The Bottomless Cup

Category: psychology

The Third Culture 1: Musings of a Global Nomad

I would first like to apologize to those few who read my blog regularly for the lack of updates. I’ve been busy catching up with this semester’s work as I had joined college a few days later due to my lost passport. I hope to write regularly again.

The fact that that some of my blog readers have called me an “American Puppet” who posses a very western view of the world didn’t help either. Those who possess such a view have certainly not understood the purpose of my blog, as it attempts to find common patterns of humanity regardless of any political ideology. Sadly, ideas such as human rights appear western to us.

Speaking of patterns, I am taking an introductory course in sociology this semester. As my final project, I am going to study the lives of Third Culture Kids (TCK), particularly the common patterns of seclusion, indecision and delayed adolescence. This is something personal to me, because being a TCK myself, I have seen how frustrating it can be trying to fit in to one particular culture, and how your varied interests lead to confusion.

The term “Third Culture Kid” (TCK) is defined as an individual who, “as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more culture(s) other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture.” (Eakin). When I first started the study, I asked Maheen (my sister) about how she felt her life was different being a TCK, especially when we first moved from Germany. The first thing that she said was that she felt she was more childish than our cousins and other children our age. I remember us being called “Germany kay Janwaar” (The Animals from Germany) because were considered more immature and hyperactive than other kids our age. Apparently, this trend is prevalent across most most TCK’s because they tend to be restless individuals whose varied exposure and mobility leads them to crave for excitement in the most childish way.

Having lived more than half of my life outside Pakistan, I still identify with the most and try to hold on to the Pakistani culture. Yet, I don’t believe I truly fit in anywhere. The only people I can identify with is other TCK’s and thank God so many of the students in Education City are like me.  In the time I have lived in Pakistan, I’ve barely made any friends but I continue to try. Over my three years in Education City, yesterday was the first time I attended one of the all-Pakistani Eid events and had a blast, thanks to the generous hospitality of Basit & Navid’s parents. However, I continue to be uncomfortable in an environment of a single culture, but I think I am getting there!

I’ve tried very hard to fit in, but I guess its okay as long as you have other TCK’s like you. TCK’s aren’t better or worse than non-TCK’s, we’re just different.

I am still not sure how much my introversion plays a part in this, but I can definitely relate to the stories of other TCK’s I read about online.

I will be doing extensive research on this and will continue to report my findings.


Eakin, Kay Branaman. “ACCORDING TO MY PASSPORT, I’M COMING HOME.” US Department of State Document Archives (2004).


Suspending Judgment: Bringing out the Anthropologist in Us

“The purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences.” – Ruth Benedict

My trip to Rwanda was so much more than service; I was able to learn a lot from this extraordinary society that had gone through so much and was now stronger than ever. The lessons that I learnt from simply observing were meaningful; and as I was talking to this McGill anthropology graduate student, I realized that I was an anthropologist in my own way. Jessika was a courageous person; she came to Rwanda all alone to study the effect of ICT in learning and the role the government can play in it. What makes her even more courageous was that she was completely uncertain of what the future would hold; she had not received a visa that gave her the license to do her study, she knew barely anyone in the country and more importantly, she was pursuing a career that did not guarantee her any kind of job security. Yet, she was visibly happy with what she was doing, and was a tremendous support to all of us.

During our conversation, she was telling me that the purpose of anthropology was bridging the gaps between “stereotypes and people”, which leads to explanations that can “open people’s eyes.” To do that, she has to firstly suspend any kind of judgment (which is probably the hardest thing to do!) and become a first hand observer.

Some of the names of the victims of Rwandan Genocide at the Memorial we visited. Photo by Joshua Debner

What she had taught just helped me articulate my thoughts on Rwanda. However, what I was unable to do was to suspend my judgment, as I was exposed to so much negative media about the African continent. The images of an underdeveloped, uncivilized and poverty stricken Africa is all i saw before visiting Rwanda. When I got there, I saw probably the best display of civility I have seen. The roads were very clean, and I had barely seen any kind of littering. Crime was almost non-existent and I felt very safe there. However, what completely astonished me was that the society was so ordered; people were busy doing their set tasks, and one could see that everyone on the streets had a purpose. The people were very friendly and well mannered, and everyone dealt with us very professionally. I think Pakistanis can learn a lot from the Rwandan People, particularly how they rose from the tragic genocide that appeared to have devastated the country irreparably.

