There are four ways that TCKs relate to the system in which they grew up- from the perspective of their own personal make up, gifts and personality.
1) A TCK who fits the system – feeling comfortable is relatively easy for those whose personality and interests fit pretty well within the structure or rules and the systems under which they have grown up. It might be an easygoing military kid who never seem to question authority, a pragmatic missionary kid who doesn’t see the point of the fancy accessories in a Lexus, or a diplomats kid who is an extrovert and thrives on meeting new people. They can Go with how life works in this system, and it doesn’t conflict with how they think, what they like to do, what they want to be, or, most important, who they are by their very nature. There is room in this system to express who they are. It’s a pretty good match.
2) A TCK who doesn’t fit the system but attempts to conform – other children don’t match the system as well. Secretly, they prefer rap, while others around are denouncing it as junk. They long for color and beautiful decor but live in a plain, brown, Adobe-type home within a system that feels it isn’t spiritual to focus on worldly beauty. They find crowds of new people frightening, but they paste a smile and act cordial to the dignitaries at never-ending receptions. They have learned not to reveal their feelings or desire because they learned early that it was wrong to feel or think that way. Instead of being able to explore the mystery of their own personality and sets of gifts, they feel ashamed of this secret longing and try harder and harder to be what they perceive the system says they should be. The major problem for members of this second group is that their sense of identity comes almost totally from an external system rather than who they are deep within. If this type of conformity doesn’t change at some point, people in this group may become more and more rigid over the years in adhering to the system that now defines them. They fear that if they let any part of it go, they will lose themselves because they don’t know who they are without this structure to hold them together.
3) A person who doesn’t completely fit the system but doesn’t realise (or at least doesn’t seem to mind) it. – People on this group go ahead and listen to rap – not to be rebellious but because they like it. It doesn’t occur to them – or worry them- that others might disapprove. If told that others might disapprove, they would likely respond: ” that’s OK. If they do, I’ll use my earphones” They stay in their rooms and read – not because they’re rejecting the social scene, but because they love to read. They make decisions that don’t quite match those of everyone else – not for the sake of being different but simply because they prefer the way they’ve chosen. They don’t feel compelled to be exactly like everyone else but are happy to join with others when they do share an interest. Perhaps they have the inner security to be independent because many of their foundational needs for relationship and belonging have been well met in early years within their family. Maybe it just happens to be one of the attributes of their personality. Either way, they are discovering and operating from who they are inside rather than letting their environment define them.
4) A person who doesn’t fit the system, knows it, and spends year of his or her life proving it. People in this group like to think of themselves as members of the group just discussed, but they’re not. For whatever reasons, they learned early that on at least parts of ten didn’t fit the system. Perhaps they cried their first night at boarding school and were told to be brave – but they couldn’t stop crying. Maybe they honestly wanted to know why things should be done one way rather than anther but given the unsatisfactory reply, “because I said so.” Still the burning question inside would go away. Unfortunately, as they keep bumping into something that doesn’t fit them inside, some TCKs finally decide – consciously or unconsciously- to throw out everything the system stands for. They’ll be anything but the system. The irony is that these outwardly rebellious TCKs actually get their identity from the very system they’re rejecting. People who are determined to prove they are not rarely go on to discover who they are.
With which way do you relate to the system? Comment below!
When you share this on Facebook, it will be liked by friends from 12 different countries.
1. You can curse convincingly in at least five different languages.
2. To everyone’s confusion, your accent changes depending on who you’re talking to.
3. And you often slip foreign slang into your English by mistake, which makes you unintelligible to most people.
4. You’re really good at calculating time differences, because you have to do it every time you call your parents.
5. But you also have your computer programmed to help you out when your math fails.
6. You start getting birthday wishes several hours before your birthday, from your friends farther east than you.
7. Your passport looks like it’s been through hell and back.
Or, more likely, your passports*, in the plural.
8. You have a love-hate relationship with the question “Where are you from?”
You have both a short and long answer ready, and you pick one depending on who’s asking.
