5 things I wish I’d known earlier as a Third Culture Kid

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I didn’t always know I was a Third Culture Kid. For me, whatever I was living was “normal”. Of course, I’d always get that awkward reaction when I was explaining to people where I was from because, well, I’m French but have been in Asia for more than half my life. But I would have never imagined that some harsh times were only the output of an unexpected cultural shock or identity crisis. 

 I only really found out I was a TCK about a year ago, and then ending up founding the Third Culture Kid Project to help me understand the concept better.

Here are some of the things I wish I had known before:

“Always” and “never” – My dad told me this once. Always and never are two words that shouldn’t be in the dictionary. Nothing is fixed or permanent. TCK or not, your comfort zone will never be permanent and to be honest, should never be permanent. You should expect to evolve and grow, constantly.

Don’t worry about it   When I moved back to France, I had real trouble getting along with French people, despite being French. I struggled for the first two years but then came to the conclusion that “it’s ok”. It’s ok not to be liked, it’s ok to say or do things differently, it’s ok to think differently. I always was bothered with the fact that some thought I was arrogant. I was being the exact opposite. I was so afraid I couldn’t fit in or relate. Looking back, I’m still glad I went through this.

Listen to that little voice, the one has been there since the beginning. – You have so much to lose if you don’t. Guaranteed. It’s your authentic self, regardless of the unfamiliar settings you might find yourself in.

Trust – This is a tough one. Many of us are reluctant to trust others because we know we’ll lose them at some point, down the road. We’ll know this is all temporary and well, what’s the point of even trying? Like I wrote, tough one. I’ve come to accept that yes, these things are temporary but you will have more to gain than to lose by trying.

Never lose sight – I know it’s tough to be certain about the future, especially as a TCK, but if you have even the slightest idea about where you want to be in the couple of years, work towards it. Your environment and journey are so uncertain that the slightest certainty will make things seem less chaotic.

Thank you for reading, I truly hope these 5 points help you somehow, wherever you are. 

On a side note, we’re currently working on a project which aims to provide online help to TCKs who need it. You can contribute and I guarantee it will take less than 40 seconds. Please answer the following questions here: “What are the issues you identify or have identified with the most being a TCK?”

The US Elections

By Jasmine 

*Article was written before the election results 

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On November 9th the United States will finally know whether the infamous business man and TV show host or the pantsuit loving and email misusing Secretary of State will be their next president. For many on the outside it has all been one big comedy fest but for those of us on the inside, it has been quite a frightening journey. This election will be the first one I will experience as a resident of the US. For many years I have lived overseas, only hearing about the election through editorials and news reports. Now, I have a front row seat and man, am I disappointed.

Through these past 6 months or so, I have realized the US has more cracks than I thought, from healthcare deficiencies to racial issues. While I am unable to enter the voting booth due to being one year too young, I still avidly follow the race. It is my future that is on the line, after all.

This presidential election is by far the most modern. Candidates are able to communicate with their prospective voters 24/7 with the use of technology, a mode of communication neither candidate has been able to master. Nevertheless, technology allows perspective voters to be more informed. More viewers have been able to watch all four debates in real time, no matter where they are in the world. I was able to watch all the debates on YouTube and so were all the friends I’ve made overseas. I was able to discuss the events with them the next morning, at the latest.

The candidates are also reaching out to the younger generation through the issues of college tuition, LGBT rights and the economy. These are controversial issues that I am starting to see are tearing the country apart. The country, many call my own.

I have found the differences between myself and my citizenship country are many. While I do share some similarities with the average American teenager, I see beyond their four walls. I see beyond their borders that they have constructed and are planning to construct. I see beyond their hatred and fear of the foreign. I thought by now, the United States would realize that its foundation is diverse and by eliminating it, the US would crumble. Respect and dignity are lacking, characteristics I was taught when I was young that our founding fathers were known for. The America I grew up hearing about turned out to be very different in person.

As TCK’s we have a unique perspective and it would be a shame to waste it. By being a part of our local governments, we are able to share that perspective with others, who may not have been as fortunate to travel the world as we have. If you have the chance to be an avid participant in your country’s government, it is an opportunity not to pass up. Whether or not you feel the impact of your participation, your opinion makes a big difference.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

Child Brides?

