All posts by claudiadast

10 Things Only A Third Culture Kid Will Understand

“Where are you from?”

Seems like a simple enough question, right? Ironically, it has been and continues to be one of the most difficult questions for me to answer.

My family and I have a running inside joke about this question. For the past few years, my brother, my parents, and myself have lived apart. Whenever we’ve reconvened over the holidays, this question has inevitably popped up. 

During a film tour in New York a few years back, our tour guide asked us this question, hoping to make light conversation. We all paused and looked at each other, amused in anticipation of the complicated response. 

“Well, we live in Azerbaijan,” my Dad gestured to my Mom and I, “But he’s going to school in Seattle”, he gestured to my brother. 

My Dad then proceeded to describe how we’re actually from California, but originally from Iran, and by now, the tour guide was probably feeling sorry he even asked. So much for light conversation…

So it’s a complicated question to say the least. The answer cannot be boiled down to a single word or phrase, and often requires us to go into a spiel about our life story if we really want to do it justice. 

This is just a little preview of what it’s like growing up as a third culture kid. Here are some other typical characteristics of this atypical background:

1. No true sense of “home”

When you grow up living in different places, you start to have a bit of an identity crisis. To some extent, your identity is associated with your home, therefore having had homes in different spots your identity starts to feel fragmented so to speak. My Christmas breaks have seldom ever been spent at a particular “home” year after year. Instead, they were spent wherever my parents happened to be living at the time. 

2. Friends from all over the world

Having to move means leaving behind old friends and making new ones. Repeat this a few times and you start to become a pro at building new friendships. While it may seem like it’s hard to land down any “best” friends if you constantly relocate, the quality of these friendships is not compromised. On the contrary, while short-lived, these friendships are more likely to last a long time. I have friends from all different backgrounds and who live in various parts of the world. Between all of us, we could probably make up our own United Nations.

3. Paradigm shift

One of the most important implications of living overseas has been getting a true understanding of the world. Sure, it’s easy to let the media decide for us what other cultures and peoples are like, but that’s just ignorance and letting someone else do the thinking for you. When you go out and see with your own eyes, your views change, you become more open-minded. After living in the Middle East especially, you come to see just how biased the media is, and how thoroughly it misrepresents people from that region. People from the Middle East are among the warmest, most hospitable, and most adventurous I’ve ever met. 

4. Distance from family becomes the norm

Just because you may stop moving around, it doesn’t mean your parents will, especially if their job is the source of all these relocations. After you go off to college, you get used to this distance from family, and become even more independent as a result. But that’s not to say you don’t miss them terribly!

5. Adaptable to new environments and challenges

Having grown accustomed to changing environments, you feel like you can conquer any other challenge thrown your way. You become quick at learning new ways of life, reading people, and being out of your element.

6. Attuned to foreign languages

Hearing foreign languages doesn’t intimidate you, but rather it excites you. Living in the melting pot that is Washington DC, I feel right at home. Some days, while I walk on the streets, I hear at least 4 different languages in the span of 10 minutes. Having grown up surrounded by a variety of languages, these encounters not only feel familiar, but also make you curious and interested in learning more languages.

7. Never really fit into any niches

Very few people have experienced this sort of lifestyle, so naturally, they don’t understand. When I tell people that my parents live abroad, many initially react with some combination of confusion mixed with concern. “Are you guys not on speaking terms?” is one of the few questions I immediately get. Otherwise, people just don’t care enough to understand more about it. For that reason, I often found myself not really “fitting in” to any niches or cliques at school, mainly in my younger years. It felt like I couldn’t fully be myself without sharing my experiences abroad and explaining why I think the way I do. Fortunately, over time, I started to find more people like myself when starting college. Even if they did not live abroad as much as I did, they are still “cultured”, and that is all I can ask for.

8. When you finally do settle down, it feels weird

Originally, moving around so much felt like a nuisance, especially if you were a child. Yet, once you grow up and actually start settling down in a certain region, it feels unusual. You start to long for the continuous traveling and realize that you don’t want a sedentary lifestyle after all. You then start figuring out how to mold your career to fit that lifestyle, not just from a financial standpoint, but also in terms of geographic mobility. 

