Hey guys, Hope you’re doing well.
I am what you would call a third culture kid. Google defines this as ” a child who was raised in a culture outside of their parents’ culture for a significant part of their development years”. As I mentioned in my introduction post, I have moved around a lot throughout my life which allowed me to be exposed to different cultures and lifestyles. It also allowed me to learn different languages and live in an expat community. Before I begin talking about my experience’s of being an expat teenager, let me give you some background. My family and I are originally from South Africa. My brother Matthew (who is 2 years older then me) was born in Pretoria, South Africa. Due to my dads job, the three of them moved to Geneva, Switzerland which is where I was born. Moving on from Switzerland, we then all moved to the Netherlands, spent a few years there and then moved back home to South Africa. We moved around a fair bit in South Africa and then eventually moved back to The Netherlands. Matthew finished his school career in 2014, the same year that I finished my GCSE’s. In September 2014, Matt went to University in the UK and I moved to an English boarding school. All in all I’ve been to 5 different schools and lived in 15 houses.
Living this sort of lifestyle has numerous amounts of pros and cons which all balance each other out. It was always difficult moving away and letting go of friendships you had made, however it was always an exciting prospect moving to a new place, living in a new house and going to a new school. Although the first day was always daunting, we managed to create some great friendships at every school, some that we will cherish forever. When we moved to the Netherlands for the second time, I was around 11 years old and so started becoming more aware of what was going on around me. Something that I realise now, is children in expat schools are incredibly accepting of new students as well as different cultures. They are incredibly understanding of the way that an expat lives as they too have experienced the same thing. However, I only realised this when I moved to boarding school in September of 2014. Due to this school not being a school attended mainly by expats, many of the students had been there since day 1 and if not, they had lived in the same house, in the same town since they were born and so were not aware of the difference in our lifestyles. I found this mostly with my sports team. Due to being new, I was a bit shy the first few practises and so did not say very much. Speaking from experience, in an expatriate school, when a new student arrives, there is a line of current students waiting to greet them, show them around, and make them feel as comfortable and at home as possible. This is because they all knew what it was like to be that shy new kid who didn’t know anybody and therefor would try and make the new students integration in the school as comfortable as possible. Having this type of introduction makes it so much easier for a new student to become comfortable in their new environment and begin to come out of their shell. Unfortunately, this was not the case with my new sports team. Like I mentioned before, the majority of the girls on the team had been there since day 1 and so knew each other inside out. When I showed up, due to none of them knowing what it feels like to be ‘the new kid’ none of them really bothered to get to know me, or make me feel at home. This continued for the next two years, making me very uncomfortable and unhappy within the team.
Although I made great friends at boarding school, there were handful of occasions where the difference in our lifestyles would really show. I’ll give you an example. Due to it being our last year at school, it is somewhat of a ‘tradition’ to go on holiday with your friends to round off your school career. We chose to go to Ibiza and so all had to transfer money into one persons bank account in order to pay for our holiday. Due to living overseas, the money coming from my parents account takes a few days to be processed before in can go through into somebody’s account. When I told my friends this, none of them understood and therefor became upset with me that I couldn’t get the money in quicker. When I explained the situation, still not understanding, they dismissed what I had said and told me thats not how bank transfers work, they told me it was instantaneous. Although small, this is a perfect example of people not understanding the in’s and out’s of living overseas or life of an expat.
Something else that I have realised about being an expat teenager is that you don’t tend to have very many friends that you have known since you were born. I follow a lot of people I used to go to school with when I was living in South Africa and I constantly see them post pictures with each other saying things like “we have been friends since we were in diapers” or “friends for 15 years”. Moving around so much, you tend to loose contact with people you used to go to school with and although you may post on each others wall for their birthday or like their photos every now and then, expat kids don’t have those life long friends who they will have known since preschool and will end up living next door to each other where their kids will become friends. On the flip side of this, although I don’t have a lot of friends that I can say I’ve known since preschool, I can say I’ve got friends all over the world from all different countries and walks of life, from who I’ve gained knowledge about their culture, country and customs, which is something I think is very valuable and not something many teenagers can say.
I was working at a kids sports camp last week where I met an Australian mother who lives with her husband and two young children in The Netherlands. After telling her where I come from and how I ended up in Holland, she asked me if anywhere felt like home to me. I replied with, no. I said nowhere really feels like home because wherever I go, the locals think I’m foreign. If Im in The Netherlands, they think I’m English. If I’m in the UK, they think I’m South African but if I’m in South Africa they think I’m English because of my British accent which I gained when I moved to The British School in The Netherlands. When I told her this, she asked me how I felt about that because she was worried her children would grow up feeling like they don’t belong anywhere. After thinking about if for a bit, I then replied to her. Although nowhere really feels like home, it doesn’t matter because I’ve been able to experience some amazing things and meet amazing people and when I go to a new place and somebody asks me where I’m from, it gives me the opportunity to tell them my unusual story, which is something I think is invaluable.
Thanks so much for reading
“when you’re a nomad, nowhere is home and everywhere is home” Unknown