I grew up as a Third Culture Kid. What is that? In general, Third Culture Kids are those who grow up in a culture/country that is not native to either parent. How this occurs can vary greatly, but the crux of it is that the formation of your identity is not tied to that of either parent or even necessarily of where you are living. You become your own culture (taking in bits and pieces from all that you experience). In my case, this was coupled with moving frequently and on an international basis.
In many ways, that made me an open-minded and well-rounded adult. I always had a good sense of geography. I am pretty good at languages. I know how to get out there and make friends. I am culturally sensitive. I love to travel and learn about other cultures.
I know how to assess what I value, be it things or people. I know what is truly meaningful versus what is just stuff that I don’t need to take with me. (I have been referred to as spartan.) I base my friendships on quality and not the number of years I have known a person. I may not have that one best friend since kindergarten, but my best friends are truly my best friends, no matter when they entered into my life.
In other ways, being a Third Culture Kid made me the weirdo I am today. I don’t feel an allegiance to any one country. My home is not country based. Home is New York, a very international city, which I feel is quite different from the rest of America. I am very much a world citizen, but not because of ideology. I simple don’t understand why anyone should have to pick just one country or set of borders.
Also, I am perhaps a little too adventurous in trying new foods. New cuisines excite me, which is good. But the strangest thing on a given menu shouldn’t be something I feel the need to take on as a challenge. My digestive system has taken me to task on that a number of times, as have fellow diners who maybe didn’t want to try the dish with eyeballs.
Add in the downside of moving frequently. Friendships have not always been easy for me as I grew up having them end every two or three years. Longer term bonds were not something I experienced until I became an adult—to be honest, it took a while to figure out how to have long term friendships.
There are other Third Culture Kids out there, but I haven’t met many as an adult. There haven’t been a lot of people in my life who could relate to my background. Then, I married another Third Culture Kid. I finally met someone who truly understood me, my version of the The Boy Next Door. We grew up in different places and had different experiences, but we understand certain things about one another that other people don’t.
We can also empathize with one another’s stories. Our generation of Third Culture Kids, especially those of us who moved a lot, had to deal things that maybe we wouldn’t have had to deal with today. You got pulled out of one school mid-term and dropped into another one in another country. You started to become really good at the local language, and then you moved and you lost that skill to the far end of your brain’s attic (from which it randomly appears from time to time). You maybe lived apart from the rest of your family for a while. Your family was split among your parents for a while, but that wasn’t tied to anything like divorce—it was just logistics. If you hated everyone at school you were told it was okay because you’d move soon anyway. Tuck and roll. You’ll be fine.
Hang on. Actually, a lot of those things are still common occurrence for Third Culture Kids. Thankfully, there are more resources for today’s expat parents who are taking their children in tow. A really good site is Expat Child. I wish that had been around when I was growing up.
But, I did turn out at least somewhat okay. As I mentioned, the experience made me who I am, good and bad. All together I like to think I’m all right. J. turned out fine too. Having this background would make things easier for us as we dove into the expat life together. Right?
In some ways, certain things are easier. In other ways, it’s not. In my next post, I’ll write about how it’s a different game altogether as an adult expat.