Fitting in…or not…

This has been something that I’ve thought about quite a bit actually, but a tweet-storm by @hormiga (see below) made me realise that maybe I should put my thoughts out there. This is gonna be a bit of a personal post, but I think it’s relevant, and hopefully helps someone else that might feel the same.

As the title suggests, I’ve always felt like I don’t really “fit in” to any specific group. I was born in Belgium, to Belgian parents, but when I was 5 we moved to Northern Colorado. I didn’t speak a word of English, but as a 5 year old, you learn very quickly, especially if immersed in the new language. My family has a rather long history of baking, and that’s also what my parents did. Nobody else at school had self employed parents. Most other kids didn’t speak another language at home. Some people had never left the state. I had to leave the country every few years just to be allowed to stay (yay visas). Almost all my classmates lived close to their extended family. I (still) hardly know my cousins. Basically, I was different. I knew it. But it didn’t stop me from making friends or doing well in school. But I was still different.

Then, when I was 13, we moved to New Zealand. Almost everything changed. A few things didn’t. Dad was still baking and Mum was still involved in hospitality too. Everyone spoke English. But it wasn’t the same English. And of course, my English was weird and funny. So, there I was again being different at school. Yeah, I still made friends and did well, but I was still different.

Since then, I’ve met other people who’s parents moved around a lot when they were growing up, and some of my closest friends are other “Third Culture Kids“. But I’m still different. And now, I realise that so many of my “otherness” feelings regarding academia are especially close to how I feel about other “TCKs”. They grew up with money. I didn’t. Their parents weren’t necessarily rich, but they probably were never bankrupt either. When you grow up with just barely enough to get buy, having a comfortable salary is such a revelation, even if it’s “just” a PhD students’ salary.  I still feel this difference almost every day. To a certain degree, I’m supposed to fund parts of PhD-related things myself. They may not be essential, but I’ll do a whole lot better with them. But, I can’t just ask my parents to help me out. They’re doing fine, but they’re running a business (lemonade, not baking anymore) so there’s never any extra. So, it might just seem like a small thing to you, but money can be a really big matter to first-generation college students. No matter what, I’m still different.


One thought on “Fitting in…or not…”

  1. Money can be a big thing for non 1st gen college students, too. I’m 3rd gen. My dad was out of work for more of my childhood than h was in it, and I knew from the get-go that they would not be able to provide any financial support through university. I paid my own way. The only time I took out loans was when my husband and I made the decision to leave the US for grad school in the Netherlands, and we did the calculation that it was worth the risk going in to debt.

    But, yeah. Just because your parents have college degrees doesn’t mean money isn’t a deal. I hung out with friends who lived in the dorms because they’d often take pity on me and buy me lunch, so I could be assured of at least one square meal. $5/week for food doesn’t get you very far, and some semesters that was all I had.


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