Photos by MYRA DUMAPIAS
The humdrum of a train ride is broken when I witness two Caucasian women, most likely in their early 60s experience a transformation within seven stops. They both seem to be Eastern European, judging by their language and accent, but from different countries. They speak in English with some words they confirm to have in common. They share recipes and indulge in the details of how they discovered alternate ingredients and different ways of cooking the dishes, sharing the different names for the same thing. In the process of discovering what’s different and what’s similar, they transform from strangers sharing a common space to long-term friends on a road trip with a destination that does not matter. When one has to disembark for her stop, they both express their hopes of meeting again on a train ride and heartily bid one other farewell as “Friend.” The one remaining continues on with the pleasant experience remaining as a smile on her lips and in her eyes at each stop she passes through.
What transpired was an enactment of what kept me feeling alive through my years as a daughter of a diplomat: unconditional connections. I was enriched by the experience of seeing the beauty of how people simply live their lives differently in other countries. I learned the difference between random road rage at unusual traffic anomalies and a universal chaos on roads that is simply accepted as a natural rhythm. Directly interacting with gypsies in the Middle East and Eastern Europe outside magazines or video clips was like seeing new colors for the first time. I touched history each time I walked on cobblestone roads by international landmarks around the world. Dining with families whose lives were impacted by infamous leaders like Ceausescu was more educational than any documentary could ever be. My life has been enriched by such experiences, but connection with the community and individual friends is what brought the enrichment from my head to my heart.
As an only child, friendship helped me survive the challenges of constant relocation. My developmental years were characterized by frequent goodbyes, constant introductions as the new kid, conscious efforts to speak the right words or language in different environment, uncomfortable formal attire and even more uncomfortable composure for the public eye, uncertainty of random relocations, challenges of hardships posts, and the general experience of being rootless as a Third Culture Kid (TCK). Through these years, making new friends and keeping in touch with old friends with whom I could be myself helped me persevere.
As I got older and began to visit my parents during vacations, I realized I was blessed with unconditional friendship in childhood and adolescence. Many of the good friends I made likewise did not grow up in one single country or just one or two homes. Perhaps through this commonality, we connected regardless of the length of time we had already known each other or the length of time we had to be friends in the same city. I did not have to fit any
Without knowing it at that time, those childhood and teen years of connecting unconditionally were going to be a rare experience after I started attending college in the United States. Today, I sometimes struggle with the vulnerability that comes with relationship-building past the two or three years I had before I would relocate, and in a cultural environment I feel friendship sometimes needs to be justified by long history. Nonetheless, the unconditional friendships I experienced freed me to strengthen my concept of my own identity despite differences in the environments of each post. I could remain who I was and developed a character that did not seek permission to be different or think outside the box.
The experience of being rootless helped me be open-minded about people in general. In college, I developed a passion for justice and empowering oppressed groups. I took leaderships positions in community organizations and groups through which I could make an impact in the community and individual lives of people. Although not as politically active as before, I still relate to those often misunderstood or in disadvantaged positions. I also discovered my spiritual perspective, a blend of political perspectives considered liberal and uncompromised Biblical principles, is rare. The heart of Jesus is not politically conservative to me, but values liberation from oppression, relationships that accept you as you are, vulnerability that is safe, and the enjoyment of life to the fullest, abundantly enriched by purpose, beauty, and fear-less strength. I strive to bring Church outside church walls and in unconditional relationship building.
As a career, I fell into the path of Social Work, in direct practice, administrative management and now teaching, through which I challenge my Social Work students to think critically and learn about global events and causes. My current civic engagement is the volunteer position of executive director for TCKid: A Home for Third Culture Kids, a non-profit organization that connects Third Culture Kid (TCK) adults and youth and promotes increased understanding of TCK issues, tasked with its organizational development into a more formalized non-profit organization.
Through TCKid, I am connected to like-minded friends and strive to help others understand the TCK lifestyle and challenges here in San Antonio, TX, which has a small town feel and is not yet exposed to much international exchange the way a metropolitan city is. There is much work to be done, as San Antonio has interests in establishing new international business ties, and is home to one of biggest Bible belts with missionary-hearted people, military bases, and headquarters for some international companies. I am grateful for all of those who have been my friend unconditionally growing up. They are to thank for the work I have accomplished and the work I am about to accomplish.