One of the most exciting times of my life was also the most nerve-wracking. I am a third culture kid. I’m half English half Slovak and grew up in Dubai. I was used to friends leaving and moving away, and then eventually, my turn came and the moment arrived. I moved from Dubai to the Netherlands and start studying at the University of Groningen.
Leaving high school was bittersweet. By the end of Year 13, I was more than ready to leave. However, after spending 14 years in the same school (primary and secondary were connected), the idea of having to step away from a comfort zone where I knew everyone was terrifying to me. It sounds silly, but I had been in the same school bubble for so long I didn’t realise that there were other people besides my friends from school who would have the same interests as me.
My first week in Groningen was hectic! I had moved into a huge student house and signed up for an introduction event so that I could make friends and get to know the city at the same time. Thankfully I met someone who was going to be in the same course and we desperately clung to each other as we navigated our way around the city to find our first lecture hall.
In the end, I made friends with a great bunch of people and we had nothing to worry about. Friendships come and go all of the time and I have learnt it’s not the end of the world if sometimes you have to let go of some of them. New ones bloom as old ones die out. This is life.
I definitely had culture shock when I moved to the Netherlands. Groningen is a small city, and the vast majority of its population are students. I had moved from a huge city that was difficult to navigate by myself, to just me and my bike that was able to take me anywhere. The people are also different, and lots of the Dutch students had spent their whole life in the Netherlands so they had no idea what it felt like to have so many connections around the world.
There is one question all third culture kids dread getting asked; “Where are you from?”. Once someone asks you where you’re from, the panic sets in. At first, I used to say England because it was the easiest answer. Then I had to correct people when they assumed I had lived there my whole life and started asking more questions. Eventually, I would have to explain I’m actually half English half Slovak, but I was born in Saudi Arabia and grew up in Dubai. That’s something I’ll have to live with, and while it’s annoying, it makes me unique!
Another advantage of being a third culture kid is that I have family spread out across the world! The closest family I have when I’m in Groningen is in the UK, but I also have family in Slovakia and in Dubai, which means lots of travelling. But it also means that family is never too far away.
The hardest part of leaving home to study abroad was leaving my family. Fortunately, we are all very close, but that meant that moving away would be an adjustment for all of us. I have a twin brother, so for both of us to move away was hard. Thankfully, he studies two hours away from me so we’re never truly alone! For a lot of my friends, this wasn’t the case, and they couldn’t wait to leave home and start fresh. I think that the fact we don’t see each other as much has made us closer, and we’ve had some amazing adventures the past year because we try and take advantage of the time we have together. Coming back for my second year of university after spending 2 months away was very difficult.
If you are a third culture kid in those last few months before moving away from home to go to university, just know that it might take a while to get used to things. It is a big shift especially if you are moving to a new country that’s not directly connected to your family. Eventually, you’ll adjust and realise that everyone is kind of in the same boat, no matter where you’ve come from or how they ended up in their new home. They are all away from family figuring out how to do it on their own.