A Kaleidoscope Expat Life

A Kaleidoscope Expat Life

Dr Rachel Cason talks to us about having multiple cultural influences in your life from moving countries many times.  She tells us about her life as a Third Culture Kid and how that influenced her choice of study and career.  You can follow Rachel on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter

“Where are you from?” The question many of us find challenging – do they want the long answer or the short? Do I compress my kaleidoscope story into a simplified explanation, or do I risk blinding them with all my colours?

I’ve collected a few cultural ‘colours’ over the years. I was raised in Niger, West Africa, with a short stint in France, and returning to England at the age of sixteen. Like many other Third Culture Kids, (people raised abroad due to parental occupation) I crammed my university years with as much travel also, spending a year in France and a semester in America. I found myself drawn to America when university exchange programmes made study there possible. One of my more hidden cultural ‘colours’ left me slipping occasionally into an American accent, simply due to so many of my classmates at international school being American. So that’s how many ‘colours’? Three, hidden behind my front-of-house Englishness.

Many of you carry more colours in your kaleidoscope selves than this – and you are all so beautiful and exciting! I experienced more confusion than excitement, to be honest, as a teenager trying to integrate my multiple cultural influences into the ‘me’ that was trying to connect to my English peers at ‘home’. I confused other people when my accent shifted, or when my general knowledge of English history was woefully lacking. I remember once being asked how I could have never heard a particular pop song; “Where were you? Deepest darkest Africa?!” “Something like that.” I replied.

Rachel next to a canal

But my colours wouldn’t assimilate. Mind you, I didn’t want them to, no matter the confusion they caused! They jostled for air-time, finding home and hope in writings on Third Culture Kids and a few kind friends who listened to my glee at snowfall, longing for rain-drenched dust and African sunsets, for proper baguettes and pastries. My cultural colours refused to merge, mud-like, into a single cultural identity.

I became aware I wasn’t alone, that there were many more kaleidoscopes out there. I fell into studying the ways in which frequent mobility impacts identity, belonging and relationship to place, and my doctorate gave me the glorious opportunity to hear the life stories of many other Third Culture Kids with kaleidoscope histories. It was inspiring to hear these stories, and for many it was the first time all the colours of their stories had come together in one place, one time.

I began to hear accounts that confirmed my own experience; those who experience multiple cultures often feel they experience life in amazing technicolour, but it can be occasionally overwhelming! Many reported feeling unsure of their identities, having lived in and absorbed multiple cultures and values. Sometimes these cultures seemed to compete rather than compliment. Others spoke of the freedom of frequent mobility but also of the sadness of frequent goodbyes; the unresolved grief. How can one grieve lost cultures when everyone (ourselves included) feel so incredibly lucky to live the life that we live? And yet for many the ties to multiple cultures complicated their sense of who they were and where they belonged.

Kaleidoscope saying

I founded Life Story Therapies to support expatriates and Third Culture Kids who want to live more fully, more colour-fully! When we give space to our identities to breathe, and feel supported in how to express them and, crucially, to communicate them to the world around us, then we can live our whole kaleidoscope selves. I’ve recently launched a new six-week programme, ‘Living Your Whole Self’ to support expatriates and Third Culture Kids explore their multiple colours, and integrate these into their own beautiful kaleidoscope.

I have now lived in one home for six years, a personal record! And I live a very exciting life now learning how to settle, do community in one place – and I’m as stretched and challenged by this as many are to a foreign assignment. Mind you, perhaps for me, England is my foreign assignment!

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Alison Johnson

Alison is a travel junkie, digital nomad and the co-founder of www.wherecani.live She has lived in 7 countries on 4 continents and is passionate about opening the world up for others.

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