Spring break is drawing to a close for us, and although Vienna has not cooperated weather-wise (who really wants to try a traditional, outdoor egg hunt in a half foot of slushy snow?), we have had a successful break by sticking close to home and letting the fun come to us. Here’s to a bonus in the TCK/expat lifestyle: visitors and reunions!
One of the Third Culture Kid traditions I’ve become aware of through experience, is starting the beginning of the school year with a look toward the end. In a transient society, somewhere along the road, my kids got into the habit of starting the year by taking stock of who is leaving at the end. “What friends are we losing this year?” seems to be a question on all of our minds.
I first became aware of this unique concern years ago when a young Austrian friend of ours asked, in a not quite panicked but somewhat troubled voice, “When are you guys leaving? You’re not moving yet, are you?” Ironically, he ended up moving before we did.
For the local students who are in for the long haul and see people coming and going non-stop, after a while, it may become a comfort zone to stick with people they know are going to stick around. We’re even more of an anomaly, since we are Americans who have spent an extended time in the Austrian setting, but this has become the reality for my daughters, too. Who am I kidding? It’s become a reality for me.
Last year hit my youngest daughter hard, as a friend who had been with her since kindergarten moved to Zurich. With this family, we had shared celebrations, school events, travels and even lived across the street for that, hard-to-come-by for some TCKs, neighborhood connection. We said our many goodbyes with reassurances that Zurich was not far away and we would certainly stay in close touch.
This promise, I’m happy to say, has not been an empty one. We scheduled a spontaneous visit for my daughter to Zurich for a long weekend over fall break, and her friend just left from a very busy and fun-filled trip our way. For our frequently traveling TCK kids, it’s not big deal to hop a plane, gather luggage, and make the way through airports to excitedly waiting friends.
Same scenario, different daughter, last year, when my oldest daughter’s neighborhood friend took up a new family post in London. Fall break found us in second row seats (so close you could see the spit fly) at Wicked, and found the girls reconnecting with this family and trying out their international school, as well. When I received a message that this friend of my daughter’s was planning a surprise visit for spring break and asking if we were going to be in town, I think I was nearly as excited as I knew my daughter would be. Reunions are huge for TCKs.
I’m convinced that a big part of the ability to pick right up with where you left off and find energy and rejuvenation in spending time with these special people, is the reality that we, as expatriates and TCKs, are not around our extended families, so we create our own. Friends provide the familiar faces at celebrations and are the ones we call when in a bind. They know our experiences and “get it”: the joys and wonders of attending a first ball in an ornate palace and the embarrassment, then humor, that can come with ordering something disgusting by not understanding menus and specials.
Frequent goodbyes are definitely difficult, but watching my daughters fall back into the close friendships they develop while living in their unique settings is a non-paralleled pleasure. They truly have life-long friends around the globe. And so does the whole family. As my close-knit friends, now sprinkled across the continents, fondly refer to ourselves, we are Friends Without Borders. I’m so pleased my daughters got to experience their own versions of these special connections, and to see just how small this world of ours really is.
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