Paola Kalb: Blood Is Thicker Than Water, Even Across the Seas

Paola Kalb

Third Culture Kids (or TCKs) are tasked with the challenge of navigating the rocky waters of relationships without a secure port of harbor to call home since we typically live in such transitory environments. This struggle has been something of major importance and relevance in my own life since I have had to say goodbye to extended family members and far too many friends as they move on to their new destinations. The only constants in this turmoil have been my mother and sister, both of whom I have strong relationships with considering how much change we all have been through together. From having to move to London, England from Miami to coping with friends leaving for college or new countries, the two of them have always been there for me, and I for them. At the end of the day, Third Culture Kids only have safe anchorage with their family since it is hard to open up to anyone else and build close relationships with new people when there is always the possibility that they will eventually move away. Family, however, never goes anywhere and so they are often important parts of TCKs’ identities. I know for a fact that if it was not for my mother and younger sister, I would not be who I am today because, for me, that family bond has been the most positive result of being a Third Culture Kid.

I always had difficulty connecting with people and making new friends due to the fact that I had far too many experiences with people moving away and losing those relationships. The few close friends that I was able to make during high school all moved away within years of each other. One left at the end of ninth grade, one at the end of tenth and three at the end of eleventh because they graduated and moved back to the United States for college. By the time my senior year rolled around I was almost immune to the departure of friends and had accepted the fact that it was my turn to leave my younger friends behind when I went off to college. With each friend that moved away, the more closed off and afraid I became of meeting new people because I was convinced that they too would become just names on the Facebook “Friends” list.

However, I am not the only one who has these insecurities, for it is a common difficulty that TCKs face due to the transient nature of our environments. In a research article written by Anastasia Aldelina Lijadi and Gertina J van Schalkwyk it was found that many TCKs struggle with forming important relationships and have commitment issues because of the frequent moving and time differences. One participant in the study lamented losing friends because of how challenging it was to communicate in different time zones. Another common complaint was about the adjustment to different cultures and the challenge that presented when trying to make friends. This adaptation to new environments creates a rift between the new kids and the locals thus making it difficult to make friends and connect with one another. Usually, as a result, we turn to other TCKs; however, that only perpetuates the problematic cycle of making and losing friends since we know that eventually someone will move away.

The only constant I have ever experienced is my family. The moving and adjustment to British culture only helped to strengthen our relationships because the three of us were experiencing the transition together and fully understood what the other was feeling at that time. My sister and I would frequently complain to each other about how homesick we were and whenever we were having difficult days in school we would have lunch together. We found comfort in each other’s company, especially when we wanted a friendly face to talk to. I would often talk to my mom about what it was like to live away from our extended family and it was healing to know that she was able to find ways to enjoy her life in London. I tried to follow her example and look at the positives of living abroad.

Many other Third Culture Kids find comfort in their family. We are our own support unit and the only ones who understand the shared experiences from our country of origin and the current host country. Most TCKs cite their parents as the reason for moving mainly due to work. Even though it is a struggle for us to adjust and there are times when we feel resentment towards our parents, most Third Culture Kids are grateful for the new experiences their parents gave them and the close familial relations that developed. In Carrie Kortegast, and Emily M. Yount’s research article “Identity, Family, and Faith: U.S. Third Culture Kids Transition to College” they explore this phenomena of how important family is with one participant in the study saying “The only consistent thing was family, because they never leave” (Kortegast, 10); thus reiterating my point that for Third Culture Kids family is vital.

I have certainly been impacted by being a Third Culture Kid in terms of relations with others. It is hard to make friends because I worry about people deciding to move somewhere new and, as a result, I do not easily trust people. When it comes to my family, though, the effects of having moved and lived in a different country are much more positive. We have been through quite a lot and are much closer than we would be had we stayed in Miami. Moving away to college was one of the hardest things I have done because it was time to transition back into American culture without them. But even though there is an ocean between us, blood is thicker than water. And I would never have learnt just how important and indestructible family is if I had never become a Third Culture Kid.