Third Culture Kid: Leaving Home To A New Home (Part 3 Of 3)

Third culture kids or individuals are people who grew up and were raised in a different country other than their parents’ country of nationalities. They live in a different environment during a very significant phase of their childhood years. I’m a third culture kid myself, I was born in Malaysia but spent most of my childhood in Saudi Arabia (Saudi). In my previous article, I had shared some of the best memories growing up there. In 2015 however, I graduated from secondary school and decided to leave my home in Saudi to return to my country of birth, Malaysia, to further my studies. But my journey and experiences adapting to my home country felt much more foreign than I had ever encountered before.

Third culture kid: A photo of a mamak stall in Klang, Kuala Lumpur.
Mamak stalls are one of the gems in Malaysia, where the locals can dine in or simply hang out round the clock. It’s a place where you can experience the best of Malaysian culture.
Picture credit to Atiqah Ghazali

Making The Decision To Leave My Home In Saudi Arabia

It was the year 2014, the last year of secondary school. We had to fill out a form of which universities we plan to apply to. I was sitting at my desk, listening to my classmates’ chatter about going to the United Kingdom or the United States. I looked at my empty form with a table that had “University Name” and Country” written on the columns. I’ve always wanted to return to my country of birth. To experience the culture that I have missed out on since young and reconnect with my heritage. So, under the “Country” column of the table, I wrote Malaysia

Third Culture kid: A photo of Atiqah's graduation day in Dhahran High School, Saudi Arabia.
My Graduation Day in the year 2015 at Dhahran High School in Saudi Arabia. My classmates and I took our place on stage in our robes and mortarboards, whilst our parents in the audience proudly watching us.
Picture credit to my father, Mohd Ghazali

Moving Back Home To Malaysia As A Third Culture Kid

Thoughts of my room in Saudi made me flash back to the day when I had to say goodbye to the house that I grew up in. I looked around my room where the blue painted walls were filled with paintings that I have drawn and the flower-patterned curtains that made me felt too ‘girly’. It was my room where I spent lots of time playing, painting and studying in. I knew that I could come back and visit but it wouldn’t be the same anymore. I was going to miss this place a lot but I was going to miss my family even more.

A photo of Atiqah's front house with her house no. 567, on the walls.
My baby sister, Maisarah, posing for a photo in front of our house no. 567 in Saudi Arabia. You have no idea how much I miss this place.
Picture credit to Atiqah Ghazali

Fortunately, my family was able to accompany me to Malaysia and sent me off to the university. I was ecstatic when I found out that I got accepted to pursue a major in Architecture at Taylor’s University Malaysia. I appreciated my parents being there to support me during my move to on-campus accommodation and my first few days of freshman orientation. The feeling of separation didn’t hit me until the day they had to return to Saudi.

Saying Goodbye

We had a big dinner celebration with our relatives the day before my parents left for Saudi. Everyone was laughing and enjoying the food but I kept feeling a knot in my stomach. I hid my sadness and kept a smile for my parents so that they wouldn’t worry. For 18 years, I had never been separated from my family. I knew I wouldn’t be able to handle the farewell dinner well. Because, when it was time for them to go, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye.

A photo of Atiqah's family with her relatives at her last dinner before her family departs back to Saudi.
A family photo with our relatives in front of the restaurant that I had dined in last with my family in August 2015, before they went back to Saudi. I am standing way at the back wearing a light colour headscarf, posing with a peace sign.
Picture credit to Atiqah Ghazali

I remember hugging my siblings and telling them not to make our parents sad. But when it came to my parents, I was literally biting my lips not to cry. I instantly broke down into tears when my mother embraced me in her arms. How can anyone not cry when your mother is hugging you tightly and softly saying, “Take care of yourself, okay?” I literally couldn’t see anything due to the tears staining my glasses. And I just silently waved goodbye to my family as they drove away.

Culture Shock As A Third Culture Kid In Malaysia

Being in Malaysia alone for the first few months was not that bad. I was experiencing and interacting with different types of people, food and places. But I soon realised that I was slowly facing a culture shock, because there were new norms to adjust to, challenges to confront and new friendships to foster.

1. Feeling Out Of Place As A Third Culture Kid

I was the “quiet” girl in class as far back as I can remember. I would be the one sitting at the back of the class and barely spoke a word throughout the day. Because of this, I had difficulty speaking up and making new friends. Hence, moving to Malaysia alone was a big step out of my comfort zone. But on Orientation Day at my university, I did something that even amazed me. Despite how nervous I would feel when making new friends, I took the initiative to start a conversation with this girl called Natasya. From that moment onwards, our crazy days as architecture students began.

