Third culture: Misconceptions like “traveling opens your mind.” Answer: Not always.

by , under Enrique Tessieri

Third culture children are those who grow up in a country other than their parents’.

I have traveled since I was a year and a half between continents and boarded airplanes throughout my life like buses and heard many times a given assumption that traveling is supposed to open your mind.

True or false?

FACT 1: While traveling may sometimes broaden your horizons about different countries, cultures, and peoples, it may have the opposite effect and reinforce your prejudices and racism toward others.

FACT 2: While traveling opens your mind to the world, your peers may not like your “open” views. It is a classic situation that may lead to bullying. Your difference becomes a source of scorn.

My eighth-grade classmates in 1968. While I hope some of these students had a pleasant journey through middle school, mine was marred by mistrust, ridicule, outsiderness, rejection, and ostracism. I survived Blessed Sacrament and became a stronger person from it. This picture has been posted on social media. I hope my former classmates don’t mind if they appear in this post.

I attended a conservative Catholic middle school in Hollywood, California. Since I had traveled so much and lived in many countries during those early teen years, my view of the world was very different from my classmates.

The situation led to bullying, even by the teachers.

One of these teachers was Vincent Orlando, who taught history. I must have been 13 or 14 years old at the time.

Orlando told the class what a great country the United States was and how evil the former Soviet Union was.

“If you open up the gates of that country, everyone would leave,” he claimed.

I double-checked my answer in my head twice to make sure I understood what he said and what my answer would be.

“If the Russians have never left their country,” I said, “wouldn’t they think their country is the best?”

My comment got a swift and violent reaction from Orlando.

“Are you some kind of a communist?!” he snapped. “If you don’t like America go live in Russia!”

Orlando kicked me out of the class. As I was outside the classroom door, he threw my attache case behind me, breaking it.

Orlando never apologized for the incident, and some students started labeling me a communist.

Blessed Sacrament School was no heaven for me but a daily living hell.