Culture,  Identity,  Lifestyle

Growing up in the United Nations (Pt. 1)

Ever wondered what a life living in some of the world’s most historic countries would be like?

While a life of travel and adventure has its struggles, many from the outside wonder how life in the United Nations is like.

What dangers do you face in countries with political unrest? Do you really get to live in hotels and luxury apartments? Do you really have to go to bomb shelters?

For starters, the United Nations is an intergovernmental organization founded in 1945, tasked to maintain peace and security in the world after the horrors of World War II.

As I venture into the next phase of my life in hopes of working in the field of international and community development, I thought I would ask the person who grew up in the United Nations itself – my mother.

I sometimes feel that I’ve lived separate lives – with a pieces of my heart and identity left in each country I have called home.

For her, the world truly is her home.

From the artistic luxuries of Europe, the historic richness of the Middle-East, to the high-rise apartments of Asia, she has seen it all.

Here’s part one of my interview with her.

1. In general, what was it like growing up as a daughter of a United Nations Officer?


Growing up as a daughter of a United Nations Officer was undeniably exciting because we lived in countries one would otherwise have chosen to live in since they were not the most peaceful nations at the time.

Growing up within the UN compounds was extraordinary because of the bond formed between people from 5 continents with one collective goal – to help prevent and resolve conflict between nations and build lasting peace in nations emerging from civil wars.

To this day, I have a special bond with the UN kids I grew up with. “Les Nations Unies”, true in every sense of the organization’s name.

What a privilege and honor it was for my father to have played an integral part as an Officer in the Peacekeeping Operations, and I feel so blessed and fortunate to have benefited from it.

I am incredibly proud of my Dad.

My mother, Marilous (right) with friends


2. How many countries did you live in and travel to during your father’s tenure?


We lived in 3 countries for 3 to 4 years respectively. In between living in these countries, my family and I traveled to about 15 countries around Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

My father though, has traveled the world having been assigned to missions across 4 continents, many, torn by conflict.


3. Which destination was your favorite and why?


Israel


In terms of countries we lived in, my favorite was Israel, the Biblical Holy Land and the cradle of mankind.

One of the main reasons why, is because we lived in Jerusalem, the city holy to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and is considered the jewel in the crown that is Israel. As young as I was then, I was deeply fascinated at how the 3 major religions converged within the walls of the historic Great Wall.

I would witness the Jews reciting prayers at the Wailing Wall, sacred to Judaism; Christians on their knees praying at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, one of the most sacred sites in Christianity; and Muslims performing their ritual prayers at the Al Aqsa mosque, better known as The Dome of the Rock, the third holiest site in Islam. 

All sectors have somewhat learned to coexist despite clashes and disputes over the years.

Having been born and raised a Catholic, it was an absolute dream to live, walk, and breathe the land where Jesus once walked on a daily basis. Here is where I learned to be tolerant and respectful of all religions and beliefs.

I was also enthralled at how the ancient walls and ruins dating back to the Early Bronze Age entwined with the modern city that is Israel. 

Having said that, I can’t write out the other two countries that complete my being a TCK.

Photo by Haley Black on Pexels.com


Egypt


Egypt was where I first experienced culture shock as a child.

Fresh off my home country, everyone looked so different, bigger and taller, with strong and hairy facial features, big Roman noses, clad in their traditional jalabiya garments and keffiyeh. Little things like this can be intimidating for a little Asian child. 

I loved Egypt for its rich history dating back to the time of the pharaohs. One can imagine just how gloriously majestic the iconic Pyramids of Giza and the Great Sphinx are for grown adults, let alone in the eyes of a child, with the vast desert as a backdrop.

Not to mention the millennia-old monuments of pharaohs sitting along the Nile River,  the hieroglyph-lined Karnak Temple and the Valley of the Tombs.

I still vividly remember one of the school field trips we had on papyrus making – paper used in ancient times as a writing surface made from the pith of the plant, cyperus papyrus.

How unique is it that my school’s diplomas (Cairo American College) were made of papyrus? I wish I had one, but I graduated from high school elsewhere. And how especially unique is it to have the Pyramids of Giza as your graduation venue?

Again, I wish, just because. 

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Photo by Andreea Ch on Pexels.com


Pakistan


Pakistan, the melting pot of Indian, Afghan, Persian, Central Asian, South Asian and Western Asian influences was where I spent most of my teenage years.

People are very friendly and hospitable, but during our time there, gender segregation still strongly existed in non-urban regions due to the Islamic and tribal influences. This was yet another culture shock, and it was quite daunting to get used to in the beginning, especially as a teenager.

Wearing their traditional dress at times, the beautiful shalwar kameez, helped me ease into their culture.

I had many favorite things about Pakistan – people; food that is to die for; lively music; their plethora of styles in craftsmanship like their famous truck art, wood carvings, copper work, beautiful and colorful fabrics to name a few; breathtaking landscapes; a maze of mountain ranges such as the famous K2, a challenge to mountain climbers; and Srinagar in Kashmir with beautiful, nostalgic English style Houseboats lined across the romantic Dal Lake. 

All these destinations, each, glorious in its own right, has opened my eyes on how different, yet similar, and how big, yet small the world can be.

These unforgettable destinations, and the people I have met and had the privilege to know along the way, have greatly enriched my life and shaped me into what I am today. 

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Photo by Aa Dil on Pexels.com


Athens, Greece


In terms of other destinations as a tourist, I have two favorites. One being Athens, the heart of Ancient Greece.

Again, because of its fascinating history of powerful civilization and empire, the site of some of the most important architectural masterpieces in the world. You set foot on the Acropolis, the colonnaded Parthenon temple, and you are amazingly taken back to the 5th century BC.

My thoughts circled around the Greek gods and goddesses and ancient mythology that we learned in school, and  the ancient Olympic Games which was originally a religious festival in honor of Zeus, the father of the Greek gods and goddesses.

Athens was where I first experienced a sunset at almost 10:00 pm. 

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Photo by Josiah Lewis on Pexels.com


London, UK


And the other favorite, London, another city with a history dating back to Roman times, home of the British Monarchy.

But I especially enjoyed the West End because of my love for Musical Theatre. I made sure to watch some of the biggest theater productions at the time.

And because there was no language barrier, I was fearless of getting lost as I explored the city in search of theatres, hopping on and off London’s red double decker buses and the Metro (back then, we didn’t have the luxury of Internet and Google maps), making the most of my nights in London watching some of the biggest and most spectacular theatre productions such as CATS, Phantom of the Opera, Les Miserables, Miss Saigon and the smaller production of Guys and Dolls.

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Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com


4. How has your experience growing up as a UN daughter and TCK shaped your life and worldview?


Growing up as a UN daughter and a TCK has molded me into a more independent, resilient, brave, tolerant, empathetic, less prejudiced and judgmental person because of my exposure to many cultures and lifestyles.

I was fortunate to have friends composed of different nationalities which added to my knowledge and understanding of their respective countries I have not lived in/visited, by getting a taste of their food, a glimpse of their traditions and lifestyle.

All these have helped me have an expanded worldview, to be more accepting of differences, and be a proud citizen of the world.


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Marjon is the Creator of Third-Culture Thoughts. A political nerd and basketball enthusiast at heart, he writes about everything related to culture and the international experience.