How to be a good Third Culture Kid

I’m a third culture kid. The basic definition of a TCK (as they are called for short) is someone who grows up in a country different from where their parents grew up.  Of course, there are variations within this broad definition.  I, for example, have parents from two different countries and have spent significant developmental portions of my life in their respective countries (Namibia and the USA, two very different places).

For me, this has resulted in chronic wanderlust, knowing from a young age which airplane food to avoid, and the ability to code-switch, resulting in the ability to make almost anyone feel comfortable even when I’m not.

From as young an age as I can remember, I have been saying goodbye to people.  No matter where I’ve lived, there has always been someone somewhere else for me to miss. Grandparents,  best friends, choirs, fellow students, you name it.

Because of the moving back and forth, I often struggled to identify myself,and had trouble with the question, “Where are you from?”  Unless I gave a long, convoluted answer,  I always felt like I was betraying a part of me by saying just one country or the other.Namerican

(Watching Mean Girls for the first time was really weird because for the whole first part I kept thinking “OH MY GOSH THAT’S ME.”)

Of course there are perks. I’ve had the chance of experiencing multiple rich cultures, and I’ve developed some amazing friendships. I’m also really comfortable traveling and going to new places; moving out of my comfort zone is no longer a big deal.

I have many years before me, and there is still so much wisdom out there for me to learn, but I wanted to share a few things I’ve picked up along the way.  Maybe you can identify, or maybe you can’t. Maybe you know exactly what I’m talking about, or maybe this is completely new.  Either way, I hope you enjoy commiserating or seeing things from a TCK’s perspective!

1. Don’t block people out just because you know you have to say goodbye.

This is one of the hardest things I’ve had to learn. I get attached to people really easily, and I have had many a wrenching goodbye with people who I wasn’t really able to stay in contact with.  After realizing this trend, I was very tempted to just stop making deep relationships with people who I knew I’d have to leave eventually.  I’m so glad I didn’t go through with that.  The relationships I’ve made abroad have been some of the deepest and most fulfilling of my life.

If you move to a new place, even if you know it’s going to be temporary, seek out people whom you can really know, and who will challenge you to live as the best possible version of yourself.  Find people you can be open and transparent with, and who make you feel safe.  Then, when you leave that, you’ll have a real reason to miss it and a great reason to come back.  You’ll know that your time was meaningful.

2. Stay in the moment.

Enjoy the time you have with the people that you are getting to know.  I spent time pining for the places I wasn’t during a lot of my teenage years and, as a result, kind of missed out on relationships that I could have been developing.  I’d spend a lot of time chatting online with people across the world and miss out on the people (and places) that were right there.  Of course, keeping up relationships is important (I really like writing letters in case you were wondering), but nothing replaces the face-to-face time.

3. Your country is not your identity.

As I mentioned before, I used to struggle a lot with my identity and figuring out who I was.  I was so happy to hear the term “TCK” and that I fit into it, but that sometimes requires almost as much of a convoluted answer as answering where I’m from.

These days, I’ve become a lot more comfortable with the idea of just being “Lizbet.” That is me. Part of being Lizbet is that I am half and half, but as a unique individual I do not represent either one of those countries.  Now, when people ask where I’m from, I often say “America” since that’s the easiest, and let them discover my background after they get to know me a little more.

4. People are going to stereotype.

Something that goes along with the above statement is that, while I am a unique individual, I will still be stereotyped.  It happens to everyone no matter where they go.  In Namibia, people would see me as the “crazy American” (not so much to do with the fact that I’m in general a little weird, more that Americans are seen as a little crazy). In America, people would ask if I saw lions when I woke up in the morning or if my father is black.  In Japan, well, that’s a whole different kettle of fish.

This is actually real life.

All of that to say, you can take for granted that you will be judged or stereotyped. Heck, we generally make assumptions about a person within the first few seconds after we meet them.  That’s not exactly the same thing, I know. I do know that we, as humans, like to categorize.  I have no good solution for this.  Just expect that it will probably happen, especially if you travel.

5. It’s okay to let go.

This one is the most difficult for me.  Quick science break: Dunbar’s number.

According to this guy, Dunbar, our brains can only hold a particular number of people that we can have stable social relationships with. This number is thought to be around 150.  That means that I can’t be bffs with everyone that I ever become friends with.

