I am an adult third culture kid. My first memories come from early mornings on a rooftop in the southern part of Pakistan. We would sleep on the high flat roof, mosques on all four sides of our home. Mosquito netting covered our beds, shielding our bodies from the harm that one small bite of these insects could bring. During this hot season the sound of the call to prayer, calling all faithful Muslims to pray, was the sound that woke me every day.
To look back is to visit those early memories and think of what I wish I had done – not what I wish my life had been like, but rather as a third culture kid asking a reflective question: what would I have done differently? If I had 20/20 vision how would I have lived?
In this spirit of self-reflection here is a letter to my 18-year-old self.
You are leaving Pakistan tomorrow. You don’t yet know that you will have one of the worst fights of your teen years with your parents in the morning; that the reason it will stop will be less about resolution and more about the fact that your boyfriend and his father are coming to pick all of you up in a van and take you down the mountain to the airport. You don’t yet know that as you leave the soil of Pakistan your heart will hurt so deeply that you won’t even be able to cry.
And here is what you will wish about your life in Pakistan, a life lived between worlds, between East and West, between Christian and Muslim, between Pakistan and America; wishes that you have grown into based on greater understanding and maturity.
You will wish that you had taken Urdu seriously. You had such a good ear for this language and a strong foundation. You will wish that you took advantage of this and gained the fluency at an early age that was a possibility.
You will wish that you learned more about the music of Pakistan, that you understood the ghazals written with beautiful poetry.
You will long to relive some of your friendships with Pakistanis, recognizing in the future the arrogance of your childhood as a little white girl growing up in the East.
You will ache to go back and apologize – to houseparents who you were rude to, to classmates who have left the faith, to others hurt by your choices.
You will wish you had spent more time in the inner courtyards of your Muslim friends, chatting, cooking, learning, learning, learning.
Later on you will move to Egypt and raise your own third culture kids, responsible now for creating home in the midst of transience. Your background will uniquely prepare you for life in this massive, chaotic city of 18 million people. You will grow to love Egypt. While Pakistan will remain your childhood love, Egypt will become your adult love. And yet again when you leave there will be wishes and regrets.
You will wish many things, you will regret other things.
But there are some things that you will never regret. You won’t regret that early in life you learned of a God who laces your memories with grace, who takes boarding school tears and turns them into joy in the morning. You won’t regret that you learned of this God through your parents, through your houseparents, through your adopted aunties and uncles, through Pakistan itself.
You will understand that though you were short-sighted, you know the God who delights in healing our eyesight, in restoring poor vision.
With all you now know, can now see, you won’t regret that you are a third culture kid, with all the complexity and joy that goes with it. And you’ll realize that 20/20 vision is reserved for God alone.
What would you say to your 18 year old self?
Check out Marilyn’s recently published book Between Worlds, a memoir about growing up as a TCK!