The Odyssey and the Third Culture Kid

The ‘Ship of Theseus’ thought experiment is one you are probably familiar with, at least in one of its many forms. This is the question of whether a ship that leaves home and has had all of its component parts replaced during the journey will return to its home port as the same ship. Can we call it the same ship? Or can we not? One of its corollary forms is the modern scientific ‘myth’ that the human body replaces every one of its cells every five or so years. I’m not sure if this has been refuted yet, but my guess is it probably will soon. It is my firm and unshakeable belief, however, that no one on earth is more attuned to the terror of this scientific possibility than the Third Culture Kid. 

A memory of poignant immediacy to me from my late childhood is watching the movie Cast Away. It is the story of Chuck Noland—a bit of an obvious play on ‘no land.’ He becomes adrift, cast away from the mad whir of modern life and happiness and into the slow, violent slog of life on an island in the Pacific after surviving a plane crash. His job before the crash was delivering packages; he was the means by which the world stayed connected and whole. All that he has now to get him through are the memories of his fiancé Kelly and a mysteriously winged package that comes in with the tide one morning and is addressed to somewhere very near where he lived back in the real world. He is determined to return the package some day. 

It was either my sister or someone else who first pointed out to me how the movie contains absolutely no orchestral music before the moment when Chuck has finally, after four long years, fashioned a raft and left the island. It’s only after he has cleared the worst of surf and climbed the worst of the waves, as he’s rowing out to sea, as the thrill of making it off the island begins to suddenly fade, and he looks back towards his home of the last four years, that the music comes in strong. The movie’s first moment of truly crippling pathos is not when his plane goes down, nor even when he returns home; it’s only when he has to say goodbye to his adoptive home, his second, alternate home, that the movie watcher is struck by the emotional complexity of his situation and the depth of the alienation the castaway feels and is about to feel. 

The moment of most impressive relevance to TCKs in the movie, however, is when he arrives back home. Chuck’s first encounter with human life after his four years on the island is the jarring blast of a massive cargo ship’s horn. This is our first sign of trouble. The rest of the movie—and it’s quite a hearty chunk of time—slowly, brutally details all of the important changes since the beginning of Chuck’s alienation. His beloved Kelly, after years of searching and mourning, has remarried their dentist and, even though she loves him still and seeing him again is traumatizing and wonderful, cannot just simply abandon her family for Chuck. So, all that’s left is the anonymous, winged package. 

The Odyssey tells the same story. 

‘Nostos’ is the term scholars use to identify the motif of heroic return to home by sea. The Odyssey is an epic poem participating in that genre as well. Odysseus’ heroism is defined entirely by his desire and ability to return to Ithaca and retake his place as King, husband of Penelope, and father of Telemachus.

It’s entirely about a man trying to return home and being crushed by the change when he does. Odysseus’s Penelope is true to him, but his son has become a man, the suitors have all but exhausted his material possessions and food supply, and Ithaca is in a state of political unrest. The saddest moment in the very long poem, however, is when Odysseus returns to his father’s house after killing the suitors and in lieu of a warm, tear-filled, heart-felt reunion, refers to himself for a second time as simply “Nobody.” What was before a simple trick to make his way out of the cyclops’ cave has now become his identity, which is exactly the lack of an identity. 

Is he the same man he was before?

There seems to be something that has changed within him as well. When he visits the Underworld, Tiresias prophesies over him that he will never find true rest in his life, that his return to Ithaca will not be permanent. Not only has Ithaca changed entirely, but so has he. He cannot come home because he is not himself and home is no longer itself either. Though there is hope, both at the end of Cast Away and The Odyssey, the hope is no longer for a return to what once was. The hope is for something else, something new, to become desirable, not for the desire of something old to be fulfilled. 

As an overwhelmingly emotional 13-year-old boy who had just himself moved across the Pacific Ocean (from the Philippines to the States), Cast Away hit far too close to home. What was supposed to have been my home, my place of nationality, the location of my blood-family, turned out to be something entirely foreign and terrifying to me. And leaving the island in the Pacific inspired in me feelings I had certainly never felt before, like hearing a song that made you sadder than you ever could have thought possible. 

Now, as an adult, studying English literature, in the security of a home, The Odyssey only really speaks to me in faint whispers. It only really evokes a shadow of the emotions I felt as a young teenager. But I’m haunted by the impermanence inherent in the message: that the only hope we can have is for something we have not had before. And moreover, in the Christian cosmology, there is a theological truth to that. We should not hope for the happiness of this life, and there will be no remembrance of things past in the world to come. 

But I do not think the emotion is less important, theologically or otherwise. Of what purpose are feelings for lost things? Why would God give us such stark nostalgia for the lost things of the world if heaven was not in part interested in the restoration of lost things, namely the innocence of the world that was the Garden? We are all spiritually adrift, and what is the resurrection but the restoration of a lost life?

And for the TCK, these ‘stark nostalgias’ are only stronger reminders of this. We are given, like Chuck and Odysseus, the gift of understanding the poignancy of lost things and, consequently, a more personal understanding of the need for restoration and return. 

The 8 People You Meet At A Kaleidoscope Conference

At every conference, you'll meet at least one version of all of these people. We promise we love them all equally. 