9. You become more curious about other people’s backgrounds

Each time you meet someone new, you can’t help but guess at where they’re originally from, what languages they speak, and where they’ve lived. Last names, accents, and pure looks alone become a dead giveaway after all the different types of people you’ve run into.

10. Unique stories that can be told the rest of your life

Ultimately, from all these unique experiences, you rack up a lot of stories that you can share for the rest of your life. Even if I’ve heard my parents tell them over dinner to guests a million times, they still never get old. I would give anything to relive those precious moments, even if for a few minutes.

Brand Central Station

We live in a world full of brands. If you live in DC, you especially know what I mean.

Every day, people slap on their LL Bean boots, their J Crew scarves, their J Brand jeans, and walk around looking like models straight out of a winter catalog.

Do you ever stop to think about how many brands you’re wearing though? It’s really quite fascinating actually.

Just standing in line the other day, I took note of all the recognizable brands the girl in front of me was wearing: a North Face coat, Lululemon pants, and Nike shoes.

While a lot of us don’t consciously decide to sport certain brands every day, the unique combination that comes out in the end speaks for itself. In a way, we are all vehicles for brand advertisement, even if on a subliminal level.

Do you ever find yourself lusting after a certain article of clothing or outfit and not knowing where exactly the idea came from? Well, you most likely saw the equivalent on someone a while back and that image subconsciously stuck in your head.

Welcome to subliminal advertising.

When you think of it really, most of our fashion choices stem from some other idea. You know a green jacket would look great with brown boots because you’ve previously seen that on someone else and thought it looked good. So you didn’t exactly come up with that outfit choice yourself. In the age of Instagram especially, it’s hard to build your own style when you’re constantly exposed to and inspired by that of others.

And there’s nothing wrong with building off of others’ styles and making them better. It’s just worth mentioning that it’s becoming increasingly difficult to be original with our style.

Behind every brand is a story. How it was made, where it was made, what it stands for, and whom it’s meant for.

Let’s take a look at one of the most powerful, well-known brands in apparel: Nike. Many are familiar with the fact that Nike’s name came from the Greek Goddess of Victory. This etymology, combined with the swoosh symbol, and campaigns like “Just Do It” instantly communicates a certain standard to its audiences, namely athletes. It communicates power, strength, and performance enhancement.  Being sported by the top athletes across many different sports only adds to the brand’s reputation.

Despite this positive image and influence however, Nike wasn’t always the model for ethical labor practices.

A few years back, founders of Education for Justice Jim Keady and Leslie Kretzu set out to go behind the scenes of the Nike factories in Indonesia.  To really immerse themselves in the experience, they decided to live there for a few months, under the same wages and living conditions as the factory workers.

Jim and Leslie lived in a tiny cement box as shelter with no air-conditioning and 100% humidity outdoors. Waste from all the shelters’ toilets would accumulate on and often flood the streets after rain. Like the rest of the workers, they “lived” on $1.25 wages per day, which they had to divide between hygienic items, food, and (God forbid) medicine. By the end of this experience, the two had lost a significant amount of weight and barely had enough energy to get through the day.

Fortunately, Jim and Leslie got to go back to their regular lives at the end of that experience. For the Indonesian factory workers, that experience was their regular life, if you can call that living.

That’s capitalism for you.

Brands have the ability to create power, convey quality, and affect change. Yet, we often walk around not realizing what these brands stand for and what goes into creating them.

At the very least, we can all stand to be a little more conscious.

A Lesson You Won’t Find In College Textbooks

A wise person once told me that college is as much a social test as it is an intelligence one. 

Being a recent graduate from high school, I didn’t truly understand what this meant at the time. I went in with the expectation that the college workload would be so overbearing I wouldn’t even have enough time to login to Facebook, much less engage in this so-called social test. 

I started off strong, still carrying with me the momentum of being a competitive, high-achiever from high school and expected the trajectory to continue that way. However, as freshman year progressed, it became too hard to ignore the call of the social world. It was like a dull roar in the background, waiting to be exposed and possibly distract me from my studies.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic…but still, at some point, it became inevitable to foster new friendships and tap into the social opportunities that surrounded every freshman. I started to focus just as much on building friendships with at least a few close friends, yet I was nowhere near as gregarious as I could be.

