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The nomadic life of a Third Culture Kid: Shermaine Perry-Knights on military-connected families

A nomadic life can be a lonely one when you're away from your family and friends. But what if you were able to share that experience with someone else? That's exactly what the “Holding down the Fort” Podcast is all about in this second part of the interview. Shermaine Perry-Knights, an award-winning facilitator, project manager, speaker, author, and a proud military kid, joins us today to tell us about her own journey as a Third Culture Kid, and to shed light on the reasons why military-connected families are at risk of losing their cultural identity once they move out of base housing and into a community that isn't as diverse as many military families might hope for.

Jennifer Amos, a gold star daughter and spouse of a veteran, produces the podcast "Holding down the Fort". Through conversation and community building, it promotes living a fulfilling and purposeful military life. As a seasoned military spouse, mom of two boys, and mental health advocate, Jenny Lynne Stroup co-hosts the show. With special guests from the military community, we'll discuss how we can hold down the fort for ourselves and our loved ones by sharing knowledge resources and relevant stories.

This blog will feature my answers as a third culture kid (TCK) and movement maker who empowers military families to stay in touch with loved ones, no matter where they are located.

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As Jenny Lynne continues “It's interesting. I mean, my youngest is in elementary school. My oldest is in middle school. It's interesting because in the neighborhood we moved into, we've met all middle schoolers like we can't find the elementary schooler's mind too early, 18 months apart, so it's not a huge deal. My youngest son who is very social and likes to participate in everything and wants to befriend everybody even still has this twinge, like when I start school, everybody that I've hung out with all summer is going to the middle school and I'm going to elementary schools, like what do I do? I mean, we live in Hampton Roads for a huge military area and so reassuring him that he's not the only one that's going to be brand new to the school and that there are probably other military kids in his class and it was interesting because he's not typically the one that worries about that kind of stuff because he's so social, but to see him try and figure that out before school started, and then, you know, a question like, how different he was going to be than everyone else was? It was a new parenting experience, but I hope I don't have to do it again.”

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In Shermaine’s account, she says she is more prepared because she experienced moving, a lot, like 8 to 10 times. “You develop a mantra about accepting change. One minute we were moving to Turkiye and you are learning Turkish and then you move somewhere else. The main question you are asked by others in the new environment is, do they eat Turkey in Turkiye? I think moving back to the US after that and I was just like, the answer is no. You are going to have this experience with what your kids going to be like? Would you be better prepared with some photos and resources? It never ended up with like all they asked me if they can try to Turkey. She was like, what did you tell them? I was like, I was polite to say no, but in my mind, I'm going to get that that cool kind of sarcasm, to try to tailor it to anyone who may already have it every there. They're already well on their way to be like and it's happening and having a slightly sarcastic response.”

Jen Amos adds that she feels like that's one thing she can credit a lot of her humor and sarcasm and just kind of nonchalant attitude from just the shiftiness of military life like Shermaine experienced. She kind of just learn to take it with a sense of humor and even once they got settled, it's like it was hard for her to like mentally to settle once they moved back to California, that one just learned to kind of take it in stride, and they learned to like, look at it in a funny way.

Shermaine, on the other hand, does not seem to feel settled at all. It's still like snacks in her head. She hopes to do something different, and they just need to keep growing, moving, and learning.

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On Jen Amos' account, she saysThat's real talk. I don't know if you ever like feeling this way. I always feel like I'm starting to anticipate a plan or starting to anticipate a transition to something else. I don't even think it's coming. I don't know if it's coming, but I feel like it's coming. I always think of what would happen if I started thinking Oh, what happened if, I lose this, or I lose that, or I have to move? Now, like in my current life, I've relocated several times and just in several months. It's a very real thing that's happening to me right now. Even when we were like, quote, unquote, settled, it's kind of like how long am I going to be here? I think about when we moved back to California. I was in one elementary school, fifth grade, and then I went to another one. In sixth grade. Then before I could, get settled, we went to middle school, which is for two years, and then I went to high school. Then within two years, I moved to another high school, and this was even post-military. I felt like for a long time, I just couldn't find that solid ground. That's why in college I changed my major three times. Then in my 20s, I got fired from like four jobs because I just couldn't understand the concept of staying put somewhere it was very unsettling for me. I think it's interesting to just reflect and share this with you out loud and I love how you said, oh, I might change careers. Again, I don't know. This is what I'm doing right now, but I don't know if I'm going to do it tomorrow. I feel like you get me I guess, in a sense, and I feel like I can share this because I'm not the only one. I'm not scatterbrained, I'm not like not being committal. It's just something that had been conditioned in me at a very young age.”

