In this “TCK for Teens” series, Denizen writer Courtney Runn focuses on helping teens through the many first-time experiences they have while navigating life abroad.
“Once there was a town named Pompeii.”
My mom read the familiar words and I snuggled deeper under the covers, my mind wandering to this ancient place that only existed in books. The historic tragedy fascinated and haunted me and I decided that someday, when I was all grown up, I would go. I would walk through the ruins of Pompeii, my feet stirring the dust of a world long gone.
Little did I know that I would be doing just that a few short years later. And it wouldn’t be quite as dreamy. It would be scorching hot, my dust-caked feet would ache, and we would join our fellow weary tourists at Burger King for lunch.
So how did I go from listening to a bedtime story in Texas to exploring an ancient city in southern Italy?
When I ten years old, my parents told my little brother and I that we were moving to Florence, Italy. The year before we moved was spent dreaming about living in Europe and reading book after book about the culture and customs of my new home.
That summer, my dad’s company sent us through cultural training and that was when I first heard the term “third culture kid.” That summer was when I first realized that it wouldn’t necessarily be a walk in the park to move across an ocean, but in my mind it still shimmered with adventure.
After living in Italy for five years and labeling myself a TCK for seven years, my view of moving has transformed. When picturing my adopted country, no longer do bright images of gelato, and of Carnivale, and of gondolas, dance in my head. My glowing optimism and thrill for a transatlantic adventure have been dimmed by the reality that moving to a different country is hard.
Moving to another country requires so much more than the 50 pounds the airport lets you bring. And whether you’re excited, terrified, or horrified at the prospect of moving, one thing is true: you have to pack your suitcase. So allow me to give you some packing advice. I’m no expert, but I’ve gone through this once or twice.
First, grab your tennis shoes. Living in a foreign culture is like running a marathon; it takes endurance and perseverance. At the beginning, you’ll feel a burst of energy, propelling you into your new life. But soon, you’ll slow down and the exhaustion of living in a new language, a new culture will settle in. Don’t lose hope though – keep running.
Next, choose that pair of heels hiding in the corner. The bright red ones with five inch heels. They make your feet ache and no one can ignore you in them, which is perfect. Adapting to the local culture is uncomfortable – don’t move overseas without expecting to modify your life. Always do your best to fit in culturally; rock those cherry red high heels.
Now dig through your closet until you find them: your favorite flats. The ones that slip on effortlessly and mold perfectly to your feet. They are well worn from lazy summer days spent with friends and crisp autumn walks with your dog. You see seem them and you smile. Your favorite flats. Because one day, you will feel like you again. You’ll have new friends for new adventures. You’ll have a new favorite route for walks. You’ll feel comfortable again.
Now that your shoes are ready, let’s move on to the clothes. Pull out the breezy blouses and the cropped pants and the white shorts. In your life overseas, there will be many happy, cheerful seasons where your cup will runneth over. When people come to visit, you will don your flats and proudly play tour-guide, cheerfully make introductions (in the local language, of course), and all but convince them to join you.
These seasons do not last forever, though. So put some long sleeves in there too. And throw in some cozy sweatpants and heavy scarves and an oversized jacket or two. You’ll need them for what I’ve heard described as the “mid-October blues.”
On Libby Stephens’ site devoted to cross-cultural transitions, she publishes a post on “Those Mid-October Blues.” In it the author writes: “By October, the adventure of the new was gone and the reality of not going back to the country I left had set in hard. I felt lonely, trapped, and a bit hopeless. This is the time of year when you not only have homesickness, but you have memory-sickness as well.”
These seasons are long, but, just like the happy times, they too will end. Even though your life may seem like a mess of confetti tossed in the wind, some things will remain the same, which brings us to the next thing that should be carefully placed inside your suitcase: your prized possessions.
What goes everywhere with you? What instantly comforts you when everyone else or everything else fades away? For me, it was our family dog. No matter what came my way throughout our time in Italy, my dog was one of the few things that never changed. You will crave consistency in your life, so pack those items with care.
Also, bring books. Bring maps and travel guides and novels that take place in your adopted country. Bring empty journals with sturdy covers that you can fill with adventures. You will learn so much when you move overseas. About yourself. About people. About the world. Be prepared to learn.
Finally, go to your bathroom to find your sturdiest brush. It takes patience to live overseas and effort to work out the tangles of living so far removed from your comfort zone. And don’t forget a fresh bar of soap and your favorite perfume because this is a chance for a fresh start, a time to make changes in your life and move forward.
Now you’re all packed and ready to go. Take a deep breath, print your tickets, and pick up your suitcase. Your first move awaits.
Photos courtesy of Courtney Runn.
Featured photo courtesy of hellojenuine on Flickr.