There are going to be people with whom you have deep relationships for your whole life.  There will also be people that you get close to, share your life with, and then leave and only see every couple of years or never again.

That’s a really difficult truth to swallow because I really like holding on to people.

College is a great example of this.  I feel like my time in college was very formative. I laughed and cried with my fellow students and we got through some tough times together.  I only consistently talk to a few of them now.  That doesn’t make us terrible people.  It actually relates a lot to number 2.  If you are in a different place in life from your best friend in middle school, that’s okay. That’s normal.  They have people the people that they need to invest in for this time in their life, and so do you.  If your paths end up crossing and you can kick things right back into how they were before, then that’s awesome.

But if you aren’t able to stay close to every person you’ve grown close to, don’t be afraid to let go of that and know that if it was a really good friendship, you will probably naturally drift back together throughout the rest of your life.

This post ended up being a lot longer than I originally planned.  If you made it this far, congratulations, and thanks for reading.  Of course, all of these things are my own perspective, your experience could have been completely different. If it was, I’m really interested in hearing about it! Please shoot me a message or comment below.

I love where I am now, and even though not everything has been easy, all my experiences have been integral to who I am now.  I feel like I’ve grown in ways that would never have been possible without some of the rough experiences that come with moving and changing, and I am forever grateful for them.

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On the Balance (and being in Hiroshima for two years)

The rice has started growing again. It’s one of my favorite things to look at here.  As I bike up the (excruciating) hill on my way to work, it gives my eyes a momentary, peaceful distraction.  This particular field is especially sentimental because it’s one of my solid, early memories of arriving here.

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I took this photo two years ago June 4, a couple of days after we arrived in Japan (which was conveniently June 1, otherwise I’d never remember from year to the next what day it was).

Oh hey, did I say two years ago? That’s right! We’ve been here for just over two years, as hard as that is for me to believe, and I’m really excited about it.  I remember first arriving and thinking we’d be here for a year and a half, have some fun cultural experiences, make a bunch of money, then leave.  One out of four ain’t so bad.

I had no clue how quickly the people of Hiroshima and the city itself would capture me and put me in this whirlwind of my life which I love so very much! I definitely never imagined wanting to stay here long term.  Turns out God had some different ideas (fancy that?)

So yeah, with the lateness of this post as a great indicator, the whole balance thing that I started out the year preaching (already six months ago, *insert cliche about how fast the time goes*) has kind of gone by the wayside.  I actually began making the balance more important than the things I was trying to be balanced for and since that kind of defeated the purpose, I stopped.

I still think the idea of balance is great, it turns out I just needed to really redefine what balance was.  It’s not about allocating specific tasks to each day and making sure you do everything that you need to do to enhance your mind, body and soul.  It’s about learning to stop, evaluate where your mind, body and soul are, and then figure out what you need to do to get them balanced.  It’s not an outside-in thing, it definitely has to come from within you and that was the thing that I really missed at first.

I’ve realized that my life is nowhere near as crazy as it will be once we have children, so me trying to control every single aspect of my life is only going to make things worse (and probably destroy my family so that’s kind of a big deal, too).

So instead of trying to control my time, I do what needs to get done but I also make sure to do things that I enjoy (which sometimes means putting off “important” things for later).  I’ve been embracing teaching and being a housewife (which means mainly cooking… I make Adam do as much of the housework as I can get away with), and I love to experiment with cooking.

I’ve been working hard on my garden which is taking over it’s tiny space and will soon be producing all manner of deliciousness.

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I’ve been spending time with the next door neighbors who, by the way, are awesome.  Today we had a takoyaki party.  Life doesn’t get much better than that.

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Often, I find I have all this stuff bouncing around in my head and I can’t figure out which things are important.  That’s usually a pretty good indication that it’s time to slow down.

So those are some of the things I’ve been learning about and thinking about lately.  I’m pretty sure that the more plugged in we get to social media and other random things outside of ourselves, the less in touch we become with what’s inside.  That idea terrifies me.  That’s not a place I want to go.  On that note, I’m out.  What about you? Have you found that magic equilibrium?

