GUEST POST from Sonia Marsh: Where Do I Belong?

I am pleased to have Sonia Marsh with us this week.


Sonia's Photo headshot

Sonia is the award-winning author of the travel memoir Freeways to Flip-Flops: A Family’s Year of Gutsy Living on a Tropical Island and founder of the “My Gutsy Story®” series. The first anthology in that series, My Gutsy Story® Anthology: True Stories of Love, Courage and Adventure From Around the World, was a silver honoree in the 2013 Benjamin Franklin Digital Awards.
She offers “gutsy” book coaching to authors, as well as Webinars and Workshops. Contact her at: or visit her website:


And, if you subscribe to her free “Gutsy” newsletter, you’ll receive two bonus prizes.

I’ll list her social media links at the end

Sonia, take it away ….

Where Do I Belong in this World? I have no roots

My adventure started at the age of three months, when my Danish mom and English dad decided to raise me in Nigeria, a country in West Africa. There I grew up with a Great Dane to protect me from the occasional thief who broke into our family’s colonial house outside Lagos.


Sonia, mom, and Skjold in Africa
Sonia with her mom and Skjold, her Great Dane in Tarkwa Bay, Nigeria


When I was six, we moved to Paris, and three years later, my parents sent me alone on a plane from Paris to Los Angeles to visit my cousins. I guess you could say I started my “gutsy” adventures at a young age. In 1983, I moved from Paris to California to start a new life. I was twenty-five and met my husband, Duke through an ad in a magazine.


I have lived in eight countries: Denmark, Nigeria, France, England, Scotland, Belgium, Belize and the U.S. I’m an adult TCK (Third Culture Kid) and like other TCKs, have developed a sense of urgency that life is to be lived now.


[NOTE from Janet here:  For more information on TCKs, a term first coined by sociologist Ruth Hill Useem, see the Wikipedia article.

At another site, you’ll find a fairly extensive and sometimes entertaining list of typical TCK qualities.  E.g., You consider a city 500 miles away “very close.”
- You get homesick reading National Geographic.

For a serious book on the topic, see Third Culture Kids at]


TCKs have no roots, and we ask ourselves questions like, why am I searching for my paradise?

I’ve spent my entire life searching for paradise and finally realize that paradise has to be found within myself. This was the conclusion I reached after writing my memoir: Freeways to Flip-Flops: A Family’s Year of gutsy Living on a Tropical Island.


FFlipFlops-s Cover


Comparing cultures is one of my favorite pastimes, and the following are my observations as an adult TCK, with the first 25 years of my life living in the UK, Europe, and Africa, and the last 30 in the U.S.


Competitiveness and Self-promotion: Since living in the U.S., I’ve noticed how much we talk about ourselves (me included) and our work, as though we’re being interviewed and have to prove our worth. Not taking vacations and working 70-80 hour weeks is something we seem to admire. From conversations with people I meet, the American work ethic is so ingrained that taking several vacations a year is viewed as being “unproductive” or “lazy,” which is not the case in Europe. People in Europe seem to have a more balanced life.

I prefer the work/life balance in Europe where studies have shown that after a 3-week vacation, Europeans are more productive at work than Americans who don’t take time off.


Bragging about ourselves and our kids: It’s more common to hear people talk about their successes and accomplishments in the U.S. I know I’ve started to do this more and more, and sense that it makes my dad and European friends slightly uncomfortable. They don’t brag, even if they’re successful.

Often with sports, parents brag about how their kids came in first place, or how they’re on the varsity water polo team. Even in elementary school, several parents bragged about how their kids could read at 6th grade level when they were in 2nd grade. I’ve often thought that if all this is true, the U.S. must have the smartest kids in the entire world, which if you look at education statistics, is not the case.


Professionalism: In the U.S., we expect professionalism. Americans, used to watching professional singers and actors, are far more discerning. When an ordinary person, like me, makes a speech, we expect a good “performance.” I believe this is due to our media, Hollywood, and the entertainment business in general. This industry is world renowned and Americans, from childhood are used to seeing a higher quality of showmanship.


I think Europeans put up with “lower” standards than we do. If you watch the “European Song Contest,” a big deal on European TV, many of the singers wouldn’t even make it through the first round of “American Idol.”


Praise/Compliments: Americans give and accept compliments easily. Europeans see this as superficial and phony. I’ve told my friends things like, “I love your hair,” and they give me a funny look.

I think we’re used to praising our kids more here than in Europe. We think it builds self-esteem.


Money: Many talk about money and, as a society, we admire people who are rich and famous. Europeans don’t talk about how much they or anyone else makes. I’ve noticed that money comes up frequently in the U.S., especially in the media.


