Having grown up in India, United Arab Emirates, and Turkey – countries where there is immense awareness about Islam – my most unique experience as a TCK Muslim was when I was studying abroad in Shanghai.
Being a true singleton without a surrounding expat community was a true test of self-reliance. I was just starting to develop my daily routines of where to buy groceries, where the good restaurants were, which gasoline station was convenient to go to, when everything came to a sudden stop on March 11, 2011.
Being a TCK had given me skills that made me ready for the world as an adult. Unfortunately, many of my students will probably never leave the state of North Carolina to be able to experience the diverse education that I received—which means that I have the responsibility of teaching beyond the textbook.
I was 23 years old and scared. Scared that I was turning into a corporate robot… scared that I was letting the best years of my life slip by as I sat in a cube and fiddled with Excel.
When I’m in Hong Kong, I feel like a Filipino and an American. When I’m in the U.S., I feel Filipino and Chinese. And when I’m in the Philippines, I feel like an American. My self-perception constantly shifts, even if I remain ethnically Filipino regardless of where I am.
The incident made me realize that my ability to live the life I want is entirely contingent on the whims of the American government. But perversely, this has only intensified my desire to stay in New York.
I was not a popular person at my first Super Bowl party. My boyfriend at the time brought me to his friends’ house over my rather loud objections. He promised I’d enjoy myself, that we’d eat chili and drink beer, and that even if the game was boring, there would be funny commercials. The group split in what I know now is a fairly traditional way – most of the guys in the living room, watching the game, and most of the girls were in the kitchen chatting and eating the snacks they’d prepared. Not knowing what to do, I stayed near my boyfriend. Being a Third Culture Kid, I know it can take years before the rituals and minutiae of social events normalize. Having grown up in Thailand, I remember being mystified the first time Songkran came around just as much as I remember gleefully joining in on the water fight by the time our third year rolled around. Festivals and traditions, like humour, seem to be some of the hardest things to translate. …
In the last two years of teaching, I’ve often found myself wondering what could I possibly offer in the realm of education, to a classroom, to one student. How do I speak to each unique experience when I am only one person living one life?
When I was finally 18 and at home from my first semester of college I told my parents I wanted to try alcohol. It wasn’t planned, it just came out – it was time. All my friends were fairly deep into their drinking careers having started much earlier, 14 to 16 being about the norm for most Third Culture Kids.
My sisters and I marched through one airport gate after another, soldiers of separation, casualties of a difficult divorce.