About two years ago I sat down (virtually) with one of my best friends, Leah Barnhouse for an interview on my old – now defunct – blog.
If you looked up the definition of a “Third-Culture-Kid,” Leah’s name should be in there somewhere. This now 2nd grade school-teacher in Ohio, lived in Saudi Arabia from the time she was 6months old until she graduated high school. Her parents still call Saudi Arabia their professional and personal home.
If anyone has an interesting take on the question, “Where are you from?” or the concept of “home,” it’s her.
Where do you currently live?
What are you currently doing?
I am currently a 2nd grade teacher at Horizon Science Academy; a charter school whose student population is mainly Somali refugees.
How do you define “home”?
I have always used the word “home” freely. I called my dorm room “home” when I moved to college, I call our summer-house “home”, I call Saudi Arabia “home”, I call my apartment “home”, I call my friend’s houses “home”. Basically wherever there is a house that I am staying in, it is my current home. I know most people say “home is where your heart is” so I guess that just means I have a pretty big heart.
How many countries/places have you lived in?
I am fortunate enough to have had the international living experience without moving too much, unlike most of my friends. I lived in Saudi Arabia from the time I was 6th months old until I moved to Ohio to go to university.
Why did you move around?
I lived in Saudi because my parents are both international teachers.
Do you think of yourself as an expatriate?
What impact do you think moving/living abroad has had on your personality/goals/life/views/etc?
I have found that I have very different views about people and other cultures than most Americans I’ve met, especially when it comes to views of Muslims and the Middle East; which always seem to be a hot topic in the news. Because I grew up in that culture I am very defensive and get extremely upset when people express close-minded views about the place I call home, which can take some people by surprise. Why does this white girl care anyway?
Do you have any regrets about how you grew up?
Never! I loved it and hope to give the same experience to my own children one day.
What is the most outrageous question you’ve ever been asked about the country/countries you’ve lived in?
Honestly, I was asked why I was white. Do people understand you can move all around the world and still be a white American?
The question I get asked most frequently is, “Wow. What was that like?” That is probably the hardest question you could ask me. Trying to explain what it was like living in Saudi Arabia to someone who has never been to Saudi – let alone lived abroad – is almost impossible. I honestly wish I could explain it to you in just a short conversation but people who have known me for years still can’t fully comprehend what living in Saudi was like. Having no one who can truly understand what the majority of your life was like can be very lonely. On the other hand it also gives me an extremely strong bond with my friends from high school, which I find many people do not have after graduation.
When you went back to your native country did you ever feel like a foreigner?
Yes! I went to a small private school in Springfield, Ohio (Tiger UP Witt!). Although I loved my experience and wouldn’t trade it for anything, it took awhile to get use to. Being in such a small school there were not many international students and although for the first time in my life I physically fit in, I felt like I stood out. I was not considered international although it was my first time really living in the US. I was also not fully accepted as American. I was the girl from Saudi Arabia. I had a difficult time adjusting my freshman year.
Was it hard for you to re-adjust?
It was and still can be. In Saudi I was the “white girl” or the American. In Ohio I am not. Although I may look like I fit the part, my experiences set me apart from everyone and it can be hard to relate. Many times I feel like I cannot talk about my life before coming to Ohio because people think I am a stuck up rich girl or bragging. I grew up thinking it was normal to talk about going to Thailand over spring break or London for a long weekend. It is hard to talk about those experiences with people who have not had the opportunities to travel as I have.
Would you want your kids to grow up the same way you did?
Of course I do! I think the life experiences you have living overseas far outweigh any negatives.
What is the coolest/craziest experience you’ve ever had?
There are too many! I think the school study trips I went on were the most rewarding experiences – building homes with Habitat for Humanity in Sri Lanka after the 2005 Tsunami, building homes for the less fortunate in the Philippians, as well as helping to build/renovate elementary schools in Tanzania and Cambodia. I don’t feel like you really experience a country when you go and have the normal touristy experience-although those can be nice. My favorite trips are when I can get a little off the beaten track and get to know the local people of the countries.
Do you think other people should have the same experiences? Why?
Most definitely! I think our world would be more understanding and accepting of each other if more people traveled.
If you could change one thing about the world today what would it be?
I wish that we could accept and love each other’s differences. We need to understand that it is OK if someone doesn’t look like you, or have the same views as you. You can probably learn a lot from them. The world would be a boring place if we were all the same!