How to celebrate being multicultural and multifaceted as a third culture kid
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The military has been a part of my life ever since I took my first steps in the United Kingdom. I found purpose and belonging, myself, and an international choice to positively impact the world. There were challenges along the way -- like moving every 2 to 3 years. This blog is meant to be a community of people who may or may not belong to the military and share their experiences with moving from one location to another. In this blog post, I will share some parts of my interview during my guesting in a podcast episode "I move a lot and that's okay." Being a third culture kid and creating stories for military-connected families with Shermaine Perry-Knights, hosted by Jen Amos and Jenny Lyn Troup.
The podcast “Holding down the Fort” was created by Jen Amos, a Gold Star daughter, and veteran spouse. It is a podcast that focuses on sustaining a fulfilling and purposeful military life through conversation and community building. The co-host Jenny Lynne Stroup is a seasoned military spouse, mom of two boys, and mental health advocate. Together we'll converse with special guests from the military community and for the community to share knowledge resources and relevant stories on how we can best hold down the fort for ourselves and our loved ones. Jen Amos relates “I am really excited, especially because I grew up as a military child, I don't often get to engage with other people who also grew up in this lifestyle as a kid.”
Throughout this blog, I will be answering questions as a third culture kid (TCK) and movement-maker who empowers military families to stay connected with their loved ones, no matter where they are in the world.
What does the phrase "holding down the fort" look like for you nowadays, what I'm really asking is to give us a quick snapshot of your life?
Shermaine responds “In 2021 and 2022, it means prioritizing your mental health, supporting friends and family, and taking care of yourself. I'm holding down the fort.
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In the daytime, I'm a facilitator and a project manager but I get the most joy out of creating stories for military-connected families, and spending time with my own family.”
Jen Amos adds that she loved how Shermaine opened up about maintaining mental health especially during, this last year and a half, almost two years. That's a huge conversation that she brings up on the show every time, and she appreciates Shermaine opening up by humanizing herself and really acknowledging how difficult this time had been. For Jen Amos, it's part of why she has been so ambitious with podcasting. It is the one thing that helped her mentally, during this time.
Shermaine, on the other hand, found her creative outlet through writing and reading, as well as taking walks every day. It's like nothing else for her.
When it comes to Jenny Lynne, she shares that writing is where she finds stability. She also shares that she finds stability in walking and reading. However, in the last 18 months, her reading material has changed drastically to a steady diet of easy nonfiction. She has a library full of fiction books. These are all nonfiction, which teaches you things, and she probably hasn't picked up one in 14 months, as that is just no way to deal with pandemic lights, and PTSD and ADD are both heavy enough. Fiction novels have been a steady diet for her.
In this podcast, the three of them will discuss extensively a book that Shermaine wrote, which is titled “I Move A Lot and That’s Okay”.
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In her account, Shermaine says, "Like Jenny Lynne, I grew up in the military and traveled all over the world my entire life. This book is the story we wish we had as kids to make our travels a little bit more comfortable." In the story, you will see life through Grace's eyes. She is the main character, and I named her Grace intentionally, because you need to give yourself a little Grace, plus, I just love the name. She takes a trip from Georgia after less than a year of being there and PCSs all the way to southern Italy, which we actually did, and has to encounter a new culture a new language, new foods, new environment. You know, getting used to the smell of sulfur in the air, which is not something people here in America are used to.”
“Her entire world is upside down. You are leaving everything and everyone you know, behind which is very familiar to military-connected families, but the twist is that you don't view the story or the journey through the eyes of a child. It allows you to experience change from a seven-year-old's perspective, there are highs and lows and she's like “this stink but if they got pizza, maybe that's okay.” Or when I lost my favorite thing. I'm not going to tell you what it is unless you read it, but if this happens that's okay. They got ice cream, that's okay. You see her experience the highs and lows of rapid change, just like us holding down the fort. Grace sees herself if I can reach one more marker one more thing. If I can find out about something else, then I'm okay with this and just have a bite-sized learning experience, through food culture traveling through being in the hotel on base and it just allows a child to see that resilience is important and that there's hope on the other side of a new environment.”
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Jen Amos continues, "I think that's beautiful, and I'm glad that's the case with you as well. You're creating the thing you wish you had as a kid. I am 20 years removed from the military and have spent the last handful of years just unpacking what that was all about. I'm like, how is it that I'm kind of like on my third career in my adult life? How is it that even when I was in college, I changed my major multiple times? How is it that I always feel like this need to reinvent myself and have a diversity of friends it's because as a military kid, that's what I had to do? I had to move every two to three years, I had to make new friends to the point where I eventually got jaded. I was like, whoever comes to me, like, I guess you're my friend. I mean, to the best of my parent’s ability, obviously, they kept me alive, and they kept a roof over my head, and they fed me and everything, but the ramifications of that life that were not discussed, caused me to deal with it in a very interesting way later on in my adult life. I love how you have taken your experience as a military kid to be able to put this in the book that could help military kids today.”
