“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”
I return to my university campus in the new year, to attend my last ever graduation and wear a silly hat (!) I’m looking forward to wandering the woods on campus, poking my nose into various buildings and going for lunch at an old haunt. Haunt is a word that conjures up exactly that strange echo that fills my head whenever I return to that part of my history… It’s as though I walk alongside memories of my past selves… and it’s always bittersweet.
The last decade that I have spent associated with that institution is bulging with feelings of gratitude, as I remember where important friendships began, mentors took me under their wing, and blessings showered in abundance. But I also left parts of me behind there… my married self, certain friendships that didn’t last the course, and other relationships that soured and stuttered to a stop. Whenever I return to that place, I am confronted by these past selves, and am reminded of the Who I am now. I altered, and that Place, though still in existence, is not part of my present day self anymore.
People talk about return being especially important to Third Culture Kids… that the act of returning to the host countries of one’s youth is a massive part of (re)processing the experiences of that time, and of integrating them with one’s present Self. For some TCKs, return has been a regular feature of their ‘now’ lives, but for others, the opportunity to return is unlikely to present itself.
Return has a double benefit: the first is that it offers the opportunity to affirm those experiences of the past. They happened, they were real, and their influences on my history is real. This validation of experience is especially important when people are prone to compartmentalization, as many TCKs can be.
The second benefit is that return offers an opportunity to re-engage with the Place on new terms, to reconnect with the past as one’s current Self… For me, return to my university offers me an opportunity to make new memories there, to reclaim the Place as my own. Return allows me to reconcile some of those more painful memories as more positive ones become my most recent experience the Place.
Have you returned? Will you?