English isn’t English and other truths I hope my son learns

I enrolled my son in his new high school yesterday. Or I should say, his new “I-school”. A lot has changed since I was his age. My son will be 16 this summer - the same age I was when my family first moved out of the U.S. I still remember how mad I was when my parents told me we were moving to England. Moving again. Leaving friends I’d barely known (because of moving last time). Creating yet more distance from extended family. Having to start all over again – again. Yep. I was mad. But, I thought, at least they speak English.

That summer before my junior year of high school, I realized that I had an opportunity in front of me. A chance to redefine “me”. Who do I want to be, I wondered? Well, I knew who I didn’t want to be. Me. So I decided to choose a new name. A new identity. The New Me.

I always liked my name. (I’ve always been very grateful to the Doctor who took the liberty to name me while my parents wrangled over names, some of which should only be in baby name books, but never given to a baby!) “Rebecca” is a beautiful name. But too stuffy for every day use. “Becky”, the name I’ve always been known by, is cute. Too cute. But I wanted to be someone different. Cool, not cute. Unique, not normal. A girl who stands out in a crowd. Admired, popular, sought after.

What name would I choose for my new life in this new country? How could I introduce myself to my new high school? What was the right name for The New Me? I turned options over in my head, getting a feel for each name, weighing each nuance. Then it came to me.

For months, waiting in Florida for the Air Force to say “move”, I dreamt of the day I would no longer be “Becky” but “Randy”. I envisioned how people would see “Randy” (“wow! cool!”) What fascinating, intelligent, and witty things Randy would say in school hallways (“ooh! awesome!”). What kind of friends Randy would make ("yeah! groovy!") What fun adventures Randy and her friends would have in this new country ("oh! baby!"). Dreaming of becoming Randy helped me to let go of my life in the U.S. and move eagerly towards this unknown life in England. And towards The New Me.

Some good can come from TV. Even British TV! During our first month in England, we lived in a hotel in London. I was introduced to a lot of new and wonderful things that first month. Including the BBC. As we watched TV in the hotel, I kept hearing the word “randy”. It wasn’t a boy’s name. It wasn’t a name at all! It didn’t take long to realize with dismay that my plans for my new name had to be scrapped. And to realize that my English was not their English.

At 15, I didn’t understand that redefinition of self is deeper than a label. But something deep happened to me as result of that move that I was so mad about. Though the name had to be scrapped, the reality of becoming a different person wasn’t. The sudden revelation that English isn’t English, the growing realization that people who look like me are not like me, and the ever-repeated words from my mom, that all of these things are “not bad, just different” changed my worldview, my life’s direction, and my self-perception. And that’s way better than being Randy.

At 15 I didn't know that I was already well on the way to becoming a "tck". There are so many resources now for Third Culture Kids. He doesn't know it yet, but they will be good gifts to my son on his journey. And, perhaps, for you. www.tckworld.com is a good place to start.

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