A third-culture kid's quest to find a place to call home

Turning her back on the US, Caroline bets on chaotic Ethiopia

05 December 2019 - 11:51
'A Road Called Down on Both Sides: Growing Up in Ethiopia and America'.
'A Road Called Down on Both Sides: Growing Up in Ethiopia and America'.
Image: Catalyst Press

Today the term “third-culture kid” is all over the internet. It has become a huge field of research, but when Caroline Kurtz grew up, only a handful of misunderstood kids knew what it was like to never belong. Those children, with parents in the missionary, military or diplomatic fields, had no support and no one studied their needs.

Kurtz grew up in the remote mountains of Maji, Ethiopia, in the 1950s. Inside their mud hut, living with her missionary parents and three sisters, she enjoyed an American family life.

Outside, her world was shaped by drums and the joy cry; Jeep and mule treks into the countryside; ostriches on the air strip; and the crackle of several Ethiopian languages she barely understood but longed to learn.

Finally, she returned to the US, a country she did not understand, despite her upbringing. Kurtz felt like she had been exiled to a foreign country when she went to college in Illinois.

After completing her studies, she returned to Ethiopia to teach, only to discover how complex working in another culture and language really is.

Life under a communist dictatorship meant constant outages - water, electricity, sugar, even toilet paper, but she was willing to do anything, no matter how hard, to live in Ethiopia again. Yet the chaos only increased - guerrillas marched down from the north, their T-shirts criss-crossed by Kalashnikov bandoliers.

When peace returned, Kurtz got the chance she’d longed for, to revisit that beloved childhood home in Maji.

Maybe it would have been better just to treasure those memories ...

  • Article provided by Catalyst Press, an imprint of LAPA