Cat Foster lived in Texas, Indonesia, Brunei, and Malaysia before repatriating to the US (Illinois and Colorado) for college. Despite the difficulties of transitions, she wouldn’t trade her TCK experiences for an “easier” life. You can find more of her writing on her blog.
When I was three, my family moved from Dallas, Texas, to Jakarta, Indonesia. The following 15 years saw us moving between two different places in Indonesia, and Brunei. I attending boarding school in Malaysia for high school. When I was in boarding school, my parents moved to Moscow, Russia. After I graduated high school, I went back to my passport country of the USA to the state of Illinois. My transition was not easy, and it’s not something I would choose to repeat in the future. However, if given a choice between a rough transition from growing up abroad, or staying in the States my whole life, I would choose the rough transition.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what made my transition difficult. Maybe it was because I was suddenly lost in the majority of white people, instead of Asians. Maybe it was because I had chosen to go to college in a town where people thought that the next state over was a long distance. Regardless, I wish that I had been more prepared for living in the States. I knew who I was as a TCK within a foreign country. What I didn’t know was who I was as a TCK in America. I suddenly found myself getting lost in malls, or wanting to cry from seeing how much food was readily available at grocery stores, or at baseball games and not being able to sing along with the National Anthem.
I have to say, however, that I am completely aware of how my transition could have been even harder. I am incredibly grateful for the roommate God put me with my first year back in the States. Her name was Brittney and she was totally goofy, but understanding. She took the time to teach me American nuances and the American anthem. She patiently answered my dumb questions about if I’m allowed to walk around barefoot, or at what age people can go into casinos.
As I sort of mentioned before, there’s a lot of give and take with a TCK lifestyle. It’s wonderful because you get to see the world, gain new experiences, and have a broader perspective on life. We are able to bridge cultural barriers in a way that most can’t. We have a unique opportunity to make a difference in way most can’t. However, most TCKs experience more grief by the time they’re done with high school than most people do in their whole life. Goodbyes aren’t easy, and far too common. Trust becomes something that we chose not to do. Even though we’re in touch with other cultures and people, we’re hardly in touch with ourselves emotionally. I’ve always said that I only have so much capacity to miss people, therefore I have to be selective with whom I choose to “miss”. But the truth is that sometimes I choose to detach so that I won’t have to feel.
While I was in boarding school in Malaysia, I met Aunt Val and Uncle Brian Weidemann, who worked at the school as dorm supervisors. They became my mentors in life, the leaders for our class, and my personal friends. I also became very close with their kids, Ben and Bethany. They took their furlough the year I went back to the States. They lived about a four hour drive from where I was, so I often went to visit them. I treasure those visits. They helped me stay in touch with that part of me, the part from Malaysia, while I tried to adapt back into an American lifestyle. Val and I would go out for coffee and just talk about the things we were going through, and she was always able to offer me advice and encouragement. They gave me a safe place to be when I felt overwhelmed by the new culture, and that’s definitely something I will never forget.
Aunt Val and I started going out for coffee while I was still in high school. I was going through a rough patch in my junior year; I was having trouble with relationships. Sometimes TCKs can be experts at relationships, and sometimes they have no idea. Part of the reason she and Uncle Brian were so helpful was because they are also TCKs themselves, so they totally understood the things I was going through – they had been through them too. Also, they accepted me for who I was, faults and all, and expected nothing more from me. They listened to me when I needed to vent. Because immediate family (mom, dad, brother, sister) is usually the only family TCKs get to experience, I think TCKs look to make families out of the people they meet while abroad. Like their names suggest, Aunt Val and Uncle Brian reached out to me and became part of my ever-growing family. I can’t express how much I appreciated that, especially because I met them while I was in boarding school and therefore away from my parents and brother.
I was able to go to a re-entry seminar right when I moved back. The most encouraging thing about that was that I met people who would be going through the same thing as me. We all became friends on Facebook and checked in with each other occasionally. The week mostly consisted of how TCKs go through grief, what our personalities were like, etc. Although all of that is valid and important, I already knew what my personality was, I already knew what kind of grief I had experienced. The one session that I felt was most helpful was the one where we all sat together on the floor in a big circle, and the leaders told us some things we would face living in America. Things like how to deal with peer pressure, how American teens think and live, the lingo that we would have to know, the list goes on. Like I said, I wish I had been more prepared for living in the States.
I transferred to my chosen home state of Colorado after a year in Illinois. I love that sometimes I get to choose where I’m from. I’m a lot happier here. Maybe it’s because I already had a year of American experience under my belt, maybe it’s because I’m in a more culturally diverse community. I’m going back to Malaysia this summer, and hope to close that chapter of my life and start off on something new. There’s so much more of the world to see, and I can’t wait to go and meet more people like me.