Wednesday, July 17, 2013

World Traveler

R is 29 months old and has already done more travelling than most adults. So far she's been to:
--the United States
--Malaysia (five times)
--Hong Kong (twice)
--Bali, Indonesia
--Japan and

This Friday we are flying out to Yogyakarta, Indonesia, to view the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Borobudur and Prambanan. And it is very likely that we will be going to Sri Lanka in August.

She knows children from all over the world: some of her friends and classmates' nationalities include India, Mexico, Singapore, Australia, the UK, the US, Germany, Sweden, Japan, France, China, Thailand, etc., etc. Not surprisingly, R is very used to diversity of all kinds: religious (Singapore has thriving religious communities representing Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and traditional Chinese beliefs), racial (To her memory, R has always been a racial minority), and even economic (hanging out with street children in Cambodia and oil executives' children in Singapore).

In a way, this is great (as a card-carrying liberal I certainly am in favor of diversity). But I have a lot of mixed feelings about it: being a "citizen of the world" also means you are a citizen of nowhere in particular. I have a very strong sense of rootedness to the United States, California, and the Bay Area. My ancestors have lived there for generations, I was born and raised there, and it will always be "home". It's kind of like being part of a family: love them or hate them, they are part of you and will always be. Saying that I'm American (and from the Bay Area to other Americans) explains so much about me.

If R grows up here she won't really be Singaporean (having the wrong color, ethnicity and cultural background); but she won't be American either. Answering the question "Where are you from?" will require an extended background sketch, and ultimately won't be satisfying for anyone involved. I've met many people ("third culture kids" as they are called sometimes) with such an ambiguous background, and it can be very difficult, as they feel like they don't quite fit in anywhere. I don't want that for R: I want her to have a strong sense of her heritage and place in the world. But I'm not sure how that is compatible with living as an expat.


  1. I find your expat life so interesting. Do you plan to stay expats indefinitely?

    1. No I don't think so. The plan is to move back to the US in 1-4 years: but it's hard to know what will end up happening!