When I first went to college in 2002, I had a very hard time fitting in because of my background and inability to answer the notorious “where are you from?” question consistently and confidently. Ironically, it was in a city where its residents claimed to be some of the most open-minded and diverse people lived: San Francisco. I always wished that there was some way to know who knew what it was like to come from an international school or hate answering the aforementioned (read: dreaded) question wherever I was at in order to have some potential friends to relate to, and nowadays, there is that resource and it’s found in social media. Looking back and looking at how it’s shaped a new generation of TCKs, I almost wish that resource never came.
Keeping in touch. We already were at the age of e-mail and MSN Messenger (because AIM was just for those silly Americans who had yet to follow the rest of the world, just like moving to metric and Celsius instead of Imperial and Fahrenheit). However, aside from a couple group message boards like my graduating high school class put together where people occasionally checked or posted pictures in, communication was just e-mails (and that was already great itself because I lost friends from living before e-mail too). Juggling e-mail and adjusting to a new life was hard and sometimes necessary, because seeing who still kept in touch showed who still gave a damn about me.
Thankfully, we did have someone like my cousin Nick who I ended up becoming much closer to because he just happened to be online more. If people around me were out Friday night and I was lonely and missing my friends who were out with their new friends (or in actuality, dealing with their own struggles), I was at home chatting with Nick and a few others on MSN Messenger to keep sane while complaining about how life after international school was different.
For the few people including Nick whom I kept in touch with, our friendships grew stronger over the years; for everyone else, I don’t have many positive things to say about them and keeping in touch, especially for those who lived in the exact same city as me yet complained that they were too busy to keep in touch.
I’m happy we have Facebook and Twitter because we know what everyone’s up to–but that sense of quality time seems to diminish. Some may argue that seeing those pictures is nice and a good way to know what’s going on, but the interaction–the quality of interaction–is diminishing I feel. Part of it seems to come from people focused more on what they put out on their Facebook walls and occasional comments on status updates or photos. Yet those thoughts posted in cyberspace don’t carry enough of the emotional weight, whether it’s what’s broadcasted or responded to, and that connection doesn’t replace or even come anywhere close to someone calling me or visiting me to offer their support.
To be fair, I know it can help introduce people to one another, but the point I hate is, people know coming out of high school and going to college seriously take for granted how hard it was for me to keep in touch with people or meet people back before social media.
Discovering kindred spirits. There was something magical about accidentally running into someone and discovering through the course of conversation, or being introduced to them by friends who realized we had something in common, that we shared similar experiences, joys, and pains of being Third Culture Kids. It made all those moments all the more wonderful and precious because we knew they wouldn’t come so easily.
These days, whenever I meet someone who is a TCK, yes, it’s nice, but the excitement doesn’t seem to be there, and often they don’t seem to care about meeting or expanding their network of fellow TCKs because they still have their small network of friends from their international schools. But back then? It was almost an immediate rush to connect and support one another. Now it’s hard, and part of it I feel is not just the lack of desire to expand (ironically enough), but also because of paranoia of strangers since we can search them out and do a background check on Google. So much for trust and opening our minds.
Again, to be fair, I love how I can post on my blog or Twitter or the Facebook group that I’m out here, this is my story, and I’m not alone in my thoughts. In fact, the good thing is, at least the older generation TCKs pre-social media are discovering me and we’re making connections, including me getting offers for couches to surf on when traveling, opportunities to write for Denizen Magazine, and actually discovering that though we may share common experiences, a lot of people are folks I probably wouldn’t talk to because they handle the reality check of being TCKs in a world that had less understanding or sympathy for us then than it does now.
Sharing stories. As much as I’ve felt bitter about how privileged the new generation of TCKs are because social media makes it easier for them in addition to Google, I am happy that it exists because at least the process of self-awareness and discovery becomes a lot more interactive and community-driven. With the book This Book is Not Required where I wrote articles for Third Culture Kids, the TCK social network my.tckid.com, more and more articles and books about us with more conferences, I can see the struggle, even if it’s changed, may not exist once it becomes more common and acceptable. If not this generation, at least within a couple more I see that the Global Nomad/Third Culture Kid will become the norm rather than the anomaly. And we’ll all be trending it on Twitter, sharing it on Facebook, reviewing it in our blogs, talking about it on YouTube, and clicking “like”.
Back then, I always thought something was wrong with me, and environment is stronger than willpower, and being surrounded by judgmental jerks ostracizing us is not a good way to grow. Now that a simple Google search or all these resources are available, the simple question is no longer about understanding our identities, but asking what we’ll do with our experiences–something I am always emphasizing. At the very least, telling our stories is what will inspire or bring each other together. And it’s not just stories for other TCKs, but for the whole world too.