Libby's Blog

Where Am I?

Today's fantastic blog post is a guest post courageously written by Third Culture Kid, Sabrina Omar. We are reposting her piece unaltered, just as it features on her blog. Thank you Sabrina, for being willing to share your thoughts with our readers. Your words and your vulnerability are so powerful.

Guestpost LS Sabrina When did I stop writing?

It’s October 2013, marking the three month anniversary of my shattered sense of belonging. Yes, I am exaggerating. And yes, I may even continue to do so throughout this post.
Isn’t life funny. And it knows it too. Flip the pages back six years from now and I was in exactly the same situation, just on the other side of the world. Having just moved from Denver to my parents’ hometown, Kabul, Afghanistan you can imagine the kind of culture shock I was experiencing. Torn from a life where everything comes easy and tossed into the world of a very naked kind of every day struggle is a recipe for experiencing shock. Except….I wasn’t….
Indeed I never really understood what culture shock meant; I read the definitions, the examples, studied the expats around me who were apparently “going through it”. I knew all the symptoms, but hadn’t caught the pox.
Now, I get it. Flip the pages forward. High school graduation from the International School of Kabul gave way to a flight back to Denver, where I could study college in the comfort of a town I should be familiar with (since I was born and raised here before the big Afghanistan move) and the support of extended family we had left behind. All that sounds fine and dandy and it sounded fine and dandy all the months leading up to the flight out of Kabul, and it sounded fine and dandy on the flight, and it sounded fine and dandy when I touched down in Denver six years after I’d lived there. Well let me tell you something.
SHOCK. LITERAL SHOCK is what they mean by “culture shock”. It’s like sitting through an icy cold blast of air pummeling straight into your face, giving you just enough breathing time to know you’re alive but not enough to be anywhere near comfortable. Who knew America was this scary? I thought I knew this place, but uh guess what? No. Now I’m in that strange place where I neither belong to Afghanistan nor to America. Now I’M one of those people that no one understands. Every day at college makes me feel  like one of those odd items found around the house that can’t be categorized and are eternally doomed to the “miscellaneous” drawer so people feel as if they’ve accomplished understanding it, when in reality they have no clue what the hell it is and are too afraid to ask.
One kid tried talking to me a few weeks into school, remarking on the new tattoo I have; the word “nomad” in Persian script. I had my shoulder adorned with it, sometimes wondering if it’s less like a defining characteristic and more like the brands you see on cattle.
Nevertheless, he boldly approached me, unhindered by the waves of “introvert” I was trying to radiate, asking me what my tattoo said. I mumbled something about nomad, and then realizing that it wasn’t in English, I added that it was in Persian script. And then I realized he wouldn’t understand why I would have Persian script on my body, and I decided to blurt out that I was Afghan, as if that would suddenly tie up all the loose strings for him. I added a feeble, “So yeah….” After which I decided to leave it at that and walk away awkwardly. If you have to look crazy, you might as well look full crazy. I gave him a piece of my life he neither asked for, nor knew what to do with, so I just left it there with him and he, mostly likely, left it out in that empty hallway.
That’s America for you. I was trying to describe to my father what’s missing from life here in Denver that I had in Kabul. All I could think is….I can’t find the color. I can’t find the color. What does that even mean? Either I’m psycho, or colorblind because Kabul is hardly the place anyone would describe as “colorful”. And yet I stand by the statement. Something very genuine and true is missing from the West. Some other Kabul friends and I sat down to lunch at an Afghan restaurant in Denver, as if suddenly the kabobs would be authentic and the bread wouldn’t be knock-off Indian naan and the tea would taste of musty, green tea gossip like it used to. We tried to pinpoint this color that was missing. It was a brown sense of community. I mean of course, as the world is well aware, we are a people of conflict. There are divisions between tribes, gender, even the different branches of Islam. But in times of need…when the chips are down, we become one. Every single person is a part of a living, breathing entity. A purpose higher than our little lives. Not divine, but rather very, very human. Vulnerable. Mortal. The country is like a thick-skinned mother, bruised and battered from victorious fights as well as those she has lost, wearing her scars proudly as if they were both a lesson to others, and a lesson to herself. She stands in the relentless wind, in the middle of the Hindu Kush, feet planted firmly upon the ground, chin set high, breathing steadily and assuring her children that the dawn is just over the horizon. That is what we are a part of. Were a part of….
So where does that leave me now. Stranded in a land where fashion is more important than compassion, money above matter, social rank more than social ties? The looming towers of commercial goods, so many choices that the choosing is no longer fun, a place where every day is a fight to step over someone else’s accomplishments, it seems the goal never reaches beyond the edges of the wallet.
And yet…
That kid who asked me about my tattoo addressed me by my name. In a class of 30 students, he still managed to remember that (the agenda behind that aside) it was an attempt to show me he thought I was important enough to remember. And me? I still don’t know his name. I didn’t even ask. I was so consumed by the “tragedy” of my own life that I couldn’t open my narrow mindset and learn to let America get to know me. Who’s missing “the color” now, Sabrina. Maybe in the end all our problems boil down to ourselves. It’s easier to sit back and judge than it is to point the finger the other way.
All I know is that I keep hearing that it will get better. And I hear that I’m not the only one. And I hear that others have it worse. I acknowledge all the advice, but it all kind of slips out of the place that should retain important information. That place is still drowning in memories. How do we reach in and dump out a piece of our heart to make room to embrace new memories? Does the soul have a set capacity from which we can’t exceed, are we obliged to empty out pieces of our past to make space for the future? Or do our souls expand to take in as much of life and the world as we choose to carry.
Time will tell.
A favorite singer writes, “I’ve got thick skin and an elastic heart.” Indeed, all of us do. All of us kids thrown around the world on an adult’s whim. Here’s to the ones who have it worse than I do for they are plenty. Here’s to the kids who don’t have the gift of family like I do to guide them through this journey. A second for my classmate who cries herself to sleep two states over. A minute for my friend on the East coast who won’t be seeing her family for months to come. An hour for my friend near the South who tells me, “Let’s all go back” in a sad voice I don’t recognize on him. A decade for my girl whose life has been packed into a suitcase for the millionth time, looking dejectedly into my eyes and saying that she thought she’d eventually be numb to the goodbyes.