By A.E.R

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Child marriage is a human rights violation. Despite laws against it, the practice remains widespread. Bangladesh has one of thee highest rates of child marriages in the world. 52% of girls are married by the age of 18 and 18% by the tender age of 15 according to UNICEF.

Child marriage is the poisonous product of poverty and gender inequality. Child marriages are very popular in rural areas of Bangladesh. Many impoverished parents do it thinking they are securing their daughter’s future by ensuring her husband will take care of her when they are unable to; but in reality- her life is probably about to be in ruins.

Some parents also wed off their daughter at a tender age to prevent rape; unfortunately they don’t realize that by marrying them off young is actually increasing the chance of rape. In most cases, young brides are uneducated or pulled out of their education so that they can assume household responsibilities.

This limits their opportunities, including future employment aspects. Some parents see their daughter as a burden; and dowries simply complicate the issue. Younger brides typically command smaller dowries creating an incentive for parents to marry their daughters off young. Parents in difficult circumstances may also marry their daughters off young as a source of income, which is a reason why despite the act being illegal, it still takes place.

Ending child marriage requires action in many levels. Bangladesh has taken a step forward and now is a member of the South Asian Initiative To End Violence Against Children (SAIEVAC) that adopted a regional plan to end child marriages.

The current age to get married in Bangladesh is 18 for women and 21 for men. Despite the debate to lower the legal age for marriage to 16 for woman, it still remains 18. I’m proud of my country and fully support their plans of putting a stop to child marriages.

Lets hope we can lower the rate of child marriages significantly by 2020. Till then, Joy Bangla!

 

Nameless Faces; Countless Stories

By Zoe Norman (written when 36,000 feet in the air between Albania and the UK!)

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You heard about the Romani people; the nameless whose lives are filled with the whispers of hostility and prejudice, peoples eyes skim past them looking the other way. They are unrecognisable faces weaving in and out of colourful bustling crowds at market stalls in Albania where food crackers and laughing carries into the night air, a place filled with excitement and friendship.

Theirs? A story of overbearing loneliness filled with tales of discrimination, abuse and hurt.

You watch the scene, little children with dirty flip-flops and battled teeshirts run in-between cars trying to get money by playing music. They start to chase each other laughing down the dusty road, a small moment of hopeful joy caught in a timeless society where they are shunned at every doorstep. This is all despite the fact you see no difference in their appearance from anyone else , enchanted you look further peering to watch a young women washing car windscreens.

Her body aches with tension as she leans in the sizzling oppressive heat working tirelessly, not even stoping to wipe the forming sweat from her brow.

All this effort is for a mere 40 leke (40 pence) which she receives carelessly as it is shoved at her by the driver, but, as if by magic at this simple gesture, her entire facial face changes. She looks ecstatic as her face turns upwards towards the sky filled with a moment of untouchable joy, for a second she is a person of dignity and purpose. You can not help but give in to the small sad smile playing on your lips as the traffic lurches forward coughing and spluttering as the scene flashes away.

The Roma population in Albania is estimated to be between 60,000 and 10,000 people with a poverty rate of 78%quickly bringing the terrible statistic to light. These people are like us but face a life of discrimination, cast out of work just because of birth and forced to beg on the hot dusty pavement; swarmed by the mass of people towering over them. For all TCK’s it is distressing to say the least, incomprehensible that a single nationality can determine a future which humans have no say in.

Albania has a longways to go for the Roma but on a brighter note slowly but surely this is happening.

As my friend said “we have to live in the moment, be thankful for what we have; as life may be pulled from under our feet” We need to support organisations as global citizens who help the Roma ( http://theideaspartnership.org/wp/) for a brighter, happier and more tolerant future for all.

The Issues With My World

By Steve 

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I do not associate myself with any one particular country. This is not due to rebellion, nor is it a choice I have taken. It is simply the result of being of mixed race and having changed location every three years for my entire life, because my father worked for the Foreign Office. In fact, despite having moved out of my parents house a long time ago, I still continue to float around the planet, temporarily settling in countries before moving on.
Apart from familiarizing myself with both of my parents’ countries, which are Germany and Jordan, in what might have been an attempt to build a national identity, I also took from some of the cultures I was immersed in. A prime example being the UK for instance, in which I spent around 5 years. Accustoming myself quickly meant that I blended in, giving a feel for the host countries, their people, humour, traditions and problems.

