If this title confuses you, just bear with me and I’ll provide a background on what I’m talking about. But to start, one of the things I hope to accomplish on this blog is to promote understanding & to negate ignorances. I think in order to do that, we need to start with my backstory to understand where we’re going with this today.
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia.
My home for all of my childhood, it was truly all I knew.
It was home.
So when it was time to leave, I left as a pre-teen child knowing that the goodbyes I was saying to my friends, my childhood home, the country I knew and loved,
I knew I’d probably never see any of them again.
That day we left Saudi was heartbreaking, not just for me but for my parents too.
I’ll never forget the feeling that crept up on me that day, it truly changed my life.
From then on, the first couple years back in the States I had a really hard time. Not necessarily adjusting to life here or meeting new friends, but in the fact that I felt like a whole part of me was suddenly missing. Something I couldn’t really explain to people that didn’t understand.
For years, I HATED the question “where are you from?”
I couldn’t answer it without going into the whole story because I wasn’t really “from” Saudi,
but it had been my birthplace, my home.
And I wasn’t “from” the States either, somehow that seemed far more foreign to me than saying I was from Saudi.
And hence came many many years of not really feeling at home anywhere, never truly feeling like I was “home” in the States, nor that it was truly what defined my citizenship.
I had no one except my parents that understood this, though they also were in a different boat than me. Their time in Saudi had been in adulthood, with many years in the States before that and so while they tried as hard as they could, it wasn’t a feeling they could totally understand either.
Through my high school years the connection to my Saudi childhood friends over the internet helped tremendously. At times when I’d really miss it, I’d talk to them. I’d look at their photos of our old home and reminisce with them about when we were kids.
Many of them I still am in contact with today.
I apologize that this post is so winded, but here in lies the rub, this is the story of my life and it is winded.
I can’t just say “I’m from Oregon” and be done with it.
Or “I’m American” and be done with it… because even though now both of those hold true,
they don’t paint the whole picture, just a tiny part of it.
So anyways, in college I came across the term “3rd culture kid.”
And it seriously changed my life. This term describes kids like me, born and raised in a foreign country but a citizen of another and somewhere in between both of those, lies a 3rd culture we’ve sort of created for ourselves, a mixture of the 2 that we “belong” to.
To finally be able to see my situation written in a word, to finally be able to express what I had been feeling all those years in a way someone else might be able to understand.
It was a huge revelation.
And then just the other day I came across this article talking about the exact same thing but relaying a single world for the feelings I’ve had for years. “Saudade,” a Portuguese word without an equivalent in English means “a longing, a melancholy, a desire for what was and something that really won’t ever be again.”
That word stopped me in my tracks the other day as I read the article (forwarded to me by a friend from Saudi). That one word is one that I hold with me everyday in my heart and I’ve been holding it for a very long time now without even knowing the word that described it.
To really imagine the feeling, imagine the place you grew up, your house, your home, your friends, your family, your hobbies, your reality, gone in 1 day, knowing you’d never see it again.
I guess my point in all this is that sometimes, as 3rd culture kids, no one understands why we feel this way. People always tell me, “well you’re American though, so I don’t get it.”
And I wish it were that simple but it is far from that.
While my passport has always been American, in large letters in the place of birth category is written
prominently “Saudi Arabia” and there is the story of my life.
Caught between 2 cultures that have never been truly mine, either one of them.
So now years down the road, I look back and can understand a little better what I went through and what I felt is felt by 3rd culture kids all around the world.
And so here is my ode to the 3rd culture kids around the globe, may we find peace in who we are, where we come from and how the world has shaped us.
And may others try to understand that it isn’t so black and white for us,
that sometimes cultures blur, boundaries are undefined.
I think as a world we need to understand this more and as more and more lines do blur,
we must know that our hearts can hold pieces of our “homes,” even if that home can’t be
drawn on a map.
I’ll always be a little “Arab” and I’m so thankful for that because it’s a huge part of who I am
and I hope it always will be.
Now when someone asks me where I’m from, I smile and respond
“I grew up in Saudi Arabia.”
And then I wait for the questions that always seem to follow…
|Photo copyright to Nick Nieto|