Have you ever been lost at home? If you’re a Third Culture Kid (TCK), a term that I don’t frequently use to describe myself, I think you’ll know what I mean. I recently found myself a stranger in my hometown, drifting between identities and places of belonging. After two years living and working in London, England, three years studying in Toronto and another year studying in Paris, Geneva and Shanghai, with various other international travels interspersed throughout, I found myself back in my hometown of Calgary, Canada for longer than my usual two-week visit.
Although I was born and raised here, I never was quite from here. My parents immigrated to Canada in 1983, after meeting at university in England. My dad was sent alone from Iran to England at the age of sixteen to pursue a better education. There, he met my British mom, and the two of them eventually moved to what is known as the ‘redneck’ province of Alberta where my two sisters and I were born and raised. Even though I was by birth a Canadian, it was somehow the last of my family’s three possible cultures that I identified with. My name was a clear indicator that I was from someplace else, my physical appearance slightly ambiguous as well. My British twang, picked up from my parents, was confusing for the other kids at school. I soon caught on that ‘toh-mah-toe’ needed to be said more like ‘potato’ in order to really fit in. By sixth grade I had decided that I clearly needed to eradicate all British pronunciations from my vocabulary if I was ever to come across as a real Canadian.
Fast-forward to today and here I find myself back in Canada, nearly seven years after I finished high school. For the first few weeks after I moved back to Canada following two years in the UK, I experienced nothing short of reverse culture shock. Why were the roads so big, the trucks so huge, the grocery stores so massive? What was this sprawl of suburbia and how had I lived in it for so long? When did I start saying things like ‘eh’ in every other sentence?
Funnily enough, it had taken me two years abroad to finally, truly feel like a Canadian. My accent immediately gave me away when I lived overseas, an instant icebreaker and conversation starter. Now that I was back on Canadian soil, what set me apart after so many years of actually feeling apart? With my different passports and identities, was I Canadian, British or Iranian? My income taxes were paid to Britain, my birthplace was in Canada but my name and appearance were Iranian. Where was home? How was I so lost in my own hometown?
These are the puzzle pieces that we Third Culture Kids are constantly playing with, moving them around and around, finding pieces that fit and others that don’t. We are constantly playing with different aspects of our identity, our heritage and our culture. I know that for myself, I often circumnavigate the tedious task of puzzle making by ascribing myself a ‘global nomad’. How much easier it is to carry all these various pieces of ‘me’ within me, while floating from one place to the next, identifying with the different elements of the physical space as well as with the more intangible aspects of a different nation. For some reason, I often feel more at home roaming and exploring the world, than in my actual physical birthplace. That is not to say that I don’t experience that unmistakable feeling of ‘homesickness’. I experience homesickness for Canada when I am not there, but I can similarly experience that homesickness for someplace else, like the UK, when I’m not there as well. What I do know, is that out of all my experiences, the place that my soul has come the closest to experiencing the feeling of “mine” that accompanies the notion of home, is when I am in the majestic beauty of the Albertan Rocky Mountains, near to where I grew up. Standing beneath their shadows, I feel held in my spiritual home.
What I am coming to realize on this return to Canada is this: my challenge is to build that sense of home, safety and belonging within myself. If I build that warm welcoming home within, then I will never be lost again. I will always know exactly where to return. And that internal home will house all those various aspects and spaces that are part of my story, my family, my life experiences and the places I’ve built memories. That is the home that I know I can always call Home.