Lawsuits:  People are so used to hearing about lawsuits, and when I hear teens talk about suing, I realize how ingrained this has become in our way of thinking.


Politics: I’ve heard several people say that you’re not supposed to discuss politics and religion, as these are personal topics. I think it’s interesting to learn from others, even if you don’t agree with them.

People here become very defensive if you express your views. They take it so personally if you don’t agree with them. I love the way the French can discuss abortion, homosexuality, racism and other topics as a debate, rather than as a personal issue. In a way, I find people more tolerant of others’ views and willing to see many sides and discuss them, rather than it’s my way and that’s it.


Eating Habits: Americans have become accustomed to large portions . I didn’t realize this until we travel abroad, and I saw that even a yoghurt container is half the size in England, compared to one in the U.S.


Fear Factor: The U.S. media plays on people’s fears. After a bombing in a shopping mall in Kenya, the female journalist asked, “Should we fear the same in the U.S.?” The response was, “Yes, this is probably where the terrorists will target us next.” The female journalist looked appalled and said, “Oh, no. Not our shopping malls.”

I saw a sign at the doctor’s office that said, “You think a safe place for your baby is in your arms. It can also be one of the most dangerous.”

Why does the U.S. media bombard us with messages to make us scared and fearful?


Please note these are my personal observations, and I realize they are based on where I live now, in Orange County, California. People are different all over the U.S., however the media does affect all of us, and one thing I truly miss from Europe, is how they take an interest in the global outlook. Unfortunately, “news” in the U.S., seems to be more about entertainment than about people in other parts of the world.





Sonia, thanks so much for sharing your observations here with us.  I’m reminded of that famous line from Robert Burns’ To A Louse,

O wad some Power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as ithers see us!  


Your observations are consistent with many I’ve heard, and some I noticed myself when I first returned from the Peace Corps: how large our food portions are, how prevalent is that urge for “immediate gratification,” among others.


I’m so glad to be reminded about Third Culture Kids, too. It points up for me how much I take my own sense of rootedness for granted. Taking something for granted is a bit like sleeping, I suppose. We don’t generally know we are doing it until we stop.


Surely, this is one of the many gifts of culture clash — we get to think about, understand, parts of our own culture anew.  And you know, some of us transplants put down new roots more easily than others.



How about you? Are there behaviors or values of your own culture that you once thought of as universal? 

AND, please note that Sonia has offered to give away a copy of one of her books:



FFlipFlops-s Cover

to one of our commenters.  I’ll announce the lucky winner on my Facebook Timeline on Sunday.

Here are more of Sonia’s various links:


Facebook Page

Facebook Group:   Gutsy Indie Publishers





Phone: 949-309-0030


30 Responses

  1. Marian Beaman
    | Reply

    I have been an admirer of Sonia Marsh from afar and today I am happy to see her showcased up close and personal (the American way, implied in one of her points!) With her credentials as world traveler and TCK, she has an authentic and credible voice on the topic. A Danish Mom, an English Dad, and a Great Dane to protect her in Nigeria, an auspicious beginning.

    Sonia is one gutsy, enterprising woman. No wonder she is always on the cutting edge, compiling stories for her amazing Gutsy Story anthologies, one example. Thank you, Janet, for featuring her today.

    • Sonia Marsh/GutsyLiving
      | Reply

      Marian, I thank you for reading my post. You’re also a Gutsy woman Marian. So all together, we can move along and help others follow their passions and not postpone their dreams.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Marian. Hers is quite a story. Big enough a few more memoirs I think (hey Sonia?). Imagine flying alone at age 9. Of course, at age 8 I was taking a bus and subway to go to day camp all summer. It was a different age. Thanks for joining us. I value your visits.

  2. Sonia Marsh/GutsyLiving
    | Reply

    Janet, Thanks for letting me express my views about not having roots and the differences I’ve noticed between my life in the U.S. and my life in Europe. I know you have a memoir coming out about your life in the Peace Corps which I cannot wait to read.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Sonia. One of my favorite pastimes when I travel overseas is to ask locals what the “stereotype” is of their country, and then ask what is it of a neighboring country. I always get entertaining answers. We don’t do that in America; perhaps because we are so big and our biggest neighbor is even bigger! But in Europe the various differences are ever present. Here, I think we are sometimes so taken with the “melting pot” idea of homogeneity that we are blinded to the really interesting (and sometimes challenging) differences among us. I thank you very much for offering your list.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Shirley, and welcome. I’ll get the tea. It would once have been coffee, but alas, as I age … You get the cups. Sugar anyone? So good to have you and I LOVE that the CommentLuv widget (or gizmo, whatever it is) gives me a quick peek at your last blog. I love it.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Sonia, It’s been a busy morning, thanks to YOU. Thanks too for your help in tweaking how I post the blog links to FB. Live and Learn. I just read your current GutsyLiving story and now have tears in my eyes and can hardly see the screen to type. Thank you very much for that, too! 🙂 Lots to be thankful for, hey?