Thailand and other things

I apologize for not updating sooner, we have been staying really busy with music and, I am excited to say, are almost ready to release our new EP along with some other cool things!
As you know, I recently went with a group from my school to Thailand. It was a wonderful experience and I’m hoping to get some of the pictures up on Facebook soon! I was with a group of 7 students and one other leader.  We travelled first to Bangkok where we got to see first hand some of the issues that go along with poverty and other social problems.  We visited a center called the Mercy House, a community center and orphanage that specifically reaches out to families that are effected by AIDs. They also have after school programs and supplementary education programs that help keep children off the street and get them back in school.

One of the other really significant organizations that we visited was the Zero Baht shop.  This was a place built in a community that had been living under a bridge but then was displaced by the government to a patch of land outside the city.  One man in the community saw the need for better food, education, etc.  He also saw the huge amount of garbage that was building up in the community. So he created a system that basically allowed people to bring their garbage to this store and exchange it for credit.  It was then built up more to include a community garden where community members could bring organic waste and exchange it for produce and eggs.  This system has grown and ended up working out really well.  The people who run the store have the garbage collection down to a fine art.  They separate the garbage so that they can resell it to the recycling centers.  Because they separate it first, they are able to get more money for their labor. They have also found ways to make handicrafts out of garbage that can’t be recycled or isn’t worth as much. For example, to make a profit off of magazines, they have to collect a whole bunch of them.  Instead, they found a way to make paper beads out of those magazines and now are able to sell jewelry for a much higher price.  The money they make goes towards buying goods to stock the shop and also towards the community.  They place a huge emphasis on education.  It was so encouraging to see that this organization was completely run by the community. They had no government help or involvement and they want to keep it that way.  This is a very sustainable, effective model that can be taken and used in other poverty-stricken communities.

The majority of our time in Thailand was spent in the northern part of the country in an area called “Phayao.”  We stayed at the Phayao Center, a YMCA shelter for children who are at risk of being trafficked. The gravity of what these children have gone through hit us almost immediately.  Not only were we asked to not take pictures of individual children or of one of us and only one child, we were asked not to post any of the children’s pictures on Facebook or other social media sites (hence the lack of children for a lot of my soon to be on Facebook Thailand album).  The time that we spent there was incredibly insightful and educational.  We learned a lot about human trafficking as well as the individual stories of some of the children.  To keep it short, most of the children were girls who came from families in poverty. Many had family members who were in the sex industry and were at risk of being kidnapped by neighbors, friends or even parents and sold.  While we learned a lot that made us incredibly sad, we had many joyful times as well.  We were able to experience cultural nights completely planned by the children. We also created one for them which they absolutely loved. My students worked hard and played hard and I couldn’t be more proud of them. I think that they really grew a lot.  We built the concrete floor of a pig house and let me tell you, it was really hard work! We carried gravel and sand back and forth in bucket lines, mixed concrete by hand and then moved that in the buckets to the pig house area.  Despite the two days of working in the hot sun with really sore muscles, there was not a single complaint.  On the last night, the children planned a going away ceremony and from what we were told, it was better planned and the children practiced harder for it than any other past group.  We were incredibly honored and by the end, almost everyone was in tears. The boys were the only ones who hardly showed any emotion.  For them it was more a “Really… is this really happening now?”  They were good sports.

Of course while we were there we were able to experience a lot of the culture.  We visited a really strange temple on the last day which there are lots of pictures of.  It was built pretty recently and is not very conventional. On the inside of the temple (where we weren’t allowed to take pictures) various cultural symbols from around the world were painted on the walls. My guess is that they were meant to illustrate the worldly pleasures that tie us down.  I haven’t ever seen Spiderman or Batman put in that context before.  It was quite interesting.  We also experienced a lot of food.  By the end, I was finally used to it. The spiciness was often more than I could handle, and I think my body was pretty annoyed with me because of the lack of sleep and stress I had put it through the couple of months beforehand.  We were also able to visit a Thai museum and see a lot of interesting cultural things and hear the history of the country.

Overall, the experience was wonderful, the people were lovely, sweet and kind.  I was glad to get back to Japan and the cleanliness, safety and order that comes with it.  However, I was deeply impacted by my trip to Thailand and am hoping to go back again in the future!

