Author: Expat Alien

TCK, Global Nomad, Expat, Traveler writing about what is and what has been

Brand New Expat 1953

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I found this letter in an old scrapbook. My family was living in Rangoon, Burma. The letter is from my mother to a friend in Iowa.

 

February 15, 1953

Dear Mildred:

I’m sorry not to have written you sooner – I have thought of you so many times. I would like to tell you so much about Burma and our life her, but it is hard to condense all these new experiences and decide which might be the most interesting.

First, I think you might like to know what your home is like. We are fortunate in having a good-sized brick house, which is rented from a Burmese woman. It has 20 ft. ceilings, ceiling fans, concrete floors, and every piece of wood in the whole house from rafters to coffee table is of beautiful teakwood. Due to the high ceiling, fans and brick walls we hope to be as comfortable as is possible here during the humid hot season, which is just now beginning. To help run our household we have a cook who is indispensible, for he does the marketing, acts as interpreter since he speaks excellent English as well as four or five other languages, and he miraculously runs the temperamental kerosene stove! There are very few Burmese who work as house servants and our cook is Indian. He is a Hindu and does not eat beef, but does not object to cooking it for us. Then we have a sweeper who does the cleaning with includes scrubbing the concrete floor and waxing all the furniture at least once a week o prevent mildew. Then since babysitters are unheard of here as such, we have a nanny who lives with us and, besides babysitting, takes care of light laundry, helps me with mending and sewing and is a most pleasant person to have around. She is a young, pretty woman and a good Baptist. I usually take her with me when I drive so that she can interpret for me if the car should break down or if we should become lost (I’ still learning my way around the city).

Now, as Mother keeps asking, you might be wondering what I do with my new “life of leisure”. Well, everything is not perfect and leisurely even with so much help, believe me. Since many people in this part of the world do not have the same ideas of sanitation as we do, I have to constantly check on the kitchen to be sure the water is boiled before placed in the refrigerator for drinking, to remind the dishwasher to use soap, to see that clean dishtowels regularly replace dirty ones, etc. Our help is very fine, and they do everything to make us comfortable, but they often don’t realize how particular we must be to avoid becoming sick. One day I found nanny straining freshly boiled drinking water through a very dirty napkin into a pitcher! Language differences sometimes cause confusion – such as the time Bill asked our cook to get a mess of lime to mark out our new badminton court, and the cook appeared later with 3.5 lbs. of fresh green limes! Needless to say we are still drinking limeade. But, all in all, our household is very pleasant and as much like it would be in America as we can make it under the circumstances. I manage to keep busy – I am trying to learn to speak Burmese, I keep all the household accounts, of course, and do most of the meal planning, attend meetings of several organizations, read as much as possible, go out socially, some, and write letters. It doesn’t sound like much, I guess, but time is passing very quickly.

Our two boys both go to school from 8:30 to noon every day except Thursday and Sunday. Their school is English-speaking, but children rom all nationalities are represented. Some are learning English as they go to school. Our boys have very good friends who are Chinese, French, Dutch, and Burmese – some of whom speak no English at all. But neither race nor language is any barrier to their friendships – an example from which we all might profit.

Rangoon is a most colorful and interesting city with large Chinese and Indian populations as well as the pleasant, friendly Burmese. The city is dominated by one very tall gold-roofed pagoda which is a most interesting place to visit besides being a landmark for Rangoon and one of the outstanding pagodas in this part of the world. One climbs hundreds of steps to the top where there are many statues of Buddha of different sizes, colors and positions. The roof or dome of the pagoda is pure gold leaf and it has many valuable gems sealed inside. We enjoyed the long climb to the top almost as much as the worship center, for the stairs are lined with little shops where everything one can imagine is sold – Burmese, drums, ankle bracelets, cymbals, flowers, lacquer ware, Ivory combs, flutes made of bamboo, brassware, toys, etc, etc. Once Bill and I wanted to buy a delightful-sounding Burmese gong, and since one bargains over the price of most everything here we started bargaining. The merchant asked 15 rupees, we offered 6 and finally after much haggling got it for 8 rupees – very pleased with our bargain. When we got home one of our servants pointed out the price mark written in Burmese – 5 rupees!! But we had had fun anyway, and you can be sure we learned how to read Burmese numbers that very day.

We are at the moment thoroughly enjoying our Iowa news since the monthly ship from New York came in this week. We got about a month supply of newspapers. We get all our letters in about 10 days, but the magazines and papers take about 6 weeks.

We really like it here in Rangoon and are so glad we had the opportunity to come. It is a joy to find that these people halfway around the world are just as human as Americans are, and that it is as easy to become good friends with Asians as it is with Iowans. This is one thing that gives me a renewed faith in the world.