9. You run into your elementary school friends in unlikely countries at unlikely times.
10. You’ve spent an absurd and probably unhealthy amount of time on airplanes.
11. And you definitely know your way around jet-lag recovery.
12. Your list of significant others’ nationalities reads like a soccer World Cup bracket.
13. And your circle of best friends is as politically, racially, and religiously diverse as the United Nations.
14. Which is great, except that you “hang out” more online than in real life.
15. So when you do see your best friends, you lose it a little.
16. You’ve had the most rigorous sensitivity training of all: real life.
Always take your shoes off in a Thai household, but never show the soles of your feet to an Arab.
17. You get nervous whenever a form needs you to enter a “permanent address.”
18. You know that McDonald’s tastes drastically different from country to country.
And you can rank them from best to worst.
19. You’re a food snob because you’ve sampled the best and most authentic of every possible cuisine.
20. You convert any price to two different currencies before making significant purchases.
21. You don’t call it “home.” You call it “passport country.”
22. You often find yourself singing along to songs in languages you don’t speak or understand.
23. You miss BBM, but Viber and WhatsApp will do for now.
24. You’re the token exotic friend in your non-TCK crew.
25. Love it or hate it, you have a strong and well-informed opinion on the I.B. system.
26. The end of the school year was always bittersweet because so many people moved away.
27. And, no matter how many you say, good-byes never get easier.
28. But the constant flow of new friends more than made up for it.
29. Now you feel incredibly lucky to have loved ones and memories scattered all over the globe.
30. You know better than anyone else that “home” isn’t a place, it’s the people in it.
31. And you can’t wait to see where your life adventure takes you next.
By DOREEN CARVAJAL
PARIS — When golden poppies blanket the hills of Northern California, it’s the annual season to dispatch my daughter — a summertime American — for home.
Home is a complex word in our stone farmhouse in the country outside Paris, where we all possess different passports. My teenage daughter has two: one, wine-red from France; the other, navy blue, from the United States. Before she learned to crawl she had mastered flying. By kindergarten, she had learned German, in Gütersloh, in the northwest of Germany. In first grade she shifted to French at a primary school by a 12th-century chapel with souvenir crucifixes left by Joan of Arc.
I think of summer as the season for nurturing her American roots, a time when her English turns a little nasal, making her sound at least temporarily as though she is from San Francisco. She falls in the expatriate category of “third-culture kids,” or TCK, a label coined in the 1950s by the sociologist Ruth Hill Useem. These children of expatriates call many places home, pausing a little too long on the fundamental question: “Where are you from?”
Before she leaves France, I probe for weak spots. I conduct a flash quiz of basic American history overlooked in her French lycée. Schooled by a French teacher who was the granddaughter of Émile Zola, she can weigh in on Molière or Victor Hugo’s opposition to the death penalty, but she prefers to read her American classics like “The Great Gatsby” in French.
I stump her on George Washington. She gazes back at me quizzically when I ask her who he was.
“He was a president.”
“But which president?”
“I don’t know, he’s on the dollar bill.”
As I prepare to buy her plane ticket, I take some solace from reading about the experiences of grownup third-culture kids.
The filmmaker Aga Alegria, who now lives in Ibiza, Spain, is finishing a full-length documentary about global children, conducting interviews in Germany, Spain, Trinidad and Canada. A third-culture kid herself, she started her project with an eight minute film, “Les Passagers: A TCK Story,” that explored her own nomadic life roaming from Poland, to Germany, to Canada and her yearning to belong somewhere.
Ms. Alegria raised part of the money to fund her project through crowd-sourcing and plans to finish the movie this year.
She has found that by the time they are grown up, some of these TCKs are unmoored and restless, associating airports, movement and a suitcase with home. Others complain about moments of feeling lost and friendless, baffled by the quest to belong.
I take comfort from a line in her short movie: “I come from here. I come from there. In truth I come from everywhere.”
When my daughter was much younger, and making the summer shuttle to her grandparents in California, she would often ask why we didn’t live there. It was enough then to declare: The French baguettes are better and we have a choice of 300 cheeses.
Now I don’t have easy answers.
One day, while on a walk near our home in the cool shadows of the Vexin forest preserve, I ask my daughter if she ever feels torn between two places.
The answer is swift, delivered in the annoyed tone of any French or American teenager:
“Why are you even asking me that?”