I Bring Something Different: Interview with Adult TCK Liz Lovelace (part 3)

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!

Third Culture Teen Stories: Interview with Adult TCK Liz Lovelace (part 2)

I got to interview a close family friend, who is also an adult third culture kid (or ATCK). She shared about growing up often feeling like an outsider, and also shared a funny story about ice-cream. This is the second part of a multi-part interview. You can read part one here.

As you read this part of the interview, I would like you to keep something in mind. The struggles Liz paints aren’t necessarily things that only third culture kids go through. However, the degree of those struggles was elevated, I believe, because she lived in a country where everyone was completely different from her.


Liz: Here’s a funny specific story. The Christian school I went to was a part of the church we went to as well. When I was in ninth grade, one Sunday after church, this college-aged guy who was helping with the youth group was like, “Hey, let’s go get some ice-cream after church.” The way I heard it… of course, I had no experience with how this actually played out. I had never gone out with other people to go get ice-cream in my life. I convinced my dad to let me go. My dad asked me, “Is he paying?” I said, “Well, I think so because he invited us.” Then we get to the ice-cream shop, and people start ordering, and everyone is paying for their own ice-cream. I just felt really stupid. And I’m kind of in trouble here because I was like, “oh no!” I was expected to pay for my own ice-cream, and I had no idea because all I had heard was this guy invited us out to get ice-cream, so he must be paying. So that was like a particular cultural moment, I guess.

Breanne: Is that an Argentine thing – to pay if you invite someone out?

Liz: Not necessarily, looking back, I don’t think that’s true, but I just didn’t personally have that experience. If we ever went out for ice-cream with the youth group, my dad, who served at our church in Argentina, always paid for everybody. That was the youth group thing. He paid for everyone; he didn’t expect people to pay for their own. But, looking back, if friends go out, usually everyone pays their own way. The way it worked out in my head was that this is a church thing. This guy works in the youth group; it’s a church thing.

So to my friend, I told her, “Oh, I didn’t know we had to pay for our own.” And she was like, “Oh, don’t worry, I’ll pay for you.” She was pretty nice. (And had money, apparently.) That’s a specific cultural story.

Breanne: Yeah… just not being in the know, even if it’s a cultural norm or not, just not knowing. I get that.

Liz: Yeah, and our parents didn’t even let us go out with friends much in Argentina, even as teenagers. We never went out and did stuff if it wasn’t associated with a church.

Going back to adapting in the States… I don’t know if people still give kids allowances. But when I was in fourth grade, that was a huge deal. I was the only kid in my class that didn’t get money regularly. So, I do remember that was something that made me feel like we didn’t fit in. It wasn’t something my parents ever did, and I don’t think they had the money to do that sort of thing. In fourth grade, kids would talk about their allowance or what they got with their money… just having that money to spend on something. Back to the topic of high school, if we wanted to go out, we would have to ask for money every time. Some high school kids also got allowances and had the money to buy stuff and go out for ice-cream. Anyways, money was always tight for us.

Breanne: Yeah, I think that’s a familiar story to pastor’s kids and pastor’s families overseas.

Can you talk about specific struggles you went through, maybe in teenage and young adult struggles, perhaps identity and belonging struggles? Any range of struggles and reactions, really.

Liz: I think as I got older, being in Argentina, I wanted to fit in and knew I just didn’t. As I got older, most of my friends were from church. You know, neighborhood friends, as kids got older, that had their own friends from school and had their own things they did… It was widespread for Argentine teenagers to go dancing on the weekends (and obviously, we didn’t do that.) There was a natural break with our neighborhood friends who weren’t Christians. As teenagers, our friends were from church. But even then, they went to public schools, or when they started college, they went there in Argentina. Their experiences were very different from ours. They went to the public high school… schools there can be very political there. The education system for high school is very different – from what we knew. As teens, we knew our life was very different. There were things sometimes that I would want to do with friends.

Our parents were super strict as well when it came to doing things with friends. They rarely let us do anything if they weren’t there. Sometimes we would do something downtown or go to some kind of event.

Breanne: So when could you go out with friends?