Love and the TCK

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I just finished reading My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss. Luisa was born in Berlin of an American father and an Italian mother. Her parents divorced and she lived her grade school years in Boston and her high school years in Berlin. She ended up in New York City, mainly for her career as a cookbook editor. In New York she fell in love with a man named Sam. Sam was nice and easy to be with and had an extended family in New York who included Luisa in all that they did.

This is where she ran into trouble. She loved New York, she had friends, she had an amazing career, and she had a great boyfriend but something was missing. She felt unsettled. One night she asked Sam if he would ever consider moving to Europe. He immediately said no and volunteered that he didn’t even like traveling. Huge red flag.

As a cross cultural TCK she went through all the confusion, uncertainty, itchy feet feelings we all have. She was pulled in different directions. She went through depression. She knew she should move on but had trouble finding her way. Intellectually it made sense to stay in New York and marry this man but it just didn’t feel right.

I won’t tell you how Luisa resolves her problem but I do recommend her book, especially if you like food. It is full of beautiful descriptions of the food she eats and cooks and each chapter ends with a recipe.

Boston

However, I will tell you about a similar experience I had. When I was in college in Boston, I fell in love. I mean the real kind of love where you are gaga most of the time and happy and everything you do together is meaningful. I met Chris at a dance at Simmons the first week I was there. He owned a Triumph Trident motorcycle (that he swore didn’t perform well under 90 miles per hour) and he offered to show me around the Boston area since I had never been there before. I accepted and we spent most of our time together after that. He taught me a lot about America and its history. Or at least his view of it. He also showed me everything there was is to see in the Boston area and more. And he loved to dance.

His father was sent to America from Germany at the beginning of WWII with his entire inheritance to get away from the war. Chris’ father spent all his money getting a PhD at Harvard and he taught philosophy at MIT. His family was killed in the war.

Chris’ maternal grandparents fled Belarus during the Russian revolution and went to Paris. His mother grew up in Paris and when she was 19 they immigrated to the USA. She spoke English with a French accent. Her father had died by the time I met her but I met her mother on a couple of occasions and she only spoke Russian. Chris grew up in a house where his parents spoke four languages combined and he only spoke English. The family lived in Europe when his father was on sabbatical but other than that he had done no traveling and had no desire to go anyplace. He wanted to live in Boston the rest of his life. And actually it was suburban Boston that he wanted to live in, not far from his parents.

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Of course things were not always perfect but I felt very close to Chris. I was never afraid to talk to him about anything. We were very open with each other about everything. If we were feeling smothered we said so and would take a break for a couple of days. We rarely fought. I almost always got whatever I wanted. I felt totally secure and adored. I reveled in it. I had my 21st birthday that summer and we had a wild party where neighbors were threatening to call the police – I think maybe they did show up at one point – and people were asleep on my couch the next morning. Chris cleaned the house and by the time I got up you never would have known there had been a party. It all seemed too good to be true.

One night that summer Chris asked me to marry him. I said yes.

The following Christmas I returned to Nigeria to see my parents and I met a guy named Peter who was studying at the University of Ibadan. He was funny and quick witted. We shared the traveling bug and a variety of experiences that come from living overseas. He made me realize how boxed in I had become by being with Chris. I had been living in a safe, predictable, all-American environment with few challenges and little true excitement. I can’t say it was boring because I wasn’t bored but it was maybe too normal. Normal is good sometimes but not all the time. At least not for me. Meeting Peter triggered a lot of feelings and I realized marrying Chris meant chopping off a part of myself.

Could I spend the rest of my life living in Boston and going to the in-laws on Sundays for dinner? Could I live without seeing more of the world? Could I live with a man who didn’t understand my story? It made me feel one-dimensional. So in the end I ran away and broke his heart.

Funnily enough he did move to Texas and traveled to Asia for work, although he said he didn’t enjoy it. He returned to suburban Boston and lived out his life there. There was a time in my life when I had some regrets. I wondered how different my life would have been had I stayed and married him. My life hasn’t been easy or safe but when all is said and done I think I made the right decision for me.

College Bound

The Kremlin, Moscow

The Kremlin, Moscow

My son was born in the US state of Minnesota. We were living in Russia at the time. Our first challenge was getting him a passport. We took a bunch of photos of him lying on a white bedspread. He would not be still so we had to work fast. We came up with a few we thought might work and went off to submit our forms. They were rejected. The photos were no good. They had a place in the building where we could try again. I held him up over my head so I wasn’t in the photo and more pictures were taken. Finally we came up with one they accepted. My thought was, he would look completely different in a couple of months so what difference did it make?

