The other day we did some shopping for some Very Important stuff, but were short of the $25.00 free shipping amount. To fill in the gap, I did a quick search for Third Culture Kids and a book called "The Sullivan Saga" popped up, with the following product description:
"These are the exotic, funny and sometimes bittersweet family stories and photos of an overseas childhood told by the daughter of a State Department diplomat about her family's travels and experiences living overseas from 1957 to 1972. She and her six brothers spent their childhoods in South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand and Ethiopia. Through her stories, the reader can begin to appreciate the adaptability of children to other cultures and the fortitude and courage of parents trying to raise their children to be good citizens of the world as well as good Americans."
It didn't take me long to decide to get it (maybe a nanosecond). I read it in one sitting (or in my case, lying). Imagine you are the only girl in a family of six brothers! That's challenge enough, I would think. But then at the age of 5 (like me!) you are taken to Asia to live due to your father's job (okay, at that point there were only 4 brothers). Maureen, the author, was blonde (like me) and also like me had the experience of people walking up to touch her hair. In those days towheads were a curiosity and the Asian folks just *had* to touch it! My mom was pretty lenient about it, smiling and nodding, but it pretty much creeped me out.
Maureen's mom Hope gave birth in Korea 10 days after they arrived. (Why they didn't wait in the US until the baby was born is beyond me!) In the accompanying video on the website www.sullivansaga.com, Hope describes arriving at the Seventh Day Adventist hospital, in labor. A Korean woman was on the lone delivery table, and the staff swiftly moved her to the floor to make room for Hope. A crowd of Koreans came into the room, including the janitor, to see if the Western woman gave birth the same way the Korean women did! Hope seems like a plucky woman, (or maybe being in labor she just didn't give a darn!), and she thought, "what the heck" and had the baby right then and there. Two years later she had another baby in Korea.
The family went on to posts in Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand and Ethiopia. Maureen went to the International School (then the American School) like I did, and the family lived on the same street that we did (Cambridge Circle, Forbes Park). Her experience in Manila wasn't all hearts and flowers. She had moved right before entering high school (like me) after making good friends in Taiwan and making the cheerleading squad. (Sounds familiar!) According to Maureen, AS was different from her previous schools in that "the majority of the students weren't transients like us. Indeed, most were expatriate residents of the Philippines who were American citizens, but they didn't move every two years like we did." She talks about being an outsider where all of the cliques had been established in elementary school. She describes being amongst "sons and daughters of expatriates who had married and merged into the local Filipino society" which she found to be "something of a closed society". It took her a YEAR (her emphasis) to make a single good friend. (Well, me too, but I had to do it again, year after year!)
Although she does go on to describe all the historical sites and the fun beaches they went to, I was sad to hear that her experience in Manila wasn't that great. However, I could relate to a lot of what she wrote. I too felt on the fringe at IS, but by the time I got there, the school was populated by more of a transient group. There was a core group of "old timers" who had spent their entire lives at IS, but there were also a lot of kids who came and went. Like Maureen, I also had trouble making friends, but I don't blame the demographics of the school. The fact was, I was shy, I was awkward, and teenagers can just be cruel. As I (finally) felt like a (nominal) part of the "cool" crowd in later years, I admit I was probably less than nice to some of the kids I had befriended at the start. Or maybe we just grew apart. I hope it was the latter. I hate to think of myself as being as cruel to others as others had been to me. It's "Lord of the Flies" out there sometimes.
Maureen finally found her niche in Bangkok, graduating from the International School there. The prologue of her book describes her first days at the University of Montana, holding a post card inviting her to a gathering of foreign exchange students. Her home address in Thailand made the club assume she was one of them. She writes the following:
"It's only kids like me -- overseas brats, third-culture kids, American dependents of diplomats or the U.S. military -- that have this problem with the semantics of the otherwise simple question 'Where are you from?' The intent of the question is to place you in some context, to begin to know you ... I have my 'elevator speech' of who I am: 'I was born in Washington DC. My father works for the State Department and I was raised overseas in Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Thailand and Ethiopia.'"
"That answers the question but it is apparently quite intimidating and is generally received with one giant step back. People don't know what to make of me or my background. They wonder if I am bragging? Or am I rich? At any rate, all that world travel and exotic experience isn't conducive to creating comfort in my peers or a sense of camraderie.
"...We have a different set of skills -- mobile skills, if you will. We know how to maneuver in new places, to learn our way around, to feel at ease in discomforting situations, to entertain ourselves and to be OK with ambiguity. Good skills, to be sure, but they don't make you many friends."
I am forever envious of people who can pick my brain and speak out loud the things that I am thinking. These words pretty much sum up the core of "me". Thanks for having my back, Maureen. Oh, and read her book. It resonates.