Third Culture kid: A photo of Atiqah and her friend Natasya, having supper at a mamak stall at Taylor's University.
Natasya (left) and I (right) having supper at a mamak stall in Taylor’s University, after working on our project together.
Picture credit to Atiqah Ghazali

I felt left out at times when I didn’t understand what the others were talking about. I had a hard time adjusting to the Malaysian culture due to language barrier. Growing up in an international school, I would only converse in Malay with my parents. So my Malay language was quite weak that I would always have to ask my friends about words or phrases I wasn’t familiar with. But I was grateful to have friends who understand where I came from and were willing to help out. By listening to how my friends conversed, I slowly picked up the Malaysian slang and dialects. I can go on and on talking about the people I met, but that can be a story for another day.

A photo of Atiqah and her friends going to the mall.
Friends that I had made during the first few months at university. Crazy and fun memories were made with them! From left to right: me, Hanis, Sally, Natasya, Firzana and Fei Fei.
Picture credit to Atiqah Ghazali

2. A Third Culture Kid Learning To Be Independent

I learnt that living in Saudi Arabia was like living in a bubble. We were all protected under the care of our parents and the walls of a closely-knitted community. There was a restriction to where we could go and what we could do in Saudi. Because of that bubble, I rarely experienced the real world, like driving a car, taking public transportation or staying out late with friends. So I slowly began to learn to take public transportation like the LRT, KTM or public buses to get to places. I began to take driving lessons despite my fear of driving because I knew that someday I had to learn. It was now or never.

A photo of the busy Chow Kit street in Kuala Lumpur with traffic.
The busy Chow Kit street in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This picture shows how traffic can get really crazy in Kuala Lumpur, especially during peak hours!
Picture credit to Atiqah Ghazali

Living in Saudi has restricted me from frequently going out alone or with friends outside our community. The only places that I spent lots of time were either at my friends’ house or my own house. Knowing I had the freedom to go anywhere I want, without my parents’ supervision made me uneasy. In Saudi, I’ve always asked my parents’ permission before I go out, so naturally, I felt uncomfortable whenever I went out to places in Malaysia. They were halfway across the world, and the last thing I wanted was to cause them to worry. So it has become a routine for me to always let my parents know where I will be going and with whom.

The Perks Of Being A Third Culture Kid

Being a third culture kid has its ups and downs. You will definitely be confused about your identity in terms of where you are from. So when it is time to return to your heritage, there will be difficulty in adapting. But that does not mean you can’t adapt! In fact, your exposure to different cultures makes you more open-minded. Because the more open-minded you are, the easier it is for you to understand and adapt to a new culture.

I was able to adapt well in Malaysia alone due to the kind-hearted people I’ve met, as well as the constant love and support from my family in Saudi. Because of them, I now have two homes. One in Saudi and a second one in Malaysia.

A photo of a banner saying " welcome home iqa" when Atiqah paid her family in Saudi a visit.
I am fortunate to be able to visit my family in Saudi once a year and my family will always make a banner to welcome me home. This was taken during my first visit back to Saudi in January 2016, after finishing the first semester at Taylor’s University. Every homecoming is so precious to me.
Picture credit to Atiqah Ghazali

Make It Your New Home

Home can be where you want it to be. If you are an expatriate, you can make the country you are currently living in your home, too. Enjoy every moment of it! These experiences will expose you to different perspectives in life. Whether it be how people dress, talk or behave, everyone is brought up differently. It doesn’t hurt to learn and be friends with them, right? But if you have trouble getting used to the expatriate lifestyle, there are many online platforms where you can connect with other expats, such as InterNations. InterNations is a global platform for all expatriates around the world where you can find a friend to grab a coffee with, and share your foreign experiences together.

Atiqah GHAZALI

About Atiqah GHAZALI

Grew up overseas in a melting pot of global culture to expat parents, Atiqah is well read, and expresses herself best through writing, art and photography. Architect by qualification, but makes a living as an interior designer.

3 Replies to “Third Culture Kid: Leaving Home To A New Home (Part 3 Of 3)”

  1. Pingback: Architecture Or Archi-torture? (Part 1 Of 10) - Espoletta

  2. I love reading your story Atiqah. Thank you for your words and for your share. We hope you’re grow well and stay safe wherever you go too, alright 🤍

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read Miss Diane! You have no idea how much your words meant to me:) Stay safe as well!

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