Liz: As a teenager, not a lot. To skip ahead a bit, I went to college in the states and then returned to Argentina. I was still living with my parents. I was older then; I was doing things with a friend then. I’m trying to think of something specific.

I had this one good friend in Argentina that is a few years older than I am. She would go to high school and go and come back by herself. When she started college, she would do all these things. She studied to be a physical education teacher. As part of the program, she would go hiking or camping… they had all these activities. I was watching her do all these things. Her parents were like yeah, sure, whatever… I don’t think my parents would ever let me go camping with a group of kids my own age as a teen without adult supervision.

Breanne: Yeah…

Liz: Not that one is right or wrong, but that sticks out in my mind. I think I was probably the first in my family that wanted to do stuff like that. I don’t remember my older siblings having that issue. Well, my brother, he played soccer for a club…

Breanne: And that was his social life.

Liz: Yeah, and he was a boy. In our family, boys got treated differently than girls.

Breanne: Was that a matter of the way they thought? Or was it a matter of society and it was a safety issue?

Liz: Definitely, I think it was a matter of keeping the girls safe. My brothers had freedom and could do public transportation much more than we could. I understand that now. But as a teenager, it was very hard. You don’t see that… my brothers have the freedom that I don’t.

Breanne: Even more so, I think when your parents are raising you in a country that isn’t their own. I feel like that would be even more of a concern.

Liz: Yes.


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I Knew I Stood Out: Interview with Adult TCK Liz Lovelace (part 1)

Guys! I got to interview a close family friend, who is also an adult third culture kid (or ATCK). She shared about growing up often feeling like an outsider. This is the first part of a multi-part interview.


Breanne: Welcome, Liz! Well, could you please tell us your TCK story from the beginning?

Liz: Hmm, from the beginning… I was born in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in 1978. I’m the fourth child out of five.

My parents had been in Argentina in a year or two before I was born. I grew up in Argentina and had dual citizenship because of that. Growing up, we were homeschooled… I went to a public kindergarten, but from first grade on, I was homeschooled (unless we were doing furlough in the US, we’d go to a Christian school for a year.) So we had friends in the neighborhood and friends at church. That was basically our social life. We were the only ones who were homeschooled. That was a little different for Argentines, especially back then. Right now, there are many homeschool families, but then no one had ever heard of it.

Breanne: How did explaining it go?

Liz: We would just tell people we do school at home. We have a curriculum from the US, we do it at home, and our mom is a teacher. But we discovered later on that there are kids in the military… there is a way in the Argentine public school system to just go and take the tests. It’s called Rendir Libre. Free testing. Then we told people we did that.

That was one of the more significant differences as we grew up there. Neighborhood kids would get out of school, and they’d be done. In Argentina, the school day is made up of two half days. The morning session just goes till noon, and kids go home and eat lunch, and they’d be done. We’d still be doing work. Kids would come around looking for us. They wouldn’t get that we were home, but we weren’t available.

Also, my parents were big on everyone speaking Spanish when someone around couldn’t speak English. I really appreciate that. It’s something I try to practice with my kids – when we lived in Mexico. I think it’s a meaningful way to show respect to other people. We thought it was normal till we got together with other TCKs and found out it wasn’t a typical thing. We only had one expatriate family living near us – and they had a similar mindset. Then we’d meet up with expat families in Buenos Aires or at conferences. And we’d be around TCKs – and they’d just be talking English the whole time, no matter who was around. We had a few Argentines tell us that they really appreciated us doing that – even though it was my parents’ second language.

For my sister and me, I think it was this aspect of… Well, back then, my parents didn’t believe in women wearing pants. We had to wear culottes all the time.

Breanne: Aren’t they like really baggy pants?

Liz: Except they come to the knees.

Breanne: Like basketball shorts for girls?

Liz: Yeah, except they were even bigger, baggier, and longer. My mom always made our clothes. Growing up in Argentina, the fact that we dressed differently was so hard. Moreso for me personally. We were questioned: Why do you wear that? Why don’t you wear pants? It made childhood and especially the teenage years awkward. Because it’s the phase where you want to fit in, and you just didn’t. As far as what we looked like, lots of people in Argentina have paler skin, there are descendants from Germany and Britain. I was taller than the average woman in Argentina. I stood out some there. For the most part, we would have fit in better if we dressed like ordinary people.

