Why I did what I did…I think.

Posted: 14th December 2009 by admin in Uncategorized

Ever since I found out about my ‘terminal uniquess syndrome’ (a term I also just found out about and will cling on to til the day I die!) I’ve been analyzing the decisions I’ve made in my life since my culture switch took place when I was 15. Like Wendy wrote in her blog, it is about acceptance, and once I learn to accept the impact this move had on my life, I can truly understand who I am. Without jumping too much in the lake of me, though, I’d like to share a discovery I’ve made about one of the most important decisions in my life as an adult. My American citizenship renunciation.

My decision to renounce my American nationality was hardly a decision at all, in retrospect. I had been living in the Netherlands for 8 years, initially under my dad’s work visa, then a study visa when I attended art school. I maintained my visa every year by going to the alien department of city hall in the various cities I lived in, and didn’t really give much thought to which nationality I possessed. I was too busy growing up – studying, going out, moving into my own place and trying to make rent, essentially building my identity. My citizenship was the last thing on my mind, not in the slightest a reflection of who I was.

That changed when I stopped studying though. My visa was no longer valid and I was threatened wth deportation. Suddenly, I was unwanted in the society I had worked so hard to be a part of. Not only did I not want to be separated from my family, who were all residing and working in the Netherlands at the time, but the idea of returning to my native country where I had no idea how to participate in as an adult scared me to death.

I wanted to become a dual citizen, so I started the long naturalization procedure to apply for Dutch nationality in 1999. It was not only my goal but my passionate desire to assimilate to the point of being indistinguishable from a Dutch native. Little did I know, the Dutch government abolished dual-citizenship the year before! Once my application for Dutch citizenship had finally gone through, I was faced with the choice: become Dutch and renounce my American nationality, or remain American and be deported.

Before I knew anything about the Third Culture Kids phenomenon, I justified my decision to renounce with a) family unity, b) pressure from the Dutch goverment and c) economic destitution if I did not. But now I think a fourth factor was in play, namely a sort of indifference to my nationality. I knew I was American because I was born there, because I had an American accent, because we celebrated things like Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. But I lacked any deep-rooted attachment to that country apart from some childhood memories and sentiments.

At the end of the day, what was most important to me was staying where I was at the time, and I did what I had to do to achieve that. Only now do I understand the full consequences of my renunciation, and although I can’t say I regret my decision, it was a choice I never wanted to make.

To this day, when I look in my passport and see ‘Birthplace: Henrietta, NY USA’, it means nothing to me. I’ve never been to that place, and will most likely never step foot there, and yet it is the place where I breathed life for the very first time. Does that mean it has any bearing on who I am today? Yes and no. It tells me, I am the product of my experiences, not my birthplace. That I am an individual capable of stretching across borders and coming out unscathed! That I am indeed terminally unique, just as unique as anyone else, and that the only thing that can define who I am is me.

  1. Anonymous says:

    In regards to Abigail’s comment about having many passports…how many of you have watched movies like the Bourne Identity in which the protagonist holds various passports to various countries and wish that was you?

    I guess unless you’re a spy or an assassin it’s not possible…lol

  2. Anonymous says:

    HI Cynthia!
    Yep, it’s a lifelong problem. When people ask me those questions, I get really uncomfortable too. The truth is, and I never want THEM to know it, I don’t really KNOW what I like, don’t like. I mean, I can have preferences and so on, but I often do not know if I prefer them because it’s what I really like, or if its because I’ve been TOLD that’s what I really like.

    It’s a struggle! So that’s why it’s so great to be able to talk to other TCK’s about this. Ruth V Reken talks a bit about this in the book, and has some good advice. I am finding that the “journaling” (in my case, blogging over at wordpress) really helps a lot. Even if no one ever reads what I write, it helps me to get it all out. Sometimes I’m even able to decide if I like this or that, better than another thing. The writing, the poetry, just having scrap of paper and pen in my purse, when something occurs to me, helps a lot.
    As an artist, I used to keep a sketchbook with me all the time. For years I stopped doing that. I’m doing it again now, that I discovered TCK and I’m finding it helps also. Just doodling helps.