7 Books to Satisfy Every Mood of the Average TCK

     Alright guys, let’s be honest. The moods and emotions of someone who grew up overseas are turbulent and ever-changing. One day, we’re so well-adjusted and content with where we are in life and in the world (“Mature adult who doesn’t have any emotional baggage from a lifetime of goodbyes? That’s me!”). The next day we’re suddenly making a bee-line for the airport with a backpack of necessities and the cheapest international economy ticket on the market (“Just kidding. Get me out of this black hole of domestic American living.”).

     Okay…maybe it’s not that extreme (for some of us). But TCKs and travel-lovers alike are definitely subject to some emotional, flighty tendencies. Luckily, there are a few stories that have calmed me down on my more extreme “I-don’t-belong-here” days. So, here it is: a list of seven books to satisfy the quirky moods of a TCK.

1. For when you want a flashback to your unconventional 90’s childhood:

Peanut Butter Friends in a Chop Suey World by Deb Brammer— Okay, all you MKs out there probably had a copy of this book shoved in your face at some point in your childhood. If not, let me give you a brief synopsis. Young American girl moves to Taiwan as an MK. Goes to international school. Makes friends. Learns to like authentic Asian food. Basically, if life overseas was an hour-long Focus on the Family radio special, it would be this book.

2. For when you just want to pack up and leave everything (again)

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer— If the story of Chris McCandless doesn’t encourage your wanderlust, then I don’t know what will. Abandoning a life of prestigious degrees, white-picket fences, financial security, and even his own name, Chris burns all of his bridges (and his money) and treks from the Southwest to Alaska. His extremely inspiring and tragic story will certainly leave you itching to pack your bags and hit the road.

3. For when you feel like you don’t fit the status quo:

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare— Raised in Barbados, with a later move to conservative, 17th century Connecticut, Kit Tyler is a textbook TCK. This chick goes through some major culture-shock moments (i.e. she gets mistaken for a witch just because she knows how to swim). This may be a children’s book, but you’ll find yourself connecting with Kit’s struggle to find belonging in a culture vastly different from anything she’s ever known.

4. For when the reverse culture shock hits you hard:

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín— Oh, this book will pull at your heartstrings in the most painful way possible. A story of loving and leaving, Brooklyn tells of an Irish girl named Eilís who emigrates to the East Coast. The theme of missing her birthplace and making a life for herself in her new home is woven throughout the whole book. Get ready to cry when you read this one. (P.S. The movie is equally magnificent and emotionally traumatic. Warning: the quote below may leave you in tears. Proceed with caution.)

5. For when you're craving some [obviously-superior-to-American] cuisine:

The Hundred-Food Journey by Richard C. Morais— Travel. Mouth-watering descriptions of Indian-French fusion dishes. This book has it all. If you’ve been especially missing that homey comfort dish from your field country, be careful. This book may tip you over the edge and force you to buy a plane ticket immediately.

6. For when you need reminding that your overseas experience really wasn’t that bad:

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver— This story is quite literally the Greek tragedy of missionary endeavors. 1 abusive father plus 1 country in political turmoil plus 4 daughters and a wife subjected to the oppressive expectations put upon them by culture equals a freaking train wreck. Need a little reality check? Read this book. Your life really isn’t that bad.

7. For when you’re (still) trying to figure out where home is:

At Home in the World: Reflections on Belonging While Wandering the Globe by Tsh Oxenreider— This memoir follows the story of Tsh and Kyle Oxenreider, a couple of Americans who spent most of their early married life abroad and feel much more at home outside their home country than within. As soon as their children are old enough to carry their own backpacks, the family decides to leave their motherland once again and become, as O. Henry puts it, “citizens of the world.” Tsh is basically the mother we all want to become, and her grapple with what “home” means will leave you saying, “Me, too.” 

Coffee In Every Country

Coffee in every country has a different meaning—if it is drunk there at all. In some places, it's used to initiate a business transaction, in others to host someone, in others to comfort, in others to bond over conversation, in others to finish a meal on a lazy afternoon. Here at Kaleidoscope, where we admittedly do most things with a cup of coffee in our hand, we can tell you a thing or two about coffee around the world, and what to expect wherever you find yourself.

Here is what we've learned about coffee from some of our favorite destinations. 

 Photo by  Shoot N' Design  on  Unsplash
  • Turkey: Turkish coffee is often prepared in an "ibrik," a small copper stove-top pitcher with a long wooden handle that's made specifically for preparing coffee. The grounds are added directly into the water and then boiled. Turkish coffee is generally super thick and as black as my soul. Sometimes it's prepared with cardamom and sugar for a really exciting and sweet treat. The bottom line is: if you're on a layover in the Istanbul airport, you really do not need to order a Venti drip coffee at Starbucks. You can take my word for it. 
  • Thailand: Thailand is really known for its tea, so our number one piece of advice is to just probably order that. It's red, it's rich, it's delicious, it has this other-worldly flavor like all of the best culinary specialties. The biggest takeaway from Thai tea is this little secret: sweetened condensed milk in your coffee. It's thicker and more delicious than regular-old coffee creamer. You'll never take it any other way.
  • Tunisia: As a French-colonized country, Tunisia reflects this influence in its coffee culture. A friend of mine once saw a barista in France re-use Nestle espresso grounds for two different drinks. Long story short, if you go to Tunisia, it might be hit or miss, but you can hopefully expect to get some good, cheap, strong, dark run-of-the-mill espresso that will keep you going strong on your Kaleidoscope trip. 
  • Italy: I only know how to do two things in Italian: say "I would like to go bungee-jumping" and order any kind of coffee. Probably my number one most favorite thing about going to Italy in general is being able to order a "cappuccino" with an unabashed accent. Coffee here is the mother of all of the most popular drinks that we love to order at Starbucks, and it's a super fun place to explore the world of espresso. 
  • United States: You can guarantee that at any diner or hotel breakfast bar, you're going to be able to find some watery, brownish liquid that, with some heavily-flavored CoffeeMate, will become palatable enough to fuel your road trip. Plus, it's probably more hydrating than other, stronger forms of coffee, and we Americans do love drinking water. Craft roasts here also tend to be really acidic and fruity. Basically, I don't harbor much love for coffee in this country.
  • Korea: Korea coffee culture is dope. There are more brightly-lit, adorably-decorated places to pop into for a cup than you could ever hope to get to. And might we recommend going to one that hosts sheep, cats, or dogs? (0/10 would recommend the raccoon cafe.)
 Photo by  Mike Marquez  on  Unsplash