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Shermaine continues “Something that even resonates with people in our age group like, oh, I wish we had this. It's like, that's the purpose. We didn't have it. When you are in a room and people start talking, and they ask, where are you from? You're just like, I can’t, and my mind goes blank and I know they are not going to believe that right, but my family's from here and I was born there, and we lived there but we spent most of our life in Europe. They're like, who are you? When we have these outlandish experiences like going to the Louvre on a field trip, or playing sports in another country, just a cool thing that most people have not experienced. People wondered, is that true? Is that a real thing?
It is like in the time we went to Sistine Chapel, took some photos, and weren't supposed to take photos at the time they broke somebody's cameras, a whole story and when you start to talk about this with your non-military connected friends, people go is that real? The more you hear that you realize my experiences are different. You start to try to make yourself smaller to fit in the world around you but as a third culture kid, you belong to a different group. You're just now realizing that sharing that diversity of thought and your experiences should be celebrated, so why not celebrate them, for me my outlet was celebrating them in writing and in literature overall.
Have you worked to celebrate how multicultural and multifaceted you are? You are your own background whenever people ask.
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For Shermaine, she believes it should be celebrated, and her outlet will do that through writing and literature as a whole.
As Jen says, "If you understand how culturally diverse and multifaceted you are as I do whenever people ask me where I'm from, you've learned how to celebrate. I'm like, do you got some time to hear my life story because I have been everywhere? This version of the long version right now for a lot. I mean, I've mainly lived in California. That's what I'll tell people I lived there for at least 20 years and prior to that, I've been, going back and forth between Japan, California, South Korea, all these things when I was a kid. Genuine. Today I now have two children growing up. I'm curious to know what it's like for you to hear this conversation so far. Shermaine and I talked about our experiences as military kids.”
Jenny Lyn on the other hand loves listening to both Shermaine and Jen share their experiences because it helps her as a mom to put herself and her kid’s place. She is doing this from the adult perspective and she’s someone who lived in the same house her whole life. In her younger year, her parents moved when she was in college, and the house they've lived in since she was in college. She lived in two houses, for her whole life, within 15 minutes of each other. Jenny Lyn felt she never left the area and so she can solidly say she was born and raised in Virginia. Her kids who are both born here in Virginia, it's where they tell people they're from. She believes it is mostly because of their relationship with her parents and how close they are to her family. Now that they are back in Virginia as pre-teens at their former house and it felt like, they are back where they're from, and yet, they have daily conversations about how different it is here that it wasn't San Diego or in Connecticut where we were before and because of their ages, they have noticed the new arts and culture and the differences of things and it's fascinating to see that from a kid’s perspective and parent through those changes.
You're seeing the differences from not just one location to the next the food is different, and the people are different. You see it with Grace in the book as well, she had diverse friends, her classmates, they’re celebrating, Asian American Heritage Month and Spanish heritage mont,h and Caribbean Heritage Month and we're always learning from each other's parents and grandparents and saying they're different, but I liked that she makes this one dish and I've learned a few ways to develop it. We started to get to know each other from the way we celebrate and just kind of attracted to each other's cultures. However, when you move away to a new location, you start to see it's very different and people are very much in their own cliques and say, well, we're locked in. I think it's just important having those conversations with your kids, it's different, but we can find something that we can enjoy here and I'm pretty sure there are a few kids just like you. I mean, you're showing them around, so they don't feel as lonely. I think we do more of that in different groups, not just for the spouse because I know we have sponsors. I know we have sponsors for the service member, and if we start to do that with children, I think it will make their experience even better than it was 20 or 30 years ago.
In my own journey of understanding my identity, I have learned to love its paradoxical nature of it. I am a product of two different cultures and places but exist in the liminal space between them. This only increases my will to continue to explore both spaces, writing and creating stories that capture experiences that are rarely shared. We thought this was a really unique way to experience the lives of third-culture kids whose families have been relocated to drastically different countries. We've seen a lot of videos and articles about military children, but we haven't seen anything quite like this. So, we wanted to share it with you, along with our opinion about the experience in this podcast episode.
If you love writing, stories, and community then please take a few minutes to listen in to this podcast episode. You will come away empowered because it's not what you experience but how you share the journey. The link to this podcast episode is added below:
Episode 34: "I move a lot and that's okay." Being a third culture kid and creating stories for military-connected families with Shermaine Perry-Knights
My hope is that sharing the story will help others who are struggling with the same thing!