Friday, July 9, 2010

My cultural heritage.

Dear Readers,

This new adventure seems to involve a lot of thinking and discussing about culture.

The Americans I meet here are almost hyper-American…they know where they’re from, constantly talk about how great it is (although they’re not blind to its faults), and how Nigerians are different. Nigerians tell me good or bad things about their people, but they know where they are from and are more or less proud of it.
I have more trouble with the Americans sometimes. The Nigerians just accept that I’m not ‘from’ here. The Americans expect me to be like them, or at least compare Americans to other people on a regular basis. I feel less American here, and I’m not as uncomfortable as some of them are in Nigeria.

Why in the world would I want to travel to new and interesting countries, and sit with other Americans and complain about everyone else? Seems like a poor use of time.

In fact, aside from typical start-up problems in any new project, I’ve felt perfectly at ease here. Even welcome and warm about being here. There is a certain freedom in being foreign—people don’t know what to expect from you, many local rules don’t really apply—and, if you don’t mind being treated like a circus freak (I can barely go for a walk without passersby doing double-takes…the Nigerians for some reason think that white people can’t go from A to B on their own two feet), then you can go be curious and ask questions and do strange things.

For those who don't already know: I grew up in 6 countries, with the longest continuous period being in China. I’ve lived in 9. I speak English and Mandarin. My mother was born and raised in Asia, but is white. My father’s from the States, born and raised, but speaks 5 languages. They live in Asia now.

I spent a few years in the Midwest, discovering America, and mostly discovering that, like most people in the world, you have to take Americans case-by-case.
Despite my passport being from only one country, when I travel, I feel at home. I’m a 2nd generation, 3rd Culture Kid. Only now, when I’m practically 30, have I learned to miss people. And only a very select few. The rest, I care about, but its like time stops in these different places I’ve lived. I can go to one, and then go back to the other, and start again.

I know that’s not the life for everyone, but it is how I was raised, and I am grateful for all the quirky things that have gone into my upbringing. I am grateful to my parents for dragging me around the world, introducing me to all this strangeness, forcing me to become bilingual, independent, footloose.

It has its drawbacks, sure, but so does everything. I still can’t tell you where I’m ‘from’ and the place that is ‘home’ is with my loved ones…or just wherever I happen to be. I’m not saying I’m not American, because I am, but Americans, like everyone else, are case by case.

Thanks for listening,


  1. I've always thought that the 'where' of what you were from was not so much a place as it was a mini-culture shared by military brats and state department kids that end up growing up in a space shared by that hyper-Americanism and whatever culture you found yourself surrounded by. I had something roughly similar growing up, and I think you would be surprised by how many Americans share similar childhoods to yours: speaking two languages, belonging to two cultures, and trying to befriend people that just don't know what your other world is all about.

    I kind of imagine sitting around talking about America is kind of a support group for the self-imposed outcasts, much in the way that my parents would meet with other ROC exiles and talk about cross-straits politics, despite the fact that they couldn't be further removed from an island on the other side of the world - and the fact that they've visited China more than they've visited Taiwan just because it's so much less expensive to travel on the mainland.

    It's to hold onto a culture that, over time, has begun to slip away from them. Even if they never really knew that culture. But their parents were, or their heritage leads them back that way through the world. Especially so - if you miss it.

    I tend to find that it's easier to miss something or someone, the tighter it was integrated as a part of my life... the more I depended upon it, the more it was a part of who I was and how I defined myself against the noise backdrop of humanity. So, in other words, I miss who I was, not to say that I regret who I was becoming, but that I valued my past as much as my future.

  2. Very interesting reflections. And comforting for an American parent who has been dragging my own children away from America to Nigeria. It has been an amazing experience for our family so far in our three years living here but I often wonder in the not-worrying sort of way how it will play out in our children's future. Thank you for sharing your experience. I feel like we could have a several hour conversation ranging from the TCK, American-living-in-Nigeria, and general-life-in-Nigeria-issues!

  3. hi megan,

    i highly recommend dragging your kids all over the place. just don't expect your kids to have the same cultural norms and expectations as you do.

    and, don't move them their senior year--it was traumatizing for me :). i made some friends, but i will forever be a bit bitter.

    do you want to call me? i live in yenagoa.