Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Life Experience Paradox

We were dressed for a night out and standing in line outside a club in the cool air. I had never really been to a club and wasn't all that sure what to expect. I knew it wouldn't be like the clubs on the beach in Ecuador, pumping reggaeton that pulsed through the open air dance floors. I could imagine only what I had cooked up between what my friends had said and what I had seen on movies.

Finally, we were at the door presenting IDs. I pulled out my passport and pointed at my date of birth.

"I'm sorry, but California does not recognize a passport as a valid US ID," the young lady at the podium yelled to me as politely as she could over the music.

"What? What do you mean you don't recognize a passport?" I replied.

"Do you have a driver's license or a state ID?"


We had to leave but my friends hid their disappointment fairly well. We all had questions. I was asking how could they not recognize an ID that was issued by the US government and valid all over the world as a valid ID? But my college friends', however, were asking how does she not have a driver's license yet if she is 19 years old? 

My husband asked me to write a blog post on this because it is such a common thing that a lot of people don't recognize is going on. A TCK may have endless experience navigating through airports into countless foreign countries, but not know how to drive a car until they are 20 years old. A TCK may have been doing their own laundry or buying groceries since they were young but does not know how to open a bank account. How is it that someone who can haggle a price down in several languages not know how to write a check? How can someone who has had a passport their whole life not have a driver's license?

Meanwhile, a TCK is looking at the world and wondering other things. How do people know you are who you say you are if you don't have a passport? Is independence based on having a car or on international survival skills? Is knowing how to write a check more important than knowing how to haggle for the price you want?

And when it comes to job experience, often TCKs are not allowed to work in the country they grew up in, although they feel they possess incredible life experience. That life experience will not necessarily show up on a resume.

It is a strange paradox. Signs of maturity or rights of passage are so different between the two worlds and often collide or crash in the strangest situations. This is where the importance of developmental years plays a huge part in a TCKs life. There are certain steps that are normal in adolescence that TCKs don't often have the opportunity to take. Adolescence is when you are weighing and testing the societal rules. But if the societal rules are always changing around you then you are not afforded this opportunity. And on top of that, some of the normal activities of adolescence can be limited because of security or the agencies that have brought a family to a country.

Maintaining long term friendships is a hard thing for me. I was not given many chances to do so, and was afraid to many times because all the previous times those people had been taken away from me. My husband, on the other hand, is great at long term friendships because the friends he has are the ones that grew up with him in his home town. HIS WHOLE LIFE. I can't even wrap my brain around someone who was around for my whole life, aside from my brothers, maybe. He can look at a friendship for a long run. I look at friendships for the moment. You can imagine how I have had to play catch-up on this subject in our marriage.

It's a strange thing, but mostly just something to be aware of. A TCK may be exponentially mature in some things, and seriously lacking in others. The technical term is delayed adolescence, but I try not to use that term because it makes me feel like there is an inferiority. That is not the case at all. Imagine that there is a bar graph of all the subjects you mature in during your life. A TCK might have some subjects that have jumped far above the expected place for their peers, but others that are far below it. Their non-TCK peers may be going through the steps of adolescence on schedule, but next to a TCK will seem below on some subjects, and above on others.

Both sides are based on opportunity. Different opportunities create different outcomes. Having one or the other does not make you better or worse; but it can be sensitive. It was hard on me to have to explain that I didn't know how to do certain things simply because I didn't have the opportunity, things that were so commonplace amongst my peers. I felt I was extremely mature in some things, but seriously lacking in others.

It feels like you are a living paradox. The truth is, delayed adolescence doesn't doom a TCK to never mature in those subjects. It just means the maturing is delayed. The same is true for non-TCKs, they will mature in the other subjects over time. Our graphs are always fluctuating.

I feel like it always comes back to this idea: different is not better or worse. Everyone has a story to tell and every story is worth telling.

Those are concepts worth living by whether you are a TCK or not.

In what ways have you lived out this paradox of maturity in some subjects but not others? When have you been the rookie at life and when have you been the expert?

Friday, January 9, 2015

So what?

I have been trying to write this post in my head and in drafts for months now. In my mind I keep coming back to this place of "So what?" This Christmas I found myself talking about my blog but somehow unable to put into words the importance of it to me, why writing about TCKs is so engrained into my life. I couldn't even explain exactly how I am a TCK. And for each moment that passed with my extended family where I pretended it wasn't a very big deal I felt less and less myself.
Trying to blend in

I sat in a very precarious yet familiar moment when one family member mentioned that the city my extended family lives in was my home. I think I missed the original comment but I walked right into the moment and knew what was happening in an instant. My mom and an aunt who reads this blog were explaining something I found myself unable to explain to my family this Christmas.

But let me try and explain it here, now. It matters if you are a TCK. It isn't just a name or a box, a label to wear on your sleeve. It is something that was woven deep inside you. It shapes the way that you see the world, the way you speak and think. It may mean that you have so many homes and yet don't know which one is home. And it may mean that on the outside you are one culture and on the inside you have so many other cultures, but these things are you. You are a TCK.

And to ignore it is to ignore one of the most amazing (yet often difficult) aspects about yourself. 

So if you would just allow me to drag my giant soapbox into your office, your living room, your workplace, wherever you are reading this from. If you would just allow me and help me to hoist myself up on to it and tell you that this idea of TCKs is not a fad. It isn't a joke or a made up name. It isn't an idea that only lives on paper. It isn't new or flashy. But It is rich and valuable, a culture hidden amongst many others, often overlooked or misplaced.

It is hard to explain. It's hard to spell out to those around you and especially to those who think and for all intents and purposes do know you very well, or have known you since you were young. 

I haven't written a post for a while because I got stuck on the "So what?"
So here it is: So what, you are a TCK? So explain it. So live it. So use it. It is you, and you should be allowed to be you, and others should allow you to be you. It might take time and effort and mind-changing, but it will be worth it in the long run. Everyone wants to be known, it is part of the human condition. Give yourself that chance. 

And I will try and give myself that chance too.

What do you think is valuable about being a TCK? How do you explain it to those around you?