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What I Did On My Summer Vacation: Traveling the Globe as a Third Culture Kid

MamaPost Category - MamaMama
TravelPost Category - TravelTravel

Summer vacation looms large in a child’s life, pretty much no matter where you grow up or what your summer vacation looks like.

To celebrate the range of wonderful summer experiences out there, the Sassy Mama team will be sharing our own fond summer memories from childhoods spent on five different continents. Look out for a new summertime reflection from the Sassy Mama team every Friday through July and August, mamas! Today: Partnerships Manager Carlijn recalls jaunts in Europe, Asia and South America, and has a new appreciation for her mother’s efforts to help her connect to her home country. 

Growing up as the daughter of a Dutch diplomat, my summer holidays were usually spent visiting family and friends in our hometown of The Hague in the Netherlands. Depending on the country where we were living, a significant part of our summer break was spent in this country my parents called “home”.

I was 7 years old when we first moved abroad to Hamburg, Germany. Because of the proximity of Hamburg to Holland, we saw our family frequently. We spent the summers in neighbouring Denmark exploring a different area each year. Memories of endless light nights, playing badminton after dinner in the cottage’s garden, listening to Astrud Gilberto, getting my driver’s license in Lego Land, summer bonfires on the beach, warm Danish bread and finding another country that also has salty liquorice! Those were three magical summers.

We then moved to Jakarta, Indonesia where we spent the summers – like many other expatriates – taking up leave in the motherland. I say this sarcastically because as a third culture kid I found it difficult identifying with Holland as I did not feel very Dutch, despite the fact that my sister and I spoke Dutch at home, wrote weekly letters (in Dutch!) to our grandparents and of course our parents read storybooks in our mother tongue.

I am so grateful my mother always made an incredible effort for my sister and I to reconnect with our Dutch roots while visiting Holland. Apart from the mandatory family visits, she took us to museums, exhibitions, typical Dutch attractions, playgrounds and amusement parks so we could have fun and experience The Netherlands. I have a mix of memories of (Vinea) summer camps where I made new friends who thought it was very odd that I also spoke English; visiting my parents’ friends and hanging out with their kids who always thought of my sister and I as “special” because we were different (!); buying clothes at H&M to last us an entire year; and bidding our family (sad) good-byes at Schiphol Airport.

During my teenage years we lived in Geneva, Switzerland, which needless to say is a fantastic place for kids! Our Swiss summers were spent discovering Switzerland and travelling to its amazing neighbours, Italy and the south of France. At this age we were able to appreciate historic and cultural sites as long as we could also tan on the beach / by the pool and shop while eating copious amounts of gelato!

These summer experiences have certainly shaped me. As my husband and I choose to live in Asia (our home for the past 11 years), I have come to understand the importance of proactively building that connection between our children and their motherland in the hope that they too will identify as being Dutch one day.

But one thing will never change: I continue to dislike airports with a passion!

Lead image sourced via Royal Liverpool Philharmonic

Join the conversation

  • Drie Culturen

    Thank you for sharing this Carlijn. Like you I grew up as a third culture kid, I also have Dutch parents. I grew up in Africa. It’s so true that it is important to encourage kids to bond with family and friends and with their cultural roots too. I am so glad that my parents taught me to speak and write in Dutch! We spent our summers in the Netherlands or in Africa. Both knowing the language, knowing people and the culture are important for the identity formation! Kind Regards Janneke @DrieCulturen

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