Louise is Chinese, born and raised in France. She currently lives and work in Singapore –
I’m technically a second generation Chinese. My dad was brought up partly in France while my mum grew up in China. Their own parents were friends. It was an arranged wedding. My mum always knew she was going to marry the son of her parent’s friends. They grew up knowing that it was all planned out. They split up a couple of years later. My mother re-married a Chinese man who arried in France at around the same time as her. I grew up with them. My mum is strict on too many things but not on the aspect of marriage. “Find the man you love” she told me. Perhaps it was in regards to her arranged wedding that did not work out.
Even though I spoke French, had French friends and went to a French school, I’ve always felt I had a different way of seeing or doing certain things. During my studies, I decided to explore the gap and travel to Shanghai for a gap year. The first couple of months were extremely hard. The shock was not only cultural but physical. Looking Chinese, I would have locals come up to me and speak in Mandarin. When they figured out I didn’t speak Mandarin, they’d pull a strange face. I was split between the French community in Shanghai that did not fully considered me French and the Chinese who thought I was one of them because I only looked Chinese.
After a year and a half, I went back to France to complete my studies but I felt the urge to travel to Asia. I felt more open and curious during my Shanghai trip and I seeked that feeling. The values and traditions I had been brought up with stuck to me.
I’ve only heard about the term “third culture kid” about 2 or 3 years ago. To me, the one thought I had was the issue of looking like you’re from a certain culture but being another culture. France wasn’t the same as today when I was young in terms of immigration. I often had questions like: “oh you’re French? Your French is very good.” or “Why are you French?”. Nowadays, the mindset has changed but before, being French was clearly not “looking Asian”. There’s also the values: I argued with my folks to be allowed to go out while my friends were arguing with theirs to stay out a little longer. My brother, on the other hand, had a lot more freedom. It’s these little daily issues, linked to the culture.
I think, as a teenager, I saw this as a problem. On a daily basis, what strikes me the most, is that I sometimes forget I’m Asian. We only want to fit in, and I didn’t want to be seen as different. For me, the topics of relationship, friendships, habits, lifestyle were a different conversation with my parents. They express themselves better in Mandarin while I expressed myself better in French. My parents did not necessarily understand certain ideas or ways of thinking.
Today is easier. I see them less often but we get along better now. My parents have been in France for over 40 years and they are a bit more flexible. However, they have a lot of Chinese reflexes or traditions but China itself has evolved. They left China at a certain time, when it was more traditional.
Our search for a complete identity is never over. There’s no end. I think it’s nice to feel like you truly belong somewhere but third culture kids don’t have it easy. I can’t just say: I feel French or Chinese. When you feel something is imposed, it’s not necessarily a pleasure. For example, it was the Chinese values that my parents held which were the hardest during my teen years. It’s the reason why I did not have the same freedom as my friends
There is no pre-defined frame for third culture kids; it’s an endless search. I think all third culture kids feel the need to explore their roots, the question is: are you willing to take the leap? The third culture itself can only start developing itself when you’ve accepted your other cultures. I think you can never truly reject your roots, they will always stick around.