Culture · Expatria · Istanbul · Third Culture Kids · Wendy


What better to illustrate adaptation than an orchid?
What better to illustrate adaptation than an orchid?


They say that adaptation is one of nature’s most painful of processes, and for the seasoned traveller, it is no different. After having not only travelled, but lived in many different places, one begins to realise that it is impossible to be the same person everywhere. Behaviours that are acceptable in America are not acceptable in Europe, and vice versa. Just about anywhere you go, there is a shifting of self and personality that must take place in order to adjust to the new place. I suppose this is why so many people can’t stand ‘those’ Americans who travel and behave like jackasses no matter how inappropriate it may be. Because those people have not mastered the art of adaptation. They have no need to. Soon they will return to their bubble where their behaviour is indeed appropriate, many times never the wiser.

But, for those of us who have travelled and lived in ‘foreign’ places our entire lives, adaptation becomes a whole other thing. When I was younger, it was easy to adapt. My mind and personality were far more malleable, and I was far more open to the things the world had to offer. After Wendy’s death, all of that changed. The trauma brought into stark relief how violent and disturbing the process of moving, travelling and living in other places has become for me. The subtle shifts in personality that I used to thrive on, that made up my personality and character, now cause me intense amounts of discomfort, pain and sadness.

Maybe there is only so much adapting a being can take before it has overadapted and begins to fossilise. Because that is how I am beginning to feel when it comes to traveling. I am getting too old to be adjusting myself all the time. It takes me much longer to figure out and adapt to new situations, and the adapting process is awkward, uncomfortable and even unnecessary. The simplest questions like “Where are you from?” and “How can you not like California?” or “But Istanbul is such a wonderful place, why aren’t you happy there?” become the most intrusive of intimate questions I no longer feel the need to discuss as openly as I would have years ago.

In fact, I find those questions rude. Is it acceptable to ask someone about their sex life minutes after meeting them? No.

Is it okay to dredge up the trauma’s of a stranger’s past? No.

But these questions that I find exceedingly intimate, are not considered so by the inquiring stranger. And it is I who is considered rude for not wanting to answer them.

Adaptation is a painful process. It gets more and more painful each day. We were made to adapt, this is true. But on this kind of scale? There is so much to be gained from this kind of worldly life, but how much is lost in the adaptation process? How much of our roots melt away as we tear them up time and time again? How much of ourselves do we leave behind in each place, whether we have been there for a moment or years? Will it get to the point where there is no more me left, only a collection of places where I lived? When does adaptation stop and the act of being begin?