Growing up as a third culture kid (TCK) I became fond of meeting new people everywhere I went, hearing their stories and experiencing their cultures. I felt liberated to explore endlessly, it gave me fuel and I thrived off this multi-cultural lifestyle.
By age 7 I was blessed to be conversational in three languages, to have already lived in 2 African countries and about to move to the 3rd, and none were of my parent’s origin. I have been blessed to have the opportunity to keep doing it again and again and again.
As free as I felt, much of my childhood was spent in a bubble, behind bars, in high level security homes. This might sound strange, but it was normal for me. All the houses I lived in had 10ft brick walls with electric barbed wire on top surrounding the boundaries of the property. All my friends also had similar security set ups, like I said, it was normal growing up in Africa. All the doors and windows had metal grills and gates. There were security alarm systems that would get triggered, even if a gecko crossed its path. Not to mention the 2 security guards that sat outside the house at night, taking turns walking the perimeter of the house every 30 minutes with a highly-trained German Shepard guard dog. It made me feel safe laying in my bed listening to the gravel shift and crunch beneath the security guard’s shoes as he would walk around the house. It was the “all clear” I needed that it was safe to go back to sleep. And I thought no more of it.
It was not until my family left Africa and moved to London that I felt like a fish out of water. I was 14 now. A little more mature. The new house had no brick walls surrounding it, no guards, no bars on the windows and no security system. I felt so exposed. My dad would walk the house every night making sure all the windows were shut and the doors were locked before he turned in for the night. He felt it too. I could tell. But he kept a tough exterior and tried not to let us catch wind of his protective instincts.
As a grown woman, I now realize how much I have been shaped by my past. I need all those security measures to feel safe, even in an affluential neighbourhood in Chicago. I had my husband install a security system in our home that had sensors on the doors and windows. It was almost unnecessary precaution. But without it I couldn’t sleep at night. I have recently moved again and all the insecurities are flourishing again. New house, new city, new everything and no security system.
Today my eyes and ears popped open when I heard the squeaking of the front door open at 5:30am. My kids asleep in their rooms and my husband out of town unexpectedly. I don’t own a baseball bat, or a gun and I didn’t have a knife by my bedside. What now? I listened for footsteps but didn’t hear any. My instincts kicked in and I turned my flashlight on my phone, typed in 911, kept my finger hovering over the green dial button and started my search. Kids still asleep. Check. Bathrooms clear. Check. Front door locked. Check. No one in the living room. No one in the play room. No one in the kitchen. No one in the laundry room. Phew! All the other entry points were locked. I left the lights on and went back to my room.
I missed those security guards so much today.
As a TCK we grow up in unique environments that not everyone can relate to. These environments shape us and make us who we are. They make us multilingual. They make us tolerant. They make us cautious. They make us vigilant. They may also give us anxieties no one else can relate to but other TCKs. However, we should not have to be apologetic for being who we are. Always be true to yourself. Love always.