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.
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.
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