Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Third Culture Kid

I am a Third Culture Kid.  

It's not something I say to sound pretentious or to give off the impression that I know so much about the world.  It's an expression that I've recently accepted describes who I am the best way possible.  It gives a name to a set of problems and questions that I had for a very long time and I know that I'm not the only person who deals with these issues.  The world may be a big place but we live in a world where jobs are everywhere and opportunities are taken regardless of the country they are in.

A Third Culture Kid, or TCK is "a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background, other TCKs."  

I have been a TCK all my life, I was born in Canada and despite my entire family being German I have never lived in Germany.  My whole life has been spent living in foreign countries.  I have lived everywhere except at home.  My parents just say that I live 'an exciting life'.  I have been grateful for every moment, I never mean to be ungreatful or to take any of these moments for granted.  I have experience fantastic cultures and been very privileged that I can live in wonderful places.  I have my parents to thank for it because they made the decision to live and work abroad which for them was the start of an adventure.

But the question I dread, is being asked where I'm from because I can never give a real answer, it always goes along the lines of 'well my parents live here... and I was born somewhere else... but live somewhere different from there'.  Going to boarding school made it all a bit more difficult as well because it meant I was traveling a lot. I'm always afraid of sounding spoilt or brattish but the constant traveling and feeling like most of my teenage years were being spent in transit, made growing up hard.  Being 15 is bad enough but when you add displacement and identity issues to the mix it becomes overwhelming.  But thankfully that is all in the past now.  

It's challenging when you have no real sense of home or identity.  I do not feel very German at all, far from it.  I feel most welcome in the UK but of course I'm not British by birth or history, and sometimes when I mention I'm German I don't get a very positive reaction for obvious reasons.  I was born in Canada and have only been back to visit once, my only connection is my passport and my beloved Godmother.  Sometimes I'm homesick for a place that doesn't exist.  The saying is that 'home is where the heart is', if this were the case then my home would be all over the place because wherever I have lived I've left a little piece of my heart there.  So many places have touched my heart and have left their mark.  The more apt expression would be 'home is where the family is' and up until recently that has been true.  Displacement and identity issues are hard to deal with, because compared to other peoples problems they seem very trivial, but they cut deep.  Where my family are is home and we have become very apt at adapting to different conditions and have perfected packing our belongings up.  It feels lonely sometimes and there have been moments where I've wanted nothing more than a normal life.  Growing up and living in one place, seeing my grandmother whenever I wanted, being close friends with my cousins and having a personal identity that matches my paperwork.

The 'where am I from?' question may seem irrelevant to our lives, but we often underestimate how important roots are and how much we value the feeling of belonging.  By passport I'm both German and Canadian, by family I'm German, the home of my childhood is Oman and my heart belongs to the UK.  Saying that I'm a TCK has given me an identity, and now that I'm old enough to start living my life independently from my parents I've realised that I can now make the decision of where my home is by myself, I can have that luxery.  Growing up all over the place and not feeling 'like I belong anywhere' was hard as a teenager, but recently I've been feeling the benefits of it.  The world is my oyster and the opportunities are endless.  I will probably always have a nomadic lifestyle, but would love to have one place that I can call my home.

There are so many people who have similar experiences even though it feels like a lonely one sometimes because it's hard to put the feelings into words.  I was taking to a boy today who's father is French, his mother English and he was born on international waters and grew up in the Middle East, the UK and France.  Talking to him was partly the reason I decided to write this post, it's the joy of being able to understand someone and being understood without having to feel like life is too complicated.  I wanted to share this post with you because the world is getting smaller and there are so many people who have histories like mine and many of them will be infinitely more 'complicated' and colorful than mine.  I'm just part of a group that is emerging and finding their niche in life.  I hope this post encourages you to not feel like you're alone and to find your home and make your mark in whatever place you chose.



  1. That must be really tough.

    I have it on a smaller scale I guess in that I went to 13 different schools and have lived in more than a hundred houses over 3 different countries. While I know I'm Australian because I was born here, it's always tough to answer "Where are you from?" what does "from" really mean? I can tell you where I was born but I grew up all over the place.

    I'm happy this is my life though. And I wouldn't change it. I think moving around a lot is good because it makes you a really adaptable person.

    Thanks for sharing this post!

  2. Is it wrong to say that I am jealous of you though? Perhaps I would just sound like an ungrateful kid, but I can never seem to appreciate my roots. It always saddens me how I feel like such a stranger in my own country and home. And I find it hard to answer "Where are you from?" as well... perhaps it is because I honestly can't say. I've always been at "home"... but I don't think I can ever consider it as such. Maybe that's why I want to travel the world so much... just to find that place where I can feel that.



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