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A North American TCK in Russia

Departure. Sheremetyevo Airport, Moscow, Russia.

My earliest childhood memory as a TCK is a jumbled concoction of airport images. Rough landings on rocky tarmac and the irritatingly redundant voices over the loudspeaker announcing gate changes. Delayed departure times. Layovers, turbulence and sleeping on leather benches — the arm-rest sharply stabbing me in the ribs. Duty-free perfume samples. Metal detectors. Overweight luggage. Airsick bags. Passport control — my eyes heavy and legs shaky, as I slowly waddle forward in the crowd, waiting for my turn. A deep grumbling in my stomach lets me know I’m either hungry or nauseated.

The well-anticipated sound of a large stamp hitting the pages echoes in the booth, and I am free to go. I have no clue where home is, yet that ominous word seems to be automatically classified by a little navy blue booklet with the powerful words “United States of America” smoothly printed in gold lettering at the bottom. No more waiting in lines: the day or two of mindless travel is over. And yet this freedom does not quite satisfy. Deliriously exiting the confines of the airport, though happy I have arrived at my destination — a city in which I am very much a local, I cannot help but long for where I came from or where I once lived.

L: A view from the plane, somewhere over the Atlantic; R: Back in the states, driving in Tampa, Florida

It is this combination of childhood recollection that defines what being a Third Culture Kid is to me. A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is someone who spent a large portion of their childhood and/or adolescence living outside of their passport country. This charmed existence is both a gift and a punishment awarded to us by our parents. Growing up in seven different countries, and moving 12 times in my 25 years, has given me an ever-changing life, but it is also a life of many constants. What remains unaltered is the exhaustive chase for one’s soul, comfort and stability. At times, it is habitual traveling that seems to be the only remedy for the restless spirit of a TCK.

Growing up in seven different countries, and moving 12 times in my 25 years, has given me an ever-changing life, but it is also a life of many constants. What remains unaltered is the exhaustive chase for one’s soul, comfort and stability. At times, it is habitual traveling that seems to be the only remedy for the restless spirit of a TCK.

Sometimes these constants come to us in the rarest forms. For me, it was Russia that became my security. My often overused “TCK” label had somehow developed into one much more serious: “A North American in Russia.” This title seems to be more exotic, especially with the current political climate, but I carry it like a badge of honor. It opened my eyes to a world beyond the passports, the identities, the slogans or clichés used by my community of fellow wanderers.

Most importantly, it shed light on the true insides of a mentality that the Western media has rarely, if ever, covered. By mastering the language and becoming one with the culture, I found myself delving so deep into my North American antithesis. This is how I realized this life was no curse. A TCK’s worldview is one that sees from all perspectives; our multi-faceted insight exposes shocking parallels between nations known to be hideously different from one another. This is something I can’t stop talking about.

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13 comments

  1. Touching story. Having the TCK background helps in establishing and communicating your worldview to others, especially those individuals who are more limited in terms of their location/accessibility to technology.

  2. This is a very interesting story. This semester I’m in a class where we learn all about TCK’s and the trials and tribulations of the life they live. This gives a great and personal perspective of what life is like and how exposure to different countries and cultures changes your worldview.

  3. The first line of this article really drew me in as I could relate to the’ jumbled concoction of airport images’ as this is the way a distinct period of my childhood was like as well. It was a great way to encapture what exposure to different cultures and places could do to change your worldview.

  4. This a nice short story about what a TCK is and how their world is different from those that don’t identify as a TCK. TCKs have to go through a lot especially when they might not really identify where they may live at the moment and understanding their struggles is a start to understanding them as a person.

  5. I relate so much to the feelings described in this article. I’m also a TCK and understand what it’s like to not feel completely at home in your passport country. Thank you for sharing your story and for pointing out that the lives of TCKs are not all the same!

  6. This article was very interesting to me. Specifically, the way TCKs are able to build their own identities through navigating different cultures early in their life. TCKs are taught to see from all perspectives at a young age. I believe this is a valuable skill for everyone to learn. The fact that you had the opportunities to navigate a stereotype filled world at such a young age will help you stay culturally fluid for the rest of your life.

  7. Fantastic imagery, it really drew me in immediately. Thank you for sharing your experience being one of the benefits and challenges you experienced as a specifically “North American in Russia”. It’s interesting to see the identity you choose to hold amongst your community of “fellow wanderers” and how your multi-faceted insight allows for deeper contemplation of the nations you were in between. Yours is a perspective I haven’t heard yet so thank you for adding your voice to the mix. Beautifully written.

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