Here’s to us all and our thick skins and our elastic hearts. Three months in, we haven’t snapped yet.

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Home: "the place where you become yourself"

 I posted this fantastic TED talk by Third Culture Kid author Pico Iyer the other day to my Facebook wall. Some TED talks are really that good, that you want to share them again. So, here it is. Enjoy!

Pico really puts into words what so many of us feel about the concept of home, travel and identity.

I love Pico's observation that "there is one great problem with movement and that is that it is really hard to get your bearings when you are in mid-air" and how this leads him to the search for personal reflection and silence. In his words, the joy of traveling is perhaps only matched by the joy of staying still.

What do you think about this statement, TCKs?

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A Creative Third Culture!

Third Culture Kids are well-known for their creativity in literature, art, music and film (as I pointed out in a recent blog post). Whether through blogging, singing, painting, photography (or whatever the medium), so many TCKs I have met find it therapeutic to use these vehicles to share their story, their love of the world or their multicultural identity. Today, following a bit of a hiatus, I want to share with you two wonderful YouTube videos that were passed on to me recently. I love each of these for the richness of the experiences and emotions that they represent. Enjoy!

I'm a TCK by Declan Lowell

National Anthem Mashup by Grant Woolard

Third Culture Kids, how do you share your TCK experience and why do you think you do so?
And what are some of your favorite Third Culture Kid films, art, songs or books you have come across recently?


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4 Third Culture Kid Films Worth Your Time

Third Culture Kids (TCKs) are no longer a marginal culture. We’ve known this for a long time now. Once known almost as an oddity, today, TCKs are one of the most rapidly growing populations. TCKs from almost every combination of nations imaginable are taking up office in nearly every industry around the globe. It’s no wonder that the film world is forced to recognize the existence of TCKs. Some films are even focusing their whole storyline around Third Culture Kids. Here is a selection of four recent Third Culture Kid films worth your while if you want to understand, reflect on personally or get a group discussion going about the Third Culture.