At seven weeks I boarded a plane bound for Moscow. It was a 12 hour flight with a layover in Amsterdam. Luckily he slept most of the way and the real up side was he proved to be a ticket to the head of the line at customs. Easiest arrival I ever had.

Dancing in the rain in Switzerland

Dancing in the rain in Switzerland

Over the next six years I dragged him all over Europe. At eight months we went to visit a friend in Finland. We took him with us to see the movie Braveheart and he slept right through it. At 10 months we visited family in the US. At 18 months we went to Helsinki. Later we spent time in France, Italy, Switzerland and Holland. We took a road trip across the Rockies to California. At one point we were sitting in a restaurant in Amsterdam. It was late and we were enjoying a nice meal. There were two men at the table next to us. One of them leaned over and asked, “does your son always sleep at restaurants?”. I looked over and he was fast asleep with his head on the table. My answer was, “Yes he can sleep anywhere”. And he did.

The electric train in St Petersburg

The electric train in St Petersburg

I had some challenging plane trips during his terrible two period but otherwise he was a good traveler.

My childhood was much the same so I didn’t really think anything of it. Children might not remember the details of their early travels but they absorb the experience. They understand they are in an unfamiliar place and need to act differently. They hear people speaking different languages. They learn all kinds of things. I can vividly remember being six in a hotel room in Tokyo and seeing television for the first time. What struck me was I could not understand it. They were speaking a language I did not understand. I grew up speaking five languages, how could it be that there were more?

On a Carousel in Paris

On a Carousel in Paris

 

So my child learned to adapt and adjust and deal with things he found unpleasant. He went to a Russian school and hated it because he was the “different” one. When he returned to the US and went to school, again he knew he was the “different” one.

 

“Although the length of time needed for someone to become a true TCK can’t be precisely defined, the time when it happens can. It must occur during the developmental years – from birth to eighteen years of age. We recognize that a cross-cultural experience affects adults as well as children. The difference for the TCK, however, is that this cross-cultural experience occurs during the years when that child’s sense of identity, relationships with others, and view of the world are being formed in the most basic ways…… no one is ever a “former” third culture kid. TCKs simply move on to being adult third culture kids because their lives grow out of the roots planted in and watered by the third culture experience.”

From Third Culture Kids by David C Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken

After returning the US, my son had other challenges – adjusting to five different schools, his parents’ divorce, and his father’s death. His experience in Russia and traveling around Europe gave him unique tools to cope with these things. His father’s family was Russian and he now embraces his heritage with a balanced view. He knows the hardships that people endure there but he also knows about their rich culture and has memories of the wonderful people who helped care for him.

Nations Friendship Fountain, VDNK, Moscow

Nations Friendship Fountain, VDNK, Moscow

 

 

Now, as he goes off to college he will have new challenges to face. My main challenge in college was adjusting to my passport country and people I knew little about. My son is better prepared for the transition. He is comfortable with diversity and a wide range of people. He will do well.

 

 

Baked Pork Chops Smothered in Tomato and Onion

 

 

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Baked Pork Chops

3 pork loin chops, boneless

½ red onion, sliced

13 oz (390 g) crushed tomatoes

1 teaspoon basil (use fresh if you have it)

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tablespoon butter

¾ cup chicken stock or bouillon

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Heat the butter in a frying pan. When pan is hot, add the pork chops and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side just to brown the outside.

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Remove the chops and put them in a glass baking dish. Cover the chops with the tomatoes and the onions. Add basil, salt and pepper. Pour the stock over everything.

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Cover tightly with tin foil and bake at 375 degrees F for 45 minutes to 1 hour. They should be very tender.

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My Left Hand

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In Muslim and some Asian cultures the left hand is considered unclean. It is used for sanitation purposes after urinating or defecating. The right hand is reserved for eating and social interactions. It is considered rude to use your left hand for these things.

In parts of Africa it is considered rude to point, gesture, receive things or give things with your left hand.

Through most cultures, being left handed has bad connotations. My husband was brought up in a Russian family and his father tried to make him right handed when he was clearly left handed. Since the majority of the world is right handed, it can be challenging for left handed people. My son is also left handed and although we did not try to re-teach him, he had trouble in school using simple things like scissors.

A group called Left Handers International designated August 13 as Left Handers Day. Their aim is to educate the world about the 10 percent of the population who have trouble living in a right handed world. Think about it – using a mouse or keyboard, power tools, driving, even writing with a pen can all be challenging for a left handed person.