Shermaine then relates “That's me. Exactly because you're like looking at this one thing. Something else is supposed to happen. Now, what is that? How do I prepare for that? I think that's something that we're taught. You need to be prepared for today. What could come tomorrow, they're always unofficially preparing you that if they're not around, you'd be in charge, who's where you could like make groceries and seven in another language. You could do this right. I don't know how you're just responsible, but you can, and as your irritability, like okay, well, what's next? What new skill can I pick up? Where am I moving to my next job? How can I continue to have this mindset of growing and evolving for me, it's kind of changed a little bit too. How can I teach others? What do I know? How do I help them become more resilient because everything is temporary? Most people don't understand that. Everything is temporary around you. You got to live for today but prepare for not tomorrow, but like the year after, which is, kind of crazy, but I guess we're always prepared.”

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As Jenny Lynne recounts “When I heard and all of that is that I was destined to be a military spouse because I have two different degrees and two completely different things. I no longer work in a career with either of those degrees. I mean, in me until college, I only lived in two houses that were within 15 minutes of, not even there probably like three miles apart. I went to the same school kindergarten and 12th grade went to college with half of my graduating class and yet I live this theory transient that I always must be prepared and ready for the next thing lifestyle now. I guess I was always kind of preparing to do this. Even though I come from that, very stable is not really the word I want to use, but like, sort of the word I want to use, like foundation, like we did not approve, like, we went to school in the church with the same people, my entire life until I became a military spouse and moved away. I think that's where a lot of my sense of community comes from is that I grew up in a place in the space that always felt like home and the people were and so when I've had to create that wherever we've moved, that's the basis with which I go on. I want people to feel at home. I draw on having lived in the same place until I got married.”

In her opinion, what Jenny Amos appreciates about Jenny Lynne's story — which ranges from being rooted for so long to being uprooted almost 15 years ago — is that she got the healthy food to really lean into it, even though they were supposedly built for it. Unfortunately, breakups and divorce and all these things are very common in their community if you don't get help, she thinks, again, it's a testament to mental health, as they talked about, at the beginning of their conversation, and community, right mental health, and the community she thinks is key to this. Genuineness was evident and she has seen how things have changed daily to now, where each day is a little different. As you know what both sides look like, you have some strategies on how to handle these things.

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Shermaine answersI think it happens just kind of naturally along the way, you learn not to share as much. People ask you where you're from if you start to listen to other people saying you're like, oh, you know, from there, because you don't want to give the full story that gives details about your personal life. I think that's probably part of the shrinking is you're not trying to share too much information but then when you become an adult as I went to Spelman College, everybody apparently was at the top of their class when I went so it's not just me who's like really doing stuff? They're like, no, all 600 of us are fantastic. People start talking about where they're from, and there are only a few of us from another country will because wherever you were last is technically where some people think you're from. You start to realize, I am a little different, but how can I find ways to celebrate it?

I just would try to implement a few stories in reports that I was sharing, or if I had to talk about politics and women, how this could relate based on my experience, living somewhere else where the rights of women were a little more restrictive, not that it was bad. It was just different. I started to evolve this idea of just kind of taking it with a grain of salt, but everything and every person based on your perspective can be considered a hero, a tyrant, or a terrorist, depending on your perspective. Whatever it is, and so I started to like to create one concept and think of it in three different ways like okay, well what narrative do I want to share with people? How much do I want to share when they say oh, are you from me? Just like, you know, we moved around but I landed here in Georgia and I just kind of leave it there. I've learned what not to share. Unless I'm with people like Jalen and Jen who get it and I can say, well, I was born in San Diego, but then like, six weeks later, exactly. We shipped out you know, and I could share a little bit more because I know the space is safe with like-minded individuals. I think you just kind of start to get a feel for using your intuition. Once you're an adult, but as a kid, you're like, well, what's everybody else share? I'm only going to share that.”

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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:

In sharing this story, I hope to help others who are going through the same thing!

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