There was a time in my life when I could say, "Well, I speak a little Spanish," and kids thought that was cool.
Here, when I say that I speak a little Spanish, I've already put myself light years behind my students. Between the 29 of them, at least 6 different languages are spoken (Spanish, English, French, Korean, Arabic, German). I have been able to discern about 4 different accents (including German, Australian, and British). One boy, when asked what event in history he'd like to witness, told me he'd make sure the ruler of North Korea had never become president. Another one had no idea what My Chemical Romance once, and I haven't yet heard one word about Justin stinkin' Bieber. Oh, and I haven't needed to make a box covered in flames for all the renegade cell phones, either.
I spent 2010 learning and reading about TCKs--those kids who grow up not quite belonging to the country where they live, not quite belonging to the country on their passport. The one place they feel truly at home is only in the "third culture"--with others like themselves. Rather than a location, the third culture is this fluid entity that deals less with place and more with similarities of lifestyle, identity, and heart. Except for our Spanish students, a good chunk of the ECA population is made up of TCKs.
There are major benefits to being a TCK. The language, thing, for instance, or being able to say that you visited half of Europe before you were 15 years old. I'm generalizing, of course, but many generalities come from a basis in truth, so generally, TCKs are known for a sharp awareness of the world and for their high level of adaptability. At the same time, they can often be known for a sense of rootlessness, which leads to difficulty forming deep relationships.
I read all about this, but I had no idea what it looked like. And now I've had a taste. Here are 29 kids who have been all over the world, who can talk about futbol and presidents and tell you why Americans are too patriotic--but may have trouble speaking the language of pop culture once they are "home." Some of the new girls are already giggling with the other girls, a slight blur on the boundaries between "new" and "old," boundaries that shift with every passing year in this transient place, where a classmate might stay for a semester or ten years, where they might miss all of 6th grade because they're in the States fulfilling residency requirements that they leave the country. They miss their old teachers; they wonder how long their new teachers are going to last. And while some will be here to watch them from 1st grade until graduation, others will be here just long enough to capture a part of their hearts and fly back home with it in hand.
I gave them a survey on the first day of school. This was one of the questions: If you could have anything you want, regardless of money or natural ability, what would you choose? Why?
I got several different answers, but a theme arose across all grade levels:
-I would choose some sort of teleportation so I could visit family whenever I wanted to.
-To be able to see my family more in the U.S.
-An airplane, to visit family
-To always be able to meet with my friends physically. Because I always leave my friends behind when I move.
That last one just broke my heart. I read about this for a whole year, but now there are faces I know writing these things in their own words, and I am awed by what they go through and how much they probably don't even realize they're going through, and I am humbled knowing that I get to be their teacher.