Back in the day, I used to change the acronyms for all the international schools I’ve been in to reflect my thoughts about where I was, sentiments a lot of my friends shared. One of those was BISM: Brent International School of Morons. The M was for Manila originally, but like any school, it had its bullies, its less-than-stellar teachers, and drama.
I was originally a Domestic Third Culture Kid, one who moved around a lot in one country before going to a new country, which was the Philippines. So by the time I hit my tenth school, which was BISM (Bimbos In Sexy Miniskirts), it was always the same story: being bullied since I was always the new guy (and for many years, the fat kid too), struggling to fit in, make friends, adjust, then failing to do all of that and wondering when I would be in the next school.
In retrospect, I sure didn’t feel like a Third Culture Kid, I just felt like I was in a bad place with bad people, and as the old Harvey Danger song goes, ” [I’ve] been around the world to find that only stupid people were breeding,” I just didn’t see that open-mindedness or kind-heartedness I look for in people now.
Granted, it’s definitely a broad assumption I had to think all TCKs would be open, understanding, compassionate and kind, which is exactly why I think we should have a progressive, forward-looking charter to follow as global citizens, which we as TCKs would be at an advantage to adopt. As I say time and again, it’s not where we come from or what we came out of, but where we are going.
One of the definite highlights back in the day at BISM (Brains in small minority) was that the general question was “Where are you going to for college?” as opposed to “Are you going to college?” due to the nature of being an expensive private school that prepares us for university education.
Of course, when the time came and I went to college in the United States, I really felt more ignorant initially because I didn’t know how to do certain things like taking money out of the bank or that visas referred to credit cards, not mandatory stamps in my passport used to get into other countries. This foreignness or otherness was furthered by my pronunciation of Spanish and French words without the American accent, saying coup d’etat since I had French friends who held me to it while teaching me wonderful words like merde, whereas the American kids said “coop deh-taht.”
So I never felt special, I never felt I was above anyone else, I always felt lesser than others, whether it was amongst locals in a country or other TCKs. When I first learned I was a TCK, I was initially overjoyed until I remembered the things I went through and all the people I disliked back in BISM (But it’s spilt milk!). Most of the open-minded people I’ve come across were still in small minority from international schools. But when I meet someone at a bar or cafe or in the company of mutual friends who just happens to have come from an international school, we do share this moment of excitement and happiness because we both shared the same experience (the horror, the horror!) and can relate at least on some level. I’ll still wonder if that person is someone I would have hated, dated, or been opinionated about before adding them to my list of friends, though.
The image I still have of international schools comes from my celebration of the prison break we call graduation night: I am finally leaving the tiny fishbowl where everyone acts like they’re big fish, but now we’re going out into the “real” world and they’re gonna be in the sea of life, minnows devoured by the sharks while I’m scoring with the mermaids. Almost ten years later, I talk to some old classmates and see that they still exist in the same social circles and cage of a city we grew up in instead of walking out and taking a leap of faith, too afraid of falling instead of trying to soar. Yes: these are international school and Third Culture Kids too. So much for the open-mindedness and kind-heartedness individuals who have no comfort zones!
I will always love my high school BISM (Because it’s still mine!) because of what I got out of it rather than what I went through there, and there are many lifelong friends I’ve met from there I still keep in touch with. But I still don’t feel like a Third Culture Kid when I think of my days in BISM (Bah, I’m still me) nor do I really feel like one now. So I’ll just have to go with being me and being the best me I can be, living in the here and now instead of looking back and trying to figure out how I got here and where I go next.