I wrote an article on my life as a Third Culture Kid in the Big Chilli magazine about 3 years ago and it gave me some clarity about my identity. For a very long time, I thought I had a strange upbringing especially when comparing myself to other people who came from one place, one culture and one ethnicity. Since I was raised abroad, I struggled defining my own cultural identity and came across difficulties when answering the question “Where are you from?” Well, I was born in Winchester, moved to Hanoi then Ho Chi Minh City then Bangkok and my mother is Chinese and my dad is British.. Long story. I was always envious of people who had one-word answers for that question.
I thought I was alone in feeling a sense of rootlessness and a strong lack of belonging, but in high school a teacher told me that there is a name for people who feel the same and who have a similar lifestyle. Children who are brought up in foreign countries are called Third Culture Kids. It is someone who has spent an important part of childhood and adolescence in foreign countries. The third culture emerges from an amalgamation of two cultures, the home country of the parents and the culture of where the family currently resides. This was a phenomenon that was becoming widespread.
The more I read about it, the no longer I felt the need to fit in with one cultural group. As human beings, we have this intrinsic need to belong, and this is shown through our social norms like putting your nationality when filling in official documents or sticking with people from the same place and who speak the same language. People are reassured when they know that they belong somewhere because it gives them comfort and security. I realize that as global citizens, we shouldn’t be limited to one cultural identity, because all of us including our ancestors must all come from a variety of places. The truth is, we shouldn’t place a person in one category or fit them into a box where everyone expects them to be. As a TCK there is a greater freedom in not meeting the conventions of a specific category.
Being a TCK comes with its advantages. Not only do we have an unlimited access to travel, but also a natural ability to speak languages. We are cultural chameleons who can adapt to unfamiliar surroundings within seconds. Sounds ideal at first, but it conceals the daily challenges we face. It is often a struggle to be always moving to a new place, because you come across this feeling of discomfort, especially when you are oblivious to the societal conventions or completely lost when it comes to the slang or the jokes your friends use, or either totally excluded if everyone speaks in a different language.
For TCKs the concept of home is very different to how most people conceive it. For me, home was never a concrete place. Home was a feeling. And it was mostly people who remind me of my home. Because my family has never owned a house where I grew up in, I can find my home anywhere, really.
In the end, the most important thing is to accept who you are. It’s great being able to learn, travel, appreciate culture and diversity, and most of all not be afraid to make mistakes. We shouldn’t be pigeonholed into one category. All of us come from a variety of places like the roots of a tree. Ultimately, what we should look for is not to fit in or to belong to a particular group, but for an acceptance of ourselves and of others regardless of their differences.
Read my full article here: Confessions of a Third Culture Kid
Link to the Big Chili Magazine (p. 76-7): https://issuu.com/thebigchilli/docs/the_bigchilli_august_2015