The depth of experiences and the diversity of stories that those who travel and undergo great changes in life are sure to make for great conversation starters at a cocktail party. Unfortunately, there is a point where that bragging and exceptional uniqueness becomes a distasteful hubris that alienates people from one another, leaving them to sulk in the corner and meet like-minded folks who were similarly rejected. It is upon this moment they realize they are both not just travelers, but fellow Third Culture Kids, and they decide to talk about how everyone else is closed-minded or doesn’t get them, and generally caught in a bog of stagnant muck unable to see what’s out there. The two of them enjoy a moment at the party, and everyone else lives their lives mingling: the two of them stand in their corner, martinis in hand, laughing at the bubble in front of them. That is openness and sense of adventure becomes lost in “civilian” settings and results in the so-called “worldly” people to merely replace one bubble for another instead of “venturing outside their comfort zone” and “exploring the world” or being “more open-minded” than “others”.
I won’t ever deny that I’m a TCK, but I’ve gone past the point where I have to force it down people’s throats. My reflections here aren’t meant to say how I and this community are better than others, but to comment on how there are times when my traumas and my travels have both made it difficult to relate to people whose biggest life shock was moving to college in another town from where they grew up. I do operate on a different wave length because my reference points are from multiple countries and cultures, but I don’t go out of my way to justify obnoxious behavior by using that as an explanation.
That’s all masturbation, really. Before social media, I had to deal with whatever I put out there, and I did think I had problems and something was wrong with me, but it did force me to adapt more. When TCKID launched and Facebook had its TCK groups, I watched myself and others become more comfortable with ourselves, then I saw the quick spiral into an abyss of pathological victimizing and self-marketing. We love the attention, and TCK or not, we are liars to say we don’t. TCKs are actually more interested in attention, both from a mix of wanting to catch up for being left out for years amongst civilians and from not wanting to be normal and civilian.
An example: bragging about eloquent answers to questions for personal statements in law school or grad school apps, describing an international upbringing but not answering the question asking why they want to be a lawyer or be in a particular program, then copying and pasting it for the community to see, give back a dozen likes and comments, and soaking it all in.
We get the attention we want, but that is the same kind that enables and encourages us to not integrate. But why should we care? There are others like us who understand and feel the same way too. This is the beginning of closing minds that were supposedly opened from being exposed to the world.
Revelation: the mind becomes more exposed when it takes in information, but exposure does not mean the mind is open. These experiences were forced onto us, more often than not. Shock and awe, fear and loathing: we adapted out of necessity. And it became an addiction so great we wanted more. But what is it to be a traveler who goes to leave her comfort zone only to live in an expat bar waiting to meet other denizens? What then, is the problem with a girl from Vietnam who works in Indonesia and Cambodia for several years, but never bothers to mingle or make friends with locals, yet a chance meeting one night with American backpackers in Bangkok and they are suddenly life-long friends, especially because they’re both TCKs?
Replacing one bubble for another: this is what Facebook and other social media sites have done. We are happy to reach out to those who share not only our experiences, but our hearts and minds. It’s only then that we find that this metaphysical space online is the comfort zone we go to when the world seems like a nasty place. Oh, that’s right: our egregious sanctimony has created divisions that weren’t there between us and non-TCKs. Travelers and settlers, vagabonds and civilians, globalists and parochials: a very dangerous dichotomy that has arisen from the greater “community” available.
Nobody is more open-minded just because of experience. It’s attitude, and usually, that can be derived from those experiences. People use the “I’m a TCK and I lived in the Philippines for so many years, blah blah blah, so I know more than you about cultural approximation and colonial mentality than you!” to win arguments by giving themselves authority. People use the same badge of “open-minded” to attack people whose opinions may deviate from the popular ones, and I’ve seen it when making a facetious comment that someone ASSUMED was me “not getting” what was being talked about in regards to how things are bigger in Texas. It’s like people thinking that the term “liberal” equals open-minded without realizing that it’s actually just a set of values and a perspective, or how “rationalism” is another form of subjectivity that pretends to be purely objective and the baseline for awareness and understanding.
In traveling the past year, I’ve had this grievance that has become a lot easier to define the more I am living in the world rather than in a bubble, and less time on Facebook or other forms of social media. I engage locals and TCKs out of necessity, and as I share this article to a TCK group, I know I’m kicking a hornet’s nest, but so what? I’m Johnny C before I’m anything else. I’m not a counselor, I’m not a sheep trying to be an alpha male of the lions because I was raised by ligers and tigons after being born on a boat and growing up in Pondicherry, India, and I’m definitely not a celebrity. I’m just a guy with an opinion, take it or leave it, and if I’m an idiot or a jerk in your eyes, the answer is yes, yes I am–so what? If I’m someone respected, loved, and admired, thanks, but you don’t know me. What I do and what I feel is me. There are plenty of ways I enact good will in the world, but I won’t list them here because that’s the public broadcasting of accomplishments, pride in nothing that is insincere, like someone bragging about how much she shared Kony 2012 on Facebook or how many loans she made on Kiva.
Simply put: go out and live. If you’re a TCK, that does not mean you are more open-minded and unlikely to be in a bubble. It gives you different frames of reference and can inspire you to do more things than the average person would, but don’t assume you’re more open-minded and worldly. That smugness is a badge people wear whether they are TCKs, PhD or JD holders, or just have a lot of zeroes in their bank account. That badge is the same as getting a Wonderbra and bragging to everyone how much bigger your breasts look, that you must therefore be sexier than everyone else because you look bigger than them, and if they don’t see how much bigger your bust was than before, you are more than happy to get in someone’s face and rub it in them to make sure they know, while expecting them to respond by saying “Wow, you’re great; that’s really great! I’m so inferior to you, I should be your friend and lavish you with attention and kiss your feet!”
Don’t wear a badge to flash it in public and brag to your friends how you bared your ass to everyone and didn’t care that they gave you the finger in response. That’s exactly what self-promotion in real life to civilians and bragging to fellow TCKs online is. We have a different experience and world view, but we don’t have to advertise it all the time. There’s a time and place for everything, that time is never and you can figure out the place yourself.