You notice it in our home immediately, the different styles fit well together. Our Swahili furniture stands perfectly alongside the Vietnamese red lacquer cabinet, a painting by Damiano Msagula hangs perfectly alongside the artwork of Do Tuan Anh, etc.
Also, each object comes with a fabulous story (at least that is what we think), that is somewhat different than the Ikea furniture in many homes in Flanders. Not only our house breathes that rich multi-culture, you can notice it in everything we do or say. By combining different cultures as it were, we have created a third culture or a shared culture and this is our new normal.
Our twin boys are real TCK, Third Culture Kids. After the conception they spent the first months in their mothers’ womb in Zanzibar. Seven months after they were born we exchanged Belgium for Kenya. Four years later we moved to Vietnam and after that we lived for 3 years in Zambia.
Since July 2012 our TCK are back in Flanders. They are getting to know their own culture, oops, I mean, they are getting to know a new culture. They are adjusting to the Flemish culture like fish to water. We, the parents, need a bit more time to adjust to the culture, previously know as our own. In fact, expats and repats tell us that it takes the time you spent abroad, to adjust to your own country again. In a decade we will let you know if this is true.
On return from such a rich experience, people often fall into a 'dark hole'; it’s like you loose your mirrors and no one yet understands you from your own culture. Think about the sperm whale that stranded in Koksijde in 1989 and was buried in the clay. When they wanted to dig up the animal 24 years later, they found the animal remained intact, the clay completely conserved it.
Friends and family might think that we have not changed after all these years living and working abroad, they act as if we are exactly the same people as when we left. They continued living the life in Flanders, they built up a valuable network they can turn to for a quick chat or some support.
We are having difficulties getting access to such a network, we feel we cannot (yet) get deep into the social fabric in Flanders. We find it difficult to understand what some people are talking about, for example when they make references to world famous Flemish TV programs we have never seen, or world famous Flemish people we have never heard of.
We also find it difficult to understand the irritations or the stress some people have here, for example when the bus or the train is late again. It was freezing cold and snowing, so you should be happy there is a train in the first place! Living and working in third world countries made that we have a different outlook at little things like that. There you plan your day ahead but you know that a lot of your plans will not materialise. Hakuna Matata, you can always try again the following day.
Moving from one place to another has allowed us to taste different cultures and more than that, being a global nomad allowed us to grow personally. Negotiating with yourself and society at large on what parts and aspects of culture you integrate or not is a process that can be a key factor for personal growth.
In a newspaper article about whales I read that they have lost the ability to taste sour, sweet, bitter, savory and kept only the taste for salt. Scientist can only guess why whales have evolved this way. Maybe if you stick too long to one habitat you loose the full taste of things? "The great gift that the members of the human race have for each other is not exotic experiences but an opportunity to achieve awareness of the structure of their own system, which can be accomplished only by interacting with others who do not share that system"(1).
Written by Bart Cornille & Sarah Neirinckx
(1) Hall T.E., 1989, p. 44
your inner purpose
to outer goals
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