Confessions of a Third Culture Kid

13 different houses in 16 years. No, this is not an extreme exaggeration, this is my life.

Ever since 1998, my life has consisted on constant removal vans, ugly brown cardboard boxes, ‘For Sale’ signs, farewells, alongside the silver lining of an ever-changing array of cultures to absorb and adopt. From the outset, this kind of lifestyle sounds inspiring and exciting, and don’t get me wrong, it was. I had the opportunity to live in 4 different countries with rather diverse cultures before I even hit my teenage years, and not to mention to numerous pen pals I acquired over the years, but there was a lot more to it than that.

Of course most situations have their downfall, and this lifestyle my parents chose for me came with several. Just the idea of this unique lifestyle being ‘chosen’ for me was an issue in itself. Today I can look back nostalgically and take the positives from the situation. The amounts of cultures I feel I have some connection to now, the exciting delicacies I have tried, people I have met, I don’t regret any of it. Not to mention I have a variety of teams to support come World Cup season.

I was born in London, England- and this is the place I have an unquestionable bond with all these years later. Even though I only lived there for 5 of my developmental years, I still call London my home in some peculiar way, doesn’t mean it’s my only one though.

It all began when I was five, and my youngest sister was just born, my family made our first overseas move. This was from London to Madrid. At the time, I don’t think I had any grasp at all of the cultural transition I was going to make- which was kind of the beauty of it. I don’t think I had a concept of what different countries were, all I knew is that a far off distant land called ‘Spain’ existed, and we were moving to it.

My parents made the move very easy for my two younger sisters and me, and even enrolled me in a private English school and my sister in an English-speaking nursery school. Immediately, we had no difficulties to overcome at all, language or otherwise. It was all just one big adventure to us, the flight, the swimming pools, the exotic new lingo which surrounded us. The only slight issue I remember having at the time was having to say goodbye to my primary school chums- one of which I am actually still in contact with sixteen years later.

I must admit, back then, it was a lot simpler. (Well-for me anyway. I’m sure it wasn’t easy it was for my parents traipsing abroad with 3 young daughters under the age of 6…) Moving house and country is a lot more problematic now that I’m in my 20’s, the intangible issues are endless, not to mention the practical logistics which moving house and country entails. Trust me; this week I just completed my 13th move of my life, this time though, I did it solo. Luckily, on this occasion it was not a move across the waters, I did my last one of them for a while when I came to uni in the UK.A memory I can still vividly recall is the various removal companies setting up camp in one of our many houses as a child, the friendly faces that helped us shift all of our possessions along the way. I loved making forts among the stacks of boxes and arranging all my toys in a box in a way which would be most ‘comfortable’ for their journey.  

It’s odd to think of which random details stand out in my mind from all the various schools I’ve attended and places I visited over the years. From the alluring smell of Spanish school canteens, the rambling of Swedish sing-song conversation on the perfectly ordered streets, and the overwhelming taste of juicy Greek kebabs plucked straight from the piping hot skewers. I can’t really complain in the respect I had such a diverse and exciting childhood. Never boring- always surrounded by swarms people and family- and in a lot of ways the prospect of a new place to visit one or two years down the line. This prospect was rather bittersweet though to say the least. Another move meant another goodbye to the incredible people I had met, the house that I now called my home, and my chance of having any roots in one single place. This wasn’t a dilemma initially; I mean what 6 year old worries about things like that? But as I grew up I started to envy my friends who had lived in one home all their lives and had physical and intangible roots to the place, like height charts in door frames and their initials etched into tree trunks in their back gardens.

16 years on form my first move from the UK, I am now back living in England. And through all the national and international moves, I don’t regret a thing, even though only one of the moves out of the many was actually my own choice.

Now, as a ‘Third Culture’ adult, I have the daunting decision on my shoulders of whether to stay put for a change, or carry on my diverse culture, and the habit of moving around every so often. 

Photo Credit: elitatt