Adapt, Improvise, Learn….

I moved from the East Coast to the North (Minnesota). Same country. Should not be that big of an adjustment. But it is.

Change is not bad but can be challenging. In Virginia I could go into any grocery store and buy beer and wine. I could buy beer and wine at the drug store or the 7 Eleven. Here I have to go to a separate liquor store to buy any kind of liquor. First time I went to Trader Joe’s I panicked. No wine? Luckily they had their wine store just next door.

Food shopping takes getting used to as well. What grocery store is good for what kind of food? Where do I find my favorite things? Or do I have to discover all new food items? I live right across the street from the Farmer’s Market so when the temperature gets to a manageable number, it will open and I’m sure problem will be solved. In the meantime, I wander around trying to understand what I am looking at.

Another thing I noticed is the food tastes better here. Maybe I’m imagining it but it tastes closer to real food. I guess it is closer to the farm. People eat more locally. And it is easier to eat more locally.

People talk to you here. On the East Coast people rarely talk to you or acknowledge you. Here random people talk to you all the time. And most people are friendly. All very strange. Am I supposed to respond? Should I talk to these people or pretend I don’t hear them? I think I am supposed to talk to them.

Traffic. There isn’t any. Okay during rush hour there may be some crowded highways but that’s about it. No sitting in stop and go traffic for hours at a time. It is like living in a dream. I can go places without being obsessed by how much traffic there is going to be. And the really amazing incredible thing is once I get there I can find a place to park. That like never happened on the East Coast.

The average high this year has been 20 degrees F. Not so terrible. At least we don’t have the snow the East Coast got this year. Was able to avoid that nightmare. I do admit, though, the wind can cool you down. It’s cold out on the plains.

The music/art/theater scene is amazing. The DC area has nothing like this. It is local and accessible. People are doing interesting stuff. I live in the middle of a thriving artist community. I love it.

So challenges, yes. Problems, no. Adapt, Improvise, Learn….

 

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.

TCK Resilience

Photo on 11-26-12 at 8.32 AM

Resilience is defined as the ability to bounce back quickly, to cope with stress and adversity.  According to some people Third Culture Kids are very resilient.  I never thought of myself that way.  I just dealt with things as they came up and moved on.  It was like being on auto pilot.

When I landed in a country I had never been to before and there was nobody to meet me at the airport, I didn’t hesitate at all.  I changed money and went looking for some kind of transportation.  I wasn’t going to sit around worrying about it.  Although, had I sat around for a while, I might have seen my father come looking for me instead of missing him as we crossed paths.

When I went to boarding school at 13 and people thought I was weird I did whine about it a little.  But I moved on.  I slowly figured out that I needed to adapt and try to fit in.  I was young for my age and had lived overseas all my life.  I landed in the USA in the middle of a cultural revolution I knew very little about.   I absorbed all the information I could and not only did I adapt to it all but I embraced it.

When we moved to Africa a few years later and I went off to boarding school in Switzerland, I was prepared to live away from home and up on world topics.  I was ahead of the curve.

Once again it all broke down when I went to college in the USA.  I was too international now.  I had to rein it in and become more local.  I had to adapt to another culture.  I was so used to discussing travel, European art, and world politics with my peers that I didn’t think before I opened my mouth and blabbed about my high school experiences.  My new peers could not relate and thought I was bragging.

My new persona emerged and I was quiet inside my shell for a long time.  No more story telling here.  But I managed to eventually adapt to that as well.  I made friends and existed on a different level.  I became one of them.

So who was I?  How could I find myself and figure out what I should be doing?  All I wanted to do was get out of town.  To move on.  That’s what I had always done, wasn’t it?  Just dealt with the immediate problem and moved on.  I didn’t know why.  I never really thought about it that much.  I just knew I was not comfortable.  I was searching for something but didn’t know what it was.  I was living between cultures.  I didn’t feel American but I didn’t feel Mexican or Colombian or Nigerian, or Swiss.  I was unique, I was different.

Years later I learned I was a Third Culture Kid  – somebody who grew up in a culture not their own.  I discovered  I was not the only one who felt this way. Norma McCaig of Global Nomads wrote:

The benefits of this upbringing need to be underscored:  In an era when global vision is an imperative, when skills in intercultural communication, linguistic ability, mediation, diplomacy, and the management of diversity are critical, global nomads are better equipped in these areas by the age of eighteen than are many adults… These intercultural and linguistic skills  are the markings of the cultural chameleon — the young participant-observer who takes note of verbal and nonverbal cues and readjusts accordingly, taking enough of the coloration of the social surroundings to gain acceptance while maintaining some vestige of identity as a different animal, an “other.”

I wish I had read that when I was eighteen!  🙂

Does knowing all of this solve my restlessness, make me more comfortable?  No, it doesn’t solve it but it helps me understand it.  I know what it is and why I am the way I am.  It isn’t a bad thing.  But as I grow older, I think I have become less tolerant of ignorant people.  If somebody doesn’t know where France is or hates Muslims, or thinks Berlusconi is a type of pasta, I just don’t really bother to put any effort out.  I let it go.  When I was younger, I would try to educate or sometimes I would just brush it aside and try to make myself acceptable to them.  I don’t do that anymore.  I move on.

I recently published a book about all my trials and tribulations, joys and challenges and adventures growing up all over the world.  But it was not easy.  I spent a lot of time writing with tears streaming down my face.  I suppose I need deep psycho therapy to figure that out.  But when it was all done.  I felt better.  Something had been resolved.  I had accomplished what I set out to do and I felt positive.  I still do.  Although I am now facing another hurdle.  Being single for the first time in many years.  Not sure if that is a good thing or a bad one.    Oh, well.  I guess I will just have to deal with it and move on….

I’m feeling resilient.