was welcomed as easily as I was dismissed. For that was and is our way. The way of the patterned nomad, the unlost wanderer, the TCK.

By the way, for a more technical look into how TCKs go about the friend making process check out this blog post by Michèle Phoenix, TCK, boarding student, and writer.

What coping techniques have you tried for the constant pattern of loss that comes with the life of a TCK? Which have failed? Which have worked?