We regularly share cultural spotlights of colleagues at Buffer to connect our global group and help us understand each other better.
This is a slightly edited version from a cultural spotlight that we recently featured from Sophie, a Growth Market Manager at Buffer.
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When asked to participate in the Cultural Awareness spotlight, I thought, Which country should I discuss?
I struggled to answer the question Where are you from? Growing up, my perception of myself and who I was would influence the answers.
After much thought and some guidance from Katie I decided to share all the realities of being a Third Culture Kid with you. I also believe that it led me to become a full-time nomad.
My own culture
My mother is Puerto Rican/Spanish and my father is Mexican. However, I was born in Milan (Italy), a country that is not part of my parents’ culture, language, or traditions. I have an American passport.
I didn’t live in America and I never had. I moved to the U.S. when I was 16. I also wasn’t American because of my Spanish accent and the color of my skin. I’m not Italian. I could not be Latin American because my only Latin feature was my blood. I also speak Spanish with an Italian accent so it would usually be obvious.
Who am I then?
I am a global nomad or third-culture kid. A person who grew up feeling that I was both from everywhere and from nowhere. I wasn’t one of those people when I was here and I wasn’t like them either.
This is how Third-Culture Kid/Global Nomad should be defined:
A third culture kid (TCK) a person who spent significant time outside of their parents’ cultural heritage . This is usually indicated by a residence status with an expiration date.
“[He/She] develops relationships with all cultures, but does not have full ownership in any. While elements of each culture can be assimilated into one’s/her life, the feeling of belonging is in relation to other people of similar backgrounds. ”
Although I don’t really want to add any labels to my life, knowing that I belonged somewhere made me feel secure, rooted and understood.
Third-Culture Kid means that I am not part of either the culture of my parents or the culture of the country where I spent most of my development years. I also don’t have a passport from the country to which I belong. I create my own identity, which is called a third culture.
A third culture could include a mixture of foods, traditions and norms from different cultures. These are my personal examples.
Celebrate Christmas as a Third Culture Kid
We would travel to Puerto Rico nearly every Christmas as a family and spend the holidays with my mom’s family. Christmas Eve would see us eat arroz con Gandules (rice with pigeonpeas), lechon Asado (roasted pork), and tostones (fried green plantains). You can also enjoy salsa music and possibly some Cuba Libres.
My Italian friends, as well as most Italians, would go to their mountain cottage to have Christmas lunch. They’d then ski the rest of the day. Growing up, I envied them.
As a Third-Culture Child, you can move to another country.
My family and I moved from Milan (the largest northern Italian city) in 16 years to Solvang (a small, quiet town with Danish-style architecture, many wineries, and a lot of people) together. It was very traumatizing, and I felt a culture shock. To finish my senior and junior years, I was accepted into high school. However, it was difficult for me to integrate with the other students my age.
My sense of humor was different from yours, and we had different interests. It was long past the days of sitting in a cafe with friends, sipping cappuccino and eating cornetto while chatting about life. It took me several years to realize that I was misplaced, bored, and misunderstood.
Languages spoken by Third-Culture Kids
My parents spoke English at home, but I went to Italian kindergarten, primary and secondary school. I also learned Italian when I was with friends. It is well-known for its dialects. Milanese, Romano, Toscano, Napoletano. However, I spoke Italian with a Milanese/Northern Italian accent. I didn’t understand how the Italians spoke their dialect. Although the dialects are gradually disappearing, they will still be taught to the younger generations by their Italian grandparents.
Third-Culture Kid at Family Gatherings
My immediate family was the only ones I saw, so I seldom saw my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. My dad’s side of my family moved to California in the summer. They had come to California as part of the Bracero program. We also traveled to Puerto Rico during winter to see my mom’s family. My grandparents spoke Spanish and I wouldn’t be able to communicate with them because I didn’t learn Spanish until much later in life.
As a Third-Culture Kid, Music, Movies and Pop Culture
My friends grew to love the classic Italian music of Mina, Vasco Rosi, Lucio Dalla and Jovanotti. I was raised on American Classic Rock, Salsa and Lucio Dalla.
Although I feel extremely fortunate to have been raised with this music, I remember feeling pretty out of place at parties and small gatherings when all my friends knew all the lyrics to the Italian songs. They were often surprised that I didn’t. The same applies to the Italian TV shows and movies. Because I was not raised with them, I didn’t know many cultural references, sayings, or jokes. In a country such as Italy, TV, music and movies are a huge part of how people interact and communicate.
How I became a nomad by creating my own culture
Since I have moved many times throughout my life, I can’t really say that I have a home I call home. It was one year ago that I realized this after moving to California from Italy. At the time, I believed Milan, Italy was my home. However, when I returned to Italy after moving to the U.S.A, I found that I was less Italian and was told by friends that I was now more American. This was the harsh reality that I faced. It was the first time that I realized that I didn’t have a place to call home.
