Growing up as a third culture kid (TCK) had its perks – the traveling, sightseeing, cross-continental relationships, etc. I was unique growing up, a Latina from El Salvador, in the midst of Eastern Europeans. I stood out, was called the “spice” of my class, and I must say, I didn’t mind it at all! I rarely felt discriminated upon, and although my family had different traditions and values, we managed to integrate into the Romanian culture and call it home.

Fast forward some years, and I find myself in the U.S. as a freshman attending what is known as one of the largest Christian Universities in the world. I never felt so lost and alone as I did the day my parents said their last goodbye and left me in an empty bedroom, in a foreign place, with no friends, and barely anyone to turn to. Talk about culture shock! It was during those four years of college that I struggled the most with my personal identity.

When people asked me where I was from, they expected me to say I was from some State such as Cali or Florida, either that, or Mexico. But, when I would start my tale of where I was from, the expression on their faces would become a bit incredulous. Some had never heard of Romania, while others would be in awe of the fact that I lived 30 minutes from Dracula’s Castle. At the beginning it was fun to throw people off. Somewhere along the way though, it started to become a hassle to explain myself to people, and to make them understand. So I began to hide and avoid being around people or circumstances that would push me towards that. Little did I know how much that would actually end up affecting me. I allowed other people to define who I was just because I had become weary of doing so, and preferred seclusion to exposure.

Fast forward again, and I find myself as Graduate Assistant in the Psychology Department helping develop a GNED Psychology course that would aid students in defining who they were. It was during that time that I learned that I had become an avoidant, believing that the world around me was the problem. That realization was the starting point of my journey to becoming secure. I began to let people into my experiences, my vulnerabilities, insecurities, and my culture. I began to own the fact that I am a Salvadorian that was raised in Romania, who speaks English like an American, Romanian like a native and Spanish as though I had lived in Spain. My sense of style is more European, but personality wise I am a sassy Latina. I have lived in the U.S. for over 7 years, and yet I still have a hard time grasping Southern culture, and refuse to say “yall”.

Through my Graduate career and my experiences as an Intern Counselor I have learned that my cultural diversity is not something to be hidden, but an asset to be proud of, and used to benefit those around me. I learned that when I am secure in whom I am and embrace the complicated mess, I can have a greater impact, and better serve the people around me.

One of my favorite authors, Donald Miller, expressed this idea best in his most recent book, Scary Close: “The whole experience makes me wonder if the time we spend trying to become somebody people will love isn’t wasted because the most powerful, most attractive person we can be is who we already are, an ever-changing being that is becoming and will never arrive, but has opinions about what is seen along the journey.” Now, as a more secure individual, I realize that I do not need to be accepted in order to be loved or understood. But rather, through embracing who I am, I can welcome in those who dare to embark on the journey of exploring the inner me.