Third Culture Kids: One foot in the door, one foot out

“Where are you from?” a new acquaintance asked me the other day. And once again, I wished the answer was as simple as naming one country. Having lived in India until I was nine, in Belgium up to age eighteen, in the United Kingdom for the following four years, back in India for another two years and now in Hong Kong since a year, I can no longer tie my home to one physical space. As lengthy as my answers tend to be, they do make great conversation starters!

With migration and globalization on the rise, the Third Culture Kid (TCK) phenomenon is becoming increasingly common. A TCK is someone who has lived a significant part of their developmental years outside their parents’ culture. Besides being able to think in at least three different languages and mastering the art of calculating time differences and currency conversions, we have also spent an unhealthy amount of time at airports. Our multi-cultural background also means that we have diverse social groups, scattered all over the globe. But life as a TCK is not always so thrilling and adventure-filled. Oftentimes, we find ourselves questioning where we really belong or who we truly are.

The search for our own identity becomes tough, amongst the cluster of languages, cultures and beliefs that spin around in our heads. We are not able to accept or be accepted by any one culture entirely. Sometimes, I go back to my hometown and realize how much has changed since I left the place. The culture that we took along with us is probably better preserved with us than it is back ‘home’. That is when I feel grateful for moving away.

On the other hand, I would do certain activities in Belgium which would have been normal in India, but were looked upon as absurd in the new country. People who have lived in one country all their lives tend to find it more difficult to understand TCKs, and social dynamics can become rather complicated. It’s at times like these when I realize just how much can be lost on those long one-way flights.

In the end, it was by joining societies of my culture at university and meeting other TCKs that I came to terms with all these different aspects of my personality. It was there that I began to appreciate the power of TCKs. We are a group which is (sometimes) alienated but also, I’d like to believe, privileged, since we have had a hands-on experience with the changing global world. If given the chance and the moral encouragement today, TCKs have the potential to be the driving forces of the society of tomorrow.


16 Thoughts

  1. As an “army brat”, I can relate! I don’t roam too far or often these days, but I love reading other people’s adventures. I’m sure I’ll enjoy yours.
    Thanks for the follow — if you happened on some of my recent beach/travel posts, I hope you still enjoy my more normal art posts.
    …and… I didn’t know quarter-life crisis was a thing — that would explain me at 25!


  2. Very clear. I taught many such children and they are becoming more common, not less so. I wonder how many years before to be TCK will be “the norm “ and to be monocultural will be seen as less helpful. No Brexit votes and Trump walls then!


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