“She is throwing up, move away quickly!”, my fellow classmates said on my second day of starting at my new school in Riyadh. It was a dreadfully embarrassing moment for me to display all of my insides during assembly. To be fair, it was a lot to digest.
I had moved to Manarat Al-Riyadh school from American International School (AIS-R) because my older sister was transferring there too. Yes, you can feel the difference just by reading the names.
Manarat was a very ‘ghetto’ school back then compared to AIS-R. We didn’t get individual attention or amazingly creative projects to do here in 4th grade. The ethics were on a completely different wavelength here.
When I went upstairs and opened the lights to my new and dark classroom, it felt incredibly alien to me. I didn’t fit in and thought that I never would. Not long after, I eventually merged into the haphazard system of my school. Looking back, I don’t regret transferring to Manarat because it was the place where I met my best friends. Without them, I definitely wouldn’t have been where I am today.
Yet somehow, I always felt behind. When I was at AIS-R, they had a system where the students would be put in a certain grade based on what month they were born. Since I am born in September, I was put in a grade behind.
Throughout my school and university days, I would always remain as one of the eldest in my class. You would think that it would come to my advantage, but it didn’t. I wanted to be a year or two younger and fit in with my classmates.
In second grade, my homeroom teacher Mrs. Humphrey pitifully looked at me while I tried to stitch my Christmas stocking. All the students were gone for recess while I helplessly fiddled with mine. We were going to hang them in class to fill with surprises for our classmates.
I couldn’t understand how to put the loop or make a knot and struggled with it. I tried to catch up with the other students in this seemingly simple task, but like always, I was behind.
Come October, the Halloween parade was coming up at school. I didn’t have a costume nor did I know what to do about it.
I threw every article of clothing out of my closet and still couldn’t come up with a creative idea. My mom helped make my life easier and told me to wear white and become a bunny rabbit. Yes, a bunny rabbit!
My star-studded white t-shirt paired with white tights and a black and white checkered hair band with two flimsy cut-out ears wasn’t a very appealing outfit. With my stomach filled with butterflies, I stepped into my classroom.
My classmates had on amazing costumes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Batman, and other super heroes. As I did mini bunny hops during the parade, I felt ridiculous. Once again, I was behind.
Once I moved to Manarat, it was an incredibly different transition. Math wasn’t my strongest subject in high school and I struggled constantly with it. My tutoring sessions at home with my father aren’t too memorable.
When report card day came along, my heart was pounding. As I took my report with trembling hands, I saw that my worst nightmare had become reality. I had failed Math.
I went to my Math teacher who was very sympathetic towards me. Luckily enough, that year there was a retest once school reopened (which was unheard of – I guess begging the principal worked). I passed with flying colours on the incredibly easy retest. At this point in life, I was starting to get used to being behind.
Then, it was time to make a decision about what to study in university. I opted for architecture because it was intriguing to me. I didn’t know what I was getting into until I started. It was a full-time commitment and I would spend many sleepless nights on a project.
When it was time to present my work, I felt like a complete fool. My model looked like an elementary school project next to the other students’. The posters I had spent the whole night making were ridiculed by the jury.
It was incredibly humiliating and I wondered why I found myself in this position. I put in so much effort, but it was all in vain. I was behind and I knew it from the start this time. I chose to ignore it, thinking that I could beat it this time. But I was wrong.
Fast forward to present day: I have just started teaching English at a well known college. I have never taught anyone before in my life. There was no one to hold my hand and tell me what to do or how to go about things. Instead, I tried to figure it out myself.
When I went to the staff room, an older teacher began talking to me. Her slow drawl made me sleepy as she explained her old school methods of teaching. “So, how long have you been here?”, I asked her. She couldn’t even remember, it had been so long. When she called out to a few other teachers, they were just as ancient. Behind yet again, I thought to myself.
Even in my personal life, it didn’t change. My older sisters are both married since many years and settled with their families. I am turning 29 soon, yet I am unable to relate to this experience with them. I don’t know what it feels like to have a family of my own and maybe I never will. I am waiting to see what fate has in store for me and it made me realize something.
This feeling of being “behind” didn’t have any significance because there is no such thing. Every individual has different situations in life and God has destined certain things for each one of us that come in their own time. People have certain learning capacities and experiences to get them where they are.
In my situation, I jumped from one new thing to the next. I have lived in five different cities and witnessed many rapid changes in life. As I have written about here, as a third culture kid I think we are constantly experiencing new situations that we can’t fully understand right away. We feel alien at times while everyone else seems so sure of themselves.
But it’s completely alright because this allows us to reflect and critique ourselves. We are uplifted with confidence and are constantly challenged to do more in order to continue learning. Along the way, we observe those who are more experienced in a certain skill.
Sooner than later, we begin laughing at the same things alongside our foreign classmates or colleagues. The city, workplace, or classroom begins to feel like home to us.
The beauty of it is that for us third culture kids, it won’t ever end since we constantly yearn for change. If you embrace this feeling, you won’t ever have another day thinking that you are “behind” in life.