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.”