Today’s Painting Pictures post comes to you from Bonnie Rose, a woman of incredible and beautiful talent. Photographer, hair stylist, beauty therapist, and world traveler as a TCK and now as an adult expat. I am excited to share her words with you today about the third culture kid experience as a military child. Her fabulous graphic says it all. Be sure to visit her blog to see and read more from Bonnie.
Passport to the World
Third Culture Kid. Just three words that are so easy to understand on their own. String them together and things get a bit complicated. I can explain it in a couple of minutes or in greater detail but that does not mean the person listening will fully understand. Which is often the case when you have not walked in someone else’s shoes. I became a third culture kid because I was a military child who was born overseas and grew up hopping around military bases in Europe until I was seventeen. I have tried explaining my military upbringing and the culture of military families to my in-laws during a conversation about our differences. It was met with a response similar to ‘I know a military family and they are not like that’. When trying to connect with people who have not ‘walked in your shoes’ it is like hitting a brick wall. Growing up as a third culture kid, living a nomadic life, I have learned that life is not simply black and white. People dress differently, eat differently, parent differently, and basically live differently. Just because something is different, does not make it wrong.
I bring up TCKs frequently when it comes to conflicts where my life or choices are judged negatively. It boils down to the lack of understanding and seeing the world only from a small perspective. I do not claim to understand the the full spectrum of every culture in the world but I do accept the fact that we are all different. Different can be scary but different is also beautiful. There is no cookie cutter mold for how life should be lived and I have seen the negative outcomes when one forces a mold onto a different culture then it was intended for. As a TCK I can not fit in any one mold as I claim ownership over every country I have lived in and in every culture where I have spent a significant amount of time. I never know what the future will bring but I get excited by the possibilities, the lands I have yet to explore, and the people I have yet to know. All the while I cling to my past. For Third Culture Kids our past does not hold us back. It defines our character and who we are in life.
One of the biggest misconceptions about third culture kids revolves around our unintentional name dropping. I commented to someone about their trip to Italy with how I had lived in Italy twice and went on to recommend a great place for pizza. A third party chimed in with ‘no one cares where you have been’. Which was easy for me to dismiss as I know they are not a TCK and therefore do not understand what places mean to us. There is no home I can go back to, no house to return to for the holidays, and no one street that will contain years of memories and stories. My lifetime of memories is scattered across the globe and are as changing as we are as third culture kids. It has even molded the way I travel. I cannot go to a new country and not experience it organically as someone who grew up in that location. I do not want to stick out as a tourist in another land. As a TCK we mention places, not because we had the opportunity to be there, but because we left a part of our heart and our soul in the footsteps we left behind.
These past two years I have lived in England, my world as a Third Culture Kid has been met with a sense of normalcy. Something I had not experienced in the last ten years living in the USA. In my parent’s home country I was constantly a hidden immigrant. I looked and sounded American but was always an outsider. Here in England I am constantly running into other expats and other brits who have lived abroad. Even those people who have never lived outside of England have vacationed throughout mainland Europe. As a TCK I carry that nomadic free spirit and will always have an intangible sense of ‘home’. It will make my bonds with other like minded individuals attract more quickly as we share the same passport to the world.
Bio: Bonnie Rose is the author behind the blog A Compass Rose. She writes about her childhood as a military brat, her life as a Third Culture Kid (TCK), her travels around the world and the expat life her family now lives in Europe. She currently lives in Bath, England with her husband and are raising two sons who are also TCKs. She works as a Photographer and Hair & Make up Artist. As of this post she has yet to ever live in one place for longer than three years at at time.
Connect with Bonnie Rose
I really appreciated this article! I am a tck and military brat. I have grown up around other kids who were raised in the same way. So “name dropping” has never been a problem. We do it, of course, but that is only because that is all we have to share of our lives. It is amazing to have grown up in that supportive environment where I didn’t have to worry about sounding like I was bragging.
I think this is going to be my biggest adjustment when I go back to my passport-country for school. Suddenly no one is going to understand that I am simply trying to open up and share parts of my life. Maybe the parts I am able to share took place in Germany or Turkey, but they are just as important as their memories that took place in America. And me sharing those memories isn’t bragging but doing just that, sharing and trying to forge a connection with those around me.
