My life is tethered to a rolling stone, my dreams are anchored in the wind.
I come from here, I come from there, in truth I come from everywhere.
My tongue does not have a mother, my language is an open mind.
Before I learned how to walk, I already knew how to fly.
Comfort for me is constant motion, continent to continent, ocean to ocean.
- Author Unkown
The poem above is from a documentary called Les Passegers - A TCK Story. The trailer for the documentary is on the right. I put the poem on here because it beautifully describes how I feel as an individual who grew up around the world in international schools. There are so many advantages to traveling the world and being able to experience so many diverse cultures as an insider. But there are also challenges associated with this lifestyle. If you are considering international teaching, do some research on "third culture kids" to understand the challenges you can expect as a parent raising children who grow up being immersed in such a unique and exciting lifestyle. This trailer will give you a brief look at third culture kids, I suggest watching the full documentary if you are thinking international teaching is for you and you also plan to raise a family in this environment.
Cynthia Nagrath has written a great article called "Overseas relocation . . . How to make the transition smooth for kids", which explains exactly what its title suggests. You can find it by clicking this link: Overseas relocation . . . How to make the transition smooth for kids.
Below is a short personal story of my life overseas and how it has impacted me. It should go without saying, if you want to ask further questions please do. I am always happy talking about my experiences and how they impacted me and it is my hope that my stories can help you decide if this life is for you.
I am a third culture kid, a global nomad. When I was very young, my parents struggled to both earn their bachelor degrees in education while raising my brother and I. My mom ended up getting a job on a reserve hours away from home, as a result, we only saw her on the weekends. My dad got a job in a high school 45 minutes from home. By the time I was in 2nd grade, my parents had had enough of the low income, the commute, and the stress their jobs brought to our family life. They still had a passion for teaching, and helping students learn and become the best they can be, but they knew something had to change. They began looking for other opportunities and decided to take a chance and go to a career fair in the US where overseas schools met to hire teacher candidates.
In 1997, when I was 8, my parents accepted a job overseas in Pakistan. I was both excited and angry when I was told the news. My parents decided to break the news to my brother and I by telling us they had both been hired by the Lahore American School in Lahore, so finally Mom and Dad would both be home, all the time. Obviously I was super excited, but then they told us to have this great opportunity we had to move which made me really sad. I loved my friends, my sports teams, and my school, and didn’t like the idea of moving away. I had developed a sense of belonging in Alberta, and I definitely didn’t like the idea of being uprooted. Because I was so young and inexperienced, moving to Pakistan had no meaning yet. To me it seemed like moving to another neighborhood. Boy was I wrong.
I remember vividly the first step I took off the plane in Pakistan. The air in the cabin was well circulated and cool, but within two steps of the plane we were hit by a heat and humidity so intense I literally recoiled. The air smelt different, felt different, all the people around me looked and dressed different, the houses were different, the streets were different, the cars were different....everything around me was definitely... different. This was the beginning of my culture shock. As time passed, I began to get used to my new surroundings. I got used to having a humongous home with maids, cooks, gardeners, guards, and drivers to take me wherever I wanted, whenever I wanted.
I got used to being in a fancy school, with kids who were super serious about learning, very competitive in sports, and teachers who expected 10 times more from me than what I was used to giving. By the time 5th grade came, I started to really become aware of where I was. I began to notice poverty like I hope none of you have seen firsthand. I saw kids my own age, working in factories, being abused on the streets, and everything I took for granted all of a sudden seemed so unfair. On September 11, 2001, a day I’m sure you all remember, we were just getting ready to start our first day of school when we heard the news of what had happened in the US. Many of our schools families had ties in the US, and some even had family members in the buildings that came down. Our class did not start that day, instead we all went to the auditorium and were told that the rumors we'd been hearing were true; two planes had struck the twin towers. Our parents had all been called to come pick us up from school immediately and take us home, school was cancelled until further notice.
The kids from the US, were evacuated out of the country immediately, but it took the Canadian government almost 3 weeks to get us out. In the meantime we were prisoners in our own home. When we finally got out, we were big news in Alberta because our family had made some noise to get the government in action. For the rest of the 7th grade, I went to a rural school just outside of Prince Albert called East Central.
In the 11th grade, my parents accepted a job at Escuella Bella Vista (EBV) in Maracaibo, Venezuela. Life was again, very different than I was used to. This time around, I wasn’t shocked by the new culture, I was curious. Spending 5 years in Pakistan and traveling to all the nearby countries in the area, and more, made me used to being around different people and different places. I adjusted fast, picked up the local language quicker, and made new friends even quicker. I began to get involved with community service projects in the area, and I accumulated over 1000 hours during my 3 years there. I became passionate about global as well as local issues, and really developed my passion for travel and experiencing new things.
In 11th grade my parents accepted a job at the International School of Dakar so we moved to Senegal. It was here I spent my last two years of high school, preparing for university, mapping out my future, and enjoying myself. Although I was grateful for all the life experiences I had had, I was really, really excited to finally be back to what I considered, all those years, to be ... home. I chose the closest university to my extended family possible despite being accepted to more prestigious schools elsewhere, because I missed them all so much and 2 months of the summer never really felt like enough time.
Shortly after coming back to Canada, I began to reflect on my experiences and what I’d learned. The more I reflected, the more confused I actually became. I didn’t really seem to fit into Canadian life very well, I had trouble making friends at first, and although I was close to family, I didn’t feel at home.
As time went by, I began to realise that although my passport says Canadian on it... I wasn’t really Canadian. I also wasn’t Pakistani, or Venezuelan, or Senegalese. So where was I from? Whenever people ask me, where are you from? I have no idea how to answer them. Where do I fit in? I struggled with those questions for years. Eventually, I realized that home for me was not place bound. I began to develop homesickness for being overseas in other cultures and being multicultural again. I began to realise medicine, and a life ‘stuck’ in Canada wasn’t for me. Around year 2 I was extremely restless. I needed new change, new experiences, and they didn’t seem available to me in that career path I’d chosen. So I decided to switch over to Biology and aim at becoming a teacher, and hopefully, eventually returning back to a nomadic life.
Growing up as a third culture kid, I really began to see the humanity in people, no matter where they are from. I have a sense of belonging in many different groups, and find a commonality with all, but no matter where I am, even here, where I’m Canadian, my parents are Canadian, my grandparents are Canadian... I consider myself a minority. I treasure my experiences overseas, and am extremely grateful to my parents for providing me with the such unique life experiences. I can't wait to continue my journey overseas, start a family, and raise my children in an environment where they can feel safe, loved, and gain a true appreciation for the diversity our world has to offer us.
Lahore American School, Pakistan
House in Lahore, Pakistan
EBV Culture Day
International School of Dakar
Our Apartment in Dakar (the big white building)
My Graduating Class