So far I’ve mainly been describing some elements of what it is like to be an expat as an adult. However, I have been travelling from country to country every three or four years since I was a baby due to my father’s job. My trajectory went – born in the Philippines, Syria, Chile, Zambia, United States, and then the Netherlands (and from there, I branched off on my own foreign travels while my parents continued with theirs).
A big part of being an expat kid, is that we grow up absorbing the cultures of the countries we live in. There’s actually a term for it – Third Culture Kid. It defines children who are raised in a country that is not of their nationality. And I guess for me, I have an added element to it – I am mixed-race. My father is European, from the Netherlands, and my mother was born and raised in Malaysia. So not only was I being raised in a country that was neither of my parents’ but I was already a mixture of two cultures in one household!
I vividly remember two situations as an adult (childhood situations are a whole different kettle of fish) that made me question myself and my “culture”.
One is with an ex-colleague during a team bonding exercise, where we shared facts about ourselves and our pathways around the world (we were all international). When I described my journey, my colleague asked me whether I had “roots”. I replied with, “I guess I don’t have roots in the traditional sense. ‘Home’ is just wherever the family is.”
Then came the metaphorical gut-punch a day later over lunch. She told me that she had wanted to continue to be an expat and travel around the world. BUT after hearing my story, she realised she wanted her son (then six years old) to have roots and could not put him through what I had, so decided after her assignment, she would move back to the UK.
Wow. I didn’t know what to say. It hurt because I never thought of what I had gone through as negative. And it hurt that it was my experience that had made her reconsider it. I even felt ashamed.
Hammering home a point
The second one was with a fellow expat friend and as we were chatting over dinner, we talked about culture and identity. He was adamant that being a perpetual traveller was not good for raising children and in particular, having a mixed-culture marriage. He pointedly made remarks about me and my upbringing. He tried to hammer home how he wanted to marry someone with the same culture to avoid a “me”. Nothing I was saying was being listened to, however the final answer that made him stop his attack was when I said “I may have a mixture of everything, but that doesn’t mean it’s nothing.” But boy was I angry with him that evening.
Now I know in the moment, the people in these two scenarios didn’t mean to hurt. They were just coming at things from their own perspectives.
If I could tell the younger me something it would be this: there is nothing to be ashamed of. My identity, my culture that is a mix of my parents’ heritage coupled with a piece of each country I lived in, is an asset. It is an honour. It is who I AM. And I want to take a moment to also say that those who decide to live in their small town all their life, that is perfectly fine too. That is *their* identity – we need all sorts of people to make this world go round.
Journey of introspection
In my journey of self-love, I have had to come to terms with this. To understand that what may not be one person’s cup of tea does not mean it is WRONG. It is just that…their opinion. It’s been a journey for me to come to this point – a lot of introspection, of trying to understand and then releasing.
If you have felt at any point, or will be at any point, judged for who you are irrespective of what it is – do not be afraid to stand up for yourself and let that person know their words hurt. Could it be uncomfortable to say? Perhaps. Will YOU feel better for standing up for yourself? Yes!
The world is more accessible, people are breaking the mould of what “should” and “shouldn’t” be. And I say more power to that.
So now it’s my turn to ask you – What about YOU? How are you breaking the mould? What have you had to stomach before about yourself but now are able to shut down any negative comments?
P.S. – And this mix of cultures carries on to my writing as well, where I oscillate between the spellings and terminology of British English and American English. I don’t even know which is which anymore!
*cover photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com