For some reason I started snapping the churches as we cruised around the lake. There were plenty of them!
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.
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.
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.
(I am reposting this from my Eclectic Global Nomad blog)
A couple of months ago I took a trip and found that my boarding pass said “TSA Pre-check”. I didn’t notice it until the official at security told me I could take the fast lane. It meant I didn’t have to take my shoes off or pull anything out of my bag and I could wear my jacket. I breezed through security. It made a difference. I had known about it for a while but people told me I had to apply for it and it took forever. For some reason they just gave it to me without asking. I didn’t question it but I did wonder why.
When I was sixteen I went off to boarding school in Switzerland. My parents were living in Nigeria. My roommate traveled from Tanzania. My best friend’s parents were living in Tokyo. Walking down the hall in my dorm there were people from Saudi Arabia, Germany and various US cities. In a couple of weeks I will be going back to stay in the new dorms of my old school for a big reunion. I will see several of my old dorm-mates. We will haunt the old stomping grounds reliving old memories and making new ones.
One of my tasks for this reunion is to write a speech. I am having trouble sitting myself down and focusing on this task. Do I draw on the memories of particular events from those days?
The time Kelly saved my life at the Duomo in Florence. I didn’t know I had vertigo but turns out I did and he took my hand and guided me through it. The trip to Dachau and how quiet everybody was on the bus home. Leaning to drink warm beer at the HofBrauHaus in Munich. The other great thing about Munich was we saw our first McDonald’s in Europe and became “American” for a weekend. In Venice we got around on water buses and discovered a small disco. Plus a pigeon landed on my head in St Mark’s Square. Hiking up the side of a mountain just to lie in the grass and stare at the sky. Instigating “all school skip day” that stuck as a tradition.
Traveling through Greece having to hear about every single ruin by the side of the road and never getting to listen to rock and roll music. Taking a cruise through the Greek Islands and being bombarded by wet toilet paper rockets in the hallway outside the girl’s cabin. Listening to boring lectures about the mosaics of Ravenna and Giotto’s Chapel. Wishing there were horses in the square in Siena.
Or do I talk about the overall experience of living with an exceptional group of people, teachers and students alike who influenced the rest of our lives.
We were taught to be independent, curious, adventurous, supportive and respectful. We were only 16 or 17 and we traveled the world on our own without thinking twice about it. We would seek out art and architecture wherever we went. We enjoyed each other’s company, had fun together and sometimes tolerated each other. We became a family.
And now many many years later, we are still family. We have a unifier that brings us all together. That time in Switzerland made us all different. We experienced something together that other people could never understand. It was our unique world and we came out of it as a unit. So when we meet each other now, even if we didn’t know each other then, we immediately have a connection. We have a common ground to work off of. In some cases it was a jumping off point to forge new relationships. Even now the family continues to grow.
Or do I just tell a story and thank everybody for coming. Of course all memories are subject to change and embellishment. I could probably make something up. But I won’t. I will keep it simple and short. Who wants to listen to a speech when you are sitting eating French food on one of the most beautiful lakes in the world?
On another note, I am going bi-coastal. My Baltimore Post Examiner blog, Eclectic Global Nomad has been picked up by the Los Angeles Post Examiner so you can find me in both.
When I was five, I was in a plane crash. After that I was terrified of planes. When I was six we had to travel from Burma to the US and then a year later we moved to Mexico City. I did not get on another airplane until I was twelve.
My first plane trip in many years was in the first class section on a PanAm flight from Mexico City to Guatemala. We were the only ones in first class so I got to be kind of chummy with the flight attendant. Toward the end of the flight he asked me how I liked the flight and how I felt about it. I thought that was kind of odd and didn’t know what he was talking about. Apparently my parents had briefed him on me and my troubles with flying, and so he had made a special effort to distract me. By that time I had blocked out the whole thing and had no recollection of there being any problems. I just wondered why didn’t fly more and why we took such long boring road trips everywhere.
In Guatemala, we rented a car and drove up the mountain to Lake Atitlan. Volcanoes surrounded the lake and the lake itself was a collapsed volcanic cone. Since I am off to Lake Como, Italy in a few weeks I want to add this quote I found from Aldus Huxley – “Lake Como, it seems to me, touches on the limit of permissibly picturesque, but Atitlán is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It really is too much of a good thing.“
On the way up the mountain to the lake, we saw people lying by the side of the road. We didn’t know if they were dead, passed out or taking a nap. It was very odd. We later found out that the previous day was payday and they had done their celebrating and not quite made it home. Apparently it was a familiar site in the countryside. We also went to Chichicastenango and to Antigua. This was major earthquake country. Antigua was the original capital of Guatemala but in 1776 there was such a bad earthquake they moved the capital to where it is today – Guatemala City. Antigua was surrounded by three volcanoes.