Wonderful article Bonnie!
I love your last lines – so true – not bragging, but sharing and forging a connection. I hope the transition back goes well for you and you’re able to do just that – build deep connections.
Great post. I so get this. As an adult TCK who raised TCK’s I feel like I went through this twice. First in my own journey, then with my kids. I’ll never forget my oldest in a conversation with friends in the U.S. talking about when they got chicken pox. All of them were talking about it and she excitedly and completely innocently joined in “Oh I remember when I got chicken pox! It was on the plane between Greece and Turkey…” Silence and then a “you always boast” – she was crushed. Thanks so much for the insight and so glad to have the link to your blog as well.
That is so sad to hear. Lucy could say the time she got chicken pox was when her dad was in Somalia, stuck on an airplane and her mom had to leave for Kenya, so she was at a friend’s house and she rolled under the bed and got lost in the middle of the night. But I don’t suppose her American friends will care. I imagine this is a big reason TCKs connect with each other so naturally. They get that it isn’t boasting, just the fabric of their lives.
Haha! I got chicken pox on a plane too – a float plane between Puerto Rico and St. Maarten in the Caribbean.
It’s sad when our experiences are brushed off with “bragging”. I was devastated as a child too, when my peers were talking about playing tag, and all I could share was looking for snakes with my class, or creeping out schoolmates with the molted skins of scarab beetles. What makes their experiences so much more significant or more valuable than ours? It’s funny (and a bit ironic) that we aren’t in it for bragging, just for connecting, when often the other way around the point of sharing is to normalize or exclude.
It is sad. I want to help my kids learn how to navigate this. Any tips?
The conversations I have with my children (11 and 13) are about qualities and context, ours and those of others. Qualities of vulnerability, courage, authenticity, compassion, … and the context of children and teens wanting to be “normal”, or learning to determine belonging.
When the conversation turns to what is normal or what creates belonging, we find lots of things in common, whether we played tag or looked for snakes.
And these topics and concepts are not too big for children to grasp and apply. Kids are great philosophers and creative thinkers!
Thanks, Bonnie…I enjoyed reading this. Technically, I’m not a TCK. But I made numerous cross-country moves within the U.S. while growing up, so can relate (a little bit) to some of the TCK experiences. And the “name dropping” issue is something that I can TOTALLY identify with. Of course there were some exceptions, but my overall experience was that kids in my new schools/neighbors couldn’t care less about the friends I had, things I was involved in, places I got to experience, back at the previous place I had lived. As far as they were concerned, I had come into existence the day I arrived in their town…I was a blank slate. As painful as that often was, I’m thankful for the sensitivity it fostered in me. Now when I meet kids OR adults who have just moved from somewhere else, I make a point of asking them about their old home…what sports/activities they were involved in, who their friends were, what they did for fun.
In all kinds of settings (schools, churches, neighborhoods, work places) it’s easy to focus on acclimating new people to where we are…forgetting that they have a rich past of experiences and people that have shaped them. And, often, new people are still grieving what they’ve left behind.
Mandy I love hearing this from you, it helps me know you better. You’re like what Ruth Van Reken calls a Cross Cultural Kid. I have seen this in you – you are so aware of others and sincerely interested in their lives. Your last paragraph is beautiful, if only we could all keep that in mind. Thank you for sharing this.
I love the phrase “hidden immigrant”. You put words to a feeling I am constantly walking around with. I grew up in six different countries, never living more than two years in one place. I’ve been back in the States for twenty years and am still a fish out of water, most comfortable packing for a trip and sitting in an airport terminal.
Thanks for sharing your experience Kim. It fascinates me how formative the young years are. Even after 20 years for you, even after 11 years for me, still I feel out of place.
The post on July 30 (so in about a week) will have a link to some more about hidden immigrants, I’m excited to share it. It is in the context of university students, so stop on back for that.
Actually Kim, its today, here’s the link: https://rachelpiehjones.com/2013/07/painting-pictures-transitioning-globally-to-university/
[…] a recent Painting Pictures post by Bonnie Rose, the topic came up of how sometimes when TCKs share their experiences this is perceived as bragging […]
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