Ten years ago this summer I moved to Rio de Janeiro for what would become the greatest adventure of my life. At the tender age of 14, the thought of leaving my home and friends in Houston was devastating. But as soon as I stepped off the plane in Rio and saw how beautiful it was—white sand beaches and lush green mountains surrounding a bustling metropolis—I was all in. Those formative years living abroad completely changed the trajectory of my life. I could go on for hours about what I learned from my time in Rio, but I’ll leave it at the biggest lesson: I learned to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
My dad works in the oil and gas industry, so he has had the opportunity to work overseas. When I was a baby, my family moved to Paris for a couple of years. My only memories of this time exist in the form of home videos since my mom practically had a camcorder strapped to her hand. (To set the scene, this was a time when my grandma would ship us VHS tapes with new episodes of “Melrose Place” and “Barney.”) Still, I’m convinced this experience seeped into my influential toddler brain, making it easier for me to learn foreign languages and absorb different cultures.
I first heard the term “third culture kid” in Brazil: a sociological term used to describe American kids raised overseas, or children raised in a culture other than their parents’. I began thinking about it again after reading Sebastian Modak’s recent reflection on being a TCK for Condé Nast Traveler.
Although I didn’t move around as much as some of my expat friends who were children of diplomats or “army brats,” I started to identify as a TCK when I returned to the U.S. for my senior year of high school and later, college. As I navigated the reverse culture shock waters, I struggled with the common freshman year question, “Where are you from?” Well, I grew up in Houston, but I also did a lot of growing up in Brazil. I had spent more time in Houston, but Rio had become my home. I became increasingly self conscious about starting all my sentences with, “When I was in Brazil,” because I dreaded being that girl who bragged about all of her international adventures.
I still feel uncomfortable talking about my extensive traveling with people who haven’t, because I consider myself to be extremely lucky; my parents ingrained their love of travel in me.
I’ve learned to thrive in situations where I’m completely out of my element. I feel most alive when I’m strolling the streets of a foreign country, surrounded by a language I don’t know. I didn’t know a lick of Portuguese when I arrived in Brazil, but I left being able to converse with locals. I didn’t know a soul when I arrived to study abroad in Ireland, but I left with lifelong friends. Moving around forces you not only to get used to change, but to become adept at it.
All of this explains why I became discontent with a 9 to 5 that restricted my ability to travel. Or why I quit my job to backpack alone in Southeast Asia. Or why studying abroad in college was a no-brainer for me. Or why I yearned for a new start while still living in a city that I absolutely loved. Or why I’m moving to Madrid next week without a job or an apartment). Or why my friends tell me that that doesn’t surprise them. Because for me, like many other third culture kids, travel is home.