1. Somewhere Between (2011)

Type: Documentary film (88 mins) NR
Director: Linda Goldstein Knowlton



Storyline: Somewhere Between tells the intimate stories of four teenaged girls. They live in different parts of the US, in different kinds of families and are united by one thing: all four were adopted from China because all four had birth parents who could not keep them, due to personal circumstances colliding with China's "One Child Policy". These strong young women allow us to grasp what it is like to come-of-age in today's America as trans-racial adoptees. At the same time, we see them as typical American teenagers doing what teenagers everywhere do...struggling to make sense of their lives. Through these young women, and their explorations of who they are, we ourselves pause to consider who we are - both as individuals and as a nation of immigrants. Identity, racism, and gender...these far-reaching issues are explored in the documentary. And with great honesty and courage, these four girls open their hearts to experience love, compassion, and self-acceptance.

Third Culture Kid themes: Pursuit of identity, adoption, belonging

2. The Road Home (2010)

Type: Documentary Short (21 mins) NR
Director: Rahul Gandotra



Storyline: Sent by his parents to an international boarding school in the Himalayas, Pico grapples with his identity as he escapes from his boarding school in search of the road back home to England.

Third Culture Kid themes: Belonging, pursuit of identity, “home”, school, Indian-British TCKs

3. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)

Type: Drama/Comedy (124 mins) PG-13
Director: John Madden



Storyline: British retirees travel to India to take up residence in what they believe is a newly restored hotel. Less luxurious than its advertisements, the Marigold Hotel nevertheless slowly begins to charm in unexpected ways.

Third Culture Kid themes: Not directly a TCK film but deals with culture shock, India/Britain, thriving cross-culturally

4. Neither Here Nor There

Type: Documentary (35 mins) NR
Director: Ema Ryan Yamazaki



Storyline: "Neither Here Nor There" is a 35 minute documentary that explores cultural identity for people who have grown up in places other than their home culture, known as Third Culture Kids. Through the stories of six subjects, the film investigates the often overlooked effects on adults who had international upbringings, their struggles to fit in and an eternal search to belong.

The film is also a self-exploratory journey for the filmmaker, a Japanese-British raised bi-culturally and in an international school system, who now lives in New York. In her last year of college, she attempts to figure out what she is in the context of the world.

Third Culture Kid themes: Asian Third Culture Kids, international school TCKs, identity

What are some of your favorite films on the subject of Third Culture Kids that you would recommend watching?


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TCK and Pregnant: Facing the Tension

BabyShower70When I returned to my passport culture a few years back, I was forced to face my webbed closet of pent up prejudices and questions surrounding both my identity and resettlement. Working through our move for several years, combined with being married to a monocultural American, had me thinking that I had most definitely aced that class of knowing who I am as a Third Culture Kid. Then I found out I was pregnant.

I am quite thankful pregnancy is a long journey of nine months (technically ten!) because I spent most of those months wondering if our children would grow up to love the world or to “just” love their town. Would they inherit my gift of languages or remain monolingual? Would they ever become TCKs themselves or would they, in fact, detest air travel?

I recall at least one painful discussion with my [normally patient] spouse after having received our first American football jersey gift for our son. For me, little newborn boys dressed in sports apparel represented American values I deeply disagreed with: to be the biggest, fastest, greatest. Knowing that so much more was hidden under the iceberg of that innocent jersey, my husband told me that, by the way, he simply wasn’t prepared to withhold our child from watching American football or playing it if he wanted to (oh Lord, no!) just because his mother was a TCK. This was coming from a man who despises American football – but this wasn’t about football. He went on to explain that there was nothing wrong with giving our son exposure to each of our cultures but that our child wouldn’t simply become our clone. If, down the line, our child wanted to take part in a 4th of July parade, papa would let him do so. “What!? Don’t you prefer to promote global family values in our home??” I protested.

