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Moving home was the biggest culture shock of my life

28 Sep 2017

In the run up to our birthday and release of our second print issue, we’ll be posting articles focusing on this year’s theme of ‘HOME’ . They will feature content centred around our experiences relating to what home means for us as women and non binary people of colour, in a personal and political sense. Tickets for the print launch on Friday 29 September are sold out, but you can pre order the issue here.

When your parents are international teachers, one thing is for certain – your life is an ongoing adventure. My Filipino mother and American father are amazing teachers who love to travel, and merged these two passions early on in their lives. They’ve been on the road ever since, teaching at international or American schools across the globe. Thanks to their nomadic lifestyle, I’ve had the pleasure of living in Dubai, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Doha growing up, all while attending the schools they worked at.

I may not have known it at the time, but growing up as a third culture kid was one of the best gifts my parents could have given me. I got to see the world, and not just the pretty parts you see while on vacation. My first concert was the Gorillaz in Lebanon. My middle school’s version of camp sent me on week-long trips to Oman and Malaysia. My favourite Christmas’ were the ones I spent in the Philippines handing out presents and meals to families who lived in a nearby rice field. My high school basketball team got to travel to neighbouring countries for tournaments every season, unless it was our turn to host. My senior year prom was thrown in a tent with camels – the pictures were amazing.

“My nomadic and third culture lifestyle was, and still is, heavily ingrained in my identity”

However, the best parts were the people. From the students to the staff, there were people with different backgrounds and ethnicities, practising different customs and religions, and all with amazing stories to tell. My nomadic and third culture lifestyle was, and still is, heavily ingrained in my identity. I’m not sure I’d be the same person today without it.

When college finally came calling, I felt more than ready to take on this new chapter of my life. For the first time ever, I was on my way to live in America – one of my two homes. Getting ready to move to D.C. I remember feeling an overflow of emotions – I felt anxious, overwhelmed, and excited, but I wasn’t afraid. Because nomads aren’t afraid to travel, it’s in our DNA. You see, I thought I had the upper hand. Having lived overseas my entire life, I thought I had moving to new countries down to a tee. Spoiler alert: I didn’t.

On arrival, I unpacked my things and kissed my parents goodbye. Then when all the fuss of moving was finally over, I sat alone in my decorated dorm room and was met with an overbearing sense of loneliness. At first, I thought this was just the same motions and homesickness every freshman goes through, but weeks turned into months and I couldn’t shake the feeling.

I grew envious of other students who had the option to hop on a bus and be home within hours. I couldn’t even hop on a plane and be home in that amount of time. My parents lived worlds away, and my closest immediate family lived on the opposite coast. Weekend getaways were not in the cards for me.

“I’ve never felt so distant from the person I prided myself to be”

What’s worse is that I was embarrassed to feel this way. I’ve always identified as a nomad – a natural traveler who easily adjusts to new environments and can make any place feel like home. I’ve never been afraid to travel. I’ve never been afraid of new experiences. I’ve never been afraid to uproot my life. But for the first time, I was. I’ve never felt so distant from the person I prided myself to be.

With time, I realised one big underlying factor that was different in this situation; I’ve attended new schools before, I’ve moved to new countries before, but I’ve never done it on my own. So, instead of being embarrassed, I decided to own it. I let myself feel lonely and sad, but I didn’t let it encompass me. It took time and effort, but I found my tribe. And once I started to apply myself in school, broaden my friend group and focus on the exciting aspects of discovering my new home, my perspective started to change. I started to feel that excitement for exploring new places and experiencing new adventures again.

So for all my third culture kids who are embarking on the journey to college – don’t be afraid, be prepared. You’ve moved around before, but this time it might feel different. Give yourself time to adjust, time to feel sad and lonely, and when you’re done make sure to pick yourself up and keep on going. You’re in college, after all. Soon enough, you’ll be writing new chapters. I promise you it will be worth it.