Mexico,  Missionary Shenanigans,  Parenting

Clearly We’re New Here: Moving Back to the United States and Another Culture


Are there any two words more filled with trepidation for a middle schooler than “new school”? Well, maybe “avocado prices,” but that’s probably more for the moms.

Plop that middle schooler in a new country, state and city, and you’ve got a recipe for a confused kid.

According to sociologist David C. Pollock,

“A Third Culture Kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.”

Though they’re American citizens, one child has never lived here, the other one doesn’t remember living here, and neither have ever been to a U.S. school.

Have you ever felt like an outsider?


Day One

He wanted me to walk him in, so we avoided the drop-off line and pulled into the parking lot.

“Oh, Buddy—let’s get a picture in front of your new mascot!” Public schools in Mexico don’t have mascots so he didn’t understand the big deal, but he agreed with a sigh and set his backpack down.

His metal water bottle popped out, clanked onto the concrete so all could hear and rolled into the drop-off lane. Not familiar with such lanes, I stepped down to grab the bottle with my peripheral vision focused on my son and our impending photo.

The minivan mama obviously didn’t anticipate the actions of a new girl from Baja, and kept accelerating until my right arm and her bumper almost got friendly. One glorious set of brakes and three surrounding gasps later, I acted like that was normal where I’m from.

Have you ever been so embarrassed you acted like you weren’t?


I was hoping his first day wasn’t destined to be as rough as his brother’s first day a decade ago:


Day Three

Since we love new challenges and looking like morons, we decided we’d try to swing through the infamous unloading zone. I left the States with a pre-schooler so I never ventured through one, and we didn’t have such things in Porvenir, but I immediately noticed there were three lanes, not one.

‘Cause I’m observant like that.

But only one lane is for drop-off. Hence the black and red lines keeping me up against the curb, right?

The über-friendly crossing guard waved cars through, but nobody seemed to unload; they all just kept driving. I pulled up to the gate, stopped at the portable stop sign and smiled at the guy in the vest. Brock was about to jump out when I got the wave.

Not the, “You look new. Welcome to our school!” wave…. More like the “This is not where you stop, lady. Please keep moving forward.” wave.

So I’m not supposed to stop at the stop sign?

“Can you let me out here, Mom?”

“Apparently not, Son.”

And around the loop we went.

“Where are you going, Mom?”

“I’m not sure, but I think I’ll just copy the lady in front of me.”

How often do you fake it till you make it?


Day Five

“Did you eat with the same guys again today?”

“Yes, but I feel like I have no freedom at lunch. We all have to sit down so we don’t choke. We never had to do that in Porvenir—they just let us walk around and play and eat all at the same time. Why are they so worried about us? I only choke like ten times a year and it’s just on water!”

“Other than that was it a good day?”

“It just felt like a lot of learning and no recess.”


Do You Know How to Pledge? 

When our family drove into our old town I pointed out the familiar white words on the side of the hill.

I liked that the phrase was still there and asked our youngest, “Do you know what that means, Bud?”

“Uhh… something about Billy Graham?”




“Evan Almighty?”

“I’ll give you a hint. Indivisible…?”


I turned to the backseat and smiled. “Nothin’?”


During the second week of school he came home and declared, “We have to say the Pledge of Allegiance every day!”

Pleased to hear that still existed in public school I asked, “Oh, cool—do you know it now?”

“I think so. I pledge allegiance to the flag, of the United States of America. One nation, for which it stands… with justice… wait. I don’t know.”


Day Ten

Talking about his brother’s high school he asked, “It goes Freshmen, Sophomore, Junior, Senior, right?”


“Freshmen? Why does it have to just be men? Why isn’t it Freshmen and Fresh-ladies?”

So when I say everything is new, I mean Every. Single. Thing.

“Are stop lights on timers? Why are we just sitting here?”

“These trash cans are so cool—they have wheels!”

“It seems like people waste a lot of food up here.”

“Why don’t we have to wear uniforms? I don’t think I have five tops and bottoms that go together.”

“The strip of grass between the road and the sidewalk where no one ever walks? What’s it for?”

“How come people put wallpaper on their walls?”

“We get Thanksgiving off, right? A whole week? Yesssss!”

That November break might be one of the keys to helping these third culture kids like their new country. That and a massive grocery store down the street.


Bonus: Morning Music

For the past six years I’ve been walking Brock to school and it has always taken us five minutes or less. Now we’re driving for 20. It feels long, but we chat, zone out, and usually rock out at least once a day to something that probably makes fellow drivers wonder why the heck we’re so bubbly.

Lately it’s been because of Toby Mac and Hollyn’s Lights Shine Bright. Better crank your volume and get ready to move–with a Jamaican flair and sweet beat, it’s a rad reminder to be lights in dark places, especially at school.

And in traffic.

Oh, sweet Jesus… help this country girl from the trees and dirt keep it between the lines.


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  • Millie

    Thanks Carrie for sharing. They will never be quite like the others on the inside either, and that’s a plus. Reminds me that our son thought all children spoke Spanish even if they knew English too. The neighbor kids couldn’t figure out why they couldn’t understand him when they were playing.

    • Carrie Talbott

      Oh my gosh–I love that your son thought all kids spoke Spanish. That’s adorable. Thanks for your encouragement, Millie; it’s nice to know that you understand firsthand!

    • Carrie Talbott

      Exactly. Hope we can connect with some of those families so we can all bond over authentic food and international border stories. 🙂 Thanks for chiming in, Cordelia!

  • Veronica Drinkward

    Hehehehehehe – your humor definitely punctuates the craziness of the why???!!!! Why DO we do these things… thanks for reminding us all to be quicker to love than to judge!

    • Carrie Talbott

      I have no idea why we do things the way we do up here, but every country has their “things.” Not right, not wrong, just different. Thanks for your words, Veronica!

  • Carin

    Wow!! It is amazing to think of how many things like you mentioned would be weird and why’s!! Amazing article , great writing Carrie. Makes us think about others more often

    • Carrie Talbott

      Gracias, amiga. It’s a pretty strange place to be, for sure. I’m sure it will wear off eventually, but for now I like seeing my original culture through my boys’ (Mexican) eyes.

    • Carrie Talbott

      You’re right, Brenda. Gotta keep remembering to watch for the lessons through the little things. If only I can keep from joining the SoCal rat race. Yikes! Hugs back.

    • Carrie Talbott

      Amazing how much of an impression a move can make, even on young children. And you turned out great, Susan! I have hope. 🙂