Working with Jump! for almost one month has been a life changing, eye-opening, and overall extremely eventful opportunity which I never thought possible in the working world. Coming from a family where my father was in the hospitality industry for almost three decades gave me the opportunity to see the world through a lens only the fortunate few, who we call ‘third culture kids,’ get to experience. My mother is Dutch and my father is American; I was born in the US but stayed there only until my first birthday when my international journey began. My family moved every two to three years, changing schools more often than most people change their pair of shoes. I have to admit growing up in this type of environment wasn’t easy, making new friends and meeting new teachers every few years was a challenge, especially as a young boy.
Having said that, I believe that these experiences gave me the ability to confront situations with an open mind and an open heart. Growing up in so many different countries and cultures, in Holland, Egypt, France, Australia, and China, gave me the ability to connect and integrate well with the expat community, but most importantly for me, the local community and culture. Due to the identity crisis we all face as third culture kids, it’s important to understand that who we are is a result of all of our combined experiences. It’s not just about where we were born or where our parents come from because it would be unfair for us to assume that we come from any one country.
On April 9th 2013, I experienced something that I could never have imagined only one month before. My awesome colleague, Dan Kinzer, and I went to meet with Concordian International School in Bangkok for a partnership development meeting. We arrived about an hour early and decided to head to the cafeteria where we were confronted with a queue of young kids lining up for their lunch. After finally getting our lunch cards, we grabbed our food and sat down at the smallest tables we could find; this was a bit of a challenge considering Dan is approximately 6 foot 5 inches and had to squeeze his legs under the table.
As we were eating our lunch, I thought about how international schools impacted me in my life and how they made me who I am today. I went on to tell Dan that there was one teacher in particular who stood out the most, my high school economics teacher at Shanghai American School who had been quite hard on me. I particularly remember him sitting me down with my mom at a parent-teacher interview telling us that I wasn’t ready for university and that I should take a gap year. This intensely frustrated me as a young adult because nobody wants to hear that, especially working so hard to get my IB diploma. As I was telling Dan this story, I looked across the lunch room and, sure enough, the same teacher who told me a decade before that I shouldn’t go to university was standing there at the lunch counter talking to a student. I was shocked, dumbfounded and any other word you can come up with was going through my mind.
As he walked past us, I told Dan that he was the teacher I was talking about. At first Dan thought I was joking, but eventually he saw the expression on my face which said it all. I didn’t say anything as he walked past, just stared and wandered what to do. Eventually, I told Dan I didn’t think he would remember me anyway; teachers have so many students every year and teach for so many years, how could he possibly remember me? Dan said, “That’s not true, I have had thousands of students in my teaching career and I could remember almost every single one of them if they were in front of me.” A few minutes passed and it was time for our meeting with the school’s decision makers. We made our way upstairs and and into the office, sat down with two ladies from Concordian and began our presentation.
Half way through our presentation I looked through the glass window out into the reception of the office, and again, I stopped, dumbfounded, shocked and utterly speechless. Through the glass doors walks my high school chemistry teacher. I couldn’t believe it; a double coincidence. I looked at him and right away he said my name.
“Steffen Lohrmann, what are you peddling this time?”
I couldn’t believe it; not only did he know my name, but he remembered my West Side Story performance as Tony and that I was working in the hotel business for a number of years. After the presentation he asked me why I made the switch from the hotel world and the corporate environment. I told him I realized it’s not about the money and the projected power, it’s about making a difference. A lot of my friends from high school pursue the very careers I once thought was the right path, but it drives them to a point where it becomes just about the money and the power of feeling like you’ve made it. What is success? I don’t have the answer but in this stage of my life I realize that it is but a state of mind. I believe if I can utilize my experience as a third culture kid and the knowledge from my education, I can change the world, even if it’s one tiny step at a time.
As I walked out of the office side by side with my high school chemistry teacher, I couldn’t help but ask to see my old economics teacher who I saw in the lunch room earlier. As we made our way back down the stairs, my chemistry teacher mentioned to Dan that I wasn’t the greatest student, and yes I was a bit of a rebel in high school but that’s who I was, and that’s what makes me who I am today. If it wasn’t for my old economics teacher telling me that I was not university material, I wouldn’t have set out to prove him wrong and finish my BA faster than any of my other peers. As I approached the door to his classroom, I felt overcome with emotion, all the built frustration I had over the years I didn’t know what to do. But as the door opened, and he was told that there was a surprise waiting outside for him, I couldn’t help but see his face and give him a huge hug. Sure enough, he remembered exactly who I was, who I dated in high school, and that my father was from New York just like him.
Again I couldn’t believe it, I felt so overcome with emotion, not that I was crying because that wouldn’t go well with my rebel reputation, but I felt I had to hug him again. After chatting for a few minutes, we said our goodbyes and I was told not to be a stranger, but the message for me was never to assume anything. Although teachers may seem harsh in some respects, or you may feel like they are pushing you down, treat it as an opportunity to rise above. I did, regardless of being told 10 years ago I wasn’t university material, I just recently completed my MBA and am now working for a fantastic organization that I feel can make a difference.
Dear Mr. Lohrmann,
Hi, I am a journalism student at NYU writing about Third Culture Kids. Would it be possible for me to interview you regarding your TCK experiences sometime in the next week? Please email me at email@example.com and let me know. Thank you very much.