“Who Are You From?”

map“When I speak of home, I speak of the place where–in default of a better—those I love are gathered together; and if that place is a gypsy’s tent, or a barn, I should call it by the same good name notwithstanding.” – Charles Dickens

Home.  It’s a resounding and often elusive question for TCK’s.  Often, “Where’s home?” or “Where are you from?” are the most awkwardly answered questions.

I think when people ask those questions they’re looking for a spot on the globe to place you. They expect you to be much more easily defined by the accouterments of geography.  Your accent, word choice, sports teams, worldview are all under the influence of place.

Part of the problem comes when you have many places.  Born in one place, lived in another, language school in a third, lived in a fourth, schooled in a fifth, furloughed in a sixth/seventh/eighth.  And that’s without changing where your parents’ primary residence in the midst of it.  “Where are you from?”  easily elicits dread.

“Who are you from?” is the much more astute question my friend, Josh Sandoz devised.  Because Third Culture Kids have some attachment to  places, but their roots are deeply embedded in relationships.  “Who are you from?” recognizes the importance of people.  It says, “Yes, geography impacts me, but the people from those places impact me more.”

People are often surprised at my where’s . . . New York, Illinois, Cote d’Ivoire, Florida, and now Colorado.  Often they expect that I will “tawk like a New Yawkuh” (it shows up in certain words if you listen closely);  hate the Red Sox (I’m fond of baseball, but I’m indifferent towards the Red Sox); speak African (whatever that means); have a perpetual tan (I’ve never been so pale in my whole life!); and love to hike (I’m sure it’s lovely, but taking a walk in nature seems to require the ability not to get lost–one of my special talents).

People rarely ask about the “who’s” of my life.  I think we’re used to those coming out as we get to know each other.  What would happen if we started asking, “Who are you from?” as quickly as we ask “Where are you from?”

Would you find out that my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. Dunn is the reason I most often proclaim that “I’m finished” instead of “I’m done”?  Would you learn my perseverance comes from my parents and grandparents?  Would you discover Grace who encouraged me as an upper elementary student to teach her 2nd graders about horses and riding?  Would you uncover information about Nansie who mentored me through my first experiences of mentoring high school students?  Would you stumble upon Thom Kay who gave me lots of responsibility and encouragement as his TA in college?  Or Mark Noll who taught me that it was OK to miss a few questions on my own tests?

I could go on and on.  Paragraph after paragraph can be written of those who have helped to make mold me and make me into who I am today.  I am from many people.  Teachers, students, friends, family, historic figures, special speakers and even complete strangers influenced me to be who I am.

As much as it’s a question for TCKs, I believe it’s a question for everybody.  Knowing about the people who’ve influenced you to be who and where you are today is important for anyone.

What about you?  In whom do you make your home?  Who are you from?

photo courtesy of fliku

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