I never really considered myself an official Third Culture Kid. I didn’t shuffle every two or three years from country to country, house to house, school to school. I made my first move ever in January of 2007, from the humid winter of Houston, Texas, to the brisk wind and gray skies of Paris, France.
I was ten years old at the time, and to be honest, I had no idea what to think or what to expect. I had all these conflicting feelings; Paris is Paris, so there’s that, but I was leaving behind a childhood of having my best friend living next door to me, my dog running around my large backyard, climbing trees and sleeping in my treehouse (despite the millions of mosquitos).
Knowing everyone in my small neighborhood and going to school K – 12 with all the same kids, and my large room that I naïvely thought was a good idea to paint hot pink. I vividly remember the last couple of weeks leading up to the day we left; everything we owned had already been shipped out, and our house felt like a desolate ruin. We were using a plastic dining table and patio furniture in our living room and sleeping in sleeping bags which were the only things that occupied our empty bedrooms.
But in no way was I prepared for the first few weeks of being somewhere completely new and foreign to me and unable to communicate for help. My parents had lived in Houston for eleven years prior to my birth, so they knew everyone and everything; I don’t think I saw them once pull out a map or use a GPS for directions.
I had always been a shy child, but I think I said maybe four words in my first two weeks of school. I had never been new, and I was awful at saying goodbyes, and I think that this was one of the largest things that distinguished me from being a true Third Culture Kid. Not only was I not a tapestry of all the different cultures I had lived with, because Texas was all I had previously ever known, but I didn’t seamlessly blend into a new environment like so many of these cultural chameleons did.
Every single one of them that I met executed the ‘new person’ routine flawlessly, and their goodbyes said, “I’ve loved my time here with you and it’s been great, but I’m off to a new adventure now!” excited to discover a new world and brushing right past the bitterness of leaving (which I, conversely, wallowed in).
Among croque monsieurs and baguettes and pâté and cafés au lait and lazy days on the Seine with a bottle of wine and falafels and the traditional Champs de Mars parties of my high school. My pre-teen and early teenage years were running back and forth from each other’s apartments to the Eiffel Tower to get crêpes, because it was the only ‘cool’ place within walking distance and our parents wouldn’t let us take the metro by ourselves.
They were catching the school bus (not a dingy yellow bus, but a charter tour bus) on a dreary winter morning outside of the award winning bakery that happened to be right downstairs, and if you got there early enough, beating the line to grab a still warm pastry for breakfast.
They were gathering in the residential neighborhood that somehow all my classmates lived in, getting Starbucks because we felt so grown up for drinking coffee, even though let’s be honest, it was mostly sugar. And we grew up fast.
Movie weekend nights turned into bar hopping and clubbing. We strived to be adults and the culture expected it of us. My high school years were filled with five hour lunches and three hour coffees, with happy hours at 5 and dinners at 10.
House parties that had an exuberant amount of alcohol and VIP sections at clubs, with late nights and early mornings, with midnight stops and sunrise moments at Trocadéro, with library naps and history classes from our famed teacher who knew how to give the most captivating lectures I’ve ever had, with all-nighters and endless English discussions among some truly brilliant classmates.
I realize that I was so fortunate to have had these experiences. In light of the recent Paris attacks, I’ve become more appreciative of my city and the culture than ever. I grew up in one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the transformation I’ve had as a person is truly remarkable. Despite the fact that I hold American citizenship, I felt like a foreigner when I came back to the United States for university after eight years abroad.
Everything moves so fast here. Everyone is always busy and moving and I just want to sit around and have a cup of coffee for four hours with my best friend while we talk about school, bars, food, movies, love, life. I have learned how to do my introductions well and to say my goodbyes with as little heartbreak as possible. I’ve learned to relax and take life in stride.
I’m no longer the shy child I once was, and I’m not so afraid to make my voice heard (still a little scared though, but that’s alright, old habits die hard). I’ve learned that it’s okay not to be okay, and that it’s also okay to put myself first.
Moreover, I’ve learned to be humble but proud, a quality that I think is often lost in our adolescence, a time that we think we are invincible. Not invincible in the physical sense, but rather in a way that says, “I can take anything life dares to throw at me,” and we often forget how vulnerable we can be. I’ve learned to embrace my vulnerability, to go through life without always thinking about protecting myself, because although putting yourself out there can be terrifying, it often yields benefits.
My adolescent years were spent in the city of Paris, France, a city that seemed far too grown up for a ten year old Asian-American girl who didn’t speak a word of French. My life was sipping vin chaud at the annual Christmas market on the Champs Elysées, it was ordering foie gras at the butcher to pair with a hot baguette, it was the bustling noises of the restaurant delivery trucks in the morning and the mopeds buzzing by at night (and wow, I did not realize how much of my life revolved around gastronomy).
It was travelling to Amsterdam, London, Brussels, just for the day for a swim meet, it was the long walks in the Bois de Boulogne with my dog and three day weekend trips with my family. It was an experience that I’ve now deemed ultimately priceless, as every day felt like a new discovery, not only of the city and of Europe but of myself and my identity.
Now, back in the States at Emory University, whenever people ask me where I’m from, I usually say Paris, because although I don’t hold French citizenship, I feel more culturally French than American. I think that those pre-teen and teenage years are so important in finding oneself.
It’s when you discover what you’re like, what kind of people you like, how you cope with everything that happens, be it school, relationships, stress, whatever.
Paris shaped me into a young woman ready to tackle the world as a semi-adult (because honestly, I still get anxiety from scheduling my own doctor’s appointments), encouraging me to embrace everything I can but to not forget my past and to remain true to what I believe in. And for that, I am eternally grateful