One of the things that I love about writing book reviews for expat and TCK books is that they are bizarrely relatable to my life. I mean, it would be a little bit concerning if they weren’t, given that I spent my life as a TCK. But it always boggles my mind that it’s possible to take something as enigmatic and paradoxical as the identity of a TCK and write about it so accurately. From BuzzFeeds to research articles, they seem to hit the TCK on the nose.
Reading my most recent TCK book brought me to a new realization about myself. The author wrote about how he had realized after moving that he had misplaced a new and exciting toy. It was only when his mother prompted him to think where he saw it last that I realized he had left it…in another country, and he was despondent over the loss. Even though it was just a toy, he described how that toy symbolized the entire transition/loss experience for him.
I’m sure there was something or other that I forgot in the wrong country as a child and cried over (or maybe not…I was kind of an obsessive packer), but his story made me think about symbols for transition in the TCK’s life. Though not quite the same, I realized how significant the international flight had become for me. I started flying alone internationally when I was sixteen, and while terrified at first (given that it was right after the attempted liquid bombings in London), I soon cherished flying alone. Not because I was antisocial (although I am admittedly an introvert), but because that time between countries was a space for transition. It was a time to leave one life and enter another–not to switch identities, but to…adapt.
[Sidenote: this is not intended to be a bash on my family, with whom I traveled internationally for the first sixteen years of my life. My father did an excellent job navigating us through airport terminals, and my mother was a constant Scrabble companion.]
I didn’t realize until recently that this feature of my international travel is what has made my most recent international travel so unique. Traveling to Haiti was the first time as an adult that I was not traveling to another country to engage in the culture for an extended period of time, but was still being called to meaningfully engage in the culture. I traveled for a week to provide teacher training and then left. Adapt? Ha, yeah right. You didn’t have time to do that. Moreover, I was traveling with companions. This time was no longer mine–it was shared.
Fortunately my companion was lovely and sweet as all get-out and understood that I slept on all airplane flights. Even so, it was a new kind of international travel. It no longer functioned as the sacred space that it used to, which is fine. Just different.
And so if you’re someone who transitions between cultures frequently, I encourage you to figure out what your sacred space is (or maybe even read one of the books that I’m recommending to figure it out…;) ).