Given that both Michelle and I are foreigners, when we started planning this trip, it’s no surprise that we wanted to make a pit stop at our respective home countries. They were great visits, but we couldn’t help but shake a certain feeling about them.
Going back to Scotland, ironically, always brings me a feeling of warmth - most of my memories of Scotland are as a child. I think of my family and a lot of free-wheeling around the neighborhood I grew up in. I had a lot more freedom than an American kid did, my parents sent me and my sister to shops nearby for small errands when I was only 6. My dad was already preparing me to take the bus and train by myself in a few years.
While I had confidence in myself as a child in Glasgow, I was quite nervous when I returned as an adult. The map of Glasgow in my head was very small. After going back so many times as an adult, usually alone or with my sister, I have developed a bit more of a sense of direction and am more sure of myself.
Michelle and Yvonne Grow Up, Photo Credit: Yvonne McKenna
I still feel foreign and strange, my Scottish accent still flows in and out when I am there with my sister or around other Americans, as if my voice can’t make its mind up. In fact, as I am typing now my inner voice changes back and forth. I don’t feel like I am 100 percent Scottish, I am something else. And I certainly don’t feel like I am 100 percent American. I take pride in my dual nationality and my third culture melding that takes place in my family.
It turns out this feeling is not uncommon - as of 2013 there were 230 million expats on the planet. Third Culture Kids, or TCKs rather, move between cultures before they have had the opportunity to fully develop their personal and cultural identity. When one grows up with two cultures, the combination of the two then creates the third culture. TCKs have been studied since the fifties. One of the most interesting and obvious findings to me is that TCKs tend to get along with other TCKs more than they do people of their home or adopted culture. Which, you guessed it, may be why Tomer and I, born of complete opposite cultures, still feel we have so much in common. Ruth Van Renken, author and researcher about TCKs, speaks highly of the value of being a TCK - flexibility, world view expansion, language - but also warns life as a TCK can create a sense of rootlessness and restlessness, where home is “everywhere and nowhere.” I wonder where I’ve heard that before… And that is exactly where I am. I identify as more of a TCK than an American or a Scot.
It is liberating to feel free of nationality or borders, even while both the origins of my third culture are going through political upheavals that pertain more to building walls, instead of bridges. Bridges are so much prettier, don’t you think?
In addition to being born in Israel and living there for the first year and a half of my life, I also attended 2nd through 5th grade there, some pretty foundational years for a child. As you could imagine, Israel is my home. Of course by now - at the ripe old age of 26 - I’ve only lived there for a fraction of my years, so North Carolina is also my home. I love visiting Israel. Not only because most of my family is there, but it’s also very nostalgic for me for many different reasons. However, I can’t help but shake a weird feeling when I find myself in Israel: I’m caught between being a local and being a tourist.
My siblings and I in Israel a long time ago, and now
First and foremost, as always, is family. Most of my family live in Israel. That fact alone makes visiting there feel like home everytime. Hot chocolate at my grandparent’s for breakfast is one of the quickest ways for me to feel like a kid again.
And being an introvert, I ‘recharge’ best while alone, yet with my family I can recharge anytime. With my family, I’m always a local.
I am bilingual and speak Hebrew. Most of it is from my childhood and elementary school in Israel. It’s a bit more difficult for me to read or write, but I can carry full spoken conversations. However, as time does, me and Hebrew have gone our separate ways slowly but surely, and my proficiency has dwindled over the years. Using English as my main medium for business, education, friendly conversation, and daily crosswords, English is by far my more comfortable language.
When in Israel though, I can’t help but feel obliged to try and speak Hebrew. It’s good practice for me and usually easier for the other party anyway. The main issue here is that while I can speak Hebrew well ‘on paper’, in practice, things have changed. There’s a lot of slang and everyday phrases that go over my head. I also lose some understanding during ‘fast talking’, or as the locals call it, ‘talking’. There will be times when I simply nod my head and accept what the other person has said even though there are some blanks in my understanding. This is partially on me of course, but nonetheless furthers my outsider-like feeling.
I remember when my family moved to the States in 2003, I was 10. The one thing that surprised me the most was how nice everyone was compared to what I was used to. I still see that disparity today - Israelis aren’t known for being polite. There’s a certain blutness and aggressiveness when it comes to day-to-day run ins. As someone who has long traded in that personality trait for the much warmer and friendlier Southern Hospitality, it throws me off, and sometimes makes me feel downright uncomfortable.
Walking down the streets of Haifa or Tel Aviv, I get hit with great nostalgia from random memories. Whether it’s the famous chocolate milk in a bag, or passing a park my siblings and I used to frequent, there are a lot of aspects of the Holy Land that makes it feel like home. It will always be my home, of course, it’ll just be always a bit more difficult for me to feel at home.
To touch on Michelle’s note of TCK’s, when we reading each other’s writing, we felt that we could both relate a great deal to the other’s excerpt. It just goes to show that while your home country may not always feel like home, you are able to create home with the people you care about.Written on February 20th, 2019 by Tomer Shvueli and Michelle McKenna