Eliza Cole’s passage to a Third Culture woman was precipitated by the Great Recession when her father lost his job.
She was pulled out of college to move back to living in a tiny fishing village in Maine. The 19-year-old girl could see only two choices: go to a free community college, or give up her independence as a fledgling feminist. She had resisted being the “popular girl” who used to bleach her hair platinum and wear pushup bras and accept the script written for girls in her rural culture: marry the lobster fisher boy next door and work in the local drugstore until she had babies.
Her free-spirited mom saved her from that fate. “Don’t listen to what other people expect you to do,” Lindy Cole told her. “Don’t apologize or ask permission.” Her mother suggested a third option: Take a gap year and travel to learn about the world.
Thrilled by the prospect of proving herself, Eliza found a free bunk in Charleston, South Carolina, with a classmate’s family and worked as a waitress for half a year until she saved up enough to travel Europe alone for five months.
Her epiphany came when she wandered, alone, with nothing but a backpack, through cafés and conversations in ten European cities.
“All of a sudden, people put into words for you what you’ve been noticing for a long time. I thought, 'oh, it’s called patriarchy. And it’s everywhere.'"
It was as if she had traveled to the moon in order to see the earth. She returned to rural Maine ebullient with confidence and new dreams. Her father had found another job so she was able to go back to college.
But emerging from the end of her coming-of-age passage, she suffered a mild depression – not uncommon for those who dare to move out of their social milieu. Eliza felt she had grown beyond her peers in her new world view. “I feel shrink-wrapped,” she confided to her mother. But once Eliza settled into preparing for a career in the social sciences, she felt blessed that she had been tested by her self-chosen adversity.
When it comes to marriage, Eliza has told her mother she wants to remain single indefinitely. That may well be a passing phase. But it is a typical phase for Third Culture women who make a passage toward independence early in their twenties and are determined to put off family-building until their early 30s or later.