Where I'm From Is A State Of Mind
I was born in the U.S. but my father was a civil engineer, and, in his early years, a Wyoming cowboy who fought in WWII. He started working overseas in the 1950s and before I could walk, he had taken his family to Europe on the RMS Queen Mary.We moved to Bangladesh when I hadn’t even spoken my first words (it was East Pakistan then) in the early 60s. He worked on numerous infrastructure projects all over the world: roads, dams, bridges, etc. And on average, up until I was 17 or so, we moved to a different country every two to three years—East Pakistan, West Pakistan, India, Kuwait, Sierra Leone, Vietnam, Ethiopia, with side trips to a great many other countries.
The ‘Where are you from?’ question has always made me hesitate, as it does for most TCKs.
I will of course say that I was born in the United States. But I will always follow up with a generic blanket statement that I was raised overseas. I feel it is important to let people know that I am not mono-cultural, not that there's anything wrong with not adding such a qualifier. It’s kind of like a warning label and I want people to understand that my reactions might not be what they expect.
I certainly don’t feel like I’m from the United States. There are certain traits that I take from there, such as being an individualist, but those traits are interwoven with what I have picked up from all the other cultures that I’ve been exposed to. I can’t honestly say that I’m from anywhere else either, though.
There was a distinct watershed moment in my life that brought the ‘Where are you from?’ question into sharp focus. I had left the military and moved to Turkey and on my first trip back to the States, I met up with my old military friends.
What a gaping chasm had opened up between us. None of them understood why I had left a good career, let alone the United States. Almost everyone only thought about Turkey as depicted in the movie ‘Midnight Express’, although I have never seen it. When I tried to explain my life there, the excitement of learning a new language, the way of life of the people, I foundered on a reception of blank looks and glazed eyes. My new life was so far outside of their comfort zone they didn’t even want to understand. And that was the first and last time I ever tried to connect with them. And not surprisingly, the only four friends I am still in contact with are ones that have a similar mindset. i.e. one of openness, tolerance, and the knowledge that it is a wide interesting world out there, full of things to be discovered and experienced.
After returning to Turkey, although I was relatively alone there for the first six months, I felt like I had come home. I may not have spoken the language well and I may not have had friends outside the Turkish company I worked for but it felt so right for me. Seeing the old people I knew when I did visit the States was never the same again. Now I am mindful to look at my surroundings with tolerance, openness and acceptance. The world is a wide and wonderful place and I am very fortunate to have been able to experience it the way that I have.
And thus, I realized that where I’m from is a state of mind and not the address of a hospital.