I Just Want a Matchstick

Crossing borders opened up our world.

From a world filled with the usual noises, where we stepped into our everyday with everything in our most familiar language (ahh… home), and from thinking there's no need for any other language (because that's where we've been and how we’ve spoken all our lives), we rolled out of our comfort. Once borders were crossed, that's when our perspective of life was tested. 

We realised that our world isn't all there is, and we had to decide how to respond. View and dismiss it? Or embrace it? 

We were in Costa Rica, two months in, on a year-long adventure of travel, volunteering, and growth. And for once, cooking at home required a matchstick.*

We are a married couple from Melbourne, Australia. James grew up in Malaysia and moved over for university when he was 19. Hannah was born in Brunei, went to high school in Vancouver, Canada, and arrived in Melbourne for university study as well. We had lived in Melbourne for 10 years. 

But this year is different, as we said. We are on an adventure. 

So there we were in Potrero, Costa Rica, looking for some matchsticks to make dinner at home. We were standing in one of the three mini-marts, struggling to describe matchsticks with our limited Spanish and very good (but useless) English. No luck.

Struck by our ineffectiveness, we thought, "Why not try Mandarin?" Yes, Mandarin. You see, we found out that the cashier/store owner was from China who had some Spanish but no English. Thankfully, James grew up in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, where Mandarin is regularly spoken. Hannah went to a Mandarin school. Heck, our parents on both sides were fluent in Mandarin.

At once, the cashier lady's eyes lit up at the mention of matchsticks in Mandarin! "Ah! 火柴!", she exclaimed. "Ahh, los palitos de fósforo", exclaimed her Tico store assistant.

 To our tummies content, dinner was made that night.

Third culture kid struggle? No. It was a third culture kid win.


*Obviously, not all gas stoves in Costa Rica require matchsticks.