Something very rare happened this morning: I got out of bed before my husband or daughter, made a cup of coffee, and read a book.
The amount of grad work that’s piling up has forced me to be pretty intentional with my time this month.
I’m working on a paper about Third Culture Kids (TCKs), so I was reading about growing up among worlds. It’s fascinating to learn about all of the personality traits kids possess when they are raised in a culture that is different from their parent’s host culture.
I underlined and starred and highlighted sentences that stuck out to me. I read about adaptability and cultural identity, cross-cultural enrichment and world view.
And then I got to a section about ARROGANCE. And the words on the page were no longer talking about my children, but about me.
Here’s what I read that socked me in the stomach:
It seems the very awareness that helps [global migrants] view a situation from multiple perspectives can also make [global migrants] impatient or arrogant with others who only see things from their own perspective – particularly people from their home culture.
A cross-cultural lifestyle is so normal to them that [global migrants] themselves don’t always understand how much it has shaped their view of the world. They easily forget it’s their life experiences that have been different from others’, not their brain cells, and do consider themselves much more cosmopolitan and just plain smarter, or at least more globally aware, than others.
–Third Culture Kids, David C. Pollack and Ruth E. Van Reken, pg. 109
I may not have lived overseas for long periods of time, but I have had the unique opportunity to travel through five continents before the age of 25.
Aruba. Haiti. Peru. Cozumel. New York City. Mexico. Italy. Greece. Kenya. Thailand. Cambodia. Vietnam. Laos. England. Singapore. Malaysia. California. Texas.
When I watch the news, the faces are real to me. I don’t feel like I’m watching a flat screen with floating pictures. I see people. I smell the burning trash. I taste the local fruits.
But when I become so verbally passionate about global issues, I struggle to find others to converse with. So, in an effort to blend in with those around me, I find myself shutting up.
I wasn’t always like this.
On my first trip home from Haiti, I was ready to yell at everybody with designer handbags and tell them where I thought they could go.
THERE ARE STARVING KIDS IN THE WORLD, PEOPLE! DON’T YOU GET IT???
But not everyone has seen what I have seen. Not everyone has been blessed with the opportunity to hold the hands of a dirty, half-naked child. Not everyone has traveled to a remote village and shared chai with the chief. Not everyone has tasted the meaty, potent flavor of durian.
These experiences flood my mind constantly. And in many ways, they have rooted out the typical American girl’s memories of playing with Barbies and visiting with neighbors.
I grew up in Small Town Tennessee, but when I left for college, I had no intention of returning. My brother-in-law has even made the comment that it seems like I didn’t even grow up there.
I come home to visit, but I can’t keep up with conversation because I can’t remember who lives there and who’s related to who and who works where.
I remember running an errand to Wal-Mart once in my hometown, and it felt so strange. It was so much smaller than I remembered. Compared to the stores where I shopped in Memphis, the ethnic food section was almost non-existent. There was only one entrance, and the people inside all looked the same.
I came home and tried to debrief what I felt was a cultural experience with my mother. I’m so embarrassed by the words that came out of my mouth.
How did I ever make it out of this town??
I can still see her hurt face.
Do you even appreciate the raising that you had? Is there anything from your childhood that you look back on with good memories?
Sitting on the porch of my childhood home that day was a major turning point for me. It had been my mission to teach everyone that Africa was NOT a country and that everyone in Asia did not speak Chinese and wear straw, woven cone hats.
And suddenly I realized that, as much as my identity had transformed because of my travel, I was still a small-town girl from the South. There were people in that town who loved me, taught me, and cultivated me into the woman that I am now.
I am ever so appreciative of where I come from.
I still feel sometimes like I don’t belong anywhere. My roots aren’t tied to Connie Smith Road anymore, but they’re not really tied to any road for that matter.
There is so much in the world I still want to see. I love learning about different cultures and global issues.
I was sitting with some ladies from my hometown this week, and the subject of travel came up. Oh me, give me the floor and ask me questions about orphan exploitation and government corruption and I can’t stop.
I talked about ethical tourism and human trafficking and paying off security guards…and then looked up at the big eyes around the table and saw it was time to stop.
So I joked and said Well Happy New Year Everyone! and went to refill my coffee cup.
Sometimes I’m bursting at the seams to share what seems like my normal. But then I realize that talking about riding a dirt bike up a mountain in Kenya beside a warthog doesn’t really translate very well.
Many of you need an apology from someone who has rolled her eyes at fancy cars, talked like a snob about Thai curries, and fought hard against racial slurs.
Whether it’s real or perceived arrogance, I speak with passion because of what I’ve seen. And others speak about their local contexts because it’s what they’ve seen.
I’m a work in progress; I need a lot of patience.
If your life experiences have led you to global contexts, watch what you say and how you say it. Sometimes in an effort to scream I’m different from you!, others are actually hearing You are all insensitive, unaware idiots who need to learn about the world!
This is my apology. If I’ve ever made you feel this way, it’s time you heard I’m sorry.