IMG 2792-001As I continued to toss and turn, wondering how on earth I could raise a global-minded child in the middle of America, especially with the realization that we wouldn’t withhold chintzy Americana from our child, I came to realize that I actually still didn’t fully accept certain parts about living here. Somehow, all this time, I had actually been able to live in my comfy foreigner bubble with very little contact to people who live in my town. As my pregnancy progressed, I was forced to wrestle with the tension I felt, because I could think of nothing worse than for me to pass on my own emotional baggage to my child before he even had a chance to speak. Instead of teaching him how to be a cynical, unpatriotic citizen, would it not be so much more beautiful to teach him how to become a global citizen – with the ability to thrive in each of the cultures that make up our family, without exception?  

That conversation around baby sports apparel got us thinking about how we would intentionally weave and embrace both of our diverse threads into the intercultural fabric of our child’s world. I came to realize that by shutting out my passport culture altogether, I had deprived myself of real friends and any benefits of living in this country. How did I find that out? Well, as soon as I allowed myself to open up the doors of acceptance, I instantly made lifetime friends in our same life-phase. I also was forced to admit that even if we are only here for a season, it is a great place to be with young kids.

Don’t get me wrong, I still wouldn’t dress my newborn in sports apparel and don’t expect me to have any tears flowing on the 4th of July – but I no longer feel I must guard my children from experiencing these things. Instead of constantly having to fight for which culture is most welcome in our family, we are both committed to intentionally raise our children to embrace all facets of growing up in a multicultural and multilingual home.

lemonadestandPractically speaking, papa will speak English to our child and impart the fun things about his culture: being pulled in a little red wagon, selling lemonade on a street corner, or enjoying great customer service. I will speak my languages to our children, sing nursery rhymes in my language at bilingual mama groups, celebrate national holidays and ethnic foods, and the joys and frustrations of the Third Culture. Together, we have chosen to give our children the gift of living free from our own cultural prejudices and to value what each parent brings to our family, knowing that each facet our children receives will make them passionate lovers of this world. Wait, isn’t that what I wanted in the first place anyway? :-)

How about you ATCK parents? Did you have an identity crisis when you became a parent? How does being a Third Culture Kid change your parenting? What are some specific Third Culture values you have been able to impart to your children? What are some tips you would give new TCK parents like me?

Blog post by Esther (a TCK blogger).
All images used with permission from guest blogger. Lemonade stand credit: Flickr Creative Commons Robert S. Donovan


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Past Blog Posts

13 April 2012The Evolution of the TCK - Stage Four: The Trans-Nationalist

Let me begin by making an apology. I cannot believe it has been this long since I last posted a blog. As is the whole world, I too have been...

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28 February 2012The Evolution of the TCK - Stage Three: The Hidden Immigrant

A few weeks ago I began a short series on the behavioral evolution of the Third Culture Kid. The first of the four stages is the Cultural...

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09 February 2012The Evolution of the TCK - Stage Two: The Cultural Chameleon

A few weeks ago I began a short series on the behavioral evolution of the Third Culture Kid. The first of the four stages is the Cultural...

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20 January 2012The Evolution of the TCK - Stage One: The Cultural Sponge

I am often asked about the process an individual goes through to become a Third Culture Kid.  To be honest, I am not sure how long it takes,...

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13 December 2011Christmas TCK Style!

My blog entry today is a bit different. No transition issues…no pontificating about the Third Culture Kid experience. This blog is strictly...

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21 November 2011"The Homeless" by Steffen Pollock

When I was a small child I had a family of hermit crabs that I kept in a rectangular terrarium on the windowsill of my room. On sleepy...

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26 October 2011Rooted or Rootless?

For decades, Third Culture Kids of all stripes have been labeled “rootless”. That has always bothered me. Having grown up highly mobile...

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13 October 2011Those Mid-October Blues

Hey friends, it’s Cami here and it’s almost the middle of October! The thought of that makes me shudder. That’s not because the weather is...

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27 September 2011Bilingualism and Emotional Competency

I was speaking in a class of 10th graders at an English-speaking international school in South Korea and we were discussing the importance of...

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12 September 2011Third Culture Kids - The Early Years

In my work with Third Culture Kids I not only get the privilege of talking to TCKs but I get to spend quality time talking to parents of TCKs...

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01 September 2011Global-Minded Education: A New Currency for the 21st Century

It was a busy week. After several domestic flights this week, I was on my way to South Korea. It was busy in my brain as well. One of my trips...

