So, you’re a Third Culture Kid…
By definition, Third Culture Kid, or TCKs are people who spent a significant chunk of their formative years (0-18) in a place other than their parents’ homeland. They are, literally, citizens of the world. They are defined, not by their passport, but by the infinite number of experiences that contributed to their growth as a human. Their identity is rooted in people rather than places.
I am so blessed for the experiences I had traveling from a young age. In my opinion, there is no better education, and even after leaving home, I have continued to live my life as a digital nomad, constantly on the move. However, like everything, there are downsides to this lifestyle. Here is a comic collection of some of the things we, who have grown up in the ever-changing halls of international schools, experience:
1) You’re constantly greeted by “Oh my god, I love your accent! What is it?”
The truth is, it changes…. All. The. Time.
Dubai (where I grew up) accents generally sit somewhere on the spectrum — or rather, triangle — between Arabic, English and American. When I’m speaking with Arabs, my accent becomes more transatlantic, but when I’m with my sister or with my old school friends, it goes straight back to British. When I’m in the US, the kiwi twang apparently becomes more apparent — because I’m almost always asked “are you part Australian?”, and then, of course, when I’m back in NZ, it settles into the most provincial of kiwi slang.
2) You fit in everywhere
My mum always makes fun of me for this one. When I arrived to study in Paris last year, my mum called me two days into my trip and I proceeded to tell her about my favorite cafe, the friends I had been going out with every day, how there was a vegan supermarket within walking distance, and how I had decided I preferred the social environment in Barbes over that of central Paris. “You’ve been there three days and you have already planted your roots! It’s as if you just transplant yourself, with everything tidily carved up, into your surroundings immediately!”
Because you grow up without the embedded sense of national identity that most people are conditioned to buy into, you can very easily empathize with others. If your sense of self is isolated from socialized customs or practices, then there’s no need to go through the process of detaching yourself from your concept of ‘normal’ that most must endure when they arrive in a new place. You have no normal. There’s no need to be ‘homesick’ when you understand that home is not a place, but a feeling.
3) …But also nowhere
You may ‘slot in’ almost anywhere in the world with immediate ease, but you are also acutely (and painfully) aware that you will never be quite ‘enough’ of one thing. I’m not kiwi enough to be a kiwi; I’m not Iranian enough to not be considered just a little bit of an outsider, and though I was born in the UAE, I’m not Arab enough to fully be accepted as an Arab, as much as I would love to be one! That being said, in Dubai, this is less so of an issue because 90% of the population are not local and, unlike in the states, they know it. Diversity is well and truly celebrated. In their ground breaking book, Third Culture Kid s: The Experience of Growing up Among Worlds authors David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken write that a “TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.”
People don’t understand your taste in music
3) Your party playlist jumps from Drake and Kendrick to Shireen, Babylone, Saad Lamjarred, Toumani Diabate, and more. Just listening to it on shuffle sounds like an opening reception for an Olympics party
4) And you often have to watch movies & TV alone
Sadly, in many of the English speaking countries I’ve lived in, people are somewhat averse to subtitled films! So when you want to watch the amazing new Hany Abu Assad film your friends back home have been raving about, you might just have to do it alone! Unless, like me, you’ve carved out a friend group in your current country of internationals — a bit easier to do in New York, where I study, than other places, I’ve noticed
5) You’re very…. Calculating.
Somehow a purchase feels more justified when its JOD1 (Jordanian Dinar) vs. IRR 45722 (Iranian Rials)
I hit the point of critical mass regarding my progress in mathematics when I moved to Dubai and had to learn how to multiply everything by 2.6 to get the NZD equivalent in the UAE dirhams
6) Facebook birthday wishes keep coming for two days on either side of your actual birthday
Between the US, which is the furthest behind in time zones, and New Zealand, which is the country first ahead in time zones, you literally have the entire spectrum of windows with which to be inundated with messages
7) You feel your heart rate increase and cortisol level rise when asked the question “where are you from?”
Van Recken says TCKs are more likely to speak more than one language, have a broader world view and be more culturally aware. But she warns life as a TCK can create a sense of rootlessness and restlessness, where home is “everywhere and nowhere.”
8) You are only like three degrees of connection away from, like, anyone – AT MOST Literally.
9) Your circle of best friends is as politically, racially, and religiously diverse as the United Nations
10) You know the airline safety video word-for-word
11) No one understands your terms of endearment, which range from hayati to mon chou (my cabbage) to jaan to schnuckiputzi (cutie pie)
12) You have the most peculiar arsenal of curse words to choose from, and no one ever knows you’re swearing at them.
Instead, you just come off as exotic and worldly… “Khange Khordah” (screw up of God, Farsi)
13) You leave the Facebook ‘hometown’ blank because it really, really stresses you out
14) People complain that you are emotionally detached, and saying goodbye means almost nothing to you
When you were younger, leaving around the age where friendships become central to one’s sense of identity, constantly saying goodbye every time you had to leave took it’s toll on you. At first, you felt like a little piece of you left every time you had to say goodbye to your close friends. As time went on and the world became more and more connected, you became a seasoned leaver.
14) You can’t empathize when people complain about change
When things bore you, you just up-and-leave. Granted, it’s probably not a fantastic practice for cultivating coping mechanisms, but it does the job!
15) You are adaptable and sensitive to cultural customs. You’ve had the best education — the world!
16) “You get nervous whenever a form asks you to enter a “permanent address.”
17) You’re the token exotic friend/gypsy/world traveler – and your jewelry collection says it for you when your friends don’t
18) You have friends literally all over the world and may never have to pay for accommodation again
19) You’re, like, stupid reckless
You’re addicted to adventure; you see the good in people everywhere and you know that evil isn’t attached to any specific culture, race or religion. It exists everywhere, but not nearly as much as the good in people. You are a true travel junkie, and an ambassador for the culture of Wanderlust. That being said, you always make sure to stay safe and responsible at all times!
20) You know that “home” isn’t a place, it’s a feeling
With that being said, 65 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced from their homes due to war, conflict and persecution. These refugees and asylees are literally seeking refuge. They want peace and stability, and to be able to resume normal lives as active, engaged and valued members of society. However, the reality for most refugees is gassings, poverty, violence, police brutality and racism almost every single day. They must endure this abuse and indignity, practically without any protection — all because of an unfair world system that favors some peoples over others; a world in which people and political figures in the same countries selling billions of dollars of weapons to create conflict are, in large part, not willing to clean up the human ‘collateral damage’ of their own profitable dealings.
Refugees are not permitted to work in many countries. They are kept in enforced impoverishment despite being both willing and able to work. What they need, more than anything else, is connection and opportunity. Opportunity to empower their lives and prove themselves to be the amazing, talented, unique individuals that they are.
If you want to connect with refugees in your city, anywhere in the world, please join the Facebook Group my non-profit organization, Karavan, started.
If you would like to help us continue to provide free services to refugees all over the world in the realms of education, safety, legal assistance, vocational training, psychological services, leisure/stimulation and good ole’ human connection, please consider joining our movement and contributing to our crowdfunding campaign. We appreciate any donation, small or large, even if all you can give is $2! We promise, whatever you can give is ENOUGH because it is more than a dollar. It is a vote for a world in which resources, justice and the burdens of conflict are shared equally. 65 million people have been displaced, with nowhere to call home. Let’s make it zero, because home is not a place. Home is a feeling.
This article about the Third Culture Kid was inspired by one I saw on BuzzFeed