I was seven weeks old the first time I flew in an airplane. My parents were returning to Japan to continue their mission work after a brief stint in the U.S. for supplemental training. Less than two years later, my little brother was born in an inner city Japanese hospital — the first blond baby born in years.
Other than adventuring to nearby Asian nations like Korea and Thailand for regional mission conferences and brief visits to America to see family, we primarily stayed in Japan. It was years until I realized that not all children traveled often.
People sometimes ask me if I miss Japan. My reply is simple: “Japan was my home,” implying: Of course I miss it! Wouldn’t you miss your home if you had to leave and never go back?
I am American, born to American parents, but I was raised in Japan. I am what’s known as a Third Culture Kid (or TCK, for short.). The first culture is American, the nation of my birth and nationality. The second culture is Japanese, the country where I spent my childhood and many of my foundational learning years. The third is the unholy combo of both countries that affects all aspects of my life, even today: My personality, my abilities, my quirks, my dreams, my struggles and even my tastebuds.
Unsurprisingly, travel is a huge hobby of mine and, one day, I want to do it for a living. Settling down is such a foreign idea to me, and it’s hard for me to stay in one place for more than a few years. I get restless and start looking for a new place to live. Traveling rarely burns me out; on the contrary, it makes me feel alert and alive.
However, my view of home is a little skewed. I don’t have a good answer for the common question, “Where are you from?” I just don’t know. Am I from Texas, because I was born there and also went to college there? Am I from Japan, where I spent twelve years? Am I from Missouri, where I moved to after leaving Japan, and where I visit on breaks? Or is it England, where I studied abroad for only a semester, but felt much more at home there than many other places? I don’t know where “home” is, and with my nomadic tendencies, I may never have a permanent place to call my own.
My first language is English, but when I first moved to the U.S., my classmates immediately knew something different about me. I didn’t act quite like they did. I was quieter, covered my mouth when I laughed, never spoke out of turn, did not seek attention from peers and was ahead in my schooling. I discovered that I was feeling culture shock in my very own country, and the place I was supposed to be from felt more foreign to me than a nation on the other side of the planet.
Traveling has made me empathetic. I can relate well to others and get along with most personality types. I can form acquaintances quickly, but I struggle with deep relationships. I can adapt and blend in rather quickly when I visit other places, being able to pick up other languages rapidly, due to intense language study as a child. Foods such as fish paste and dried seaweed that may seem strange to others don’t bother me, but I balk at classic American staples, such as biscuits and gravy and chocolate chip cookies. However, I struggle with my own identity as a person, not knowing if there is a place where I can truly “belong.”
As a TCK, while I have an American citizenship, I feel more like a child of the world and the wind, moving from place to place, exploring, learning and understanding. Living as a nomad does have its perks, but it often comes with a share of difficulties as well. My travels have given me a broader world-view, but I struggle with the simple concept of home.
I don’t know where my path leads next, but I can almost guarantee that it’s going to be an adventure.