“It’s complicated” – This is the answer that many third culture kids gave to the question “Where are you from?” on an online survey. Most of the TCKs had moved at least once before the age of 5 years old and spoke at least two languages. An infografic on third culture kids can be found at Denizen, an online magazine dedicated to third culture kids.
After being born in the Zambian bush and living in Africa until I went to university in the Netherlands (also know as Holland), the question “Where are you from?” was a very difficult one for me to answer. During my time in Africa the answer to the question was not so difficult. I was living in Malawi and later Zimbabwe but I had blond hair and blue eyes and I was the “foreigner”, even though I had lived in Africa all my life and was even born there. My parents are Dutch and so I was Dutch.
The shock came when I went to university in Europe. I looked sort of like the other university students. I say “sort of” because I was not wearing the latest fashion, I did not quite sound like the others. There was an accent in my Dutch (ofcourse it was an English accent). Now the question was more difficult to answer. I suddenly discovered that I did not think like the other Dutch young people did, I did not feel like they did. I missed the colour of the Zimbabwean sun. I missed eating the sweet ripe fruits. I missed my friends and family back in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. There were many awkward situations in which I did not know what to do. How do I use the public transport? What brand margarine should I buy? If I visit someone should I always phone first or can I just drop by? Maybe I was not Dutch after all?
Years later I read the book “Third Culture Kids, Growing up Among Worlds” by David Pollock and Ruth van Reken (add a link to the book?). The book helped me realise that I was not strange, but that the confusion had everything to do with my life experiences. I was a “hidden immigrant”, I looked similar but thought differently to my peers.
Libby Stephens’, a cross- cultural transition consultant, says:
"In the 25+ years of working with third culture kids, I don't find cultural identity confusion to be a big issue until the TCKs return to their passport country"
I would advise parents and third culture kids to read the book I mentioned earlier. It also helps to know that problems could arise when children return to their passport country. That is my experience too. “According to my passport I’m coming Home” is an interesting document on the subject. It is writen by Kay Brandman Eakin. She has taught for more than 20 years in 8 different countries.
I recently started a blog. On the blog I want to share my life experiences and share information about third culture kids, children that grow up in other cultures. I have discovered that I feel “a whole person” if I can integrate the experiences I had as a child into my daily life or work. Writing the blog gives me energy. I also have the privilege of being part of a project in Indonesia. I just love the travel, interacting with people of other cultures, tasting new foods, and working internationally.
I would like to invite you to watch the short film “Les Passagers” by Aga Magdolen. It’s about third culture kids: