Growing up in two distinctly different cultures left me feeling like there was no one place I belonged, and I needed to know if there were others who understood my struggle. I was in my twenties and looking to find myself, and part of doing that meant understanding why I felt so restless. In my search, I learned that I’m what’s called a “third culture kid” or TCK. The third culture implied that kids like us found a way to mold the two or more cultures we experienced growing up into one that fit our personality. Many TCKs either wound up as a restless spirit who continually is searching for the place they can call home, moving from one city to the next or as someone who seeks stability, firmly planting roots in one place, as a way to feel grounded and connected. I’m the former.
After college I moved all around the US and eventually I made the big decision to move to Cambodia. Because of my time in Nigeria, it was relatively easy for me to embrace Khmer culture. During my first visit to Southeast Asia, I traveled through Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. When I arrived in Cambodia, I felt an automatic connection to the country. Traveling through Phnom Penh and Siem Reap reminded me of traveling from Lagos to Ibadan, more so than Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh or Bangkok. What I discovered, after some time living in Phnom Penh and traveling through the provinces, is how similar Khmer people are to Nigerians. When I mentioned this to a fellow South African, she mentioned that Cambodians are the most “African” of Asian people. That made sense to me. In Yoruba culture, when you visit a family and they’re eating, there’s a saying, “E wa jeun.” which translates to “Eat with us.” When I traveled through the provinces of Cambodia for the Pchum Ben holidays, I experienced that same welcoming nature. Six of us were invited to eat with a friend’s cousins, folks who didn’t even know we were arriving until about 30 minutes before we arrived. And despite our language barriers, visiting them felt like home.
If anything, my three years abroad underlined how similar we all are and that if we took more time to connect with one another then more of us might make that realization. While I’m back in the US now, I know that this isn’t forever. My community is scattered across the globe, spanning from Iraq, to Brazil, Cambodia, South Africa and beyond. I’ve begun sketching out what I call my 20 year vision. I realized that it’s ok to call the US my base and that maybe there’s another base out there that’s just waiting for me to find it.