Recovering (?) third-culture kid

Of course, my first question to that is: is that even possible?

It’s like saying that you want to heal the trauma of being born — sounds great on paper and then you really start thinking about it…

Cecilia Haynes wrote a post a couple of years ago which touched on the suggestions of “down with the label of a recovering TCK” and “down with the pity parties”.

I’m not going to presume her thoughts are still the same on the situation, so this post isn’t really so much a response to what she said as an exploration of my thoughts about being a global nomad.

Aside: I don’t really want to use the term TCK when I’m really not a kid anymore, but much as I love the sophistication of the term global nomad, I get this feeling that only having lived in three countries ever probably doesn’t really constitute ‘global’.

I recently saw an episode of Community where Britta tells everyone (paraphrase) not to get so caught up in frivolous excitement that they push aside their true grief over what is something that should cause sorrow.

And that’s sort of where I stand right now.

Yeah, I appreciate and pay tribute to what made me who I am: I don’t call it being born lightly.

However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a corresponding and equal darkness behind the glimmer of every mirror.

Saudade. The ever present, so-softly-lingering unresolved grief that is simply a part of who I am.

“The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness. ~ In Portugal of 1912, A. F. G. Bell”

I think that’s what makes it so insidious, why TCKs are more likely to have depression, why it’s usually seen more as a part of who we are rather than what we have.

It’s not a wild, passionate, keening sort of grief. It’s not even the quiet solidity of finding yourself in bed, aware of  the weight of every single ton of air above you and every newton of gravity dragging you down.

It’s not even really “Ragaouna Misr” all the time.

It’s simply a knowledge, deep inside, that there will always be pieces missing. There will always be something just out of reach and to hold something in your hand, you must let go of something else.

Everything has a price.

Of course, you can scoff and say that’s the way of life. How is that so much more tragic and sad than all of the other petty grievances being alive visits upon us?

I don’t think it is. I don’t claim it is.

I just know that for every move we did, it was like a little death.

It was saying goodbye to the possibilities of lives lived out there, of specific joys that would forever now be out of reach, of universes turned aside.

The BFF who is almost a sister/brother who would want you to stand by their side at their wedding?

Childhood friend turned lover then husband?

Best friend that knows you, every wrinkle of your nose, every glint in your eye, every story of your forming and being?

Getting to know your relatives well; actually being a part of the family rather than a treasured guest who is still a bit of an outsider?

Learning a city inside out, growing with it, and melting into its very heartbeat?

Having the solid assurance of knowing who you were, where you were from, and where your roots are?

Getting and maintaining a solid group of friends of the no-matter-what and call-to-hide-a-body type?

The bone deep happiness that comes from having only a couple of easily accessible comfort foods that don’t require Moriarty levels of handling to get?

I’m not saying it’s impossible.

But it didn’t happen for me.

Every time we moved: every time I lost friends who previously swore they’d keep in contact; every time I felt like the ugly duckling in my family because of how rarely I saw them; every time I put down something I wanted because it wasn’t portable enough; every time — all of it was the detritus of lives lost that could have been.

And so, saudade.


I was talking with my friend the other day and I think we surprised ourselves.

I was talking about how being back in Taiwan was really good for me.

Being in the majority.

Being welcomed ‘home’ by immigration rather than interrogated.

Being able to speak Chinese, think Chinese, be unabashedly, unreservedly Chinese.

Eating all the comfort foods that I love.

Being able to talk about acupuncture and Chinese traditional medicine as valid methods to health.

Simply being a part of myself that I am not when I am in the US.


She said she never knew, that she was never aware.


Now I can simply smile and say, “Saudade.”


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