Thanks for reading all of that, for something a little more fun, watch our first installment of the EP promotion! It’s a video for our song “Erasing the Ending.” I hope you enjoy it!

America the…moderately attractive (Guest post by Adam Palmer)

A few things have changed in the past week or so…Lizbet decided to up and go to Thailand, leaving me with no option but to travel back to America for ten days.  Or at least that’s what I tell myself.  It has been great to be back, though a huge amount of my time so far has  been shopping for the wife and wasting a ton of gas driving to stores that no longer exist.  I thought Richland Mall was deserted before we left…it’s a graveyard now.

Anywho, just a quick update on how things were going in Japan before this here excursion.  (I know Lizbet will be posting soon on the Thailand trip, so I’ll leave it to her to give background on that).  The monthly bible studies at Hiroshima Jogakuin University have continued to be good.  The fact that people still come who came to the first one last year is encouraging.  I gave out a questionaire a couple months ago about some of the basic tenants of the faith: where did the earth come from, how many gods are there, who was Jesus, which religion to you follow…    The majority believed that Jesus was a great man and teacher but nothing more, that there are many gods, some of whom made the universe, and the earth’s origin was supernatural, though not necessarily from God or one particular god.  Most also put that the reason for their religion was tradition, and only one put that he had researched it and believed (though they were unnamed, the chaplain also did the survey…wonder who had studied?)

One of the bigger developments for me is that I preached my first sermon on the first Sunday of April.  You can find the video here.  It was an incredibly stressful day; not because of talking in front of people or not feeling up to the task, but because I felt the weight of what it meant to be up there.  It’s a unique opportunity, and as my dad reminded me over and over, not one to be taken lightly.

Tis all for now, I’ll let Lizbet bat clean up.  However, if you are reading this in the next few days or so, please pray for her, as she seems to be coming down with something…in her words she has flu-like symptoms.

Fall Out Boy – The Mighty Fall  (cover)

Who doesn’t love karma?

Ok I don’t believe in karma, but sometimes it’s fun to pretend.  We have a couple of updates! First, our new website, http://www.thelastcityformiles.com, is updated and awesome!

Second, check out the OneRepublic – Counting Stars, Violin and Guitar Cover by The Last City!!

Third, I can finally post some video footage from our trip to Namibia. There will be more! This is from a really nice little charter cruise we did one morning with Catamaran Charters.

Fun Facts:
There are more seals in Namibia than people. About 2.5 million compared to 2.2 million.
Oysters in this part of the ocean grow over twice as fast as normal oysters because of the plankton rich Benguela current that runs through this area.
The dolphins are Benguela dolphins, the second smallest dolphins in the world.

Enjoy!

The Adventures Continue…

Here we are, back in our little cafe doing quick internet things. I think it’s about time for a quick update (sorry, still no pictures…). We’ve actually managed to get quite a lot done while still relaxing. We discovered a Star Wars German Monopoly in the house that we’re staying in and have played about 7 games so far. Unfortunately Adam wins most of them. He’s ruthless. It was good practice for my (almost non-existent) German skills. We also went dune boarding on Saturday which was fun. We both went down about three times and were pretty worn out after that so we stopped and chilled on top of the dune for a while, watching the (crazy) people swimming in the ocean across the road (and let us not forget the naked blonde child playing in the sand. It wouldn’t be Namibia without the naked blonde child.). It was definitely nice and chilly. We’ve also been working a lot on music. We’ve recorded a couple of covers and originals and are trying desperately to upload the videos that we made for them. We haven’t really found anywhere with fast enough wi fi yet… But, as one of our friends pointed out to us, Namibia is a third world country. Yesterday, we went to the market, one of my favorite spots here. Last time I came to Swakop, I spent a lot of time there making friends and hanging out. A few of the guys definitely remembered me (although the fact that we’re Facebook friends probably helps) and so we got to catch up a bit. Then I showed Adam the art of haggling. I’m a little out of practice but we actually came away with what we wanted for about the price we started out with. It turns out I can actually be assertive when necessary. I have a pretty good strategy when going in to these things. I go in with a general idea of what I want, stroll around and look at everyone’s wares while getting prices for things that catch my eye. Let them know I don’t have any money with me. Leave them heartbroken as I go back to the house to make calculations and get the money. Come back and haggle to get the best prices possible. We made almost all the way through without any issues. There were several guys, however, who carve makalane nuts. We wanted to get a few and so we accidentally gave a few of them an inkling of hope and so we ended up with five different guys each carving one. It was quite a to-do. We’re going back today to jam with a couple of the guys. It should be fun. We’ll definitely get pictures of that. I think that’s about it for now. Stay tuned for updates!

