Five years ago I wrote a post, 15 Things I Want to Tell My Third Culture Kids. I’ve been writing my kids letters and telling them things for years. When they return to school every three months, they return with packets of letters. One for each week, usually written on the back of a photograph of people and places they love. I’ve written them verses, prayers, quotes, poems (so much Mary Oliver), song lyrics, and rambling mom-junk. And we talk. So, they know this stuff. But, too bad for them, their mom is a writer and sends some of that mom-junk out to the wide, beautiful world.
I wrote this several weeks ago, a lifetime ago.
You can always come home. Home might not be this house but home is always this family. Come rejoicing, come weeping, come whole, come broken, come lonely, come with packs of friends, come in silence, come and spill it all. This table, meaning the table I’ve set in my heart for our family, always has room.
You can never go back. There is no rewind on life and no redoing spent years. You can’t go back, even if you come back. In You Can’t Go Home Again, Thomas Wolfe wrote, “Make your mistakes, take your chances, look silly, but keep on going. Don’t freeze up.” Keep going. Djibouti will keep going and changing, too. When you meet again, whether this country or the people you have known on the continent, know that you will have to reintroduce yourself and re-explore the other and rediscover who you can be together, or from a distance, now. You might want to go back, you might think things were better or easier or simpler back when…that’s nostalgia. That’s saudade. That’s okay. Those days were good and beautiful and hilarious and I can testify to that. They are part of you now, in your very being, the fabric of what makes you, you. But you can’t live them again. Hold them, honor them, and live into the now and the new.
Guard your heart, your mind, your soul, your body. Be wise, be discerning. Make good choices. Be patient, take your time. Stay in touch with old friends. Don’t sink into social media or the internet or porn or alcohol or consumerism.
But don’t lock it up. Don’t shut the door to keep out what might feel like overwhelming American culture. Don’t be afraid to be tender and loving. Don’t cling so fast to friends far away that you don’t have space for new friends. Be vulnerable, in the appropriate relationships.
Don’t treat Americans with contempt. Even, especially, when they have no clue what a ‘Djibouti’ is. Hear them out, learn their stories, ask inquisitive questions.
Don’t be afraid to be who you are. All that Djibouti awesomeness. All that Kenya awesomeness. All that you awesomeness. You can blend it up however you want, but don’t be ashamed or embarrassed or too proud. Be you.
Be honest about what you don’t know. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to ask for help. People might think it is strange that you don’t know something they think is normal American life, but most of the time, they will also enjoy helping you and you never know what friendship might come of it. Be humble.
Explore and be curious and savor. Think of your college campus or your new city as though you have just moved abroad, which for all practical purposes, you have. Think of American English as a new language, restaurants as exotic local fare, a trip downtown as an exciting cultural exploration. Try stuff. Try broomball. Try downhill skiing. Try snowball fights. (Don’t try licking the flagpole in January). Try saying “oofdah.”
Seek out a trusted advisor with whom you can be completely transparent and ask for cultural guidance. Here gender and race conversations look different. Here poverty, justice, corruption, wealth, privilege these things look different and are talked about in different ways. It will be hard and you might feel confused sometimes, but try to learn to contextualize your conversations and learn from the people around you. Conversations in America have changed since mom and dad lived there and we can’t be specifically helpful in this regard because we are often confused, too. In this same vein, seek out a counselor, a trained professional, who understands cross-cultural issues.
Find a strong, healthy, joyful, creative, supportive, purposeful spiritual body to be part of. Maybe a church, maybe a campus group, maybe a small group of friends. Explore who you are, spiritually, apart from mom and dad.
Root yourself. You might be tempted to flit around and there will be potentially appropriate times to leave – to transfer or to study abroad – but don’t move just for the sake of movement. Settle in, make a home, even a dorm home, connect with people, invest in your community.
Call home. Text. Facebook message. Send photos. When you do, be honest. Goods and bads. Talk us through it. We’re transitioning, too. We miss you like whale sharks would miss the sea.
I am eternally grateful that we have had the honor of sharing this life abroad with you. Djibouti hasn’t always been easy, but what is easy? No place is easy. The way you love this small, fascinating nation blows my mind. You have embraced it, the heat and the dust, French school and Djiboutian best friends, Papa Noel and Eid Mubarak, volcanoes and ocean, with exuberance. And it has embraced you back. This is a rare thing. Including you, I can count on two hands the number of non-Djiboutian American children who have spent their lives, from toddler-hood to graduation in this country, and you have loved each other well.
You are not alone. You can cross the sea, go to the highest mountain, the lowest volcanic lava tunnel, you are not alone. God is with you, cliché and true. But also, all the people who have loved you and taught you and coached you and prayed for you are with you. You don’t leave friends or family behind, not when they have invested in you. They have become part of who you are, part of your character and your stories. You know this, from the Open Houses that we had/will have. We need to have them on two continents, with letters from people in dozens of other countries, because love and support is coming at you from all corners of the globe.
Live here and now. They might be hard words to live in and I’m still learning how to do this well. Right here, this now. And then this one and then this one. Pay attention to your here and your now and feel it. This actually builds new pathways in your brain. Did you know that? How you choose to receive and embrace each moment matters. Make it good, even the hard ones. Learn from them. Savor the good moments. Laugh when you want to, cry when you want to. Get angry and feel wonder. Here. Now.
Okay and a couple bonus, obligatory things:
I love you. I’m proud of you. Always and forever, to the moon and around to Djibouti and back around again.
What do you want to say to your graduating senior, TCK or not?
Read suggestions on helping TCKs transition to university in Finding Home.