Friday, March 23, 2018

Third Culture Adult

I have written a series of mysteries about a Third Culture Kid, Annie, who spent her first few years in Massachusetts and then moved with her family to Amsterdam followed by moves to Stuttgart and Geneva.

Although she quickly adapted to the language she always felt like an outsider and wanted "to go home" to the States, but when she went to the University of Massachusetts, she discovered she didn't fit in there either.

Over the course of the novels, Annie finds that her experiences and her multi-languages make her who she is and that person is okay. It isn't necessary to be part of a closed set of rules.

Although people have accused me of being Annie, I am not. I don't have her languages, she is much younger than I am and far more technical. I wouldn't mind being Annie, but I'm not.

Living in Geneva I know a lot of Third Culture Kids. On the bus I hear fathers talking in one language to their kids, the offspring answering in another and from their animation, I know they understand each other perfectly.

It has been almost 30 years since I left the States. I have taken Swiss nationality (it did nothing to improve my accent) and given up my American. I've also lived in Germany and in France.

What am I?

Let me use the French word melange, a mixture. My core will always be New England Yankee, a gift from my grandmother as much as the culture, although she transmitted the value system that is a part of me.

There are customs and attitudes that have also entered my DNA from the other places I've lived. No matter where I go, to a certain extent I am an outsider. At my age, I should be one of the mamies, the grandmothers of the village who gather on benches and chat. Yet, I have been far better educated academically and traveled the world, while they have stayed within a hundred kilometers, if they have traveled that far. It is not that I'm better. They have a wisdom, I can learn from.

We can talk and share about our daily lives, news of the village. I can't tell them about my planned trip to Nova Scotia to see my dad's birthplace or our upcoming conference in Stuttgart where I want to walk the streets where I once lived. It is enough to say we are going on a trip. We have a series of one-way references and that is okay.

Wednesday we saw a wonderful documentary about Switzerland, my adopted country. I am proud that they accepted me, proud of their democracy, which is not without flaws, but works more than it doesn't. I love the traditions from the fondue to the days where decorated cows are paraded to pasture, flowers in their horns accompanied by people in native costume. Yet even if I were to wear the costumes and walk behind a cow, I'm still the outsider.

When I go back to the States, I have no problem to walk through the foreigners line. But so much seems strange to me, stranger than walking behind a flower-bedecked cow. It is if I am in a dream with all the images being fuzzy. I am an outsider.

Depending on where I am, I will follow the table manners and the politeness of the country. I will try and understand and follow customs where I don't clash with accepted society without ever compromising my inner self.

I know who I am--a Third Culture Adult, an International--and it's okay. 

Photo at the top. My Annie Clock, made by the talented artist Pauline Stonehouse. This is the way I've always pictured Annie. Pauline brought her to life.

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