A few days ago, I came across an interesting article someone shared on Facebook about third culture children and how they often have a troubled sense of where home is. Third culture children, a relatively new term that is all over the web nowadays, refers to kids who have spent the majority of their childhood living in countries other than the ones from which they originate. I find any term that assigns culture a numeric value a little strange but the description of a third culture child is certainly one I can relate to.
Although I was born in England, the country from which my mum originates, I spent eight years playing the part of a third culture child, first in Slovakia and then in Singapore.
Most of my memories of Slovakia are hazy but there are a few that seem to grow more distinct over time. I remember how far to the left our street curved. I remember sledding down the hill by our house in my little red and yellow sled. I remember my red teddy bear pajamas and my mini michelin man snowsuit. I remember that amazing smell of chimney smoke that spewed from every surrounding house during the cold winters. And I remember the people, so many humble and kind people who wove the perfect welcome mat for a first-time third culture child.
According to the article, many children who live vagabond existences early in their life often have a hard time deciphering where home is. For them, the definition of home is often far too complex. The place where they were born is not the place where they first learned to ride a bike. The place where they rode bikes and scooters up and down the street is not the same place where they learned to drive and think for themselves. They spent the most crucial years of development in multiple places, often vastly different from each other. Because of this, when third culture kids are asked where they’re from, the answer is rather long-winded and muddled: Well, I was born here but my parents are from there and we live here but we’re moving in a few months to there etc. etc.
I’ve often been a little stumped myself when it comes to answering the “where are you from?” question but one thing I have never doubted is where home is. I can talk about home without stumbling over my words.
Home is tucked safely in the crevice of a welcoming neighbor’s smile. Their kindness becomes your shelter, your warm, bountiful beam of light that guides you through the ever-changing street signs.
This week, I returned to my home in Slovakia and although I couldn’t recognize most of the streets and surrounding houses, I remember my means of shelter and warmth, two luxuries I always had when I was in the company of our neighbors, the Brunovskys.
The Brunovskys are the best of people. They’re a wonderful, bubbling brew of smiles and laughter and when they hug you tight, you feel so loved and safe.
When I was traveling through Europe with my parents four years ago, we surprised the Brunovskys whom we had not seen for close to fifteen years at that point. It was such a lovely moment and such an easy moment too. Language barriers did not block the flow of conversation. Past and present mingled perfectly over tea and English biscuits.
Four years later, without my parents in tow, it was all still the same. The Brunovskys treated me to a perfect day out that started with coffee at the top of the TV Tower which overlooks all of Bratislava. We then walked around the park nearby, past the scenic chairlift or “flying chairs” as Stefan (one of two Brunovsky sons) would call it. The air was crisp and clean and faintly scented with chimney smoke. “I know that smell!” I kept saying. I know that smell so well.
Soon we were back at the house, munching on chips and scrolling through photos of our families through the years. Eighteen years have passed since my family and I moved from Slovakia to Singapore but in the Brunovsky’s kitchen, eighteen was merely a number that had shrunk significantly down in size.
It was a perfect last day spent in Slovakia with the Brunovskys that ended with them waving goodbye from the bus station as I traveled on to Budapest. It’s great to be back in Budapest, one of the coolest cities around, but in truth, I miss Slovakia and my time spent with the Brunovskys already.
The rest of my days in Slovakia were spent exploring some of my old haunts in Bratislava and surrounding areas. I took a trip up to Devin’s castle, an impressive ruin looking over the Danube and ran along the river’s promenade later in the day.
A few days later, I took a train to Spisska Nova Ves and spent the day hiking through Slovensky Raj which translates to “Slovakian Paradise”. Let me tell you, this massive national park is indeed paradise. There are countless trails to explore but I only had time for one: the Sucha Bella Gorge. This trail was SO COOL. I got to scale a massive, wild, gorgeous gorge via a whole network of slippery ladders, narrow planks, and small, iron steps hammered into the rock. It was thrilling and picturesque and a reminder of how unbelievably cool nature is.
I’ve decided returning to Slovensky Raj is an absolute must. The same goes for Bratislava, a place worthy of much more than a one-page blog post. A place that will always be home.
Home may be a complicated term for all of you third culture children but I promise you that you know where home is if you just look at those smiles that flutter your way time and time again. Notice how deeply they move you. Notice how you fear so little when the corners of their mouths travel towards the sky. Notice how you do not doubt your place in the world when your anchors are flesh and bone. Notice how warm and free and safe you feel when you finally realize that the part you call home is the part that is always moving. Place is moving, time is moving, and they, the people who keep you warm and safe, are always moving too. They move the deepest part of you. They have laid down the bricks for your dwelling place, they have been your proud, beaming sun and have watched you grow.
So to my fellow third culture children and adults, think of first-your first memory, your first neighbor. Notice how first soon becomes second and third and continues to grow in number. Home can be infinite in number because a place is home when the foreign becomes the familiar–the familiar that’s composed of the ever-growing crop of people who soon become family, the only foundation a home can truly survive on.
I’m not entirely sure where I’m from nor where I’m going but I always know where home is.
Or rather, I always know who home is.
Thank you Josef, Eva, Stefan, and JoJo. You will always be a part of home.
Cherish Your Many Homes,