Its indeed peculiar, because for a start, nations attempt to hide their problems from visitors, but the more I travelled, the quicker I adapted and the faster those boundaries disappeared, exposing me to the issues people faced everywhere I went. Secondly, due to this facade that people put up, perhaps in order to protect the honour of their country or something of the sort, transparency between even neighbouring countries becomes impossible.
Multiply this habit to a global scale, and looked at objectively, it is arguable that we are are all masked in the disguise of nationalism. This national introversion makes it difficult for countries to truly bond, and it is the people I am talking about, not the governments.

You might have a type of friend, or acquaintance that pretends to be perfect. We’ve all at least run into this type of person that hides their ‘problems’, whilst those around them are clearly aware that something is not going right. Reactions to this are usually twofold, as some jump straight to conclusions labelling this reserved acquaintance pretentious or superficial.

The other type of reaction is a more compassionate one, in response to which the pretentious perfectionist might even warm up. The guard has been dropped and reaction B person gets to see a side of their friend’s perfect problems, which are of course very similar to everyone else’s. Meanwhile reaction person A is completely oblivious to the extent and nature of their acquaintance’s issues, as well as the potential similarity, thus distancing themselves and practically eliminating the potentials of a future bond.

It has come to the extent that countries once under the Ottoman empire for instance, which share extremely similar cultural traditions, are mostly unaware of the similarities of a country that’s almost half way across the globe. Take the example of the Balkans and North Africa. I am not however, suggesting that everyone on the planet is the same, although in a sense we are. What I do suggest, is that the similarities far exceed the differences. This is not even taking into account variables like income, which bond the majority of the planet.

Once more, even in this example there are reasonable differences, but the similarities of the ‘99%’ are greater than the difference between most people and the extremely elite which continue to run this planet, fuelling countries with unnecessary nationalistic ideals, separating them from each other.

Masked in pseudo-identities, nations create walls built out of egotistical materials such as pride and judgement and most importantly fear. Fear of the neighbour, who is just as afraid as you are. It has become so widespread and common that the almost the entire world economy is based on it, because war is profitable, so is religion and it has even found its way into the nice of spirituality. The fear of letting go of your ties to a country, to wars you never fought and to past ideals, to what might happen when you connect with yourself beyond your country, your country’s culture. I am not suggesting we abandon our cultures, but add the part where we are understanding with our neighbours because they ttoo are humans. Only then will we create world peace, through non-judgement, compassion and transparency.

Pulling Out The Pushes Of My Past

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By Rafia A

Growing up as a third culture kid there was one aspect about myself that I deeply despised – my inability to allow people to get close to me. Don’t get me wrong I wasn’t a lonely kid with no friends. I was actually quite the opposite. In all of the friend circles I have formed over my constant moves, I always acquired the status of the funny, eccentric friend who kept the group molded together. I would always be the one to initiate making plans to hang out together. I would always solve inter-friendship problems. I would let my friends pour out their hearts to me and help them heal with my wise words. I was everyone’s and anyone’s best friend at any given time.

Well, I let them all believe so. To be someone’s best friend, their designated care giver, the action has to be mutual right? Well with me it never has been because I’ve never let it be so. For some unknown, inexplicable reason to teenage me, all of her most precious friendships always ended up in shambles. She didn’t know why, but 20 year old me does. Up until now I was always curious to why I pushed people away. It’s not like I sat myself down one day to brainstorm and then decided to become this way… instead this act of pushing people away has had inherent, natural roots.

After having pondered on why I am the way I am for many months, I have come to one conclusion: TCKs may form an inherent separation mechanism, in an attempt conducting a pre-mortem for the possibility of failed relationships or experiencing immense pain. They prevent anyone from getting close before they even have the chance to end up hurt by the relationship’s consequences. This mechanism arises out of defense of the TCK’s feelings as subconsciously it is aware that it has to leave, and thus everything has to come to an end. Hence, to control it’s feelings, the TCK makes the weirdishly mature decision of inhibiting proximal relationships by pushing people, who violate this sanction, away. It may seem a little exaggerated, but hey it’s why I do what I do and apparently is something a few of my other friends resonate with.