Our global leaders need to do the same. When applying a certain policy and when dealing internationally, they need to suspend their judgments and make an effort to base these judgments on first hand interactions. This could in fact be a solution to world peace; because not only can we appreciate and understand differences, we realize the similarities in our humanities. If politicians were anthropologists, they could perhaps prevent wars that are based on human differences.

Anthropology could also enable learning; I myself have been wondering how there could be so much peace in a country that saw so much violence and devastation in he past. Pakistan is going through a similar phase, where it is not only battling with terrorism, but also suffering from inter-sect wars, which is probably our own version of the Hutu-Tutsi war. I wish to do more research into how this problem was possibly solved. Once I am done, I’ll be sure to dedicate a blog post on that.

Writer’s Block, Introversion & Discomfort Zone

I’ve been suffering from a writer’s block ever since I’ve got done with classes. Last Night, I was trying to figure out what to write about till dawn. Many people claim that there is no such thing as a writer’s block, but I think that that is just a defense mechanism against this very phenomenon. As I searched the internet over how to overcome writer’s block, one of the common cures was a change of environment. And so I clip_image002am here, sitting in Café Vergnano at the pearl, facing the sea and the boats to get my inspiration back (view on the right). Yet I am still sitting here waiting for that burst of inspiration.

The idea about writer’s block had made me think a lot about what moving out of one’s comfort zone means. The past year has made me move out of my comfort zone in so many ways, and despite it being extremely hard, it has been very fruitful. I moved into a new university, changed my career options and moved out of the what to expect.

There were times when I felt like I was falling through the cracks, and there was nothing familiar for me to hold on to. The only constant were my Cornell friends, whose support and advice was invaluable to me. The fact that I was an introvert didn’t help either.

I was doing a career test with Jumana (my counselor) and she was telling me what being an introvert entails. Introverts have no relation to shyness. It’s a matter of where one gets one’s energy from. For extroverts, it is people and for introverts, its their “down time”, that couple of hours of solitude. Therefore, if I am meeting unfamiliar people throughout the day and don’t get that down time, I get so exhausted and stressed. I remember how people thought I had a secret girlfriend that I call because I would stop hanging out with the rest of the group after getting back to the hotel at night during Pittsburgh.

Why then, would I feel the need to get out of my comfort zone? Because despite the anxiety, the satisfaction I get after I face my fears gives me a high. I never want any of my fears to hold me back. My future holds many such challenges, and so I’m planning ahead. As i go to Rwanda, my friend Fatima’s word come to my mind – “Be yourself. Everyone will have a lot of fun around the funny you.” I hope that is the case.

I still didn’t get the inspiration I was looking for. I guess I’ll just post this.

Recipe for Happiness 4: Friendship

Like any child, I’ve been instilled with values that my parents have learnt throughout their lives. In fact, I think I take their idea of right and wrong as my guide for life. However, over time, as I have faced my own life lessons, I have been able to challenge what they have taught me. My father used to tell me that friends are not important, as they come and go. This, having resonated in my mind since I could remember, has made me into a person who does not open up to people that easily. To the contrary, I used to take pride in the idea that I do not need to make friends, as needing friends was a sign of clip_image002weakness. I think this idea spreads across upbringing in the south Asian culture, and hence could be a possible explanation of the lack of social and the abundance of academic skills that we possess.

Don’t get me wrong, I was in no way a loner. I just didn’t think friends were an important part of my life. This idea got me into a great deal of psychological mess as I came to live alone here in Qatar. I realized that the only way for me to survive is to have trustworthy friends. After a very long time, as I made friends, I realized the joy that friendship can bring. The meaning of friendship changed for me.

I therefore wish to explore in this post the basic need for friendship and affiliation, and how it relates to happiness. Of course I need to do some research as I really hesitate in giving any opinion without scientific evidence to prove my point.

