Daily Life, Kenya, Moving, Nairobi, New York, Social Life
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The Third Culture Kid as an Adult Expat

Me, grown up. I look just like this. Art Credit: Bitstrips.

Here I am, middle-aged and all grown up if not altogether mature. (Yes, I look just like that Bitstrips illustration. Actually, I kind of do.)

I grew up as a Third Culture Kid and then spent my entire adult life (up until a year ago) in a very international city. Now, I’m an expat in Nairobi (which is another international city). Did my upbringing prepare me for my life today?

Yes, it did. No, it did not. Which is it? It’s both.

I was totally used to moving. Yes, but now I was leaving the only place that had even been home. I never had a home to leave before. I didn’t know what that was like. It’s harder than I thought it would be. 

I have no issues picking up and going to a different continent. Yes and no. Going off on a new adventure? No problem! But I had to think through a lot more. I had to consider my career. I had to think about what it would be like for women where I would be going. I had to think about all the logistics (medical, housing, transportation, etc.) to which I had been blissfully ignorant as a child.

Things are just things. I’ve never needed a ton of stuff. Who cares what they do and don’t have in whatever place? I have become a hoarder. There are some things that I do very much need and when I see it in a store, I buy all of it. No bottle of conditioner or canister of nutritional yeast is safe. I didn’t care about that as a kid. (My hair was often tangled. I also often ate cake for breakfast.)

I can make friends wherever I go. This is harder as an adult. School gives you an immediate access to people. As an adult, you have to work at at. It took time. It’s an ongoing effort. 

It’s exciting to have the world open and to keep going to new places. It absolutely is. But, I am not as transient as I was as a child. We’re staying put for several years. Meanwhile, many others are transient. So, as we make friends, we also say goodbye and watch them leave. Usually, it had been me doing the leaving. It’s different being the one who stays behind. 

No one has ever known what to make of me, but I can blend in. Not anymore. People still don’t know what to make of me. I still don’t fit into anyone’s preconceived categories. As a kid, I could blend in with other kids (at least sometimes) and no one would ask me too many questions. I can’t blend away and hide as an adult. I get bombarded with questions about why I look the way I do and sound the way I do and what the heck am I anyway.

My attitude is that other people’s narrow minds are not my problem. I brush it off. That has always been my approach, even as a child. I offend people with my disregard and it’s not forgiven as easily as it was when I did the same as a child. I still don’t care, but I have to deal with it a lot more. It’s much more annoying now.

There will be other people like me, just as there were sometimes other kids like me. The adults aren’t like me. This ties into what I wrote above. For at least part of the time, I grew up among other Third Culture Kids. We all had the same untraditional, not-country-based identities. My fellow adults are expats or locals, not Third Culture Kids. Many of them expect me to be from somewhere or be something they can easily categorize. Thankfully, not everyone is like that. But I need to weed through that lot to find the people with whom I can be friends.

Also, there are fewer people without children than there were in New York. This makes me even less like a lot of my fellow adults. This has posed some problems. It’s been less of a problem lately as I’ve met more people and made more friends.

As you can see, I was prepared and yet not. However, it’s not just about whether or not I was prepared. It’s also a matter of very key differences in the experience as a child versus that as an adult. Much of it, for me, has been positive.

This time, I can keep in touch with people. I’m not at the mercy of postal mail or the whim of my parents. I am very much in touch with my friends. Email, social media, WhatsApp, Facetime, and Skype make it easy to connect.

While I have to manage the logistics, I get to make those decisions. There are no more long bus rides to school (the longest was close to two hours). I can decide if something is worth a long commute. J. and I choose our own housing. We determine our own day-to-day life.

The freedom of choice ties into the biggest and most positive difference. I have a say in where we go next and when. I don’t have to just pick up and go when someone tells me it’s time to leave. It’s a discussion. It’s a decision that J. and I make together.

Together, we get to choose the next steps in the adventure.






  1. Urgh, I’m right there with you as a fellow TCK. I now have kids of my own which makes it a whole different ball game, but pre kids, the transition from ‘expat brat’ to supposedly adult expat wife was not quite what I expected.

    Liked by 1 person


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