It makes sense, considering my cultural heritage and the fact that I have multiple identities, that I chose to become a full-time nomad. Because I felt at ease moving around and experiencing different cultures over time.
In February 2020, I made the decision to travel as a nomad for the first time. At the time, I was living in San Francisco. The company I worked for went bankrupt and closed down. Everyone was fired. The question of what next came up for me. In San Francisco, I was very unhappy. My life felt stale and I felt trapped. I was unable to find a job, so I could think back to the times and places that made me happy.
Answer: Traveling was my best option. I found that I was most happy in new environments and challenged myself to be outside of my comfort zone. I made the decision to travel around the world and became a nomad.
Although I’m certain most of you know the term, I will share it below.
A Global Nomad is someone who lives a mobile, international lifestyle. Global nomads aim to live location-independently, seeking detachment from particular geographical locations and the idea of territorial belonging.”
My goal was to be a digital nomad and live an international lifestyle, while making a living online. I applied to only remote-friendly and, most importantly, fully distributed companies.
Buffer was the perfect company to help me realize my goals. Buffer was on my top list. I keep finding myself having to pinch myself to remind me how fortunate I am to work in a company that supports this kind of lifestyle. This was a rare situation at the time. Joel and all those who supported it were incredibly helpful.
How to live a nomadic life
Although there was a lot of thought involved in how I began my nomadic lifestyle, I will try to keep it short and focus on the important things that can help others who are considering one. Here is how I approached my nomadic lifestyle.
- My apartment in San Francisco was vacant so that I wasn’t tied to my monthly rent or utility bills. I moved back home with my parents. I donated or sold all of my furniture, kitchen appliances, clothes/shoes, and other items. I kept only the essentials.
- While I was still at home, my search for a remote job allowed me to work from anywhere in the world.
- I began to make a list of countries that I would like to visit, as well as the things I wanted learn. My list was quite long. In the meantime, I researched gadgets and other items that could help me be a nomad.
- Next, I had to pick my first spot. Due to covid-19, the list of countries was getting smaller so I chose to stay with the EU.
- Then, I set myself two goals: learn to surf and learn a new language.
Other factors I considered were that I wanted to travel to a new country, and that I wanted my first country (reliable internet + easy meeting new people) to be welcoming to nomads. So I chose Portugal.
Next, I had to book my plane ticket and arrange my first place. Then, I had to trust the process. The most frightening moments are those weeks leading up to your first flight. Everything in your body is telling you not to go and fear begins to set in.
Did you know that physiologically there is no difference between sensations and symptoms of fear or excitement? It’s important to remember this and smile when you feel afraid of where your journey will take me. It’s easy to get on the first plane.
These are my top tips for starting a nomadic life:
Be light and efficient when traveling. It is a regrettable thing when I take too much stuff.
Before you travel, set personal goals and use them to help you get where your heart desires to be. Two goals were set for me: learn/improve a foreign language and learn how to surf. Portugal was the first country I chose to visit, and Central and South America followed.
Additionally, I set a goal to read one book about each country I visited. This book must be about the culture or history of that country.
Do not try to plan everything. My best experiences were those that didn’t have an itinerary. You can only do so much research, and locals have the best advice. Book your first flight (one-way) and your accommodation. Meet new people, ask questions and make friends.
You will always find someone who has done the same thing as you and can give you all the best advice. You might also meet someone local who can help you find the best authentic experience, no matter if it’s the restaurant or bar they frequent on weekends with friends.
Reliable internet is essential for digital nomads. There are many places that you won’t be able to travel to as a result. Ask about the internet speed of your potential accommodation before you make your booking. If they don’t have internet access, find a nearby co-working space or café that does.
When I was traveling through South and Central America, it felt great to know that there was a Selina nearby or in the city. Selina, a hostel for digital nomads, also offers co-working space.
Facebook Groups are one of the most useful online communities that I have found. Type in “digital nomad”, “expat”, and the location you are visiting to find the right Facebook Group for you. They discuss everything from restaurant recommendations and rental cars to meeting up with fellow digital nomads.
What is the best length of time to stay in one place? It’s not a good idea to stay less than two weeks. Only after the second week do you really get to know the place and decide if you like it.
Experience, work, live, and travel. Volunteer your time to help the community.
These are some photos that I took on my travels:
I hope you enjoyed this write-up and gained some insight into the life of a nomad. This lifestyle is something I enjoy and am a huge advocate for. We appreciate your time and interest.
Follow Sophie on Twitter to learn more about Buffer’s culture.
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