A few months ago, I was having coffee with a new friend when she mentioned a community called TCK Town – the short form for Third Culture Kid Town – a place for those who grew up beyond borders to connect, exchange ideas and make friends.
“You should join,” she said.
“I would love to,” I replied, “but I guess I’m a TCA rather than a TCK – if that’s even a thing?!”
I slept on it, woke up the next day and thought… Out of the three letters in both acronyms, two were identical: Third Culture. We were bound to have something in common and I was curious to find out.
Before I knew it, the community welcomed me with open arms and one of its members reached out to me. Fellow writer and blogger, Alexa said her family is from the United States though she grew up all over the world and now lives in Serbia. Wow, that sounds like an amazing story beyond borders, I thought to myself! I was hooked.
We arranged for a video call a few days later. The second she picked up, I wondered “why am I doing this?” We don’t know each other. We’ve never spoken before. What is the point? But minutes later, the initial awkwardness was gone. We got to know each other, shared creative ideas and had a good laugh! How could two strangers who were born and raised in such different places and cultures, have so much in common?
That’s when I realised… This is it! This is what Be Beyond Borders is about: deep connections and unexpected international and intercultural friendships that make the world a smaller place. Through our wonderful chat, Alexa inspired me to keep going and keep spreading Be Beyond Borders’ values of tolerance, acceptance, and peace.
Now it’s your turn to learn more about Alexa’s incredible story: her past, her reality and her dreams starting with a short video introduction.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself…
My name is Alexa Vujaklija (Shearer). I was born in America to American parents. My dad was in the military and eventually became a diplomat so I moved around a lot and lived in Germany, The Republic of Georgia, Russia, and Bulgaria. I also spent every summer of my childhood in France. When I was 18, I moved to Italy to study and while completing my Bachelor’s Degree in Communications, I met my Serbian husband there. We got married in November and are currently living in Belgrade, Serbia together. I am a free-lance writer.
2. What does ‘Be Beyond Borders’ mean to you?
Be Beyond Borders is all I know. To me, it means freedom. It means not feeling limited by geography and being comfortable anywhere and everywhere. It breaks down man-made barriers, defies nasty politics, and ignores labels given to us by the name of the country on our passports. It is also being able to see common traits in all people, regardless of where they are from.
3. What would you say were the best things about growing up Beyond Borders?
One of the best things about growing up Beyond Borders is the ability to make a home anywhere. ‘Home’ has become a relative term, and I think growing up Beyond Borders makes it easier to adjust to different places, cultures, and lifestyles. I love that there are so many cities that I can fly to and as soon as I get off the plane I smell the air, listen to the language being spoken around me, and immediately get happy and nostalgic feelings. It’s like breathing a sigh of relief: “Ahhhh I’m home.”
Another amazing thing about growing up this way is that I have friends all around the globe. Because I went to international schools and a university with students from over 70 countries, whatever city in the world I find myself in, I almost always either run into someone I know, or get the opportunity to meet up with an old friend, classmate, or someone I worked with years ago. It really does make the world a lot smaller, and more accessible.
Growing up Beyond Borders also gives me a lot of firsthand knowledge about different traditions, cultures, and customs that I might not understand otherwise.
4. What about some of the challenges?
The biggest challenge is not knowing where home is and always feeling like your heart is elsewhere. I think it’s hard to really settle down and be content with where you are when you have so many amazing memories in all of your other homes.
Sometimes I find myself not really taking advantage of the city I’m living in. I might not get involved, or establish a daily routine because it feels like it could all be temporary and I start to think “I’m going to move away soon anyways so why bother…” Thankfully these feelings don’t usually last very long, and once I break out of my shell, I fall in love with where I am!
Another challenge is that I feel foreign in my home country. I don’t fit in or belong there, and people cannot really comprehend my lifestyle or how I grew up. I fear that if I moved back to America for good, readjusting may be really difficult and take years…
5. How did your parents explain this lifestyle and mindset to you when you were younger?
I don’t really think they ever sat me down and explained it to me. I feel like they were really supportive and they understood that it was hard for me to move all of the time, but it became just “normal” life for us. My dad had been studying Russian since I was about two or three years old, so it was just kind of known and inevitable that one day we would end up in Russia, or in one of the former Soviet Republics. I was in first grade when we moved to Tbilisi, Georgia.
6. What made you decide to live in Serbia?
My husband was born in Serbia, but he also grew up Beyond Borders. He lived in Hungary, Belgium, and Italy (where we met). He currently works in Belgrade, Serbia. I think for both of us it is important to establish a “home” here so that our future family has an attachment to this country. I’m enjoying the lifestyle here and I’m looking forward to learning more and more Serbian.
In recent years, I felt that home was everywhere so I couldn’t really pick where I wanted to go, or where my home-base should be. We are very blessed that Serbia gets to be our base for right now, and by this being the place where we start out our married lives together, it will be “home” to us forever I think – even if we end up living somewhere else.
7. Having lived in so many different countries, where or what would you say is home to you?
That is the hardest question in the world! It changes daily. My short answer whenever someone asks me where I’m from is usually “I’m American but I grew up in Russia”. Moscow is the place that I lived the longest in. I was there from 11 to 18, and from 21 to 22 years old. But now, Serbia is starting to feel more and more like home to me.
8. Do you have any tips for children of families who also live beyond borders?
My tips are:
- Don’t think that you have to feel okay all of the time with where you are. Sometimes you might feel lonely, lost, or isolated, and that is perfectly normal.
- Try and visit your “home” or “passport country” often so that if you are moving around all of the time, you will still feel a connection to your heritage and where your family comes from.
- Don’t worry about not having an answer when people ask you where you’re from. You will get asked that question a lot for the rest of your life so the best thing to do is to use it as an opportunity to tell people a little bit about yourself. It might spark some interesting conversations and you could make some great friends that way!
- Try to live in the now… without forgetting your past.
9. Do you think you will keep travelling and living abroad for the rest of your life or would you prefer to settle down and root yourself for a while?
Sometimes I wish I could just settle down right now, but I think in order to do that I have to continue travelling around until it feels right. I want to root myself, but I do not know where that will be… whether it will be in Serbia, or the United States, or somewhere in between. We will see!
10. Looking ahead, what are your future hopes and plans?
I want to continue writing, and hopefully publish a book one day. I want to create a family and a home, wherever that might be!
11. Where / How can people keep up with your exciting adventures?
You can follow me on Instagram: @findingherserenity
And read more about my story and beyond borders experiences on my blog: Findingherserenity
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There you have it… yet another amazing life story beyond borders, yet another unexpected connection and promising friendship, and yet another reminder to focus on our similarities rather than our differences and embrace everyone and everything around us. THIS is exactly what Be Beyond Borders is all about.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning more about the wonderful Alexa. If you also have a Be Beyond Borders experience you’d like to share – don’t be shy – contact us today!
Last but not least, if you’re curious to know more about TCK Town – Third Culture Kid Town – visit their website: TCK Town
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