'Where are you from' is an impossible question for (adult) Third Cultural Kids! Would 'where do you belong' be a fair alternative?!
As I make my way to the airport today, I feel truly excited to relocate at last to the country of my heart. At the same time, I’m reflecting on what the word ‘belong’ really means.
I realize that it is made up of two words: ‘be’ and ‘long’. In that sense, yes, I was ‘long’ in my country of birth and passport. Reflecting on the deeper meaning of ‘belonging,’ though, one point is very obvious: I have felt little ‘belonging’ in this country. Not during the first 8 years of my life here, nor after 32 years of repatriation. While I looked like the locals, I didn’t speak or act like them, I wasn’t familiar with their manners, and I didn’t have much in common with their education culture.
Nevertheless, I married a monocultural local, the father of my gorgeous son. Plus, I engaged in three careers, the last of which saw me founding an agency for intercultural coaching. I admit that career-wise, it looked as if I had found my way. As long as I performed consistently, I was in. In particular, working with international organizations across the globe made it possible for me to ‘belong’ – and ‘be long.’
My experience in Greece was, in a way, the opposite. Its relationship-oriented culture matched my own values nicely. Still, I only lived there during my childhood, and part-time during my self-employed years. And I barely worked with the locals – despite my attempts.
As a natural initiator and creator of new business ideas, I was positive that I could succeed there as I had done many times before. Guess what? It didn’t work out as I expected, leaving me with endless sleepless nights. So, I found myself going from one extreme to another. Where I was happy living, I wasn’t happy working, and vice versa. What I learned: to focus exclusively on multinational organizations and clients. That works well for my business and allows me to feel at home.
Do I ‘belong’ to this country where I’ve lived during the summer months for the last 5 years? No! The locals recognize me as a ‘foreigner’ and are very reluctant to trust anyone outside their own family. In addition, most of my family – including my son whom I love dearly – lives a two-and-a half hour flight away in another country. So why am I SO happy to relocate? Trying to understand the theory behind the practice, I have talked to numerous adult TKCs, read several books, and yet I still cannot put a finger on it.
Is it – as a client suggests – that with age, one goes back to where they spent most of their formative years?
Is it that, in the country I’m heading to, my relationship-oriented personalityfits the locals’ personality so much better?
Is it that I’ll wake up one day and regret what I’ve done, because I’m simplyhaving delusions? And yet, I feel so very excited in every single cell of my body!
Is it simply a coincidence that my passport country doesn’t match my personality, and the one of my latest residence does?
Is it that the feeling of ‘belonging’ simply changes as life goes on?
"I believe that
we must uncover
what is important to us"
We want the feeling of ‘belonging’, but to ‘be long’ is a challenge for most adult TCKs, at least at some point in our lives. The truth is, the longer I travel this journey, the more I detach from countries, cities and places, and the more I ‘belong’ to the very moment, simply being. Have you experienced similar feelings? Would love to hear your ‘belong’ and ‘be long’ story!
Edited by Robyn Penny
Kindly published by Business Fit Magazine, July 2019, page 10-11