Archive for February 5th, 2014

Third culture kid, global nomad, or simply living a life in circles

I was linked to a survey designed by my friend’s sister yesterday. It asked questions about being a global nomad and how I used technology to keep in touch with friends and family.

Suddenly, I was thrown back into that perpetual state of wry resignation. The remembrance of being caught in limbo, enfolded by endless space. Of always being in the dark, unknowing of what was ahead, what was behind, and only knowing that there was too much emptiness.

See, my problem was that before college, I wasn’t aware of what I was. Only that whatever it was, was wrong and undesirable.

Too Westernized. Too independent. Too defiant. My mother made a comment recently about how I seemed to have no fear and how she was relieved when, after a particular traumatic incident involving being abandoned by the side of the road and the car driving off for five minutes, I seemed to have developed a healthy sense of fear.

It horrified me. The thought that my mother, one of the two people supposed to love me best in the world, wanted that knowledge of fear for me.

But then, that was how they were raised. How they saw the world to be.  I thought about it and even if I could never condone it, never really forgive the relief she had, I could try to understand her thought process.

In Chinese, there is a maxim: the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.

At least a generation ago, maybe even now — not having any fear was a recipe for disaster.

Then I arrived at college.

There, I was told that I was a third-culture kid, that I was a part of a community of global nomads.

One would think that I felt like I belonged. Isn’t that supposed to be how it goes? Global nomads finding community within themselves rather than among others?

But I didn’t.

Again that faint niggle of inferiority.

I don’t adapt well. It takes me three nights or so to get used to sleeping in a different place than normal. Crashing on someone’s couch is a recipe for poor sleep and short tempers. I carried around a safety blanket for years, insisting on dragging it along even at the expense of clothing when luggage restrictions became prohibitive.

I wasn’t adventurous.  I’m deathly afraid of heights, anything with many legs, dogs, men I don’t know, and the dark.

I didn’t know how to swear in multiple languages. In fact, I was hard pressed to swear in one.

I don’t like change.

I’m actually a fairly particular eater. I don’t like things that are too sweet; I dislike fruit with meat dishes; I detest nuts in anything other than desserts or on their own.

Moving and going to new places didn’t fill me with a sense of excitement. It suffused me with dread.

I didn’t know more than two languages, which put me as the odd person out in a community where often people know three, four, sometimes eight languages.

Somedays I feel uncomfortable claiming to be a global nomad. The skin doesn’t quite fit right, with wrinkles where the sun don’t shine and tight across other places.

So right now, I find it entertaining that once again I’m being asked to represent something that other people think I am but which I feel ambivalent about.

In China, people, even the taxi drivers who took my fare used to ask me whether I preferred Taiwan or China.

In Taiwan, every time I liked something, my relatives would smugly ask if there was such a thing in America.

In the US, even though I hold the passport, even though I speak with no real accent, even though I am for all intents and purposes American — I get asked my purpose and length of stay when I pass through immigration.

And now I’m being surveyed for my habits and thoughts as a member of a group I do not really feel entirely at ease in.

Then again, it’s always been thus. Why would I expect it to be any different?