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TCK Diaries: My High School Reunion

Betty Chen is a Third Culture Kid who has lived in Taiwan, Thailand and the United States. For the next few weeks, she will be blogging on Denizen as she embarks on a journey of self-discovery.

As I embarked on the last major leg of my journey to self-discovery, I returned home to the place I had lived in for 18 years – Bangkok, Thailand.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.

This was supposed to be my ultimate comfort zone. The place I was going to lay out in the sun and just take a big nap (I know, life is hard). Instead, Bangkok grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me hard. It was like the Ghost of Christmas Past something yanking me out of my bored been-there-done-that slumber, and throwing me into a bevy of Firsts.

Those Firsts included my 10-year high school reunion. While most people may have dreaded and ignored their high school reunion, I had really been looking forward to seeing everyone again. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified going into the reunion: I was jobless, husbandless, childless, petless, and I hadn’t even found a cure for cancer! What the heck have I been doing the past 10 years?! My classmates were really going to regret nominating me for “Most Likely to Succeed.”

We had initially gone into the reunion sizing each other up, inadvertent or not:

“What do you do?”
[Translation: Did you become the President of [country of origin] yet?]

“Are you married?”
[Translation: Is he/she rich/a supermodel?]

“Do you have any children?”
[Translation: Are they child prodigies? Why not? What a slacker.]

However, once we all got together, none of that mattered because we were all more or less at the same point in our lives. “What do you do?” was answered surprisingly with a lot of “I just quit my job to pursue my passion” or, “I’m doing ___ now, but looking to switch careers soon.” The “Are you married?” question was few and far between, and the topic of children barely came up. I might not be as far behind in life as I had thought.

We all exhibited classic Third Culture Kid traits: Almost all of us had moved at least once in the past ten years, most of us were unmarried without kids, and many were contemplating a life change with the same frustration of being stuck in a rut.

Others may call this “non-committal behavior,” but as Third Culture Kids, but we just see the world as our playground. I had half-expected the reunion to end with me sobbing myself to sleep with a pint of ice-cream feeling envious of everyone else’s successes, but instead, through rediscovering and reconnecting with my high school friends, I realized that I am right on track.

Another advantage of a long vacation at home is that I am able to give back during a time of need. When I heard of the massive flooding that inflicted Thailand for a few months last fall, I was eager to jump in and volunteer wherever I was needed. The experience became another one of my Firsts.

A friend connected me with a group founded by some fellow TCKs, Bangkok Vanguards, who rallied other expats, foreigners and tourists into a big international group hug. Together, we raised money for flood victims by wiping down cars at major intersections, and visited flood-affected areas over Christmas to deliver presents to the local children. It was like nothing I’ve ever done in my almost-two decade life in Bangkok. It was moving to see a group so diverse get together for a cause so near and dear to my heart.

While the past few months have been packed with travel – Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Indonesia – I was happy to find that Bangkok may still have a place for me. Many Third Culture Kids are constantly jumping on a plane to look for the next best thing, but learning to look back wasn’t something I was used to. I often reveled in stretching myself out of my comfort zone, and it surprised me to discover that I actually felt most uncomfortable at home. And in a strange way, it was exactly what I needed right now.

At the end of the day, I learned that it was okay to not know what I want to be when I grow up, and that this was a common trait among Third Culture Kids. Success may seem so elusive right now, but I am exactly where I am meant to be. The important thing is to focus on my passion, and to take the time to find out what I really want. Rarely do we have time or the luxury to do so, and I vowed that I owed this to myself. Whether I do that back in Chicago, or move across the world for my next adventure, I am ready for it!


  1. Sophia S. says

    what school have u attended while you were in taiwan? did you go to Morrison academy before?


  2. Betty Chen says

    Hi Sophia! I didn’t actually live in Taiwan very long, and didn’t attend any schools while I was there!


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