The Brave TCK (Or Not)

I don’t think of myself as brave in the slightest for living as a nomad. It is just what I do. And that fact that I’m a TCK? I count that as a strength for living as a nomad. But I don’t think about it very often. It is just who I am.

But for someone who has never been out of their home country I think I can (intellectually) understand why living as a nomad might need bravery. People can be very scared of being outside their comfort zone. There are three traits that are key to living as a nomad: the ability to embrace ambiguity and be flexible (I view these as two sides of the same coin); the willingness to accept that change is now part of your life; and lastly, the willingness to try new things.

Ambiguity is ever present. Other languages, other cultural mores, other ways of doing things — the list goes on. In a brand new environment, you don’t have the luxury of all the normal markers that indicate to you what is going on. And the best way to deal with ambiguity is being flexible. Be prepared to react in whichever way makes the most sense once you have evaluated the situation to the best of your ability.

Willingness to accept change — well, clearly, if you move from country to country, you have to understand that change is your foundation. Having said that, I have definitely met people overseas who seem totally stunned that things are different than where they came from.

Willingness to try the new — If one isn’t willing to do this, then I’m afraid the nomad life is not for you. But the new is part and parcel of moving around. I am conflicted about this. Since I left the military many years ago, I have become a creature of habit. So, I have to work on being willing to try the new. There is no problem with trying the new and then deciding you don’t like it, but you have to be willing to try.

I am living this right now, as a matter of fact. My comfort zone is quite large. I have already lived and/or worked in numerous countries and continents. But I had to move to South America this year. First time on the continent, new country, totally new culture, plus having to pick up a new language. And I have to admit, I did have some trepidation about this, but in my personal circumstances there wasn’t a choice. And in addition, frankly, I was excited to try something new. So, I just went ahead and did it. And, two months in, I’m much more comfortable (in spite of having been mugged my first week in country), I’ve picked up Spanish to where I can at least have a basic conversation (6 week mark in my studies), and in general I’ve adapted quite quickly. But I have those qualities I mention above. Not perfectly by any means, but I have them. And being a TCK is no doubt what has enabled me to adapt so well. Being a TCK doesn’t make one immune from rigidity or other shortcomings. But in my case it certainly has been a positive factor rather than a negative one.

As a foreigner, one has to keep in mind that, in many ways, you are far more at risk in some ways than locals. Having lived mainly in the developing world I know this to be true. In most countries that I have lived in, foreigners have no rights. When push comes to shove, especially when dealing with someone in the upper class of whatever country one might happen to be in, the outsider is most likely to get the short end of the stick. Does that make me ‘brave’ for choosing to live in those countries? I don’t believe so. One makes a risk assessment, decides what is acceptable, and drives on.

I have one more thing I would like to say about bravery and heroes.

For me, bravery is doing what has to be done regardless of fear. That is always the way I have looked at it. The word hero has a negative shading for me. I am extraordinarily uncomfortable with anyone lauding me for anything that I have done. The gestalt that is me even when I was younger made me uncomfortable with anyone giving me praise for what I saw as my job, civilian or military. Even if I was in harm’s way doing something that I chose to do, that was my choice. But the idea that someone would laud me for my work or for being a nomad — that makes me extremely uncomfortable.

The one thing I do wish I could be braver about is meeting people. I have become very withdrawn as I have become older. And living in a new country where language is a barrier unfortunately gives one a perfect excuse to be reclusive. Well, I am working on it. With great trepidation I contacted two people online to help me with my Spanish — and both experiences turned out well. It really has helped me overcome my fear of meeting strangers in a strange land (kudos to anyone who understands the Heinlein reference).

But am I brave? I certainly don’t think of myself that way. But I do what I need to do when it needs to be done. Am I coward? For some reason I’m far more willing to admit that. I abhor the thought of confrontations, I hate having to tell people no or give them bad news. But still, when push comes to shove, if it needs to be done, I will do my best to accomplish what is needed.