1. The basic white girl

    There's always that one little 4-year old with golden curls who's completely adorable, has the cutest name ever, and is also usually secretly hilarious, coming out with one-liners like, "I just don't think this is going to be a good idea" re: swimming in the kiddie pool.  

2. The kid who's your favorite but also the worst

    Disclaimer: having favorites is bad. But we always end up with a soft spot for the kid who is constantly getting into trouble.

3. The hot parents who are #goals

    Admit it: there's that particular family who makes you reconsider your life choices up to that point and wonder if you should answer a call to the field.

4. The kid who already knows everything you're about to teach him. 

    "Can anyone guess what TCK stands for?"

    "A third culture kid is someone who has spent all or part of their formative years in a country outside that of their parents." 

    OK, class dismissed.

5. Professor Pineapple

    Honestly, Professor Pineapple is a little sketchy; muddled accent, gender fluid, Minion glasses, rainbow hair? Hmmm. We love him/her anyway. 

6. The parents who have no idea where their kids are.

    As opposed to helicopter parents, these TCK parents are likely to not worry whatsoever about where their kids are at any given moment, as long as they're not being eaten by a shark.

7. The Kaleider who's the good cop

    Someone always has to keep the kids on track, and in this person's case, it's always someone else. This Kaleider is the "cool" Kaleider. They're not like the other Kaleiders.

8. Jesus, LOL. ^_^

What Are You Thankful For This Year?

In an effort to create an atmosphere of being seated around a Thanksgiving table together, we asked each of the Kaleidoscope ladies what she is grateful for this year. If you know anything about our team, it's that we don't get to spend a lot of time all together in the same place. We have to settle for one team retreat/workcation per year and, if we're lucky, several opportunities to work together during certain conferences and events around the world. Because of this, we strive to create virtual spaces where we can be productive together and supportive of one another. This year, we wanted the chance to share what we're thankful for this week and every day. 

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What am I thankful for this year? My dogs. I'm so thankful for my dogs! Maybe not Lulu quite yet, because she's still a little bit part dog, part devil, but Ellie's an angel and I love her. Obviously David; I'm thankful for a rockstar husband who just supports my craziness in galavanting off to different countries and foreign states such as Alabama, and who is willing and joyful in letting me leave all the time. I don't want to just give the cheesy my friends and family speech. What else am I grateful for? An exciting new change that is coming up in the near future! 

—Sarah

I am also thankful for puppies, both young and old! This time a year ago, Sofie ate a good amount of chocolate-themed candies. Her tummy was huge and she wasn't eating her breakfast (which is how we know that something is wrong and that she is at death's door). Amid the hustle and bustle of Giving Tuesday, I took her to the vet twice, tried and failed to induce vomiting, and checked her in overnight. This year, she is happy and sniffy as ever and still as squiggly as the day she was born 12 years ago. Plus, this year I got to know Goose, who is a wire-haired pointing griffon and maybe the best dog I've ever met. I'm thankful for puppy love in all of its forms. I'm also grateful for parents and parent figures who keep taking care of their kids long after they've flown the coop. 

—Grace

This year I’m definitely thankful that both God and Drew dragged me out of my comfort zone and asked me to do things that were terrifying but in the long run so healing. I honestly never thought I would have the guts to go on a Kaleidoscope trip, much less to England!!! But wow, it would’ve been such a loss if I hadn’t. Which reminds me...I’m thankful for all of the new friends I’ve made this year! I had really been praying for quality friendships and I’ve gained some amazing ones over the past few months. Lastly, I gotta mention the cats. They make me happy and I love their stupid little faces. 10/10 recommend getting a cat to relieve stress/make your life amazing/take over your insta.

—Kim

This year I think the biggest thing that I'm thankful for is the adventures that I've gotten to take and the  community that has grown out of them. There's been a lot this year: lots of new places and lots of new experiences, both personally and with Kaleidoscope, and there have been lots of new friends that have come along with that. My community both here and far away is growing as a result of these new exciting experiences and adventures, and I'm so thankful for that.

—Alex

There are about 1000 things that I’m thankful for this year. As always, the first thing that comes to mind is the people who have supported me and Kaleidoscope through everything. I talk a lot about our community and our Kaleiders and how thankful I am for them, but there's kind of an unspoken support group that I don't mention very often who have felt very close and meaningful, especially in some of the growing seasons of this year. They are my very dear friends who I have never met before: the authors who write on leadership, business development, personal strengths, business, and life as a whole. They’re the men and women who have chosen to share their lives and lessons with those of us who are trying to learn from them and have given us the inside scoop on the vulnerable moments, great lessons, and incredible insights from their own journeys. Throughout this year, through some big question marks, trying to learn to lead the core team better and train up our Kaleiders better, I have felt so grateful for these wise voices in my life. Great authors of great books who are willing to share the lessons they’ve walked through include: Brené Brown and her challenge to be a daring, brave, and vulnerable leader; Jon Acuff's tools on managing your time and energy and finding joy in the little things;  Ed Catmull’s lessons on thinking and problem solving creatively are perfect; and so many other wise men and women who have honestly felt like friends, family, and personal mentors by getting the chance to read their books and learn from them. I'm grateful for them and I highly recommend these books on your journey, as well. 

—Jessi

What are you grateful for this year? Tell us in the comments!

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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.”