TCK Project #4 – Lily

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What do you usually say if someone asks you where you’re from?

Singapore! Having grown up here for 18 years it’s where I’ve made most of my childhood memories so it’s only natural to call myself Singaporean.

What different cultures are you “made up of”?

American, Australian, Chinese, Singaporean

How has that impacted your education/career? 

Depends on who I talk to – It’s very much the opposite for me. My education and career were what has allowed me to meet people from different cultures and brought me to different countries all over the world. Since young, I was sent off to boarding school every other summer. I bounced around between Australia and China most of the time where I usually attend intensive language school classes. It was really uncomfortable in the beginning cause I never fit in with the kids of either countries – to them I just wasn’t Chinese enough nor Australian enough. Communicating was hard even though I spoke both languages – I didn’t sound like them or spoke as fluently as they did. But I eventually got over these hurdles and was able to assimilate into my respective boarding schools, through changing the way I spoke to adopt their accents and their lingo.

Then during high school, a similar thing happened where I got pulled out of local school in the middle of Sec 4 and transferred to an international school for 2 years. This was another rather difficult transition period for me as high school teenagers were much more unforgiving and unfriendly. Again, I had to go through the whole process of changing the way I spoke, acted and presented myself in front of my classmates. At first I was worried this would change me a lot and I did feel uncomfortable and unhappy at one point but after finding a group of friends who were going through the same in-between experiences as me, it made me feel a lot better.

All of these combined experiences did, however, help me assimilate a lot better when I went off to America for college.

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Have you ever felt the “need” to fight racism? Or counter ignorant statements about different cultures?

Yes and no. I’ve haven’t really experienced outright racism and neither am I a really vocal person about racism but I do experience racially-charged micro-aggressions from time to time, and that’s something I’ll be vocal about if it angers me personally. For example, it’s commonplace for people to hate on Chinese nationals because of the different way they talk and act, and this is especially so in foreign countries. The most frequent display of this takes form of shunning the “unruly, rude Chinese tourist”, and it bothers me when someone speaks ill of “Chinese tourists” or treats us differently out of biasness and presumptions about my race. Having been brought up with strong Chinese heritage and roots, this stereotype is extremely harmful and hurtful, especially when I see my family being treated poorly while travelling abroad on holiday. I’ve seen both my mom and dad having to speak up against waiters and customer service reps for overlooking service towards us on certain occasions, and I’ve had to verbally tell people off for using racial slurs or making racial jokes towards my Asian friends and I when we travel in groups.

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What country is “home” to you currently and why?

Now it’s pretty split between LA and Singapore. A huge part of my identity is split between these two countries and I have a strong longing for LA because the city is just so exciting and new to me, and with a large portion of my college friends still working and living in LA it’s a no-brainer to want to be back in LA. With Singapore, it reminds me a lot of my childhood and the nostalgia associated with the country is what makes it my other home.

Which TCK are you?

Somewhere between (1) “A TCK who fits the system” & (2) “A TCK who doesn’t fit the system but attempts to conform” . Attempting to conform (2) definitely relates strongly to the first half of my life, growing up between China, Australia and Singapore, and also through high school. Whereas I’ve morphed into a full (1) after years of fully assimilating into a multi-cultural individual. It’s almost like I have an on and off switch – I act differently and speak different in different setting, countries, and around different people. I blend so well into crowds that I feel like I can fit in anywhere now!

Do you picture yourself settling in a specific country? Why?

Yes, probably LA or London. I feel a strong connection to LA and in my head it’s always like a dream land for me. I’d love to go back if I could and settle down there. London will be my second choice just because my best friend is there. It’s always been part of our life plan to just live with each other for about a year or and fully experience life and growing up as adults together.

TCK Project #3 – Oreal

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Meet Oreal, a TCK born and raised in Singapore.

1.What do you usually say if someone asks you where you’re from?

Before I start, I just want to say that I’m a different type of TCK. I’m Eurasian – few generations of mixes. So I’m pretty much as Singaporean as Singaporean can get. So of course, I’d say that I’m from Singapore. Some would look at me funny, and that’s when I try to explain to them the very concept of a Singaporean-Eurasian.

2. What different cultures are you “made up of”?

I don’t even know anymore – pretty much every race you can find in Singapore – Chinese (Surname’s Goh), Malay, and I think I’ve got some influences from Goa. And there’s Dutch, British, Irish even, and Portuguese in the bloodline. Who knows I might I have been a Royal, I’d like to think that I’ve got some in me. Explains why I’m such a princess.

3. How has that impacted your education/career?

Hasn’t really negatively impacted my education/career much because I AM Singaporean. But I would say being mixed has given me some opportunities. For one, people I meet remember my face, and that’s something you want when you’re in school, and when you’re working – to be noticed and remembered, no?

I meet a lot of people now from all over the world, and one positive thing about being a TCK would be that I can get along with different people, I get along with Singaporeans as easy as I get along with people from all over the world. Some Singaporeans tend to be a little less open to mixing around, I must say.

I guess at work, people like the mix in culture because I can think like a Singaporean but I’m not totally foreign to the western as well. Best of both worlds.

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4. Have you ever felt the “need” to fight racism? Or counter ignorant statements about different cultures?

