In Gaia's first post for ESG, she reflects on the disconnectedness of being a "Third Culture Kid" (growing up in many countries as her parents moved around for work, including Italy, Switzerland, France, England, Scotland, and Saudi Arabia), then spending four years in the US for university, where she forged an unexpected connection with the Fourth of July. Last week, she celebrated her first 'American Independence Day' since leaving the US and shares her mixed emotions...


Before

It feels like freedom and fireworks and everything I ever thought I wanted. 

The Fourth of July is a day everyone on the Gregorian calendar has; it comes and goes each year, but the Fourth of July is an American mystery to me at this point. I know why it gets celebrated, but I don’t necessarily understand it beyond that. 

I haven’t felt its significance throughout my family’s history or as a marker of time for my childhood summers or through a pounding headache at a coffee shop the morning after. I’ve heard of "America the Brave" and "America the Great" and "America the Evil," and I try to wrap my mind around all its facets and reconcile that with the picture perfect image of the Fourth or July that I’ve memorized. 

But in my five and eight and 13-year-old mind, it’s the biggest party ever thrown. A party I dream of, somehow, getting an invite to one day.

Mike Sinko Photography

Denver, Colorado - the city where I experienced my first Fourth of July. Photo credit: Mike Sinko Photography https://www.flickr.com/photos/mikesinko/ - Instagram @ mikesinkophotography

During

It feels like a college acceptance email, a new address, and a return plane ride. 

My first 'during' is actually spent outside of the US, already back home (or more accurately back to my home-away-from-home) for the summer. I spend it in a long white night of alternating between the blue tinted screen of FaceTime and looking up at Riyadh’s pitch black sky (in Saudi Arabia), wandering if I’ll ever join the party in person instead of through a friend’s screen. 

My new college friends all send me Snapchats so that I’m not missing out on the fun. 

It feels like loneliness.  

There’s a Fourth of July where I’m supposed to be meeting a friend to watch the Colorado fireworks and eat grilled peaches and burgers, but the plans fall apart and I’m left waiting on my doorstep in the cool evening wandering what to do with myself. 

There’s a later that day on the same Fourth of July where I’m a part of the party, and though no one points out that I’m the odd one out – a foreigner – it’s obvious in subtle ways. The elusive invite to "America’s Party" finally arrived, but it didn’t come with a 411 on how to attend. 

It feels like friendships and comfortable hugs and spontaneity. 

There’s a sort of party and it’s nothing like the ones I dreamed of as a child, but it’s everything I could have ever hoped for, and so much more. The food tastes like summer, her hand is in mine, and the sky is exploding with lights and glitter. 

It feels like first loves and whispered promises and the ultimate freedom. 

Something about the magic happening above us and the way the air tastes of freedom makes me feel like time has stopped.

Time hadn’t stopped. The countdown to my visa’s end date was still somewhere in the back of my mind. 

It feels like endings and starting over and 'see you laters' that seem more like goodbyes. 


After

It feels like iceless water, a too-quiet office, and pretending like it’s just another average day. 

It’s comfortably weird in the unconventional inexplicable kind of way that happens often in a life of well worn suitcases and new addresses. I’m holding on to a holiday I still don’t fully understand, from a country I don’t live in anymore, whose current political climate is deeply polarized and confusing for me to try to navigate from afar.

I want to say something about the things I keep reading of America - in newspapers, in Internet comment sections, in people’s unspoken thoughts when they hear my now-Americanized accent...My words feel hollow. Who am I to speak so strongly about a country that isn’t mine?

I write a heartfelt social media post about America and the Fourth of July and delete it before posting it. I buy myself strawberries and whipped cream and blueberries. Red, white, and blue. I don’t even like whipped cream. 

It feels like wishing I was back there and and writing 'color' and 'favorite' and 'organize' into every sentence possible that day to the mock horror of my British colleagues.

My mom wishes me a Happy 4th and my best friend does, too. We joke about BBQs and cats. The text from the US I thought I’d get never comes, probably lost in the same postal system as this year’s invites to the Fourth of July party.

It wasn’t lost, though, or at least not forever. I may not be in the US anymore, or be an American today or ever. But I was part of the US for a while and it’ll always be a part of who I’ve become. In good and in bad, both ways around. I can’t say I love every single piece of America, but I wholeheartedly love it for what it has taught me, for what it has given me, and for all the potential it holds. 

I fall asleep in the middle of London on the fourth of July to an empty, quiet sky. 

It feels like freedom and fireworks and misplaced melancholy. 

My photo confession: these fireworks aren't Fourth of July ones, but America has always had the best fireworks...

The Fourth of July means a lot of different things to people all around the world. I still haven’t figured out exactly what it means to me, and I’m not sure that I ever really will. All I know is that I am grateful to have experienced so many different sides of it already. 

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