Come sophomore year, I moved out of the dorms and still maintained the same group of close-knit friends. While I did venture out more and go to house parties and kickbacks, something still didn’t feel quite right. Perhaps I wasn’t comfortable enough with myself yet or hadn’t found the right niche.

The summer before junior year, everything suddenly changed. By this point, I grew frustrated and knew I needed to be bold if I wanted to see any serious change in my social life. So what did I do? 

I started going to parties and other gatherings by myself.

I’m not going to lie, this was scary at first, but I knew it would force me to talk to other people and give others a better chance of approaching me. Before I knew it, I was extremely comfortable showing up to events alone, without a wing-woman or squad. In fact, I preferred it that way. 

At the same time, I started meeting the right kind of people: people who were outgoing, who forced me to come out of my shell, and who introduced me to even more people. I felt my confidence, social skills, and ability to read others improving tremendously. Gone were the nights of staying in my apartment watching movies, curious about the exciting opportunities I was missing out on. 

Eventually, I found my niche, or at least a group of people I enjoyed hanging out with regularly. Beyond that, I started to realize the importance of belonging to multiple social groups. There is nothing wrong with having friends who fulfill different roles in your life. Some friends are good for dining or studying with, while others are better for going to parties and bars with. 

The ultimate point is this: what I went in thinking would be a “distraction” turned out to be one of the most important opportunities of my life. Engaging in your social life during college is not just about making a whole bunch of friends. It’s about conducting your own study of the human interaction, building your social confidence and figuring out how to read people, how to network, and who is worth your time. Not to mention, you end up learning a lot about yourself too.  Here are just a few of the lessons I learned throughout this process:

  1. Some friends are only meant to be transient

You will come across a lot of people, even ones you’d consider a potential lifelong friend. Things seem to be going well, but then over time, something happens to suggest otherwise. Maybe you see their true colors and realize you’re not as compatible as you thought. Maybe you notice a lack of effort in the friendship from the other person. Or, maybe you just drifted apart. Whatever the reason, it’s okay to cut the cord, especially if this person added no value to your life. Even if their intentions were not bad, maybe their friendship was only meant to teach you something. Simply learn from it and move on in as cordial (yet assertive) a manner as possible.

  1. There will be people who try to use you

Sometimes, people who seem inviting and promising as friends can turn out to be cunning tricksters in disguise. When first branching out in your social life, the newness of everything can make you a bit naïve (hence, the importance of learning how to read people). You act super nice to everyone you meet, grab on to the first sign of friendliness and attention you receive, all the while not realizing that your “niceness” is making you prone to manipulation. You see, there is a difference between being nice and being kind. Niceness implies a level of underlying insecurity and going out of your way to gain others’ approval. Kindness connotes that you are willing to help others, but still uphold your own standards and value yourself as much as anyone else. Others can immediately pick up on these traits, and if you fall under “nice”, prepare to be asked for favors constantly with an uneven degree of reciprocation. Don’t let yourself bend over backwards to please others. There is a Persian proverb that translates to: “Die for those who at least have a fever for you”. This means that you should put effort in those that at least put in a sizeable amount of effort as well. If they don’t even give that modicum of effort, don’t bother wasting time on them.

  1. You are not limited by your Myers-Briggs label 

Even if you haven’t taken this extensive psychological test that reduces your personality to four letters, I’m sure you at least know whether you associate more with being an introvert or an extrovert. It’s okay if you associate more with one or the other. What’s not okay is if you let this label define you and serve as an excuse. For instance, if someone asks you to go to a networking event with them, you may cringe and say, “Oh, I don’t do those, I’m an introvert.”  You may say this because you consider yourself shy and fear all the other extroverts there will overshadow you. Even if this is true, being shy or an “introvert” (which are different, by the way) does not have to be a fixed thing. You can still go out and adopt the qualities of an extrovert and then come home to re-energize in your alone time. Allow your social label to be dynamic and never let it be an excuse for not doing something.  

