The author of this post is Alexandra, and this post participates to the May Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism.
I am Homeless. It is true, as strange as it may sound, but why? I do have a home. Why is it not a home really? is it because I do not know what home should be? or is it because my expectations, or my imagination of what home should be are incorrect? Why don’t I feel at home in the place that should be home?
I was 10 months when mom took me to Sudan. I do not remember anything from that period. Nevertheless, I think that this experience remained somewhere deep in me. Anything and everything I know about that time is from things I’ve heard from my mom. Anyway, I was born in Poland, the home of my mother. Sudan is my father‘s home. When I started to talk, I spoke two languages. But even then, I knew I was different. In Sudan I said I was Polish, and in Poland I said I was Sudanese, or so I have heard. I was 4 when we went back to Poland. I went to a Polish school, but even that was not permanent, when I was 9, we joined dad in the United Arab Emirates. There, in the desert, I grew up, finished school and returned to Poland, “fully grown up“.
Usually no one believed I was Sudanese, if I chose to say I was, but neither would anyone believe I was Polish if that was my reply. Too white for one, and too dark for the other, I was torn between the two. That is not to mention that I am truly a foreigner anywhere I happen to be, and I never possessed full ownership of any one culture.
Most Third Culture Kids (as I later learned) change their place every 2 years or so. Which could account for their high mobility, but in my case living in the UAE for 10 years, should have allowed me to make friends, to make a connection and grow some roots in the country and it’s culture. But not me, deep inside I knew that this is temporary. I even saved the nicest things I had for my future life! I had this box where I hid my secret treasures, and they waited hidden for better days. I made no friends, partly because there was nothing that would connect me in anyway to girls in my school. I felt as different as I could, but also because they considered me an outsider. The only friends I could make were with kids of families like ours. But there weren’t many such families in this little town of ours. For a while there were a few, but it was not easy to make friends, they went to a British school and had friends of their own. They were a pack to which I did not belong. So I only had loose acquaintances, mostly with kids of my parents friends half my age, or less. After that, one by one they all left. There was one girl I and my sister befriended, we lived close enough to just go to her house whenever we wanted. But it did not take long before she was gone too.
We finally came back to Poland and suddenly I found myself in a strange world I did not understand. Unfortunately, when I went to university a lot of students were racists. I was bluntly rejected. I dropped out and went to work. At work it turned out there is this huge distance between me and my colleagues. The fact is that I was still a child. I had no chance to mature, I was 20 and never had friends of my age. Needless to say, I never kept a job for long, everything was temporary. I needed to have the freedom to quit when things were not the way I wanted. When I bought my apartment I even said that it is temporary, and did not furnish it properly. When I realized that I was not making enough money to buy a bigger apartment that would be my future “Home”. I finally wanted to make home there, in the only place I had. I decided to renovate, and do everything right this time, but it could never become home. I could not tell what was missing, but something obviously was simply not there. Soon after that I split with my husband, and that made matters ever worse. The flat was haunted by memories. It was never a home, I never felt “safe” there, I didn’t even sleep well, but now it was a little cell, and I had to run away from it. And that was exactly what I did, I went to Italy.
Somehow I stumbled upon Letizia and Bilingue per Gioco, one day I met Letizia and she recommended I read this book “Third Culture Kids – The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds” by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken (and here on amazon.co.uk). This was it, all of a sudden everything started to make sense. Why I have no home, why I could not grow roots.
Just like that, I opened my eyes and saw that not everything was so wrong in my life, and the most important, I found out that there are people who would understand me. People I have never met, but who also are Third Culture Kids would know me better then my own family. Amazing and comforting at the same time. All the pain of not belonging, the uncertainty of who I am, the many losses that are part of a nomads life. I thought that I only lost home when I moved from the United Arab Emirates back to Poland, and that was not a big loss, I was glad to be back and the United Arab Emirates was not home to me. But the fact is, that even if my memory does not reach the earlier times, I have moved more times then just this once. Each of these times I lost more then I cared to admit, amongst others I lost relationships with family and friends.
Now, people will say that you should not look to the past, you should close that book and throw it away. Especially if it is painful. I do not believe nor agree with that. Your past is what makes you the way you are. When you reject your past, how can you understand who you are, how can you truly be yourself, how can you establish your own identity. Or how can you change, and move on. For us Third Culture Kids it is more difficult still, because we are rubbed of so much already. Having no roots and not belonging to any place makes it difficult to be part of a group or a culture. It is part of ones identity to belong to a group, or a clan so to speak. To have proper relationships with family, friends and later with your partner and kids. Now I understand why it was so easy to leave Poland, not to worry that I was going to be in a strange place, on my own with no family or friends. Going back to the past and seeing it in a new light helped me understand that I AM in fact different, that nothing was wrong with me. It’s just that people did not understand me, and now I know why.
To be honest I did not understand myself, well, now I do. Now I know why home was not home, why I actually made sure that I am not tied to something permanent, and what was missing. The roots. I will probably never root myself anywhere. But now I know why, and it is all right, I am a nomad after all.
I don’t know how to thank Alexandra for sharing her story, such a deep and personal story. The only thing I want to add is a strong encouragement for every parent who is raising a Third Culture Kid to read this book. In case this isn’t yet clear a Third Culture Kid is a person who grows up away from his/her parents’ homeland. They are called Third Culture Kids because they don’t belong to neither culture, but they have been observed to have lots of element in common among themselves, as if they belonged to a third culture altogether. It might be really difficult for the parents of a Third Culture Kid to understand which kind of challenges their child is facing or will face, their experiences being so different from the parents’. Reading this book might help parents understand and better support their children.