There was a new part of Antigua and an old part. The old part was all ruins. It was an eerie place. It was once a major city that tumbled down and was left there like a memorial. We stopped at a small restaurant and ate our meal in the yard. There was a group of musicians that wandered from table to table. We could see laundry hanging at the end of the lawn.
From there, we continued to El Salvador. I don’t remember much about it except one night in San Salvador we were staying in a high-rise hotel and I was sleeping on a cot. The building started to sway and my cot started moving across the room. All I could do was laugh. I was used to earthquakes in Mexico so it was not out of the ordinary. It wasn’t any laughing matter really since earthquakes can be devastating but being twelve and riding around on a cot, there really wasn’t much else to do. One thing I realized years later was earthquakes are very loud. They made a noise like a truck or a train. I don’t ever remember hearing that as a child.
My parents are always going through their things and trying to get rid of as much as possible. I was visiting them in April and among the other things my mother gave me was a book I read about 20 years ago. When I first found out about Third Culture Kids and discovered I was part of a tribe I tried to read everything I could find on the subject. Linda Bell wrote and published Hidden Immigrants, Legacies of Growing Up Abroad in1997. She was an Expat raising TCK children.
“The first time I realized I was in over my head was when my four-year old daughter, Amy, came up to me shortly before we were to depart French West Africa for “home leave” in the States.
“Mommy, what language do they speak in Ohio?” she asked. “Will they understand me?”
Right then I knew that “understand” might be the operable word….”
The book grabbed me right away. Linda interviews 13 people who grew up outside their passport country. She has chapters on Culture Shock, Living on the Surface, Here are my Roots, Costing Out the Pain. Her introduction for the section on Here are my Roots resonated with me. She describes it perfectly and it was so comforting to read all those years ago when I was just learning about myself.
” Children who move around a lot soon learn to be a quick study in order to survive. Socially they learn to make the first moves, quickly assess the movers and shakers, observe the group norms, and make friends. During the time internationally mobile children are overseas, they usually enter a kind of socially exclusive bubble where most other children they meet, usually in a school where they share a common language, also move frequently from culture to culture. They all realize their existence within a particular bubble is only temporary and that they, or their friends, will move on in time. Eventually, when these children enter local schools and institutions in their countries of origin, the bubble bursts. The entire social structure resulting from their mobility collapses. Sometimes — for the first time — they meet peers who haven’t moved, haven’t had to make new friend, haven’t learned how to adapt. As we’ve seen already, when internationally mobile children come up against this situation, they tend to withdraw, retreat, marginalize. Not only are they confused about their stays in the new situation, but also by their seeming inability to adapt quickly to it.”
Yep, that was me all right. So how does that tie in to Roots? The chapter is all about people. People are our roots. Family and friends. Most of the interviewees were still good friends with people from high school. Even if they only saw them once a year or once in a blue moon, they were still considered close friends and provided a feeling of “home”. I am that way. I have friends I haven’t seen in 20 or 30 years who I still consider close friends. Whenever I see them, we just pick up where we left off like no time had passed.
This is a book you can pick up and flip to any page and start reading. The last chapter is called Voices and each interviewee tells a story about their life that impressed them or stays with them. A couple of them lived through wars and were evacuated through war zones. I have a couple of friends like that myself. Some talk about how their past influences what they want for their children – tolerance, openness, adaptation skills.
Hidden Immigrants is available on Amazon.
There has been much discussion lately about the term “trailing spouse” and whether it is appropriate or even polite. It projects a sense of “other” rather than something that makes up a whole. I usually conger up a vision of a dog’s tail. Other terms being used are “accompanying partner”, “expat wife”, “support partner”. Expat Lingo says she had been called a ‘stakeholder at home’. I have used the term ‘world juggler’ before.
But in the end, whatever you call it, the trailing spouse is usually the support system, the glue that holds it all together. Sometimes the glue falls apart and life can be rough.
