“Where do you come from?”
For others this question is easy to answer but for Third Culture Kids, this is the main question that leaves them grappling for answers. Where to start? Where was I born? Where did I grow up? Where am I living now?
Global nomads, cultural chameleons, living in between worlds, these are some of the names that Third Culture Kids (TCK) are tagged with. Ted Ward, a sociologist, even named them the prototype citizens of the future. With migration being a global phenomena and creating a borderless world, for TCKs and their families, where one was conceived, grew up or currently living become just a list of places stamped on their passports.
Sociologist Ruth Hill Useem coined the term Third Culture Kids based on her personal experience living in a different country with her children. TCK refers to children who spend a significant part of their developmental years overseas, outside of their parents’ culture/s. TCK integrate aspects of their birth culture and the new culture, creating a unique “third culture”. Think of it as two primary colours, yellow and blue, that when combined makes “green”. No matter how much you try to separate them, one cannot. It will remain green, a mixture of the yellow and blue combined.
A jetsetter life one might say. But to those who can relate to growing up as TCK or as parents bringing up TCKs, it is not always as glamorous as it looks. For parents bringing up Third Culture Kids, here are top three things that your children need to know:
a) As your parents, we may not know what you are experiencing as TCKs but remember YOU ARE NOT ALONE. David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken, authors of the definitive work on the subject, Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds, report that 40 percent of ATCKs (Adult Third Culture Kids) admit deep struggles with intimacy and fears of loss, that frequent, painful good-byes make it harder for them to risk deep connection again. It is good to keep in mind that we are in this together as a family.
Nina Sichel, reknowned author of Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Global reminds parents and those who care to know what TCKs go through:
“So when she comes to you, don’t ask her where she’s from, or what’s troubling her. Ask her where she’s lived. Ask her what she’s left behind. Open doors. And just listen. Give her the time and space and permission she needs to remember and to mourn. She has a story — many stories. And she needs and deserves to be heard, and to be healed, and to be whole.”
Give TCKs opportunities to talk about their fears, their questions and their apprehensions. Allow them to share not just their excitement with the new adventures they are experiencing but also the fears they have of those they are leaving behind, the events that they will miss, and the pictures where they will be not be a part of.
b) Find that Grace of being “in-between”. TCK blogger Marilyn Gardner expressed this sentiment of finding “Grace in the space between” in her post A Third Culture Kid Talks About Raising Third Culture Kids. Living in the present is the best gift that parents can give to their children and for those raising TCKs this might be an even more daunting task. But remind them that as TCKs they have the advantage of learning about the world far greater than what you, as their parents, have experienced. Take all these in, savour what it feels like to know and go beyond your cultural boundaries. Do what acclaimed travel writer Pico Iyer said in his Ted Talk: Where is Home? “…and their whole lives will be spent taking pieces of many different places and putting them in a stained-glass whole”.
Fill your pockets with these glasses and build a stunning mosaic of a stained glass door. One that would remind you of friendships formed, places travelled, once of a lifetime experiences, and yes even the emotional rollercoaster of being in-between cultures, of not feeling grounded, of questioning where your roots are. Let this stained-glass door open possibilities not just for you but also for your children. Find that Grace in the space between to understand that life has given you lemons and it is up to you to turn them into lemonade.
c) Always remember, home is more than just a piece of soil, but more a piece of soul.
Citing Erin Sinogba in her post Neo-Filipino: Third Culture Kids and Advocating for Diversity:
“…Growing up and identifying as a third culture kid has led me to believe that there is much more to one’s identity than the “obvious” factors and that we have the agency to express and shape our own identity in spite of them… A person’s identity – who I am – is greater than the sum of one’s nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, hometown, mother tongue, and accent. Coming up with a consummate answer to where you are from does not account for all the nebulous gray areas that make each person unique—it does not account for the more important question concerning who you are.”
Recognize that as TCKs you have the advantage to shape your own understanding of culture and that your uniqueness comes not from where you come from but from the many facets of you that is different from everyone else. As TCKs bask in the knowledge that you are special. That your life experiences and what you are going through can give you a better start. That where you come from is less important than where you are going and like what Pico Iyer said, “home is not where you sleep but where you stand”.
Eidse, Faith; Sichel, Nina. Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Global. Nicholas Brealey Publishing; 1st edition (October 23, 2003).
Iyer, P (2013). Ted talk: Where is Home? Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/pico_iyer_where_is_home.html
Gardner, M (2013). A Third Culture Kid Talks About Raising Third Culture Kids. Retrieved from http://www.djiboutijones.com/2013/06/painting-pictures-a-third-culture-kid-talks-about-raising-third-culture-kids/
Pollock DC and Van Reken R (2001). Third Culture Kids. Nicholas Brealey Publishing/Intercultural Press. Yarmouth, Maine.
Sinogba, E. (2010 ). Neo Filipino: third Culture Kids and Advocating for Diversity. Retrieved from http://new-slang.com/2010/04/neo-filipino-third-culture-kids-and-advocating-for-diversity/
The Third Culture Generation is our magazine’s cover story for the Jan-Feb Issue. To read, click here.
Lana Kristine Flores-Jelenjev is an early years curriculum innovator, engaged parent and a passionate educator. One of her passions is helping parents and teachers provide meaningful learning opportunities in daily interactions at home and in school. She writes about her activities with her children at www.365daysofmotherhood.blogspot.nl and shares her insights on engaging activities for teachers, parents and children at www.visiblyengaged.com.