Breanne: So was that a constant feeling? Feeling like you had to fit in?

Elizabeth: I don’t know if I needed to fit in. I always knew that I didn’t, for whatever reason. I knew I stood out.

Breanne: But it frustrated you.

Liz: Yes. Yes. Especially as a teenager. There were things that I wished were different. Or rules that my parents had that most Argentines didn’t understand. Yeah. Those two aspects made us stick out: homeschool and dress.

Breanne: Was homeschool a positive or negative experience, other than the fact that you didn’t fit in?

Liz: I wouldn’t say it was negative or positive. I struggled with it because I’m not self-motivated, and for homeschool, you need to be. I would have done better in a regular school setting. I realize that more now because I see that in my daughter, Alex. Because of how I learn, I don’t think I did well with homeschool. It was important for my parents that we were educated in English to better transition to college in the USA. For that, I think it was helpful.

Breanne: I agree that English education is helpful for transitions. I have only ever had two and a half years, spread out, of schooling in English. I do think they were beneficial for exercising my mind in that language.

Liz: Yeah, I know grammar in English, but not in Spanish. My husband knows Spanish grammar, but I am more fluent than him. I think that it was helpful for college, that I had learned English that well.

Breanne: What about… You were talking about TCKs and how you would see them, and they just felt different. Can you elaborate on that? Why did they feel different?

Liz: I think it was because, in Mar del Plata, there was only one other expat family we were close to. We didn’t grow up with other expat kids our age. All our friends were Argentine. Many expat families in Buenos Aires would get together for Thanksgiving or other events. They would just see each other. Some of them were homeschooled together. Their friends were other expat kids. Whenever we saw them, we felt like they knew more about the US culture than us. They had a more up-to-date vocabulary than us. They were more up to speed, so to speak.

This is back in the day before the internet. The only thing we knew about the US culture was… One of my aunts would record on video sets the Buffalo Bills football games for my dad. At first, she was just recording the game and sending it. Then she figured out she had a bit of tape left, and she started to record shows. We would tell her to go in the commercials because she would also not record those.

Breanne: American commercials are so fun.

Liz: I know. That’s how we learned about US culture – watching whatever our aunt sent us on those video cassettes. My dad would watch the football games, and we would watch TV shows. She would put America’s Funniest Home Videos, Home Improvement, and maybe the Cosby Show.

Breanne: That’s awesome.

Liz: We had hundreds of those tapes. Because she would record a couple weeks’ worth of games and then send them to my dad. It was exciting when they came. We’d have something new to watch. That’s what we knew. I don’t know if these other expat families went to the states more frequently than we did. We only went every four years.

Fourth grade was the first time I remember going back to the States.

Breanne: What was that like?

Liz: I remember being scared about going to an actual school. I thought it’d be really hard. I remember the night before my first day. I was crying because I was so nervous. I remember being scared, but once it started, it was fine. I had a good, kind teacher. I think I enjoyed having friends my age.

Breanne: How did making friends go?

Liz: I don’t know. It was a long time ago. But I am now Facebook friends with a lot of them. We actually went back to the same school four years later. So when I was in ninth grade, some of the same people were there.

Breanne: Did that feel weird – going back four years later to the same people?

Liz: Yeah, some people remembered me, some people didn’t. I was the new kid. Going in at ninth grade was hard for other reasons. I had no experience writing reports or doing science projects. I don’t remember doing those in homeschool.

Breanne: You had talked about how you felt different and had trouble relating to the expat kids in Argentina. Did you feel different from the kids at this school? Maybe being exempt from pop culture? Or did you struggle with making friends and then having to leave?

Liz: What I remember from the years we were in the States… the beginning is always hard. I am also an introvert. I just naturally gravitate towards sitting in a corner and watching and listening. I don’t remember specifically the feeling of not fitting in… probably because I wasn’t trying to fit in. I wasn’t trying to make friends. I do know that after a while, you just learn and pick up things.


Amen. You just learn and pick up things. Story of our lives, no? Don’t forget to subscribe to my email list so you don’t miss the next parts of this interview.