In Trailing: A Memoir by Kristin Louise Duncombe, things fall apart. Kristin grew up all over the world so when she met her Argentine husband, the thought of moving overseas didn’t seem so strange. Although she did have her reservations about putting her career on hold, she didn’t have a passion about what she did and had not clearly defined what she wanted to do. Her husband, a doctor with Doctors Without Borders was passionate about what he did and had no questions about what he was going to do. She was in love. She married him and went to Kenya.
Being a TCK (Third Culture Kid) myself, I also thought following my husband overseas would be no problem. Even though you have lived in many places around the world, the child TCK and the Adult TCK have different experiences and challenges. I had no support system behind me as we just up and moved. Kristin had a small “family” of doctors but it did not help much since most of them were single and always on the road. Her husband was gone much of the time.
On the other hand, I think she showed remarkable resilience. She found herself some work at a Nairobi hospital helping teens and eventually found a position with USAID at the US Embassy. Unfortunately the Embassy was bombed and she lost her job but by that time her husband had taken a position in Uganda. After having a baby, she finds a job in a small village outside Kampala. She never sees her husband and the marriage starts to unravel.
I found myself identifying with this book on several levels. I had a difficult adjustment when I moved to Russia. My husband was a freelancer. There were no benefits or perks. As soon as I landed I was expected to find a job and help with financial support. If found jobs mainly doing clerical administrative work but I also fell into a writing position for the American Women’s Club and was able to improve my writing skills and help other expat women at the same time. I edited and produced a newsletter that helped to build a community.
Everybody has a different experience when they live overseas. I knew couples who were both professionals in their own right. I knew women who moved around the globe on their own and met their husband along the way. One woman was a very successful diplomat and her husband did his own thing in another country but was able to work remotely. Some people take the time to write books. There is always something to do. I found my way and started writing and wrote a memoir.
The current challenge for international organizations is to find the balance and provide options for accompanying partners. With today’s technology, there are much more possibilities available.
Kristin’s happy ending was her husband accepted a position in Paris and she managed to set up a successful counseling practice working with expat families who are trying to cope with life overseas. After having gone through the worst of it, she now had all the tools necessary to help others in similar situations.Trailing: A Memoir is well written and engaging. It makes me want to know more about her. It is available on Amazon.com.
I am featured on “My Gutsy Story” this week. Check it out!
I’m always interested in expat stories, expat memoirs, and third culture kid stories. I usually pick them up, get a few chapters in and set them aside. I don’t know what it is about them but they just don’t grab me. Maybe it’s the writing, maybe it’s the focus. Although I usually finish them at some point even if I just scan through them. Here are a few I read recently and liked.
The Sullivan Saga, Memoires of an Overseas Childhood by M.H. Sullivan, was an interesting story about a girl growing up in a Foreign Service family in Asia and Africa. In the TCK stories I can usually find some personal connection that keeps me going. The thing that grabbed me about this book was she started out talking about returning to the US for college and wondering if she was “American” enough. Her family was very different from mine but there were some similarities in the experiences she had. I could totally identify with the story about her father having to go into the bushes and take his pants off because he was being attached by army ants in Africa.
Lenin Lives Next Door, Marriage, Martinis, and Mayhem in Moscow by Jennifer Eremeeva is about a woman married to a Russian and her experiences living in Moscow for twenty years. She fell in love with Russia at 13 when she read “Nicholas and Alexandra” by Robert Massie. She studied Russian history and language and eventually ended up in Moscow running tours and hosting trade show delegations. A fellow tour guide introduced her to her future husband and she has been there ever since. Her book is all about the characters she meets along the way and the challenges of living in Moscow. It is very funny and some things are hard to believe since truth really is stranger than fiction. I could identify with a lot of what she talks about having lived in Moscow for nine years myself. And funnily enough I actually knew Jennifer when I lived there. I recommend it – it’s fun and fast paced.
Yesterday I picked up Perking the Pansies by Jack Scott. Yes, you can read it in a day. It is fast paced and light reading. Two married gay men from Britain decide to chuck everything, quit their jobs, sell their property and all their belongings and move to Turkey. Most people thought they were nuts. It is something many people dream of doing but would never actually do. They did it. The book covers their first year in Turkey. They were not completely prepared for what they were getting into and it seems they should have done some more research on the weather but they manage to keep a positive attitude and stick with it. After making some adjustments, and meeting some unpleasant expats, they eventually find their way and their own group of friends. It is a fun read.