Cultural Identity

I am not exactly sure when I became aware of my skin colour, my identity, my accent, my Father’s unique job or even my birth country and how obviously out of place it all was to my surroundings. One move seemed to blend into another. The only thing I seemed to know, was how to navigate new schools, and airports.

By grade 8, I was 13, we were posted back to Canada. My apparent home and native land, I am not sure how homey it really was for me. My parents made the decision to move back to the neighbourhood we had been living in before we moved to the Philippines. It was a familiar neighbourhood, I knew some people, I knew the school. There was only one glaring difference when we came back, it felt more foreign to me than anything else.

I would find myself trying to navigate something I hadn’t been completely aware of before. Back in the Philippines, I stood out. I was very pale, blue eyed with hair that was turning a shade of auburn, I was always in a sea of beautiful tanned skin, dark hair and petite frames. I looked around my school, and it was a sea of WASP kids. I could apparently blend in a little more easily, or could I?

Before school started, my Mother and I went shopping to buy some fall clothes. I had been living in the tropics and owned nothing that had long sleeves or even legs, or boots for that matter. As we walked through the mall, everything was awkward, and uncomfortable. The shops only carried clothes in shades of black, brown, and dark green. I had been used to bright sun shiny colours that made you happy. My Mother commented on the prices, she almost passed out when looking at them. We were used to stopping in Hong Kong, and going into the fashion district, everything there was $10 and under. Here, it seemed everything was over $100, including my running shoes. My Mother got nervous. We didn’t have lots of money. She said we had to start slow. I could pick out a couple of things, but I was not getting a whole new wardrobe at once. I understood. Gone were the days of getting something made for a couple of dollars, or only having a wardrobe for one season. I made sure I picked out an outfit that would blend. I spent a better part of a day observing what everyone around me was wearing.

When I arrived at school, my mouth almost unhinged to the floor. Everyone, and I mean everyone, looked more like me. It was an odd experience, something I became leery of. I quickly observed, that there were only 2 minority kids, one Chinese, one Korean. The weird thing for me, was I identified more with the minority kids, than I did with the rest of the student population.

As soon as I opened my mouth in class, out came a Filipino accent. I answered a question and out came a lilt to my words that jarred everyone awake. They all laughed, and began to make fun of me. My accent made me stand out. As we moved into our French class for the day, I had slunk down into my chair, trying to be invisible. When I was called on to answer a question in French, I hesitated, then answered slowly. The teacher, remarked how beautiful my accent was. My classmates, confused, unaware of my ability to copy accents in other languages, yet, I couldn’t get rid of my very Filipino lilt as quickly or as easily.

I went home. Not understanding how to fit in, or where I really belonged. As much as I looked like everyone on the outside, I was nothing like any of these kids on the inside. It was at 13, I realized, I just had to somehow figure out how to hide my true self, and just blend as best as I could.

Dip Kid


Culture Shock – Fitting In

This is a rather delicate subject matter as I have a lot of opinions surrounding this. Having been a Diplomatic Kid, there were and still are very few moments I feel I fit in, chidhood is hard enough when you stay put, but when you mix in moving constantly, it brings on a whole other level of crazy. Actually, I don’t really like the idea of fitting in, I like the idea of finding a tribe, people who are like you, but can also lift you up when you are down.

Let me paint a little picture. When we first moved to this suburb, I did what I always do, dive in and become social. I had people over, hosted parties, and organized a Mums Night Out. Last year, something began to shift in me. I realized, I was tired of living in a suburb, and living this life. It seems to happen like clock work, after year 3, I am done. Obviously, I have a 7 year old to think of, and have promised myself that I wouldn’t keep moving, I wanted my son to have the roots I never had, even though I have no idea how to create roots. Last year, I became depressed, and my PTSD came back to haunt me. I began to gain weight, and I wasn’t sure what I needed or wanted.

So, I retreated, began to meditate and reflect on what it was that a) I wanted b) where I was going wrong. Over the last 6 months, I began going to museums on my own, going to the gym regularly, and started to take Spanish and Dutch for fun. My whole demeanor changed, I am calm, happy, and intellectually fulfilled.

Last week, I had been invited to a charity luncheon with the group of ladies that I had made when I first moved here. I hadn’t really heard from them, I occasionally see them at school pickup, but I haven’t attempted to reach out to them. They certainly have made no effort to contact me, in fact, i think they only invited me to fill the table.  I arrived, I was happy and delighted to experience the lunch, and art around me, but I was more interested in learning about the charity than talking about decorating, building or shopping for various pieces in the house. I was bored. When it was time to leave, I gathered my things, and all of them, and I mean every single woman who had driven, turned to the other mother who had walked and asked if she needed a ride. No one even looked at me, or acknowledged my existence.  For the first time in my life, I laughed in my head. That insecure Diplomatic Kid inside of me, was no longer insecure, but completely happy and secure. It was a weird moment of letting go.

I had agreed months ago, to go to a ladies Christmas party at a friend’s house last night. I showed up, no one greeted me, no one batted an eyelash when I walked in. They were too busy hugging each other. They were all talking about the shopping trip they had made together, and how much their husbands don’t listen or buy them, what they want. I quietly went into the kitchen to get water, I was accosted by one Mother who claimed loudly “are you still doing that no drinking thing?”, I nodded, and just said “yes”. Apparently, not drinking and working out, makes people feel really uncomfortable. I smiled and started to deflect and ask questions. I stayed for over an hour, and then decided it was time to exit as everyone began to drink more heavily, and rant about their daft husbands. It was the first time I noticed, they were all truly unhappy, and had negative energy. I realized in that moment, I have always tried to fit in, but trying to fit in doesn’t make you happy, it just makes you depressed. I have spent my whole life being 2 different people, as I hated sharing the Diplomatic side to those who weren’t part of that life. In reality, that is the only side of me, I am and will forever be, a Third Culture Kid. I was so happy last night, even as I had been excluded completely, I knew deep inside of me, who I was, and where I was going.

The fact it has taken me this long to really work on my own happiness, which frankly, happens with Mothers, we think of everyone else before ourselves. I noticed a few things, I don’t want to be friends with unhappy people, nor do I want to surround myself with people who don’t want to explore the world or spend energy lifting people up. Where I feel most comfortable, is talking about the world, the next adventure, how to do all this with a child, and exercise, I love exercising and eating clean 99% of the time. As I was thinking all of this, I got a text from a fellow Diplomatic Kid, it was like the universe was giving me a big sign! I told her where I was, and she laughed. She basically expressed the exact same sentiment, that the only time she felt she fit in, was letting go, and being herself.

As a kid, the concept of fitting in, is pretty intense, especially when you move so often. With every move, comes an intense insecurity. That insecurity seems to follow you into adulthood. I was not insecure going into adulthood, as I began working at Foreign Affairs, which was comforting on so many levels. When I became a Mother, and had made a switch to leave Foreign Affairs, I began to feel vulnerable and insecurities began to fill me. Breaking the cycle, took a lot of work, but it is all possible no matter what stage in life you are in. You have to embrace who you truly are, flaws and all.