I got to interview a close family friend, who is also an adult third culture kid (or ATCK). She shared about loneliness as a third culture kid in college, and learning to be comfortable in your own skin. This is the third part of a multi-part interview. You can read part one here, and part two here.
Breanne: So, in college, what was your experience as a TCK in college?
Liz: College was hard. Especially the first year. Like I said with high school, the beginning is always an adjustment. By the time I got to college, I had already had those experiences of being in the States and going back to Argentina. Going in, I knew I could adapt and learn. I had that in my mind.
Breanne: That’s such a TCK thing, though… adaptation. When you said, “I would just wait on the sidelines, and wait and watch and learn.” I know that a widespread TCK reaction to a new environment is kind of not doing anything for months. Watching and learning and studying the culture and setting, and then starting to interact with it. So that makes sense.
Liz: I mentioned I was fourth out of five children. I ended up going to the same college as my older siblings. That helped me going in. I had seen the college before; when we dropped off my siblings, I was there. That was an advantage. My next older brother was in college when I arrived, so I had somebody. I knew I had support – I wasn’t completely alone. It was the middle of the year, January, when I started college. I ended up rooming with my now brother-in-law’s sister. She knew I was coming, and she requested to room with me, so that worked out. I made some terrific friends in college. One of the friends I met that first semester ended up being one of my very best friends. Going into college was a little different for me than for my siblings.
The academic aspect, though, I was going from homeschool to college. I actually hadn’t finished high school. I had to take a GED exam to have a high school diploma. It was daunting. There was the question of “Will I do okay… will I be able to do the work?” High school is supposed to prepare you for college and for writing a bunch of papers. I had to write an essay about whatever, five to ten pages, for every class. I don’t remember doing that when I was homeschooled in high school. That was a big thing for me to learn to do. Thankfully I did well in college. And I made good friends. A lot of the socializing that people do in high school, I did in college. Actually, no, When I was in ninth grade in the States, I played team sports, but I didn’t again till college.
Some of the aspects of playing on a team sport are where I got most of my college experience, traveling to play other schools, things that you learn in those environments. I didn’t have that for most of the high school. In Argentina, I didn’t play any sports. Not because it wasn’t allowed, at that time, soccer wasn’t… I don’t know if I was interested. I was introverted, so I think I was too shy to find a sport I wanted to do. It wasn’t something my parents encouraged me to do either. For my brother, they saw it as something he just really loved. He played soccer. I didn’t have a sport that I loved playing or that I had to play. I think I would have enjoyed it if I had done some kind of activity. It was common as a teen to be part of a sports thing, at school or at a club. But girls’ soccer wasn’t a thing back then.
Breanne: I mean, we’re talking about Argentina. Haha.
Liz: Right. Back in the 90s. So girls soccer wasn’t a thing. I don’t remember it as something I wanted to do. College was my first experience of playing on a team for several years in a row. Many people who play sports in college played sports in high school, so they already have played sports on a team. That was new to me.
I do remember having this my first semester: This moment where I felt very alone. I think it was a free period; I was in my dorm room by myself. I guess I was journaling or reading the Bible or something like that. I just remember crying… sobbing. I felt very alone, out of place, stressed. It’s not just getting into a different culture. It’s a different culture, but all of a sudden, you have college classes and responsibility. It was this level of pressure I wasn’t used to. I remember praying and crying, and I felt so alone. I remember, specifically, God being with me in that moment. It was probably the first time in my life where I was alone, and I had to call out to God. Until then, you’re with family, when you live at home, it’s different – you aren’t alone. College was the first time I had to rely on God for companionship. Even though there were other TCKs there at that time (my brother was there, there were Spanish-speaking TCKs there, who I could talk to. Those were still new friendships too. There were actually two TCKs there, one from Uruguay and another from Argentina. She was a pastor’s kid who lived in Buenos Aires who we knew, but we weren’t really friends. She was at my college for a year and then dropped out. I had some friendships, but they were new, and being an introvert, it wasn’t easy for me to break out of my shell and be myself and make friends. So that was an adjustment. As I got through a couple years of college, I could see a benefit in being a TCK in that… I remember going through this time during college where I was like, “Who am I, how do I fit in? I miss Argentina, but what’s home”… that whole struggle. I think, at some point, I accepted me for myself. I don’t know if that makes sense.
Breanne: No, yeah, totally.
Liz: I think any differences I had with other people my age didn’t matter anymore.
Breanne: Whereas before, they really mattered. That was like the switch.
Liz: Right. As a teenager, being different wasn’t something I relished or something I wanted. As I got older, as I matured, as I gained experience… I don’t remember an “aha” moment, but as I grew, fitting in and relating to other people wasn’t crucial anymore. I was able to accept that I am the way I am and, knowing that I bring something different to the people around me. I have different life experiences, and that is a good thing. That doesn’t diminish other people’s life experiences of mine. It’s just different.
Breanne: That’s so good.
This interview has been amazing to unpack and chew on! Don’t miss the last part that I’ll post next week. (And honestly, I’m saving the best for last.)
What has stood out to you in this interview? I’ll be replying to your comments!