Exploring bridges: burning them, building them, and what it all means.

I literally took a trip down memory lane the other day. I was asked to drop a file off at a building across from where I lived when I first moved to the city. At first, the thought of going there filled me with absolute dread – it had been a really weird time in my life when I lived in a grim, box-sized room. I had been overwhelemed by the city, threatened to be swallowed whole by the dirt and the noise; overstimulated but also lonely. I was young, with no coping mechanisms in place – it is not a time I remember fondly.

I saw the pub on the corner, the familiar trees on either side of the road. I walked slowly down the street, expecting that feeling of dread to fill and suffocate me. What happened next was weird – it didn’t happen at all. The large Georgian building made me feel next to nothing. I was merely an observer, and it was merely a building. I realised I’d given it so much power in my mind, only to realise it was just bricks and concrete.

It seemed that perhaps without the shadowing of subjective memory, all these bad times that I hold in the back of my mind with near reverence were the same, just times. Would it be the same for some of the other periods in my life? The flat in Greece we were burgled in, the inner-city hospital that saw my first big loss? The school I struggled to fit into? Have I been carrying all these bad memories, cards tightly held against my chest, for nothing?

As a third culture kid (TCK), I’ve become used to leaving places and likely never going back, leaving people and likely never seeing them again. It’s my modus operandi, my protection; never looking back was something I thought was beneficial. The other day made me realise, however, that sometimes going back is good. Sometimes confronting the skeletons in your closet, or the places that saw your perceived worst, can be beneficial in order to truly move forward. Sometimes, on closer inspection, they don’t actually look like skeletons at all.

Blending in and Belonging: a Third Culture Kid’s Story

I was born in urban Johannesburg, South Africa to Irish and South African parents. At the age of nine, the family relocated to suburban Athens, Greece. After a few years, we relocated to rural Ireland. I went from swimming pools to giant forests in my backyard with just a few years inbetween. The countries separate my developmental stages, child, pre-adolescent, adolescent, and young adult. Every move I sought to reinvent myself, but found myself mostly staying the same. The same, but indescribably different.

I have always been confused about where home is to me, I both resent and exploit the eccentricities of my upbringing. When in one of My Countries, I tell people I’m from The Other. I have always wanted to belong, blend in, wave to neighbours in the street. I also like to be the new girl, the blank slate, the one who makes small, silly blunders of colloquialism and translation. I am a walking naughties flick chick caricature.

Learning about bugs, or something

I have reached a point where I have stayed in the same city for seven years, and the same country for ten (gulp). I have itchy feet, wanderlust, and dream of foreign shores daily. Yet I am still here. Here but not here. Always I wonder: do I not belong because I don’t put down roots, or do I not put down roots because I feel I don’t belong? I’m not sure I’ll ever know the answer; and yet I remain untethered, ready to leave at a moment’s notice. I too am a Millenial, a member of Generation Rent, does that help me or hinder me?

Actual, barefoot me

I was born into Apartheid, was barely past a toddler when South Africa had her first black president. I have travelled deserts, walked barefoot without my feet touching shoes for days on end, and felt the feeling of nearly drowning many times in the Indian Ocean. I have seen wild fires ravaging parched land, ancient archaeological sites with marble smooth and shiny from millenia of footsteps. I have snowmobiled in Yellowstone, and skied in the shadow of Mount Olympus. I have made and lost more friends I can count; some great, some merely transient anyway.

How can I possibly tell anyone everything I have seen? Everything I know, everything I worry about? People who have stayed in the same city all their lives – with a back-catalogue of friends from playschool to present – how can I possibly compare, communicate? My language is Greek and English, art and Afrikaans, weather, music, starry nights and French and Spanish. I grew up bilingual but also learned foreign languages before both my parents. As a ten-year old my juice stall in a different alphabet, language and currency than what I was born into.

The final question, is can this void in me ever be filled? I plan holidays and I travel. When I travel, I travel incognito, with my local’s disguise. I dread someone finding out who I am – what I am – but what am I? What is it I live in fear of being discovered? A fake, a fraud? Or someone who knows ‘home is where you hang your hat’? Do I try and blend in, or do I open my messy self up for examination?

Do I tell them who I am?