Introductions are tough for everyone, but for third culture kids, they can be especially awkward.
The first week at a new school is tough. The words, “Now turn and introduce yourself to your neighbours,” still instill a deep sense of dread within me. It’s not that I don’t like people. Quite the contrary, I love people. I love hearing their stories and watching their eyes light up when they talk about their passions. It’s telling my story that’s hard for me.
“So, where are you from?” The student next to me asks.
I can feel my blood pressure rise a little, and a nice rosy color comes into my cheeks. I break eye contact.
“I was born here in California, but my parents wanted more adventure in their lives, so they moved my sister and me to Russia for a short-term trip, and they loved it so much we stayed for several years, and when I was seven we moved again, and we traveled a lot, and then, and then, and then…”
When I tell this story in a lecture hall crowded with 300 freshmen, I usually get the same reaction. At first, they seem intrigued: asking questions, initially quite interested.
But then–their smiles slowly fade, their eyes glaze over, and I see their gazes dart around the room, silently begging the teacher to begin the lecture. You know it’s bad when the 18-year-old sitting next to you is eager for the professor to start talking.
So I stop.
I smile and make a quick apology about boring them, and then I search for a pen at the very bottom of my backpack.
I knew this was going to happen.
But it sort of breaks my heart.
Because this is me.
I love this story: the story of how my hippy parents got bored with their research jobs and fancy lifestyle and moved their two young children halfway across the world. I love the story of how I came to be me, because every place I’ve been, every museum I was dragged to, and every house I’ve said goodbye to has made me who I am today. And I think I’m pretty alright.
This is me, the me that is real and true and knows pain and joy and loss and friendship. It takes bravery to show yourself as being different, and it hurts to be rejected–all in about 45 seconds.
The setting changes, from a classroom to a party to a new job to a random stranger on a plane, but the reaction remains the same.
I watch my answer change.
I see myself grow a little guarded.
And I notice myself no longer showing people who I am.
“So, where are you from?”
“Oh, I moved around a lot growing up, but I went to high school in Colorado. You?”
It’s funny how we change ourselves to meet what other people want. Before, I made people uncomfortable. I was different. I felt like I was bragging. People didn’t know what to say to me. And people hate that.
I’ve lived in my passport country for eight years now. I’m in college. I have friends, an apartment, a car: all the things that make me an adult in my supposed-to-be-home country. But I know I’ll always be a little different. And honestly, the older I become, the more proud of that I am.
Although some of my answers have changed, every once in a while I’ll find myself in full proud-to-be-a-TCK mode and just tell my whole story. I watch their reactions. Sometimes they’re just like everyone else, and they see me as weird, and it hurts, and I move on with my life. But sometimes...sometimes they love it.
Sometimes they ask more questions.
Sometimes they actually want to know.
And every once in awhile, I’ll get an “OHMYGOODNESSNOWAYMETOO!” And I can tell you, my dear, weird friends out there, those moments make my heart full again. They make all the little rejections 100% worth it.
So go out there and be you, you weirdos. I hope to hear your stories someday.