Archive for the ‘Third Culture Kids’ Category

It occurs to me that the concepts I’m wanting to discuss here are themselves… ambiguous.  The idea of “sitting with ambiguity” is by nature mysterious, difficult to pin down, like a wisp of smoke in the air or something on the horizon of one’s comprehension.  Discussing ambiguity is a tricky business!  But this is precisely why I am drawn like moth to a flame to explore the concept…

Transitions.  They are one thing that come up in all of our lives that often provoke anxiety and ambiguity. Think about it… transitions most of us have experienced have been—difficult, awkward, perhaps terrifying? Moving from childhood to adolescence is a transitional period from the life we’ve always known to one in which hormones begin to take over; one’s role as a daughter or son shifts to more responsibility—kind of? An adolescent is no longer a child and not yet an adult. It is a time of being “betwixt and between”.

Or just take the transition of being the new kid in school. You don’t know anyone, but you want to. Everyone else around you seems to know how to maneuver the whole wide world of the school while you feel utterly lost. This feeling of being lost does not last forever (thank goodness!), but it is the mark of a transition occurring. During a transition, you are finding your footing and often what the “right” footing would be is unclear. I experienced being the new kid in transition over and over, growing up on 5 different military bases in the U.S. And Europe.

Being a military brat until 7th grade meant that my life was in constant transition, both in terms of being the new kid and in terms of being the “outsider” when we lived in Europe.  There was a sense of all of life being one big transition with change being the one thing I could actually count on.  My early life was all about living in what can be called the “liminal space”; living betwixt and between, suspended between two cultures:  sometimes suspended between civilian and non-civilian family life and then in 1985, suspended between the culture of the U.S. Air Force Base in Zaragoza, Spain and the culture of the local Spanish citizenry.  My experience qualifies me as a “Third Culture Kid”. Read more about what that’s all about here. Third Culture Kids live in the liminal space; more on that in a future post!

Liminal space. The Latin word “limen” means threshold. Liminality refers to a space in between, a place of ambiguity and transition. It has been described as the space between the closed door and the open window. The term was coined by anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep in the 1960’s upon studying sociocultural rituals. Liminality is a neurological, metaphysical or psychological state, conscious or unconscious, of being on the border or boundary of or between two different planes of development, meaning or being often resulting in transformation. It is an “indeterminate zone of oppositions, interactions and exchange”. Common examples of liminal space include graduation ceremonies, bar mitzvahs, and weddings. I would argue that relationship break-ups (including heading toward divorce), moving from denial to acceptance of the death of someone close to you, and the first weeks or months living in a foreign country are liminal in nature as well.

Transitions present us with a liminal space. One phase of growth has died, and yet the new one has yet to be born. This is not a comfortable place to be, but often is rich and exciting with possibilities.

One American living in Korea noted about the liminal nature of living in a foreign land:

“viewed in a positive light, liminality provides freedom of movement, but the flip side of that coin is a lack of stability. Being betweixt and between means that you don’t belong anywhere. As social animals, few humans can survive for long without belonging somewhere, at least to so to some extent… The more stationary I became, though, the more I was integrated into the social structure, and the more I lost my liminality. In return, though, I gained stability.”

Maybe liminality is a kind of transformational zone of ambiguity. Is it to be dreaded? Or does it change us for the better? Hmmm, curiouser and curiouser.

I’ll end with a quote:

“I’m going to show the courage not to retreat back to what was and I’m going to be patient not to jump into what I think ought to be, but I’m going to stand in liminal space. I am going to trust that as I stand on the threshold it is pregnant with the possibilities of God.”  -David Jensen


current music faves: brandi carlile’s give up the ghost album

current show faves: how i met your mother, mad men (season 3), snl

breakfast today: everything bagel with laughing cow swiss cheese spread, fresh raspberries, cinnamon latte

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