Photo by Mike Marquez on Unsplash

One place where we don't know much about the coffee is South America—we've never been! We know that in Guatemala they sometimes put a little bit in a baby's bottle, and some of our favorite roasts come from there, but that's about it! What can you tell us about coffee culture there?


Navigating Life As A TCK

Ever since I was young, I knew I didn’t fit in. Growing up in school, I was always considered the shy, quiet kid who looked different, acted different, and, on the few occasions when I did open my mouth to speak, seemed to have nothing much to say.

However, all this changed when I got to university. It seemed like independence was something that was actually appreciated, and being different was considered more interesting. I began to embrace my identity as a South Asian, born and raised in Australia, to parents who were expats and weren’t citizens of the country I called home. It became apparent to me that my unique ability to bridge the gap between the culture of my ethnic homeland and the reality of the place I called home could somehow coalesce into a more adventurous beginning of my journey in life.

Somehow, though, the thought remained that I still couldn’t quite fit in. As I travelled to California for the first time at the tender age of 21, I realized that I had to start all over again—a new country I had never been to, my first time living alone, not knowing anyone I could call a friend. Yet this reality was fast becoming a norm for me, an indication of life’s unpredictability and uncertainty. It certainly wasn’t the first time I was thrown into the deep end, and it surely wouldn’t be the last.

I somehow survived my two-year stint overseas, but nowadays, I have grown accustomed to the fact that living a life as a third-culture-kid, where neither your upbringing overseas, nor your life as a citizen of a different country, can really encapsulate who you are as a person. Mine is still a story in the making. I realized I had to make the conscious decision to make my existence matter to other people, more than just myself; I wanted to use my story as a springboard to make a difference in the lives of others.

So it was with great trepidation—and might I add, excitement—that I recently returned to the land of my father and mother, and spent the last year or so reconnecting with my roots. Sure, I have been able to find a way to use my business background to work with an IT company in India, but I have also been able to culturally, relationally, and spiritually grow and mature as a person whose outlook on life is far from the shy kid in high school with little to say.

Now, when I come across a fellow TCK, I learn to speak their “language,” in a way, by recognizing who they are, and who they aren’t, all while finding similarities and unique differences, too. In this way, we benefit from our shared story, though our paths often seem to converge in a fascinating and uniquely special way. I hope you, too, as a traveler on this journey called life, find a way to navigate your pathway to touch a person’s life for the better, and hopefully you are a better TCK because of it.

On God, My Friends, and People Like Me

     Hi, I’m  Caleb, and I am a TCK. I grew up in Singapore and China for nine years. I worked with Kaleidoscope for the first time in the summer of 2016. The ministry Kaleidoscope provides is very important, because it gives TCKs a safe place to open their hearts up to each other and to learn how to transition back to the United States or to another country.

     For me, growing up overseas was  definitely  a highlight of my life and always will be. My experience was also really hard at times. Growing up overseas, you have people come in and out of your life very quickly, and I often felt really lonely. When we moved back to the States for the last time, I felt like no one knew where I was coming from or really knew me. I think TCKs sometimes tend to have really personal conversations about life after only knowing each other for as little as an hour. With people who don’t share this background, it seems that there has to be a trust built up in order for those conversations to take place. I would try to get into a deep conversation early in the  relationship,  and it scared people away. I remember feeling like that for a while, and eventually it got to the point where I was having very dark thoughts. Several things saved me from that time, and I want to share two with you.

     1. God. God was so faithful to me that looking back on it now, moving was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me. Without this part of my story in my life, I don’t think that I would have  ever learned God's character. I believe that God reveals himself most prominently  when we are in our darkest hours.  

      2. My friends and people like me. One of my best friends told me something very powerful when she found out what I was going through. She said, "Put your hand over your heart. Do you feel that?" "Um... a  heartbeat?" "No, try to feel beyond that." "Honestly, I don’t know." "That’s  what is  called purpose! Caleb, God put you here on this earth for a reason and a purpose, and that is to live for Him and to bring Him glory through your life." That struck me and tore down walls in my life. From then on, I started to change my outlook on life. A year later, my family went to a program similar to the one that Kaleidoscope runs, and they showed me that there are a bunch of people who have stories like mine. That gave me hope to continue forward.

     Being a Kaleider has opened my eyes to others' stories, and I know if I can be there for people who  desperately  need it, then I'm not doing work that is in vain. People took the time to listen to my story, and I can say for certain that I wouldn’t be here if that weren't the case.  

A note from Kaleidoscope: we are not licensed counselors, although we care a lot about you. If you need to talk to someone, we have access to an extensive network of resources and can put you in touch with someone. Please tell us if you need the help!