It sounds crazy, dramatic, over the top, but its true. I have never let anyone get close to me because I do not want to end up hurt once I leave them. If anyone ever exerted themselves in trying to push past my boundary, I would change myself towards them and work on pushing them away. I always thought that it was for the best. Now having been somewhat sedentary in my home country for the past two and a half years, I am forcing myself to denature this mechanism of mine and instead let myself experience the reality of emotions. I regret being this way and ruining many friendships, all for the sake of protecting them from any future harm.

Sometimes, it’s okay to feel vulnerable. It’s okay to experience pain. It’s normal, unlike what the TCK is used to.

My TCK Journey by Serena

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By Serena Ewe

Nationality wise, I have a Singaporean passport simply because I was born there. But by blood, I am half Singaporean, half Malaysian. My dad used to jokingly mention how unfair it was that my passport could not represent the other side of me; little did he know that in years to come, there wouldn’t just be two distinct sides to me, but several more.

My TCK journey began when I moved to Sakhalin, a small island in Russia at the age of 7. My dad was an engineer so logically speaking, he went where the oil was. I was enrolled in an international school for expat families and enjoyed my wonderful childhood, filled with memories of my first snowfall, first Halloween and first Christmas. My previous years before Russia were located in Sabah, a part of Malaysia (I moved there right after I was born) and as it is an Asian country, Christmas was not as festively celebrated as Chinese New Year.

Anyways, four years later, much to my horror, my dad’s work contract ended, so it was time to leave. For educational sake, my mum decided it best that we returned to Singapore and for two years I had to endure acquiring Mandarin as a new language but managed to learn it in time to complete the PSLE (primary school leaving examination). However, before entering a secondary school in Singapore, my dad who because of his job ended up in Miri (another region of Malaysia) wanted for the family to reunite, decided for us to move back to Malaysia again. Once more, there was a change of education and I was enrolled in an all Chinese speaking private school. I remembered crying on the first day of class; it was hard. Eventually, I adjusted, but sadly after four years, we moved again. It was as if there was this four-year ticking time bomb, counting down the days before I had to pack up and leave once more. This time, my dad was offered an overseas job in Muscat, Oman. Much to my resistance, he took it and suddenly I was living in my fourth country by the age of 15.

There, I took the IGCSE and subsequently IB, in an international school and discovered that self-expression was encouraged. By then, I had assimilated the “quiet, do not stand out but blend in” Asian personal (unlike my boisterous character during my Russia days) and so throughout middle and high school, I found it extremely hard to voice my thoughts in class, for fear of looking like a fool. Perhaps that had nothing to do with moving around, but instead an awkward transitioning through any teenage years, but I began to adapt again and realized how easy it was to do so. Not surprisingly, after 4 years, it was time to go; however, this time, the reason was not due to another one of my dad’s job posting but mhy time for University.

And so, by age 18, I arrived excitedly in Vancouver, Canada all by myself, away from my family for the first time. Little did I know the culture shock I would experience upon reaching there. It was one I have never experienced before. The reason wasn’t because Vancouver was anti-cultural; in fact, it was teeming with Asian immigrants from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Japan and so on. However, that was the problem. With my Asian features, I blended in, and because of that I as a TCK felt like an invisible minority. Unlike my days in the international school where Asians were not abundant, I suddenly felt bland, boring and as funny as that may sound, non-special. I grew tired of having to explain where I was from when someone else would mistake me as Korean/Japanese – and even if they thought of me as Chinese, I felt uncomfortable when I was expected me to speak in fluent Mandarin just because I look Asian. I guess it was around this time when I became fully aware of the impact TCK had on my life.  It was around this time when I experienced my first identity crisis.

Throughout my undergraduate years, nostalgia for my other TCK friends would fluctuate. Although I encountered a few TCKs, it wasn’t like we became close from it. I felt lonely but slowly I grew resilient and appreciative of what I had. I knew that if I could change things, having this culturally opulent experiences was something I would still keep. Reading stories of other TCKs kept me going, as it reminded me that I wasn’t really alone in this position. Thus, as my four years of undergraduate life in Canada came to a close, I began to ponder on the new places I could go for my masters. US? Scotland? UK? Australia? Or should I continue staying in Canada? Settle down, and create more stability? I am still unsure, but I guess that is what it’s like to be TCK!