The Arrival

We’re finally in Namibia! The last week has been really hectic, but by God’s grace we made it safely!  The trip started last Thursday.  Our bus left at 6:40 am and our plane flew to South Korea at 9:40.  We had a 12 (!!!!) hour layover in Seoul and finally left for Dubai at 11:50 that night. Then we had two 10 hour flights interrupted by a three hour layover in Dubai, finally arriving in Cape Town after 37 hours! We stayed with my dear aunt and uncle for a couple of nights and, after we recovered, the fun really began.  We rented a car (a Chevy Spark Lite, emphasis on the Lite) and began our 20 hour drive to Swakopmund.  On the way we saw everything from baboons to kudu to tiny little antelope to warthogs to ostrich. I got pretty badly sunburned on one arm because the sun was on my side for a couple of hours and it was relentless. At one point we left the highway to make a food stop and ended up in a rather dodgy part of town. We kept driving with our fingers crossed and made it to a slightly safer part. It was absolutely incredible to drive through the South African and Namibian landscapes. There’s so much contrast in both countries and it’s a joy to experience.  You see desert and lush, green fields, mountains, the occasional body of water, veld, and weird rocky formations.  My favorite part, however, was watching Adam come alive the further from civilization we went.  As he reminded me, for the past 9 months we’ve been within a few meters of someone at all times.  No matter where we go, there are always people. Even in our apartment we feel like there are people right there.  Now we get to stay in a gorgeous little beach house directly across from the ocean. I will be posting pictures so you can get a look! Being back in my hometown has been slightly emotional and really weird because I have Adam with me. We’re really enjoying just relaxing and spending time with each other. That’s all I’ve got for now,  we’ll update soon!

Incheon Airport

Hello all! I know it’s been a while since I last wrote, and I apologize for that. I am currently looking out over the tarmac of Seoul’s Incheon International Airport. It’s so bizarre being in a place that’s almost like Japan but not quite. It’s like going to Wendy’s when all you ever eat is Hardee’s. Some things look and sound familiar, but a lot is really different. It’s a little disconcerting. The upside, however, is that every airport staff person we’ve encountered here speaks English. That’s been a nice change of pace. We get to sit here for about 12 hours total (only 10 left to go!) so hopefully we’re at least a little bit productive… I am so excited for this trip and the opportunity to introduce two huge parts of my life (Adam and Africa) to each other. It’s gonna be bananas! We made a short video and put it up on our new youtube account (www.youtube.com/thelastcityband) where you can also see a couple of songs that we played at a show last weekend. I hope that you enjoy them! We will hopefully be posting lots of pictures and videos after the trip, so keep an eye out for those!

Pictures!

Here are the promised pictures!

This is one of our favorite restaurants in Hiroshima, we had dinner here for our anniversary!

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This is the shopping area all lit with the “illuminations” as my students call them. Image

Dinner came with some nice glasses of wine. The manager even gave us free tea and a free dessert afterwards!

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This is the Halloween themed area. Sorry for the poor quality…

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Adam gets to see that glass slipper he always coveted…

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Also, I got to decorate a tree with a couple of my students! It was their first time ever decorating a Christmas tree!

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They’re so cute!

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I am definitely thankful for a Christmas break, as short as it is, to take some much needed breathing time! I actually have time to organize things and do those extra little things that don’t really happen when school’s going.  So far this semester has been pretty good, I’m just trying to stay on top of things. I’m starting to think of more new ideas to use in class and to make learning English more fun for those students who don’t necessarily appreciate it as much…  Thank you again so much for your prayers! We feel very loved and supported! Merry Christmas!

Also, for your entertainment, Adam got to be Santa Claus for the kids class that we help with on Saturdays. Here’s a short video and some pictures!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EaDGP4xHw2M