A life of adventure, overseas travel, comparing your high school student body to the UN General Assembly, coveted trinkets from around the world, multi-lingual, frequent flier before it was even a thing—yes, the glamorized life of Third Culture Kid (TCK). At first thought, it may seem odd to be a TCK and an introvert. How would an introvert manage the constant change and chaos, engaging with different people and cultures?
In my view, there is an expectation that TCKs are extroverts.
I am a TCK and I am an introvert. I have no reservations about identifying as either, especially being an introvert. I’m more reserved than I am shy, more contemplative and observant than I am talkative. I’m less likely to say what I really mean, and more likely to correctly express myself in writing. How does that fit into being a TCK?
Being an introvert means that I am very close to a small circle of people. It means you either know all of me or you know nothing at all. It means that if you want to go out tomorrow at 11pm, I need to know a week in advance—preferably. It means that when I agree to go out, I’m already looking forward to coming back home. It means that before I go out, I’m mentally preparing to have conversations I don’t really want to have. It means that being around ‘too many’ people exhausts me, and that however loud the room is, in my mind, it’s louder.
Being a TCK means that I know it might be several years before I see friends and family again. In the case of Saudi Arabia, being a TCK means that I know I might never see many of my friends again. It means that each time I move, each time I make that decision, I am consciously risking friendships and relationships. It means that I will make that tough decision knowing it will hurt me, hurt others, break me, but I will make that decision anyway. It means that I can be incredibly mature. It means that I am very empathetic; that sometimes I understand others more than I do myself; that I can associate as quickly as I can dissociate; that sometimes staying is just as hard as leaving; that my parents are my anchor; that I have had mid-life crises in different area codes, that it’s sometimes easier to pack than unpack, that I’ve had to learn and unlearn who my race is; that the U.S. is a foreign and exotic country, that I sometimes have to be content with not being understood; that I have to put effort into making myself understandable, that the first time I heard someone say don’t throw the baby out with the bath water I wanted to call the police.
I think sometimes it’s hardest being a TCK when you’re introvert. It’s not like I can throw myself out there and easily get to know a whole other group of people again, and again. But I can, I do, and I have. As an introvert and TCK, I create meaningful bonds with my environment and as often as I have had to break that bond, it’s never easy. With each environment, I am immersed into a culture, a way of thinking, a new lifestyle.
I am highly perceptive, hyper-flexible and while it might take me longer to form intimate relationships with people, I can adapt to new surroundings. I’m more than just a perpetual traveller; I can go beyond participating and observing surface culture to truly understanding and even adopting different facets of deep culture.
In revising this entry, I have questioned whether to post this at all. It can read as being extremely arrogant. But I think that is because I still have an incorrect definition of introvert hiding in some unreachable corner of my mind. I am not weak because I am an introvert. I’m not socially inept or lonely. As an introvert, a sense of adventure is not absent within me. It’s there—it’s a quiet curiosity that poses questions and carefully sifts through observations, and experience to get answers. In this way, I don’t over-burden the people I encounter with questions to make them appear exotic and foreign; I don’t exemplify the differences, I discover as what makes ‘ them, them’ and ‘me, me’. I engage with the people I meet and speak with them as I would others—their nuances; whether personal or cultural, are naturally revealed. And for me, I have found that too often TCKs, non-TCKs, attribute tangible differences to culture, rather than a person’s being.
Me, my mother and my Turkish friends in front of our house in Saudi Arabia.
Bottom line: Being an introvert is not a setback. Neither extroverts nor introverts are better at being TCK; we are equally aware of the blessings and challenges of being TCK. Being TCK means that I don’t have a better half, I have better halves and they are scattered all around the world. I am product of different cultures and I am extremely grateful.