Who used up the batteries in the Game Boy?!
My two younger brothers and I were crammed into seats next to each other, arguing heatedly. It was typical road trip fight for a 6, 8 and 11-year-old, — but instead of bickering in the backseat of a car, we were in the Economy cabin on a flight to Singapore.
We quit bickering to look out the window as our flight took off from American soil. Sean, Nathan and I paused and glanced at each other for a moment, realizing that our lives were about to dramatically change. Then someone found more batteries and the fight over the Game Boy began anew.
Experiencing life as a third culture kid is unique, adventurous and challenging. But no one, not even other third culture kids, can understand exactly what your life has been like growing up around the world – except for the people who shared the same childhood.
“I didn’t really realize what was happening when we moved overseas the first time,” Nathan, now 21, told me. “Mom and Dad knew what was going on—the only other people who were as clueless as I was were you and Sean.”
The first few months in a new country are easily the most challenging. Fortunately, having siblings means you have a built-in set of friends who already know where you’ve come from and what you’ve been through.
“My siblings and I were bullied in the local French school because we couldn’t speak French and were ‘foreign’ or ‘different,’” said Ellie McCallin, 31, who has lived in Botswana, France, Switzerland and the UK (among others). With two older and two younger siblings, Ellie said they supported each other through difficult times.
While transitioning into a new preschool in Geneva, Switzerland, Ellie said that she snuck out of her classes at the Swiss international school just to find her little sister and let her know where she was.
“Only when she saw me would she feel comfortable again,” Ellie said.
Sisters Sarah, 20, and Megan Griffith, 21, also a tough time starting at a new school after a move. In junior high, they moved to Frankfurt, Germany, and started a new school halfway into the semester.
Sarah Griffith, 18, and Megan Griffith, 20, at Catherine Palace in Pushkin, Russia.
“We both missed the introduction to the language,” Sarah said. “We spent time after classes helping each other, pouring over loads of vocab cards and trying to speak as much German as possible.” The sisters have lived various cities in Texas, Louisiana and Germany.
For my brothers and me, one of the most difficult and defining moments during our time in Singapore was September 11. I remember crawling in bed with Sean because he was too afraid to sleep by himself those first few nights. Perhaps it was because of the armored guards that were posted outside of our American school. Or the fact that they covered up the Singapore American School insignia on the side of our bus to make us less of a target.
“When I came back to the states, I noticed that when 9/11 happened for [Americans], they kind of united together,” Nathan said. But living in Singapore, “We only had each other.”
Sean, Nathan and I, now 18, 21 and 24, squabble like any other siblings. We (still) argue over who gets the remote, whose turn it is to use the car, what we should have for dinner and who has to sit in the middle seat on the airplane next to the lady with too much perfume. But we’re also deeply connected by a shared past that allows us to move beyond the bickering.
“Even my closest friends will never be able to understand what I went through the way you guys do,” Sean told me. “I guess I’m stuck with you.”