The TCK Experience Of The Dictionary Of Obscure Sorrows

Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

I love the “Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows,” I love watching their YouTube channel, and I love finding ways that these strange words help explain my experience. When I watch their videos and the description feels like it’s been plucked from a familiar conversation that I’ve had in my own head, I get chills. The videos are done extremely well and I have a found a lot of connection with their words. I’ve done a few Twitter posts on some of the words, but I want to take a moment to explore five of these words in depth and share their relation to the Third Culture Kid (TCK) identity.

The most salient place to start in the dictionary would be with Lutalica: the part of your identity that doesn’t fit into categories. I feel like this is what being a TCK is all about; there’s huge chunks of you life that no one knows about and couldn’t categorize unless they knew your identity. Truthfully, it’s even difficult categorizing TCKs — we come from infinite backgrounds, and have innumerable stories with unbelievable journeys that we deem to be our very ordinary lives.


While there is so little understanding of the TCK identity, it’s an experience that many TCKs have found to be exhausting to try and talk about. Not because it’s difficult to explain where we’ve been and what we’ve seen — everyone likes to talk about themselves — but because so many people lack understanding, or lack the interest to listen.

So TCKs often give up, and this feeling — as expressed in the dictionary — is Exulansis: giving up trying to explain an experience because people are unable to relate to it, be it by envy or the foreignness of the concept.

I think the travel bug is a far greater psychological itch than we give it credit for. It’s driven by the realization that we’ve been somewhere, and we could be somewhere else. For TCKs, it can be extremely frustrating to be where we are, rather than the infinite destinations we might choose. Onism is the awareness of how little of the world you’ll experience, and the frustration with only being able to see so much. This feeling we get is one that has been awakened by our experiences; it’s an almost primal desire seeking only the id’s satisfaction.

The TCK identity is a hidden one, and discovering another TCK is like having a Sonder moment. Discovering hidden diversity is the definition of sonder: to realize that the people around you all have their own vivid and complex lives to which they are the protagonist. I love this word, because it reminds me to be skeptical, and to ask the questions that no one else will. I’ll ask, “Where did you grow up?” instead of “Where are you from?” It’s a better way to get to know someone, and to discover what is hidden in their identity beneath the ordinary facade portrayed to the world.

Although I strive to know people an discover those hidden identities, I have often found it frustrating to remain in that acquaintance period, especially when I already know there’s more to come. I once heard that TCKs actually have a shorter time that it takes to cross the barriers between acquaintance and friend, and that for a TCK there’s a bit of a reversed order: we want to get to know you before we spend time with you.  

Whereas for most people, they want to spend time with you before they really want to know you. It’s a reversal of vulnerabilities. For TCKs, time with people is a valuable commodity. We see more risk in wasting time with the wrong people than we do being vulnerable to someone we hardly know. So we strive to understand whether or not we want to spend our time with them.

I found this in the dictionary term Adronitis, the frustration with how long it takes to get to know someone. I have made some of the deepest human connections with people I will never see again this way; getting to the bare grits of who you are, and who they are first, rather than asking them their weekend plans.

Although they may not have the same vocabulary as the “Dictionary for Obscure Sorrows,” the annual Families In Global Transitions conference certainly talks about many of these things, and is a place where these experiences are held dear, respected, and explored through research, discussions and keynote speakers.

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