Happiness is infectious. It should come as no surprise as we watch movies and also real life events where we see other people’s happiness and we get a smile on our faces. However, the effects of such happiness are underestimated to say the least. Research done at the University of California, San Diego has significant evidence to prove that happiness is contagious for up to three degrees of separation, as there is a chain reaction that starts off when one person is happy. What’s even more surprising is that this happiness affects people for a year. And guess what? Its not the other way around – sadness isn’t contagious. This enough should be evidence that friendship results in happiness (of course I am talking clip_image004about it in terms of the bigger picture).

An even more interesting research was done in the UK (Warwick University) where it has been found that the amount of extra income one would need to compensate for the lack of friends (and still be equally happy) is £50,000.

I don’t remember the source, but I watched this podcast on positive psychology  and the psychologist was talking about how social interaction can reduce our depression over an issue. I think this is important because we tend to shut ourselves out whenever we hear bad news, as that is the easiest thing to do. I encourage everyone to force oneself to socialize even more during a hard time, as I myself have seen its positive effect. It wasn’t long ago when I would just sit at home and “sleep out” a bad day, only to wake up and feel worse.

I think adding Aristotle’s idea of happiness is appropriate here, because it has been something that has been stuck in my head ever since I’ve heard it. He believed that happiness is achieved through, what he called, “practical virtue” which he refers to as the best kind of happiness. This is based on friendliness, truthfulness, ready wit, lack of shame, balance of ambition and control of anger. All these are virtues of a good friend.

If this kind of happiness cannot be achieved for whatever reason, one should attempt for intellectual happiness.  (see my previous happiness post on Creative Happiness and the idea of “flow”.)

I remain an introvert, and I need my own private space every day. But that in no way means that my friends are any less valuable to me.

Recipe for Happiness 3: Creative Happiness

The first thing that I would like to mention is that I realized I haven’t really written about my inspiration behind the Happiness Series, so InshaAllah I’ll include a page called “Themes” where i discuss the rationale behind the themes I discuss.

This post is special to me because I hope that it will encourage my readers to take a step back and think about exploring their creativity. I’m sure we’ve all done some activity to blow off some steam, like listening to music or watching a TV show. However, a few of us actually have a creative outlet and even fewer of us actually relate that to our careers. Research has shown that people who have creative hobbies are less stressed, depressed and of course have more of a sense of purpose.

There are many interesting researches that one can find on the web that corroborate with the idea that having a creative hobby increases happiness. I relied again on my friend TED to find some inspiring talks on this topic. The most interesting lecture I found was by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi who has been one of the pioneers in the research of positive psychology. His take on creative happiness was from a scientist’s perspective (go science!) in which he related happiness to the amount of cognitive resources needed in a creative assignment. He found that  when one is doing something creative (that involves both skill and challenge), one is in a state of a creative “flow”. This state requires so much brain power and attention that one forgets one’s identity.This is a state of  suspended existence. It is precisely that moment when one forgets about one’s problems or worldly issues and is in a state of ecstasy. He actually talks about the traumas post world war II and how people were never able to recover, and one of his reasons for that was that they never had creative activities to take their minds off what had happened.

Many people are unsure about what creative hobbies to pursue. I found these steps by another blogger very interesting.


  1. List 20 activities that you have enjoyed over the last ten years. For example, going to the seaside, having friends over for dinner, walking in the country.
  2. List 10 activities that you do not do, but think you would like to pursue.
  3. Make yourself a promise now to do one activity from each list in the next month. Write down what you will have to do to fit in these two new activities.

Click here to visit her blog.

My Extremely Creative Friends

I would like to take these opportunity to celebrate the creative talents of one and a half of my friends (yes Fatima you’re just half a friend).

I think Hiba is by far the most talented person I’ve been friends with. Not only is she crazy smart, she’s good at almost anything. She has an awesome sense of humor, can play the bass and is an amazing artist. I’d like to share some of her artistic masterpieces on my blog (Hiba you owe me!). image


Click on the pictures above to check out her entire work.

The other is my recent friend, Fatima Mujahid – I’ve been blown away by her photography skills! When i was with her in Pittsburgh, I used to wonder why she would take pictures of the most random things. Then when I saw the pictures themselves and I was amazed at how beautiful they looked. Here is some of her work:

ny! by CarnegieMellonQatarslime n plants.JPG by CarnegieMellonQatar

Again – click on the pics to take a look at some of her other work