By Haddie Grace
I have a confession to make. For a third culture kid, I am not particularly adventurous. I haven’t spent much time outside of the countries where I’ve lived, and I don’t really want to. I don’t like to try new things. If you want a travel buddy who will fly with you on a whim somewhere faraway to bungee jump, scuba dive, and gobble up unfamiliar street food, you will need to recruit elsewhere.
My favorite place in the world is the safe and cozy center of my comfort zone. I am not a risktaker. I stop at yellow lights. I buy mild salsa. I have never broken a bone. I paid a painful amount of money for a consulting session with a cross-border tax professional and had my taxes professionally filed in both the US and Canada because I was so concerned about unintentionally making a mistake. (When you are required to report to two revenue services, that’s when you absolutely should not take risks.) If I am feeling unusually reckless, I come home from the grocery store with actual Nutella instead of budget-friendly, generic brand chocolate hazelnut spread. And that’s about it.
When I moved to rural Cameroon for an undergraduate internship at age nineteen, people praised me for being so adventurous, so brave. The real story is that I had wanted to go back to Senegal, where I grew up, but my university faculty felt it didn’t meet my program’s international internship requirement because it wouldn’t be a new experience for me. The university offered options for two countries on two continents I had never been to, with languages I didn’t speak, and that terrified me.
I independently found an opportunity in Cameroon and begged them to let me go. I spent five warm months in the familiar shade of banana trees, drinking my favorite hibiscus iced tea, eating fresh mangos, speaking French and English, and taking the same brand of malaria prevention pills I had taken in Senegal. A more courageous woman would have gone with the other options, braving steeper linguistic and cultural challenges. I chose my comfort zone.
To be honest, when I moved to Alberta, Canada, at age twenty-one, I was far more apprehensive.
I seriously questioned whether I could withstand Alberta’s brutal winters. Winter is about six thousand miles from my comfort zone. Give me the choice between the occasional tarantula found in the house or having to scrape ice off my car in negative-forty degrees Fahrenheit and I will pick the tarantula every time. I wouldn’t necessarily say I prefer sub-Saharan dust storms over prairie snow squalls, but I certainly have more experience with the dust. I’m a homebody at heart. I have no ambitious plans to backpack around Europe or hike the Himalayas. I don’t see myself ever visiting Machu Picchu or camping in the Australian Outback. At restaurants I don’t order calamari or frog legs “just to try it at least once.” I am not eager to use Duolingo for five weeks and then head out on the streets of Seoul to practice my Korean.
One of my most exciting stories from my time in Alberta is the story of my first (and only) moose encounter. A young bull quietly and uneventfully crossed the road in front of my slow-moving car and I did not shut up about it for a year. I told that story with the same enthusiasm you would expect from someone who had climbed on its back and rode all the way to Saskatoon. In the TCK world, you might as well call me “adventure-averse.”
But I am about to move for the ninth time in a period of eight years. I know exactly three people in my new city. I’m leaving in one week, I signed a lease for a studio apartment I’ve never seen in person, and I’m only taking what will fit in my small car for the two-thousand-mile drive.
I’m going to attend a graduate program at a university I’ve never visited—the only program I applied to because it was the only one I was truly excited about, so I figured it was this or nothing. I have no idea what I’m going to do once I graduate, or even what country I’m going to live in.
In the TCK world, you might as well call me ‘adventure-averse.”
But I’m a TCK, and TCKs know all too well that sometimes staying in our comfort zone is not an option. So, you take a picture of the tarantula and text it to your mom with no caption (for fun). You learn about car block heaters and down-filled parkas and the magic of merino wool. You use Google Street View to check out your new neighborhood on the other side of the country and map out the transit routes for your daily commute. And then, when it all gets overwhelming and exhausting, a well-timed spoonful of budget-friendly, generic brand chocolate hazelnut spread brings you back. I’m a TCK. And I love my comfort zone. But I don’t get to live there, and I don’t really want to. I’ll adapt and adjust and I’ll figure things out along the way. I know I will. I always do. And when I look back, this part of my story may not be nearly as thrilling, fulfilling, or momentous as the time I encountered a moose in central Alberta (did I tell you about that??), but I guess that’s a risk I’ll have to take.
Haddie Grace has US citizenship, grew up in Senegal, graduated from university in North Carolina, met her Québécois husband in Cameroon, and immigrated to Canada in 2019. She currently lives in Montréal, where she is a full-time PhD student.