The six things you should know about third culture kids
Updated: Nov 28, 2019
Not many have heard of the term unless they classify themselves as one, but a third culture kid (TCK) refers to the children that had to grow up in a country (or several) that was different than where their parents are from. Take me, for example, I have a British dad, and a Filipino mum, but I was born in Indonesia, and spent majority of my childhood in Indonesia, India, Singapore, and China.
Now, most people would say that I was lucky to have had the opportunity to travel when I was younger, and don't get me wrong, I was. I was extremely lucky. But what most people don't understand is the hardships that came along with the opportunities. On one hand, I was able to experience so many different cultures. On the other, I never really knew which culture I most identified with.
I was on the phone with a friend of mine recently who is also a TCK. We were talking about some of the struggles we faced as TCKs, and how sometimes it's hard to explain to other people what it was like because well, obviously, they never went through it. So I decided to reflect and come up with a list of things us TCKs have probably gone through, or felt, to better help those that might have some TCK friends understand why we are the way we are. This might give you a little more insight into why we act and think the way we do.
1. As TCKs, everything seems temporary
We've gotten so used to having to say good bye to friends, family, places, etc. While it's great to have friends all over the world and of different nationalities, the fact that our friendships always seem to have a time limit has made it hard for us to build a deep connection with people. We can make friends quickly. We have that ability to break the ice fast, but it's almost as if our connections are surface level because we only allow ourselves to open up to a certain point. This is mainly because we feel like the end is inevitable. It's almost as if for self preservation, and to prevent us from feeling a sense of loss when people leave, we have a boundary that we set within ourselves, and we back off when we reach it. This isn't just applicable to people. This can also be applied to homes, cities, countries, etc. So if you ever go to a TCK's apartment, and you find boxes of things they haven't unpacked, it's probably because in the back of their mind, they think they're going to move again one day, and unpacking everything just means you have to pack again. The end is inevitable.
2. We long for something permanent, and yet, we stop ourselves from attaining it
It's almost like it's self sabotage. We want so badly to have a sense of permanency in our lives. We look for that perfect partner, that perfect house, the perfect job. We try to convince ourselves every time that this is it. This time it will be for the long run. But because we view things as temporary, we tend to fuck things up ourselves. With relationships we tend to give too much too quickly. We try to establish that connection right from the start and that might mean we go above and beyond to be the best for our potential partner. In the end, we come off as being too nice, or too kind. It's easy for people to take advantage of us because we long for them to be that permanent someone in our life. So unless we've found the right person or someone that is genuinely nice too, the douche bags have a perfect victim. Because we want to convince them to stay, and we end up getting into situations we shouldn't, and more times than not, it takes awhile for us to get out of it.
3. We often feel alone, even if we're usually surrounded by people
Because we've lived such exciting lives, we always have a story to tell. We can keep a good conversation going based on our experiences, but at the end of the day, our real, true, close friends are usually miles away. These long distance relationships makes it difficult when we go through tough times. Time differences are a bitch, and although social media and the birth of messenger apps have made it easier to communicate, people get busy with their lives, and it can be hard to find someone that is available to talk right when you need them. It makes us extremely independent because half the time, we have to go through it alone.
4. The place we're meant to call home is most likely where we feel the most out of place
I'll give you an example. Imagine coming from a country that speaks a different language, but growing up in a country that speaks a completely different one. By the time you visit your parents home countries, you find you can't even speak the language, you aren't familiar with the culture, and you don't know even know the lifestyle. That's how it is for most of us. We become foreigners in the countries we are technically from. I felt this every summer we went back to the Philippines for vacation. I was seen as different. I visitor. Even when I lived in the Philippines for 10 years, I was still considered an outsider, I was never seen as a local.
5. You'll never be able to tell where we're from by our accents
More times than not, our accent doesn't reflect our nationality. Take me, for example, I've been told I have an American accent. So most people, based on my accent, think that I'm an American. If I tell them I'm British, they're surprised and ask why I don't have a British accent. If I tell them I'm Filipino, they're surprised I speak English so well (this baffles me considering English is one of the main languages used in schools, the government, and the business world, but I understand because the Philippines is an Asian country, not many would think most Filipinos speak English daily). What's even more interesting is how our accents adapt so quickly depending on where we are. It's like I have multiple accents that come out whenever I talk to people with certain accents. I go a little more British when I talk to my dad, Filipino with my mum, I'll go really American with Americans, etc.
6. We have a hard time answering the question "where are you from?"
This question is extremely hard to answer for TCKs. We come from everywhere. Literally. I hate telling people I'm British because most of the time, they'll start naming specific areas in the UK that they have been to, and I have no idea where any of them are. I've never lived in the UK. It's a little easier when I say I'm Filipino because I lived in the Philippines for about ten years, but even then, I was a foreigner in the country. I don't think I would be the best representation of Filipino culture. I'm not familiar with many FIlipino dishes, words, beliefs, or anything like that. TCKs have lived in multiple countries that we take and absorb things from each of them. So when asked, "where are you from?", we're really from multiple places. The problem is not everyone understands that. So it tends to be a long, complicated conversation with us trying to explain that we moved around a lot.
My aim with this article is to help you understand why TCKs might act a certain way. We've had a great childhood, and we don't regret our experiences, but at the same time, we can come off as a bit strange. Trust me, we're trying. We're trying to understand how we fit into society. It might take us awhile to understand because many of us have lived a life out of the norm. Or well, what might seem normal for others. Bear with us. I swear, we'll be some of the best people you'll meet.