Mental Health Impacts of Moving
By: Sanjana Mehra, Contributing Writer
Edited by: Olivia Storti, Editor; Eve Nevelos, Editor in Chief; Valeri Guevarra, Founder/Executive Director
From one place to the next,
no breathers, no rest.
Just when I was in my golden,
I get hit with what I least expect.
Being a third culture kid and constantly changing environments can have drastically different impacts on different people. Although I was born in Mumbai, India, I was only 6 months old when my family moved to South Africa. I began attending pre-school there and we lived in the beautiful country for 5 years. It was quite the change for us when we moved into a much more industrial setting, Singapore. Living there for 4 years had massive repercussions in my growth. Before our next move, we stayed in London for a couple of months. Despite the fact that I did begin getting attached to the country, I wasn’t affected too much by the news of moving once again. Next, at the age of 9, we moved to Bangkok, Thailand. Despite our time here being short-lived, the cultural impressions this place had on me were drastic and still stay with me. 2 years later, I moved back to Singapore. From ages 11-15, living in a modern and diverse country has really shaped my personality, fostering independence, curiosity, and open-mindedness within me. Finally, upon very short notice, it was decided that we would be moving back to Mumbai, India. I was not prepared at all for this move. Difficulties arose since this move was both taking place during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was rather spontaneous. I was extremely impacted by this and felt quite helpless. It was difficult to see the positive side of the experience since I was entirely focused on everything I was losing including very close friends, a brilliant school, and a comfortable daily routine.
In 15 years, I have lived in 5 countries, studied in 9 schools, and stayed in 11 houses.
The exposure to different cultures and lifestyles throughout my life has been really fascinating to me. A lot of my personality and identity is shaped around these cultural influences. It has made me much more open-minded and curious to understand more about the world. It is also useful to be a bilingual student. I was introduced to and learned a variety of languages including English, Afrikaans, Hindi, Thai, Spanish, Latin, and Chinese. These cross-cultural skills have proven to be very beneficial when learning as I am able to gain a whole new perspective on certain news, events, and festivals. Many third-culture kids (TCKs) are also quicker to grasp new languages and concepts. It is also more likely to incorporate feelings of sensitivity and empathy to different people. Personally, I have been able to resonate with more people and gain more understanding of them. The independence and early emotional maturity I gained are both qualities that clearly reflect in my personality. The characteristics have been very useful to me in learning and growing through different times and spaces on my own. A huge advantage is that third-culture kids often become the probable and apparent choice in job hiring. They are culturally intelligent and understand inclusion and diversity in workplaces. They have high tolerance levels and brilliant problem-solving skills, making them quite the ideal student or member in a workplace.
Although it is expected and more likely for TCKs to become better at forming deep relationships, friendships, and becoming ‘social butterflies’, I began developing the personality traits of an introvert. I eventually became very shy and now prefer to spend time alone, rather than with others. This is because I worry about and fear having to lose or break the close relationships I form with people around me. Therefore I prefer not to get close and attached to others. I believe this is also common amongst children brought up in numerous places. I often get asked “where are you from?” or “where is home?” from new friends, my school, and even strangers. This very commonly asked question results in sudden feelings of unresolved grief, conflict, and rootlessness. Often parents will encourage you to designate their home country as home. This becomes difficult to do, even for me, since there is a lack of emotional and cultural attachment to the place, never having lived or experienced it. This leads to bewilderment and uncertainty about their personal identity. They may struggle with a lack of belonging to one community or loyalty in relationships. Another drastic mental health impact that can come from being a TCK has increased the risk for depression. Since their lives are filled with constant unfamiliarity, loss, and strangeness, they are constantly imposed with more conflict which can have immense impacts on their mental health.
Moving this often has shaped me. I have never really felt at home in any place I go but I do long for the feeling of living in one place, around friends I’ve had since I was a child. On the other hand, I feel extremely grateful for being exposed to such a wide range of rich cultures which have shaped my identity into what it is today.