We are two months away from moving to our 5th country as a family. Our 16th move, if I had to count long-term
transits, temporary quarters, and semi-permanent housing. And our eldest is only 9.
My nomadic family
I met Tim in my mid-20s at a Civic Education seminar in Manila. After a year of adventurous dates and nose-bleeding conversations, we got married in 2008. Since then, we have lived in the US, Japan, Canada, Philippines, Madagascar, and back to Japan.
Since my husband’s job inevitably required relocating, I chose to embrace it. We started an unfamiliar life of traveling and making friends. A life of saying goodbye, packing and unpacking, decorating and disassembling, over and over again. This choice has tinted my life with so many stories. There are amusing ones like being mistaken as a hired help, sleeping with the boss. Some stories are serious–like evacuating out of Japan because of a potential nuclear disaster. Others are depressing. Like being aware of how corruption can destroy a beautiful African nation or having no power to help a desperate woman in trouble with the law. Some are uplifting–like meeting wonderful kababayans who helped educated my children about the ways of being a Pinoy. Somehow, in all of these stories, we managed to raise two joyful third culture kids.
The life of Third Culture Kids
The term “third culture kids” was coined by researchers John and Ruth Useem in the 1950s. It refers to children who did not grow up in their homeland. The question my kids find difficult to answer is where they’re really from. They are a product of a multi-cultural couple, born in Japan, and living in Madagascar. Then again, this is the only life they know. All throughout their school life, they’ve only been around other third culture kids. Together, they have formed bonds with kids from all around the world who go through the same transition each time their parents move to another assignment.
I asked them one day “What do you like best about moving around?” My son says, “It’s like starting a new life each time.” My daughter says “Each time, I get better at making friends and letting go of material things.” When I ask what they don’t like about moving around, they say, apart from leaving their friends. As well as deciding what things to pack and what to leave behind. Most of all, it’s not having an extended family around. They did acknowledge, however, that that absence also makes them look forward to being with family when we visit.
A deepened awareness of the world around us
As a Mom, I feel that this kind of lifestyle allows us to create unique experiences for our own little family. Last Christmas, we stayed in Madagascar as going to the US or the Philippines was too expensive. We realized that we didn’t have our own family traditions. Tim and I thought of sharing some customs that we loved doing with each of our families. We put up ornaments on the tree from around the world– with each ornament having a tale of its own. We each took a piece of who we are and where we’ve lived to craft a culture that we could call ours.
As my kids are growing up, we engage in deep, meaningful conversations about life and society. I feel that because the kids have been so aware of global issues throughout their life, even at a young age, we are able to talk about what is right and what is wrong. Including how life could be unfair to many. We hope that somehow, this kind of life would instill a sense of responsibility in them–to use their education and upbringing to make a difference in the world when they are adults.
The ups and downs of constantly coming and going
I have learned, as a parent of third culture kids, not to dismiss any expression of sadness when we leave a country, even if it is an affection for physical things. When we were living in Canada, I used to drive the children around in this cherished Mazda car. When it was time to move, Tim and I sold the car. As it drove away with the new owner, we saw quiet tears just rolling off their cheeks. To this day, they still pound us with questions of why we had to sell that car. We have started a goodbye ceremony to establish a sense of closure each time we move. This time, it will involve hugging a beloved tree in our backyard.
As we prepare for possibly our last move, we asked the kids over dinner, “How do you feel about just staying in one place for middle school and high school after Japan?” They both said “No! We want to keep moving!” This might change in about 4 years, but for now, we’ll take their enthusiasm as a sign that we are not destroying their lives.
Candice Cipullo is a teacher by profession. She is currently teaching 3rd grade at the American School of Antananarivo in Madagascar. She is the author of the book series, “Kaya Mong Maging Super Yaya,” which aims to teach nannies the basics of child development, discipline, and proper nutrition. Learn more at the Travelling Maybahay website.