      • Sonia Marsh/GutsyLiving
        | Reply

        Janet, Lots of wonderful comments here. Thanks for asking me to post, and yes, Benny Wasserman’s “My Gutsy Story” is something else. What an inspiration!

  3. Kelly Boyer Sagert
    | Reply

    Great blog post! I’m glad that I read it.

    I’ve never lived outside of the United States. I find it fascinating to hear cross cultural comparisons, but have none to contribute from personal experience.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Kelly, Thanks for stopping by. I love the title of your recent post. And, as I recall, there are cross cultural comparisons to be made between Cleveland’s west side and her eastern burbs. Lots of differences all around us. I’ll be out that way again next week. We should set something up.

    • Sonia Marsh/GutsyLiving
      | Reply

      Kelly, have you traveled outside the U.S.? If so, I’m sure you’ve noticed cultural differences. Thanks for your comment and I’m sure you don’t feel “rooless” like I do,

  4. Shirley Hershey Showalter
    | Reply

    I feel like I’m with a group of friends at a party this morning. Thanks, Janet and Sonia for sharing this set of perspectives on US/Europe.

    My Mennonite culture has many similarities with Europe, both because of ethnic ties and also because of shared suspicion of the unseemly pride and competition in the American marketplace.

    Most of us become blends of cultures, and you, Sonia, are a great example. I loved the way Marian described you above.

    Three cheers!

    • Sonia Marsh/GutsyLiving
      | Reply


      That’s really interesting; the Mennonites’ similarity with the Europeans, or perhaps parts of Europe. I hadn’t thought of that. I had lunch with a friend from the U.K. whom I went to boarding school with at 14, and she is out visiting her son in San Diego. I asked her about differences she has noticed, and she said, that money is so much part of everything on the radio, TV etc., and she mentioned all the drugs advertised on TV, and how different TV ads are here than in Europe.

  5. Dody
    | Reply

    You are such a FORCE(!), Sonia 🙂 and, as you know, ‘Flip-Flops’ is one of my favorite books because it exudes ‘Sonia,’ the deepest layers of your personhood. Thank you for being true to ‘you.’ I nodded my head while reading this post. Although I’ve not stepped foot outside of the US, my reading choices have taken me everywhere. Twenty years ago, I bought a pin that says, ‘All One People,’ with a photo of our earth. I still have it. Before mother-sitting, when I was group counselor at an alternative school, my favorite series was, ‘Points of View.’ Once they got going, the students bantered around views re: religions, communities, cultures, subcultures, the U.S. The discussion always ended up with students exploring world cultures and views. I may not keep up with you, Sonia, but I do keep up with those gutsy stories: they take me places, within and without.
    Thank you, Janet, for featuring Sonia. She always revs up my motor!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hello Dody. I loved your description of the “Points of View” segment. Sounds like you already have a wide-world point of view, without getting on an airplane. Much to be said for that. And I enjoyed your excitment for Sonia. Good to have you join us today.

    • Sonia Marsh/GutsyLiving
      | Reply


      You amaze me with how much you read, “travel” through stories from authors on the internet. I cannot thank you enough for your help in promoting my books, as well as so many UK authors and others from around our wonderful planet.

  6. Victoria Twead
    | Reply

    Hi Sonia, Thanks for a very interesting piece. Being somewhat of a nomad myself, I read it with interest, nodding with agreement at certain sections. I shall hunt down your books. Janet’s forthcoming book about her Peace Corps days is going to interest many folk too, I think.
    Victoria 🙂

    • Sonia Marsh/GutsyLiving
      | Reply


      Good to meet another nomad. Are you a TCK (adult) like me? I need to check out your site. If you have a “My Gutsy Story” you’d like to share with my readers, please let me know. Thanks.

  7. Linda Kovic-Skow
    | Reply

    Hello Sonia, nice to see you here on Janet’s blog. Such a great article – I hope all is going well with you.

    • Sonia Marsh/GutsyLiving
      | Reply

      Linda, it’s been a while since I met you via “My Gutsy Story.” How are you, and how is your 2nd book coming along? Thanks for stopping by. I’m off to Paris in May for my dad’s 89th birthday, as well as volunteering in Spain. Are you in Paris now? We could meet.

