Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a term that refers to children who grow up in a culture other than their parents’, or that of their passport country, for a significant chunk of their childhood and adolescent years.
We live a very different life to that of our parents, and even that of people from the same age group living in their home countries. The variables that we are exposed to are distinctive and these contribute to our personalities today. As someone who was born in one country, spent their childhood and teenage years in another and then went to university in a completely different country, these are some experiences that probably every TCK can relate to:
The difficulty in answering the question “Where are you from?”
Do you want the short version or the long version? Not to mention how unsatisfying it is to just say the name of the country on your passport, because that does not adequately summarise your cultural identity or experiences. You have a special understanding of the phrase “Home is where the heart is” because for you, home is not geographical, but simply the place where your immediate family lives.
No one can tell where your accent is from.
It’s a weird combination of American and British, along with influences from the local language of every country you’ve lived in, plus the TV shows that you recently binge watched. Your accent also changes according to the person you’re talking to: there’s one for your parents, a different one for your friends and something in between for your siblings.
We have a love-hate relationship with languages.
You’re the most fluent in English, but you can get speak well enough to understand your native language. Something that varies from person to person: you can either speak local languages fluently or you never felt the need to learn it so you throw in slang words originating from those languages into your English, which can confuse the hell out of people.
We tend to be more culturally tolerant.
If you are a TCK who went to an international school, you’ll inevitably have friends from loads of different backgrounds. There is zero tolerance for cultural prejudices in your social setting. Sometimes, you even find yourself schooling your parents, who grew up in your home country with culturally rooted biases.
We can look at our home country from a wider angle
Being from a massive country like India but living outside it, I have friends from every major state, each of whom have their own food and cultural traditions. Often times, I find that people who have grown up in a single city within India don’t appreciate the beauty of our diversity and sometimes, even exhibit racist characteristics towards their own countrymen!This is a feeling that often plagues you when you meet people from your home country:
We have a rather unique taste palette
There are dishes we enjoy from each of the places we’ve lived in, but there are some that make us wonder how on earth the locals can eat them. Many times, these foods evoke feelings of nostalgia that unveil a deep longing to go back there.
Returning to a place that once felt l
an extremely disorienting feeling.
You think you’d be super excited once you land in a place where you once lived, but you feel like an outsider pretty quickly because of everything that has changed. The connection that you shared with that place, the cityscapes, the culture no longer feels that intimate. Also, since you lived there for a different period of your life, you know places to visit and things to do that may not be relevant to you now: “I was 12 when I left, please don’t ask me for nightclub recommendations!!”