Yesterday, I spent 30 minutes calling via Skype to America, which is a 15-hour time difference, to talk to a delightful Canadian man named Jay, (who I’m not entirely convinced wasn’t an angel) to start a new car insurance policy. Phew. What a sentence. It’s a long, boring story behind my car drama. Basically, he had to run through my old policy information to transfer it into a new account. It began like it always does:
“You learned how to drive in Mexico in 2005, you joined AAA in 2009 in Southern California, you then switched to a year-long Colorado policy in 2010, then back to Southern California, and I see here you’re calling from…wait, WHERE are you calling from exactly??”
After an awkward silence, either due to a poor connection or Canadian-Jay still trying to figure me out, I sheepishly added, “I move around a lot…”
That is what got me thinking about the life of a TCK (Third-Culture Kid) and inspired this post. I’m going to let you in on a little secret, if you don’t already know this about me…
I love making pros and cons lists.
Now you know. When I think of growing up as a missionary kid (or TCK, if you prefer) in Latin America, one main pro and one con come to mind. There are plenty of blogs and books out there that address both of them, but I wanted to throw out my two centavos, or cents, or whatever you want to call them. The con is this:
Now we all know someone who has moved overseas, whether for long-term or short-term work: missionary or humanitarian, military, volunteer, retirement…etc. If you haven’t, then you probably will at some point in your adult life…unless you’ve never left your basement. (My mom doesn’t take a fancy to my offending people from rural Alabama, which was whom I was going to reference here. Oops. I guess I referenced them anyway.) But for TCKs, having all your friends move overseas, well, that kind of comes with the job description.
In my 22 years of opinion-having, the main downside to being a TCK is the fact that you don’t live in close proximity to the same friend for more than a few years (or months, or yes, even days sometimes). I don’t even have my family relocating as a reason for this. We were the minority in the missionary community, in that I lived in the same house from the time I was 3 until I graduated from high school (my parents are still living in the same house today!). It was everyone else that did the moving around.
I was devastated the first time a little friend moved far away and I knew I would never see him again. (If any of you have run into a 22 year old named Toby in Germany, who used to catch tadpoles with me in Mexico, and loved legos more than he loved me…tell him his girlfriend from when he was 3 would like him to call.) Despite friends moving away being a frequent occurrence, I remained overly optimistic and continued to make new friends like any little kid would do, until they too, relocated to another country or continent for good. Subconsciously, I began to distance myself from potential friends. I would befriend the new kid in town, but there was always a barrier preventing us from getting too close, so it would hurt less when they, too, moved away. I had learned early on in life that missionary kids just don’t stick around very long. And that’s all I have to say about that. But not really…
Now for my pro:
Wait a minute, you might think. “Your pro looks like your con!” The truth is, it’s pretty awesome to have friends all over (once you get past the fact that you hardly ever get to see any of them). I could pretty much go to any country and through the online missionary community, namely my parents’ network, and I’d be able to find somewhere to stay. In fact, once upon a time in Seattle, I had nowhere to stay and I called up my mom at 3 pm and within 20 minutes she gave me a name and an address for somewhere I could sleep that night.
This picture is a screen shot of an app called “My Friend Map” generated from Facebook and the “current cities” people have in their bio, so it’s definitely not up-to-date with reality. Who updates their current cities? Ain’t nobody got time for that. I love being connected with so many cultures through my friends and the technology that allows me to keep up with them — regardless where they are on the map. Now if only they had invented this app (or our town had internet) when I was 3. Maybe then things would have worked out long term and lest we forget, long distance, with Toby: the 3-year-old German, tadpole-catching, former boyfriend of mine. What a title…
I can’t relate to most TCKs stories about how they had lived in 15 countries by the time they graduated from high school, because I didn’t move frequently growing up. I did travel a lot every summer, and I’ve been able to see my fair share of the world. I was very fortunate to be able to have the same home to come back to at the end of it. However, since graduating high school, I seem to be making up for that fact with all the moving around I do now! During my college years, I lived in 12 “permanent” addresses, but that is another story for another time.
Conversations like the one I had with Jay are nothing out of the norm for me now. I always feel like I need to explain myself…like I’ve done something wrong. Or I feel like I need to give my entire life history to any customer service representative or immigration officer that asks me a question about where I’m from. “Then when I was 6 weeks old, we moved back to Guatemala…”
They never should have asked!