In some cultures it is considered bad luck to be left handed or even to meet people who are left handed.

The other day I was buying something and I put my money on the counter. The clerk took the money and handed me the change. I had something in my right hand and it was an awkward process but I transferred everything from my right hand to my left hand so I could accept the change with my right hand. As I was doing it I thought, “why am I doing this?” The clerk had to wait and was patient but looked at me like I was a little weird.

At some point in my life it was ingrained into me never to hand anybody anything with my left hand and never to accept anything with my left hand. I just can’t do it. It feels very uncomfortable. I know most people in the US don’t care or understand why I do it. But I still do it.

Veal with Lemon Cream Sauce

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Veal with Lemon Cream Sauce

1 lb veal cutlets, pounded to 1/8 inch thickness (you could use pork if you are not a veal eater)

2 tablespoons butter

2 cups Panko

2/3 cup flour

2 large eggs

1 cup dry white wine

1 cup chicken broth

¼ cup lemon juice

1 tablespoon Thyme

¼ cup chopped green onion

10 tablespoons butter

¼ cup whipping cream

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Put Panko on one plate, flower on another, and beaten eggs in a bowl. Salt and pepper the veal. Cover the veal with flour, dip in the egg, and press into the Panko. Put it on a plate or baking sheet, cover and chill.

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In a saucepan, add wine, broth, lemon juice, thyme, and onion. Simmer until reduced – 10 to 15 minutes. Add butter 2 tablespoons at a time, stirring constantly. Add cream to thicken and remove from heat.

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Melt 2 tablespoons butter in skillet and cook veal until brown, about 2 minutes per side.  Make sure the pan is hot when you start cooking the veal. Transfer to the oven to keep warm if needed.

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Serve veal with sauce drizzled on top. Add Scalloped Potatoes and Baked Asparagus.

Birthday Swag Bag – Blog Hop

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I was asked to participate in this “blog hop” by Angela, at Amsterdam Oriole. Angela is an Englishwoman married to a Dutchman living in Amsterdam. She writes about events in and around Amsterdam and everything Dutch. She is a prolific writer of flash fiction and short stories.  Be sure to visit her swag bag!

SWAG has several definitions.  According to the Oxford American dictionary SWAG can mean any of the following. I am assuming the relevant one is highlighted in red.

My friend tells me it really just stands for Stuff We All Get.

  • A curtain or piece of fabric fastened so as to hang in a drooping curve
  • A carved or painted representation of a swag of flowers, foliage, or fruit: fine plaster swags
  • Money or goods taken by a thief or burglar
  • Products given away free, typically for promotional purposes
  • Marijuana, typically of a low grade

My mission is to fill a virtual goodie bag with my birthday wish list and must include a book, beauty product, snack food, music, and ‘my choice’. My birthday is next month, so listen up!

Book

Having recently returned from Lake Como, my current dream is to live there and wake up to that view morning after morning. I often troll expat/memoir books looking for something to read and happened to come across this. She sounds like an interesting person.

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Going Solo on Lake Como by Ciara O’Toole

“Sometimes flying by the seat of your pants is the best thing you can do …

When Ciara O’Toole and her husband move to Lake Como, Italy, they make plans – to run their own businesses, to learn the language and to immerse themselves in the Italian way of life.

But just a few months into the adventure Ciara’s marriage ends and she finds herself alone in a country where she doesn’t speak the language. She is faced with a choice: return to Ireland or stay in Italy and make her new life work.”

 

New favorite snack – White Cheddar popcorn

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Back in the 1980’s I went to visit my boyfriend who was doing a summer internship at the Boston Globe. We took a road trip up to Maine. On that trip he turned me on to something I had never seen before – Smartfood. Cheese covered popcorn. I was immediately addicted. Not only was it delicious but the packaging was always entertaining. It would say things like, “We don’t drown our kernels in preservatives. That wouldn’t be fair. They can’t swim.” They told silly stories about the product’s origins and would claim things like “more than twelve billion kernals popped”, mocking McDonald’s.

Then they sold out to Frito Lay and I thought, ugh, that changes things. But even though the packaging got boring, the taste was still good. Now they have a “lighter” version that isn’t quite as cheesy or salty but still states good.

Beauty product

I love nail polish and always have way too many of it. It is fun finding new colors and textures. This one caught my eye.

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Arabella PixieDust by Zoya

 

Music

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Blondie is one of my all time favorites. Debbie Harry is always so cool. They just released their 40th anniversary double CD called ‘Blondie 4(0) Ever’. It includes their old hits, new material, and a dvd of one of their live performances.

 

 

My Choice – Just for fun!

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BMW Z4

A mere $57,000

Need I say more?

