At school on Monday, Elder Daughter gave a presentation — cleverly dubbed a me-collage — during her Grade 11 drama class. The me-collage is simply a living collage of one’s life. It’s meant to be an expression of who the student is, so she structured it around her identity as a TCK.
She chose an elevator as a metaphor for her expat life, because as she says, “it symbolizes the ups and downs of living as a third culture kid. It’s great because it takes you places, but it can also be kind of confining. Plus,” she adds with a wry smile, “I’ve spent a lot of my life in elevators: at airports, hotels, and condos. I feel like I know them very well.”
The elevator was also used as a transitional device: she stepped into it to indicate a change of scene or mood. “The hardest part about being in an elevator is the waiting… and the fact that you don’t always know what’s going to be on the other side of the doors when they finally open.”
She used a number of props to illustrate her story:
The carpet bag
We bought this bag in an overcrowded market in Istanbul. The girls were bored during the haggling, I remember, and wanted to explore, but there was no way I was going to let them wander around on their own in that labyrinth.
“The bag represents me,” Elder Daughter tells me, “because it’s been to a lot of places and never left anywhere without something new being added to it. And in a weird way it contains all the bits and pieces that add up to who I am.”
The first memory book
We moved to Singapore when Elder Daughter was in Grade 3 and Younger Daughter was in Grade 1. On their last day, the two classes joined together for a leaving ceremony, and presented the girls with memory books made by their classmates. Elder Daughter refers to this as Goodbye #1.
“This book represents my past,” she says. “The time before everything changed.”
The school uniform and the second memory book
In Singapore, the girls wore a lightweight school uniform — a first for them. These days, Elder Daughter can just about manage to squeeze into the shirt, although buttoning it up would defy the laws of physics as we know them. The shirt was signed by many of her friends before Goodbye #2.
The second memory book was made by me as a Christmas gift just before we left Singapore. I didn’t want my girls to ever forget the people and places and feelings they were lucky enough to experience at such a young age.
Elder Daughter says: “In this part of the me-collage I talk about the unspoken rules of success for an expat kid:
- Each move is a new chance to recreate yourself. You can be whoever you want to be… as long as it’s still you.
- To really make it work, you can’t hide in a corner. You have to have an energy about you. Being scared in the beginning is normal, but don’t let that keep you from getting involved.
- Try new things. (Here I pull out the chopsticks and my Vietnamese nón lá hat: new foods, new experiences, new worlds.)”
The French-English dictionary
“I call this part The Shittiness of France,” Elder Daughter tells me. I can’t hear the next bit properly over the sound of my heart cracking 😥 but it’s something about not realizing that life in provincial France would be a whole different ballgame.
“Here’s what I learned: knowing the rules for success doesn’t guarantee success.” We share a moment of silence together, reflecting on how lonely and difficult those last two years were for her. She breaks the stillness with a description of the final act of her me-collage.
“At the end, I get back in the elevator and finish by saying to the audience:
Then comes that sweet moment in the elevator when you reach your floor. The number lights up. The doors open. And there you are.”
She smiles at me. “Then they kill the spotlight, and I’m done.”