  8. Jerry Waxler
    | Reply

    Hi Sonia,

    Thanks for sharing these thoughts – after reading your memoir about living in Belize, during which you are an ex-pat, I realize you are an ex-pat everywhere – or maybe a better label would be multi-pat. By writing your memoir, you allowed us to the world through your eyes. Perhaps one reason it’s such a good book is because those eyes have seen the world through so many perspectives.

    (Thanks Janet for hosting Sonia.)

    Best wishes,
    Author of Memoir Revolution

    • Sonia Marsh/GutsyLiving
      | Reply


      I like multi-pat, Jerry. We could also call it a “global-pat.” One problem with people like myself, is we tend to see the pros and cons of each place, and keep dreaming that there is one place for us in the world that has nothing but the pros; we just keep searching for it. However, as I mentioned in my memoir, that place is within us.

  9. Kathleen Pooler
    | Reply

    Thank you for sharing your world views, Sonia and Janet. We can all benefit from your well-traveled perspectives. Sonia, it was fascinating to experience Belize through your memoir and to now share in how your multicultural background and experiences have shaped your perception of our American culture. Your points are so practical and insightful. I found myself nodding through the whole post, especially about how we Americans value work over leisure/ vacation time. After visiting Italy last September, I saw for myself how Italians live in the moment and and truly enjoy the simple pleasures–mostly family and food. And my stepson lives in Germany and tells us of his 6-week vacation time. Thanks for featuring Sonia, Janet. I’m looking forward to your memoir as well. You both transport us to other countries and we don’t even need a passport!

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Kathy, your comments are always insightful, generous, and wise. And I thank you for them. Special congratulations too, as you launch your own memoir.

    • Sonia Marsh/GutsyLiving
      | Reply


      I am glad you had a chance to visit Italy-your roots- and see how people enjoy living in the moment. I think their food and the importance they place on meals with family and friends, plays a great role in their enjoyment of life. So luck I have other memoir friends. As Jerry Waxler says, we are living the “Memoir Revolution.”

  10. Janet Givens
    | Reply

    Hi Jerry, Thanks so much for stopping by, and bringing us a new term: multi-pat. Very apt. 🙂 I’m honored to have you.

    And Victoria and Linda: Welcome. The gravitational pull of the We Love Memoirs FB Group is strong, so I’m particularly happy you got here. Good to have you.

  11. Penelope James
    | Reply

    Hi Sonia,
    As a TCK myself,I enjoyed your incisive observations about cultural differences (US vs. Europe). They are all spot on. Your observations about bragging and competitiveness, in particular, address the American cultural need to stand out more, and for each person to blow their trumpet louder than the next. Perhaps that is why this country’s obsession with the “self” has become a cultural addiction not found as much in countries where people have less time/money/need/pressure. However, blowing one’s trumpet loudest is what has made this into the great country we know. Just have to learn how to do it.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Penny, Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment for Sonia. One big (yet unanticipated) advantage for me in having guest bloggers, it that they expand my own circle. That’s certainly been the case with Sonia’s posting.

      I visited your site at [TO MY READERS: just click on her photo] and found it very appealing. Reinventing ourselves, finding that our lifelong story has changed, is certainly a theme that many can resonate with (me too). I look forward to learning more about you.

  12. Ronny Herman de Jong
    | Reply

    Dear Sonia,

    Thank you for your very interesting interview, and thanks to Janet for hosting you. I had never heard about Third Culture Kids before, but found it fascinating to read.

    Born and raised on a tropical island in the Dutch East Indies, now Indonesia, my
    parents sent me to the Netherlands for higher education when I was seventeen. I’ve lived in New York, Pasadena, CA, Hilo, HI and currently live in Prescott, AZ.

    I can agree with your comparisons and find them right on! I quickly feel at home most anywhere, but revisiting the places I have lived is always a joy, because part of my roots are still there. I call them “air roots” like the ones orchids have. I have “air roots” in many places.

    Can you imagine: we lived in Hawai’i for twelve years, and last month, after thirteen years, we went back to Hilo for a three-week vacation and we stayed on our former property in what used to be our carport! Talk about roots! The new owner enclosed, extended and upgraded our former carport and it is now a vacation rental, a very nice studio, with 5 acres, tropical flowers and birds to enjoy.

    I’m looking forward to reading your books.

    • Janet Givens
      | Reply

      Hi Ronny. What a nice surprise. Sonia is off in Spain doing good work, so I’ll just pop in and say welcome back. It sounds like you’ve found a good balance between that TCK history and yet also enjoying roots deep enough that you can return (I loved your carport image). Culture, for me, is an endlessly fascinating world, just like the people in it.

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