 

Next week please join our continuing blog hop over to see Jennifer at the ever creative and amusing Expat Lingo site. She describes herself as a serial expat and is in the process of moving from Hong Kong to the Netherlands.

 

 

Dinner on Lake Como

 

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I recently spent a week in a villa on Lake Como in the Italian Alps. On our last night we had a local chef come in to cook us dinner. He was the brother of the villa’s owner and worked for a restaurant in Bellagio. He suggested a menu made up of local foods and, with a few adjustments to our group, we eagerly agreed.

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Lake Como is in the Lombardy region of Italy and is known for its risottos and polentas. They boast a wide variety of cheeses and the fish in the lake is abundant. We watched people fishing just outside our villa and it took them less than a minute to catch something. Normally fish would have been on our menu but some in our group couldn’t eat it.

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We started with a typical Antipasto of meats and cheeses including mortadella, salami, mushroom pate and local cheeses accompanied by a local white wine “Le Calderine” from the Angelinetta Winery in Domaso.

 

 

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The next course, we were told, was a local peasant dish called Pizzocheri. It was a pasta made with buckwheat flour. The chef and his sister hand rolled it into fat wormlike noodles. These were boiled and finished with cream, herbs, walnuts, and cheese. This was the dish we all liked the least. It was heavy and a bit sour. We all thought it might have been better if it was cooked a bit longer but having nothing to compare it to, we couldn’t be sure. Most of us could not finish it.

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Our main course was roast pork shank with porcini mushrooms and a polenta cake. The pork was magnificent. It fell off the bone and melted in your mouth and the mushrooms were the perfect accent to the dish. We asked if the mushrooms were fresh, they were so delicious, but were told they were not in season. They had been preserved locally in jars. A “ca del Mot” red wine from the same local winery accompanied this dish.

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For dessert we had frittelle stuffed with apples and raisins. These are deep fat fried yeast risen pancakes similar to a doughnut and sometimes called Venetian Doughnuts. The frittelle were served hot, dusted with sugar and cocoa and drizzled with honey. They were quite good but kind of heavy on top of a heavy dinner.

 

 

 

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The grand finale was the Grolla. It originated in a region to the west of Lombardy also on the Swiss border, the Valle d’Aosta. It is a drink that requires a special container, or Grolla, the cup of friendship. It is carved out of one piece of wood and has openings for each person at the table to drink out of. The saying goes that the people who drink from the same Grolla will be united in eternal friendship but everybody must drink from their own opening and the entire contents must be finished.

The traditional recipe is one cup coffee and one cup hot grappa and a spoonful of sugar per person, add an orange peel, a lemon peel and light. When the flame burns out, let it cool a bit and start drinking.  I’m not sure this recipe was followed exactly but the drink was delicious and we enjoyed it very much.

Going “Home”

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I just returned from a school reunion in Lugano, Switzerland. I went to boarding school there many years ago and this year about 65 of us gathered to retrace our steps and relive old times. Some people  brought their spouses, some were from different classes so we didn’t know everybody going in but we made new friends and our family expanded.

We ate risotto, cannelloni, pizza, spaghetti, and ended the trip with a six course meal. We drank Prosseco and lots of good wine. The first night we were entertained by a local group of Italian men making traditional music. One of our friends put together a slide show of photos of all of us when we were in high school.

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We spent a day in the Versazca river valley. Our buses had trouble making some of the hairpin curves up and down the mountain. We stopped in a small village and hiked to the river and some went to the falls. Our second stop was at the famous Roman bridge that everybody jumps off of. It was a tradition at school every year and we would cheer people on as they jumped. This time it was even more impressive to see the over 50 crowd jump into the icy cold water.

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We took the funicular up Monte Bre and enjoyed the spectacular view. A group of us walked back down the mountain and were sore for days but they had a great story to take home with them.

On our last day we took a boat cruise to the nearby town of Marcote for dinner. It was raining on the boat but we had a live band and dancing and it was still beautiful.

That last night we gathered in our common room and I was sitting next to an old friend of mine. She said, “I hate good byes. We never put down any roots.” I knew exactly what she meant. I looked around the room at people I had known most of my life. I said, “ This is our home. These people are our home. We are a family”. And I started to cry. It was so hard to have to say good bye to the people who understood what it was to be a third culture kid, where no explanations were needed, where we could be ourselves with no compromise or pretending. Some people call us chameleons because we adapt and adjust to our surroundings but we are never truly comfortable and never feel completely relaxed except when we are together.

It was hard to leave Lugano, one of the most beautiful places on earth but the hardest part was saying good bye to each other.