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11 August 2011Transition Seminar 2011

Some years ago when I first joined the staff at an international school, the Director declared to all of us “newbies” that at the end of the...

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03 August 2011Some of my Most Favorite TCK Resources

Thankfully and unlike 25 years ago, there is a plethora of books, articles, websites and blogs about TCKs available today. Simply “Google”...

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18 July 2011I'm in love with Colin Firth!

Hi World…Cami here…and I am in love!

Libby mentioned to me a while back that Colin Firth was a TCK, but I had no idea how deeply he reflects...

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27 June 2011Living inside my scrapbook

In 2007 I bought a condo. Many of my mono-cultural friends said, ”Uh, it's about time!” Still, I remember the angst I felt when I signed my...

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10 June 2011All TCKs are not the same!

I realize this may seem obvious to some, but all Third Culture Kids are not the same.

I am constantly running into people who assume all TCKs...

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02 June 2011Culture Speak

Hi guys, it's Cami here! Wow! It’s been a while since I wrote for Libby. She asked me to write a blog entry for her this week. I was really...

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24 May 2011Grandparenting Over the Seas

One of the risks of living internationally with young children is that your child may not develop a close relationship with his/her...

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17 May 2011The 3 "Third Culture Kid" Cultures

Many times after I speak, I hear parents referring to their children as 4th, 5th or 6th culture kids because of all the countries they have...

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10 May 2011Think Tank 2011: 6 TCK Trends

Those of us caring for Third Culture Kids and families in global transition know that we can’t possibly be relevant if we don’t understand new...

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26 April 2011Cultivating Cultural Curiosity

"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome,...

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18 April 2011Accompanying Spouse: Live a Little!

Living internationally can be exciting, challenging and lonely - especially if you are the accompanying spouse.

Please note I refer to the...

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12 April 2011Bad and Goodbyes

I love my life, but if I could change one thing, I would do away with the “goodbye” part of it. Saying goodbye takes time, thought and so much...

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29 March 2011Live Overseas for Years and You Won't Want to Talk About it.

“Live overseas for a month and you’ll want to write an article about it.  Live overseas for a year and you’ll want to write a book about...

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11 March 2011"Home" by Matthew Taw

I’ve lived in Qingdao long enough to call Americans foreigners. I turn and stare at anyone who has blond hair or fair skin. This ocean city of...

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02 March 2011Why Traditions are Critical in TCK Schools

Celebrating traditions is very important in the TCK school.  Why are traditions so important? And who are they important to? Here are some...

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03 February 2011What Makes a Person a TCK?

I should have written this a few days ago, but I was adjusting to life back here in the USA after three weeks in China. On that note, Happy...

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27 January 2011My Kind of "Normal"

What a day to fly! It is stunning out my window. There are just the right amount of clouds in the sky. Can't wait to fly into the patch of...

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19 January 2011A Sojourner Forever

I am sitting on an airplane again.  Actually, I love it. And this flight is even better than most - I have been upgraded to First Class....

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03 January 2011A Word from Cami


Hey there!

My name is Camilla. My friends call me Cami. Most people say Cami is short for Camilla, but I prefer to think it is short for...

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17 December 2010Treasuring my Grief

I just changed phone companies. This was the first time I had to do this since I moved back to the United States eight years ago. It was...

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10 December 20103 Tips to Reduce Time to Proficiency

If you are sending personnel to work in a guest culture, you will no doubt be thinking about how quickly they can settle in and become...

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29 November 2010Beautifully international schools

The international school takes pride in the number of nationalities enrolled. That number is usually listed on the website. The school profile...

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27 October 2010Transitioning well for Success

It has been said that more than half of all international joint ventures will fail within two or three years due to 'cultural myopia' and...

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03 August 2010Helping your students bridge the gap

I had an interesting conversation with a TCK university student the other day. She was reflecting on her first days in an American school. She...

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19 July 2010You’re the new kid on the block? Relax!

It’s the easy things that we take for granted that trip us up when we move to another culture. Where do I buy aspirin? How do I make the...

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