Third Culture Shock

Just another site


One common theme among TCKs is an intense restlessness or wanderlust that occurs when they’ve been repatriated to their country of origin.  Most people who grew up away from their first culture spent a good deal of time traveling.  One beautiful side effect of being a TCK is that international travel is a normal part of life. How cool is that!

When I moved to Pennsylvania at the age of 17 (somewhere I’d only visited before) I felt this intense need to hop on a plane about every four months.  During my time at boarding school, I would fly from Malaysia to Hong Kong every four or five months for school break. (Mostly on Singapore Airlines which is why I chose to use their picture to illustrate this post).  So…naturally my brain was wired to get up and go somewhere.

Oh the places I’ve been! Hong Kong, China, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Kenya, Finland, Norway, India (the airport anyway), Luxembourg, Amsterdam (or so I’m told…I was an infant), Russia…at the age of 12 my journey took me on the Trans Siberian Railway from Hong Kong to Finland with stops all along the way.

And then…bam! It all stopped.  Between the ages of 21 and 35 I took ONE trip requiring me to hop on a plane. ONE!  And it was only across the United States to California.  Nothing fancy. 

When I sat down and thought about the reality of that…I felt very stuck.  I felt pretty lonely.  I felt like somehow I’d failed to accomplish the things I always wanted to do.  I couldn’t believe I hadn’t taken my kids out of the country to see the world.  I almost started to itch. 

I am so very blessed to have been giving the experience of travel in the way that I was.  When I tell my children that I got to go to Thailand for family vacations, they look at me with such expressions of confusion…their best trip was Ocean City, New Jersey for crying out loud!  In no way can I complain about the wonderfulness of the chance to be a world traveller.  Except for the fact that I didn’t see much of the country I’m now supposed to call “Home” and that sets me down square in the middle of odd-man-out among my neighbors.

The ingrained restlessness of TCKs manifests itself in a few ways.  Among the people I know intimately or that grew up in a similar situation as mine, I have seen the following situations rise up as a result of that wanderlust. (And we’ll be delving deeper into this in the months to come I’m sure).

  • Many of my friends have found careers that require extensive travel abroad.  Perhaps they didn’t seek that consciously but it happened nonetheless.
  • Many have married someone from another country which enabled them to either relocate permanently or do a fair amount of travel.
  • Quite a number of my MK/boarding school friends have returned to the scene of the crime, so to speak, and are working at that same school or one similar. 
  • Others have followed in the footsteps of their parents and become missionaries to other countries.
  • Some struggle with profound depression because their life track has not allowed them to explore the world.
  • A few people have abandoned marriages and families and just “taken off” for whirlwind trips to get the wanderlust out of their system.

In my own life I’ve experienced an intense sadness at not being able to travel.  So, instead of jet-setting all over the globe,  I moved to a new home at least once a year during the first 7 years I lived independent of my parents.  My reasons were usually financial, at least that’s what I said out loud.  The reality is that I was bored and needed a new view.  And to this day I constantly re-arrange furniture or try to change how my surroundings look.

The frequency of this restlessness has diminished for me but when it rears up it is often so intense I just want to get in the car and drive and drive and drive and drive for endless hours.  Not to escape anything…rather to see something different through the window.  It is impossible to explain that to my husband and children because they just don’t “get it.”  Their first thought naturally is that I’m trying to get away from them.  While sometimes that’s true (and what honest mother hasn’t felt that huh?!) the fact is that more often I just need a little trip.

Now my goal is to see as much of North America as possible.  I’d like to be able to at least show my children a bit more of their culture.

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” -Robert Louis Stevenson

September 19, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments