I started reading a new book this weekend, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. I’ve been familiar with the TCK terminology since childhood and was heavily involved in a TCK group in college but it’s been awhile since I’ve made it a priority to explore the subject. To my surprise, I was in tears by Chapter 2.

As I read through the TCK definition and all the factors that affect kids with cross-cultural upbringings, I found my heart sinking with familiar insecurity. Maybe it’s all in my head but I feel like TCKs have an unspoken ranking system determined with questions like, “How many countries have you lived in? How old were you when you first moved? How many languages do you speak?” I’m not a super-TCK because I only lived in one country and culture other than my passport country (-5). But I did arrive when I was a toddler (+3) and we were often the only foreigners in our rural area (+4). I also speak Thai better than many of the international school kids (+2) but not as well as the kids who went to public school (-1). Once again, I find myself looking for reasons why I’m not enough.

The more I read, the more I stooped under the regret I’ve been carrying since childhood. Would my Thai be better if I had been bold enough to venture outside the house more often? Would I have more of a Thai mindset and culture if I had made more friends? I did my best to savor what I knew was a unique childhood but shame still whispers in the back of my mind when I stumble over words. I was immersed. Shouldn’t I be fluent by now?

I broke down when I realized I was reading a book about childhood development. The subjects are kids with an unusual background, yes, but kids just the same. I was me back then, but I was still a child. In that moment, I felt compassion wash over me instead of shame and regret. Why wouldn’t I be a shy little thing, painfully self-conscious, when people stared at me every time I went outside? Why wouldn’t I feel socially anxious, even around my friends, when I always felt left out of some big inside joke? Of course I did my best! Of course I did. I cried it out, a grief I didn’t know I carried. And so I begin to shrug off the burden.

Adrian PatenaudeComment

I'm still struggling not to see 2018 as a waste. I don't have much clarity about the future. My anxieties have multiplied. My depression has a name now but it's as heavy as ever. I usually love this time of year for all the prepping and the planning and the dreaming. But this time my new year feeling is more like the Saturday morning rush of urgency, quickly followed by the crushing resignation that I'll only be able to accomplish a fraction of my to-do list.

I wish I could laugh off my distress but I do want to have compassion for the disappointment shadowing the spirit of this year’s planning. I failed to meet many of my goals last year, so now I'm hesitant to commit for fear of breaking more promises. In 2018, my dreams were postponed again, so any hopes for 2019 feel like creative new ways to break my heart.

But HOPE is the word I've chosen to live by this year, so I must learn to embrace it! Throughout 2019, as I ponder my direction in life (and attempt to ignore Doomsday Brain), I'll be meditating on Psalm 25: 4-5.

Show me the right path, O Lord;
point out the road for me to follow.
Lead me by your truth and teach me,
for you are the God who saves me.
All day long I put my hope in you.

With that in mind, here's my overly-ambitious list of hopes for 2019:

  • Early to bed, early to rise

  • Stop using sugar as a coping mechanism

  • Write morning pages

  • Work towards a new poetry chapbook

  • Write more about the books, movies, music and art I love 

  • Use my feet/bike/bus to get around

  • Publish personal essays as a warm-up to my eventual memoir

  • Spend less time staring at my phone

  • More baking, cooking, crafting, fangirling and photography

  • Reduce, reuse, recycle

  • Establish a daily thankfulness practice

  • Explore my fashion sense (sustainably whenever possible)

  • Go on some dates (????)

  • Feel less ashamed about where I stand spiritually and politically 

  • Be more courageous about sharing my voice with my audience

  • Learn more about what it means to be a Third Culture Kid

  • Greater honesty with God and with myself

  • Write letters and call my family

  • Host more parties!

Adrian PatenaudeComment

depression feels like
not having the right to be sad because my life is pretty great and other people struggle so much more than me

depression feels like
letting down the people i love because i’m struggling, but not reaching out to them for help because i probably sound like a broken record

depression feels like
exhaustion and a lack of motivation because participating in the world beyond the bare minimum only leads to heartbreak and disappointment

depression feels like
minimizing my pain because at least it’s not as bad as it was back then and maybe this is as good as it gets

depression feels like
not wanting to call it depression because i’m probably just feeling sorry for myself anyway...

I wrote this a month ago to practice putting into words the heaviness and shame I’ve been feeling on and off for much of my young adult life. I’m more comfortable with melancholy than most (hi yes, enneagram four here) and I’m generally a self-aware person, so I thought feeling this way was normal for me. And it is normal, in the sense that most people experience a level of depression and anxiety at certain times in their life. But I thought I could pull myself out of it on my own through hard work and healthier habits. I had no idea my stigma against therapy had gone so deep that I could encourage others to go but had never considered it for myself. When the sheer scope of my blind spots finally dawned on me, I felt like a failure. Even now, I doubt the wisdom of sharing this post. But if it wasn’t for other people talking openly about how the tool of therapy has helped them, I wouldn’t have reached this point. So I’m here to say with as much simplicity and sincerity as possible: We’re all humans who need a little help sometimes (including me).

Adrian PatenaudeComment

I keep my questions to myself, mostly. I’d hate to be labeled as a “struggling” Christian, though nothing describes my faith quite so honestly. “It’s okay to have doubts,” the pastor says. “Even I have doubts.” But has he ever asked the questions I do? The ones that feel like loose threads which, if pulled, threaten to unravel the delicate fabric of my beliefs.

The way we talk about “losing" our faith makes it seem like faith is a misplaced key, a wedding band, a stolen passport. Is it that easily buried in the bottom of our backpacks? Does it fall out of our pierced ear one day, never to be seen again, with only its duplicate to remind us? Faith feels like a mustard seed: Small, and easily lost.

Let’s try a different metaphor, shall we? Faith is not so fragile. Faith is fingers in the Messiah's side. Faith is a doubter begging for belief. Faith is Jesus saying, “Don’t be afraid.” He stands, steady as ever. The wind blows, I panic, and faith is Jesus reaching down to save me from drowning. In that moment, I realize: It was never the waves I was standing on. “I’m here. Take courage.” Jesus speaks, and the sea calms.

Adrian PatenaudeComment

Magnolias always seem to bloom later than I think they should. As soon as I notice the days lengthening, my impatience for summer has me searching their lush green leaves for signs of the fragrant gifts to come. It’s June and the blossoms have made their formal debut. I’ve already made myself dizzy from breathing in their essence.

I’m impatient with myself, too. I already feel like a late bloomer. People often call me an old soul and I had just turned 17 when I started college, so since then I’ve been determined to take advantage of my head start. When I graduated, I was so sure of my purpose in life despite the path itself being misty and dimly-lit. I thought I could skip the “lost 20-something” stage. But here I am, about to turn 25, and my so-called dreams have lost their shimmer. I’m not who I thought I was. I’m certainly not who I thought I should be. Instead, I’m someone different.

I’ve been grieving this ever since my realization in March. But it has also felt like a long, slow exhalation of relief. As spring turns to summer, I’m settling into the fact that I don’t have to live up to the fantasy version of myself - the badass female Oscar-winning director (which sounds exhausting, frankly, knowing the film industry). Instead, I can be myself. The version of myself that I am right now, sitting at my desk, typing this out on my iPhone. I’m the lost 20-something who is just starting to know herself, who likes writing in coffee shops, who loves her soft cat, who is sometimes motivated but usually slow-moving, who spends too much time on Twitter and not enough time swimming (even though she loves it), who goes to sad movies alone because it feels so good to cry, who loves her city but still isn’t sure where to call home, who nurtures succulents on her windowsill and a sourdough starter in the back of her fridge. Maybe I’m not a late bloomer. I’m just anxious for summer and forgot to enjoy spring. Each season has its own vibrant blossoms, so drink them in, drink them in.

what if we already are
who we’ve been dying to become
in certain light i can plainly see
a reflection of magnificence
hidden in you
maybe even in me
– 'Four' by Sleeping At Last


As a Third Culture Kid, I’ve struggled with my cultural identity for years. I’m a blonde-haired, blue-eyed white girl from Texas but my first memories are watching cartoons and eating Kopiko coffee candies with my wrinkled retired neighbor in northern Thailand. We were usually the only “farang” family for miles. I played with the neighborhood kids just fine but I always stood out for obvious reasons.

When I moved to the States, I blended in - a relief for this painfully self-conscious girl - but I didn’t fit in. I was missing years of cultural context. I’ve spent over seven years trying to catch up but I’ll never know the 90s nostalgia my peers experience. At one point, I thought maybe I would fit in with Asian Americans, who too straddle Asian and American culture. But that wasn’t me either. Theirs is an experience all their own.

So where’s home? What culture can I claim? I can’t say I’m Thai. I’m not. So I’ve learned to downplay my Asian influences for fear of overstepping my bounds as an outsider. And yet I feel more out of place in a room full of white Texans than I do in a village in northern Thailand.

This return to Thailand has brought the healing I’ve long been needing. On this trip, I realized that although I may not be Thai, I have loved Thailand. The childhood I spent here - 14 years of my young life - has left a permanent mark on me.

This moment with a northern Thai farmer, cutting open fresh coconuts for us in a spontaneous display of hospitality and generosity, perfectly encapsulates the people and culture I have had the precious privilege of knowing. I am overwhelmed with the honor of carrying this affection with me always.


Life is a series of plot twists. And not the satisfying climactic moments you later realize you were piecing together in your subconscious, or those everything-was-leading-up-to-this-moment moments. I’m talking about a cliffhanger at the end of a show that never gets renewed or the credits rolling after an ambiguous ending to a movie that’s several minutes too short. When the storylines I tell myself to survive a severe season are severed, my ability to suspend my disbelief is weakened. Distrust is born. Hope grows harder. Participation is painful. Why dream when dreams are only that? Dreams. Nothing but wives tales. Ghost stories. Urban myths. Bedtime stories for gullible children.

Despite plot holes and muddy themes, I will always have an affection for narrative. At the end of my life, I’ll have some story to tell. Maybe right now I’m far too plot-focused, trying to reduce my life to an IMDb synopsis (Contains Spoilers) instead of the series of impactful scenes and quietly unfolding moments my life was always designed to be. Once again I’m forcefully reminded of how enthralling it is to go in blind.

Adrian PatenaudeComment

Candid shot of the classic Patenaude problem-solving process as we devise a method to take a new family photo during our brief time together this weekend. We're used to making things work as a family, from cheese-less mac & cheese in 1990s northern Thailand to once-a-week digital gatherings across time zones to meeting "halfway" for a family vacation in Italy to celebrating Thanksgiving AND Christmas over a weekend in October. "Where there's a will, there's a way." Our family mantra. Yes, we've always found a way, wedging memories into the nooks and crannies of our lives.

Adrian PatenaudeComment

"I know I [am] lost but [I'll] miss [these] days." – Bleachers

Here I am, 24 years old in ATX. Not where I wanna be (not by a long shot for this idealist) but highschool me would be impressed and middle-aged me will be nostalgic. Risking a mirror selfie in the office bathroom is my personal invitation to occupy this body and settle into this moment.

“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” Annie Dillard

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