Today’s Leaving Story comes from a fellow blogger I started following years ago. I was drawn to Janneke’s blog, DrieCulturen, because I felt a connection with her writing. She was one of the few European writers sharing their TCK stories – it helped me understand my husband a bit more. Today, Janneke’s shares her story along with some insightful tips to help your university-bound TCK.
May 1989. For most people it was a normal day in mundane life. This was not so for everyone. In the suburbs of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, Africa there a 19 year old young girl was frantically trying to fit the last things into her bags. Between the last-minute packing were the last minute goodbyes. Very soon the car was leaving for the airport so there was little time to spare. Her viola would be part of her hand luggage; her tennis racket was strapped with broad tape onto the viola so that it would accompany her, too. Her parents, brothers and sister would all see her off at the airport. Of course there was a last family photo in front of the map of Zimbabwe. This was a historical moment.
The 19 year old was leaving home. She was leaving “the nest”, spreading her wings and flying out into the unknown! She was the firstborn so she was the one to pave the way for her siblings. So with her head up, and gathering all her earthly belongings, she was going to board the aeroplane. Walking on the pavement heading to the plane the strap of her bag broke, obviously her bag was not designed for the amounts of luggage she had piled into it. Was this how the rest of her journey would go? In front of all the farewell sayers she was once again grabbing her belongings together and trying to make it to the plane in time. One last quick wave and she was out of sight. Finding her seat was easy, she was a routine traveller. The engines started, and then it was time for take-off. One last glimpse of the ones she loved, of the country she loved, of everything that was so well known to her. Before she could stop it there were tears streaming over her face. Not just a few tears, it seemed like a dam wall had broken and there were floods of tears. Something like the Victoria waterfalls in the rainy season. The tears were uncontrollable.
The past week had been busy and filled with goodbyes. There had even been a goodbye party, with school friends and friends from the church youth group. They had had a lot of fun, there had been lots of laughter but there had also been the painful goodbyes.
This was the country where her family had lived the past 6 years. Here she had cycled to school daily, she passed her driving test, she had received her first kiss, her first dance, her first date, she had turned eighteen, been a school prefect and she had written her “O” and “A” level GCSE school exams. This was the continent where she was born. Here she had learnt to walk, run, play, and laugh.
In Africa she knew she wasn’t African and she thought it was because she was Dutch. Now, in Holland she found out that she is not really like the Dutch people either. Where was home? She remembered that her younger sister had asked that questions years ago. Her sister decided that “home” was where her bed was!
Of course I am the person in this story. I am the one that was born abroad. I am the one who was called “the foreigner” at secondary school. I am the one that did not quite fit in. I am the “hidden immigrant”.
Looking so Dutch but not knowing how to weigh the fruit and vegetables in the supermarket. I remember observing the people around me, watching to see how others did it. How do you use the buses and the trains? Were the supermarkets open on public holidays or not? Some times I asked questions, but people would look at me and you could hear them thinking “how can she be so ignorant?” Which brand margarine should I buy? There were just too many choices to make. Even more difficult was: what clothes do you wear and what must you buy? I had been used to wearing school uniforms all my life. As a young child my mother always tailored the dresses, she even did the hairdressing.
Looking back, I think I was not fully prepared for this flight out of the nest. It turned out that I made a crash landing but somehow I survived. I still miss the warmth of the African sun. My heart yearns. My heart longs. I miss the continent of my first kiss.
- Prepare your kids for their transition to university.
- Talk lots about the emotions, expectations and practical things.
- Read the book “A Global Nomad’s guide to university transition” by Tina Quick and give your young adult a copy.
- If possible transition with your child or make sure there are family and friends near their university, where they can easily visit.
- Make sure they have heard the term “third culture kid”, something I did not know.
- Choose a college or university that is internationally minded, where there are more TCKs or international students, chances are your TCK will feel more at home in this environment.
Remember, if you’d like to share your own story, there is still time to get them in. Click here for details.
Janneke Muyselaar-Jellema is an adult third culture kid, M.D., and blogger @DrieCulturen “all about kids growing up in other cultures”. You can also find out more about her story as a guest writer for Rachel Pieh Jones here.