YES DEFINITELY. Think this might be my cause in life. I’ve been struggling with this for a long time now. Because even though I’m Singaporean, I sometimes feel like I’m in no man’s land. Even when I was growing up, I’d often get different treatment from the people around i.e. taxi drivers, service staff etc.… My friends were lovely though.

Some people think I’m ‘ang moh’, or some think I’m Singaporean Malay, it’s just basically hard to look and figure it out – but why does that matter? I’ve been treated rudely, been cheated, given bad service, been called ‘Stupid ang moh’, heard someone ask ‘what’s this Asian girl doing here?’, been outcasted in social settings… because I was either too ‘Asian’ or too ‘White’, or neither ‘Asian’ nor ‘White’.

And because I have friends who are Singaporeans and friends who aren’t, I listen to both sides of the story, and my god do I hear the most ignorant statements and mindsets ever. It makes me angry and sad.

I’m passionate about this because I’m a victim of this in my own country, and I do my part to stand up for the minority and the different cultures.

5. What country is “home” to you currently and why?

Singapore is home, of course. My family is here and my friends are here and I can’t imagine my life without Roti Prata. But lately, as I’ve grown older and am exposed to the ‘outside’ world, I’m starting to see a lot of discrimination and narrow mindedness, and I’m starting to feel like maybe I should find a new home?

When I was in school, my friends loved me for who I was and there were others like myself, so I didn’t think there was anything wrong. I’ve heard my dad complaining about this then, but I never really understood, until I started seeing it for myself… it breaks my heart.

6. What kind of TCK would you say you are?

A TCK who fits the system. My family culture is a little more open/liberal. We’ve got a mix of the western and asian culture, beliefs and mindset – sometimes not very acceptable to Singaporeans as they’d expect me as a Singaporean to be aligned with them. But apart from that, I don’t see myself struggling to keep up. I don’t exactly fit in the system as much, but I don’t stick out like sore thumb, so I’m all good.

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7. Do you picture yourself settling in a specific country? Why?

ANYWHERE WITH FOUR SEASONS PLEASE. You can’t have summer all year round. Seriously, I’ve thought of UK in the past, maybe Australia. I just need to be somewhere with a slower pace of life, somewhere where I can stop to smell the roses (hate roses lol) and somewhere my children can play and enjoy their childhood the way my parents made me enjoy mine. I want to be able to sit on the grass and admire the sky without people walking by and wondering if I’m crazy. Also, there are a lot of ants on the grass in Singapore.

 

 

TCK Project #2 – Louise

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.

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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.

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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.

TCK Project #1 – Hang

Originally from Vietnam, Hang was born in Belgium. She has also lived in Canada and Singapore.

To me, a third culture kid is growing up in different cultures, not just one. You’re exposed to many kinds of culture. I’ve always been a TCK but, I don’t know… It’s always been a part of my life, I never really questioned that. I love traveling and I always knew that I wanted a job that would take me to different countries. I guess being a TCK has led me to develop an international mindset. When I moved to Asia at the age of 26, a lot of people asked me:

“Why did you move so far away? It takes courage!”

For me it was normal, even natural to do so. I think a lot of people make excuses not to leave their country because they are too comfortable even though they say they want to travel more and discover other cultures. I think they just don’t want to, that’s my opinion.

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You actually have cultural clashes all the time but it becomes your reality, it’s a part of your daily life. I just got used to it. For me, maybe the biggest clash was when I went back to Vietnam. I lived in Vietnam for 1 year, 3 years ago. My parents are Vietnamese so I guess I’m supposed to be Vietnamese but I don’t know the culture. I was anxious, I didn’t know if I could integrate. They still consider me as a foreigner, but the way I dress, I walk or talk. I’m not really part of the culture, I’m an outsider. Home is not Vietnam or Belgium, I can live everywhere. I’m a global citizen.

I find it’s difficult to keep a friendship when you don’t live in the same place. I kept in touch by email or Facebook but now, we exchange messages once a year. It’s tough to keep in touch when you don’t interact daily. I used to have best friends as a kid but when I grew up, it didn’t get easy. Also when you move to another place, very often, the people you meet already have their circle of friends so it’s actually difficult to get into their circle because you don’t have the same kind of connections that they have developed with their friends.

When I go back to the country I lived in, I would definitely contact them and meet them again. If I don’t head back, we don’t have much to talk about. A written message is not the same. It’s easier now to communicate but not being in the same location, is still tough. I don’t have a strong base of friends because I changed location a few times, you can’t be deeply connected with someone when you move so often.

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You get used to saying goodbye after a while. Maybe the connections were not so strong, so it is sad but you kind of get used to it. Even though we say goodbye, the world is a small place. I know I can connect with them when I say goodbye. I’m not cynical in regards to friendships but I don’t have a best friend. You just have a good time with them and yeah, there are actually friends I have met before. A friend I met 7 years ago, during my university years, that I’m still in contact with. I know some day, if they come to Asia or I go back to Europe, we can see each other again. There’s no need to talk or see them everyday.

For my final advice, I feel we all have our issues, but it’s part of us. I never actually see it as an issue (being a TCK), you get so used to it after a while and being a TCK actually has many advantages in the way you think (open minded), you learn to accept things more easily rather than someone who has lived in the same country their whole life.