  1. It’s okay to be picky about your friends

The older you grow, the pickier you will become about selecting friends. This is because your tolerance for drama and nonsense from others starts to decrease and you more quickly figure out who people are. In the adolescent stages of life, we all wanted to be the “popular” kid, immersed in a sea of friends, most of whom were probably just social climbers. But this vision gets old fast, and what becomes more precious is having fewer, closer friends you can actually rely on. Who you choose to associate with is also important because it often reflects who you are too. Whether you like it or not, your closest friends inevitably rub off on you, and people will often make judgments about you through these friends. So take great care in choosing who you surround yourself with.   

  1. Don’t be afraid to try new activities

Lastly, don’t be afraid to try new hobbies and activities in college, particularly ones that take you out of your comfort zone. This is a time when you are exposed to the greatest number of people and activities in one place, so take advantage of the unique opportunities available to you. As one who seldom ever danced, I randomly jumped into Latin dancing my freshman year of college and continued to do so the successive years. This opened the door to a whole culture of social dance, filled with amazing and talented people. Therefore, not only do you learn a new skill, but you also get to meet many interesting souls in the process. I also took a stab at learning Mixed Martial Arts, out of a desire to get fitter, learn self-defense, and become empowered. So all those people who keep telling you to try new things in college are wise, listen to them! 

I hope this was helpful and drove the point home that your social life in college is just as important as your academic life. Even if you’re the smartest person in the class and can memorize a molecular biology textbook, you’ll still be way behind those that know how to talk, how to network, and how to sell themselves. Because what you’ll soon find is that those latter skills are what often land you a job. It’s all about being balanced!

Everything Is A Photo Opp

I am in awe at our generation.

A few nights ago, I found myself at a Friendsgiving potluck.

By the time everyone arrived, the dining table was fully adorned with all sorts of appealing food — everything from chicken masala to Thai peanut sauce.

Everyone grew antsy, their mouths salivating as they waited to break into this multicultural palette.

But like the modern-day prayer before a meal, what does everyone do first? They take out their iPhones and take a Snapchat of the table.

I know this is nothing new, but how did we get to a point where we can’t even eat our meals anymore without snapping a picture first?

A few years back, people seldom took pictures of what they ate and projected it to the world. It’s such a mundane, common part of everyday life that, unless you’re eating something unusual, why would anyone care about what you’re eating?

Once everyone finished updating their stories on Snapchat, we finally treated the food as we were meant to and dug in. But as the night ensued, I was in for even more surprises.

As we indulged, about half us became engrossed in a heated debate about gender and sexuality.

People passionately shouted over one another, wanting to get their opinions across first. I mostly sat back and listened to what others had to share, intrigued by their ideas and well-crafted opinions.

But somewhere along the way, I noticed the other guests were engaging in a photo session on the side.

One of them scrambled around the room, interrupting the conversations (much to their dismay) just to take a selfie with practically every single guest. I expected these photos to be posted on social media within 24 hours.

Sure enough, the very next morning, the photos were posted all over Instagram and Facebook.

This night epitomizes the very problem with our generation.

We are so focused on trying to “capture the moment,” it’s keeping us from living in the moment itself.

This kind of picture-taking has far surpassed the tentative, awkward family pictures people took during the holidays to share through their email attachments and place in their photo albums.

Now we want to document every single little thing that happens as if it ceases to exist otherwise.

We’ve become hellbent on showing the rest of the world how happy we are on these occasions, when really, we’re just fishing for others’ approval and envy.

Doing this also makes us less mysterious. You don’t have to wonder what your friend is doing, because you can simply look at her Snapchat story and know: who she’s with, where she’s eating or what task she’s currently struggling with.

I’m not going to lie, I am guilty of doing all of these things as well.

However, by being more aware of it, I’m trying to keep my phone away and focus on soaking up these precious moments instead.

Cameras may be able to capture the aesthetics, but what they fail to capture is the authenticity of the moments and the emotions we are experiencing deep down.

Therefore, I challenge you Gen-Yers: Next time you’re at an event that’s Facebook-, Instagram- or Snapchat-worthy, try to keep your phone away and focus on being fully present in the moment.

You never know what important pieces of information or opportunities you’ll miss out on.

Had my friend ignored her itch to take excessive pictures during the potluck, she would have gotten meaningful insight into that controversial debate of gender allocation.