The term 'Third Culture Kid' (TCK) was first used by Ruth Hill Useem in her research on American children living in India. The term is applied to people who have grown up in a country, or several countries, other than the one(s) that their parents grew up in. There are a couple of other names for specific types of TCKs; a 'Corporate Kid' for instance is a child whose parents had to move frequently for business reasons. Other types include 'Missionary Kid,' or 'Army Brat.' As a whole they are often referred to as 'Global Nomads,' and the defining characteristic of them all is that they spent a significant amount of their developing years in a country other the one(s) that they have citizenship in.

As a result of constantly having to move around, or being exposed to different cultures within and outside of their family, TCKs usually find it very difficult to identify with any specific culture. They tend to have more in common with each other than with those who they happen to have the same citizenship. Their roots are not embedded in a place, but in people. Usually the most stable thing in a TCK's childhood is their family; many of them would have had to leave their friends behind every time that they leave a country.

These constant changes usually lead to a very specific type of person, one who is very independent and self-reliant, often a loner. That self-reliance can be turned into an asset as a TCK grows up and enters the business world. However, this independence often verges on isolation - the pain of having to leave behind friends so many times in childhood may lead them to feel that they do not need or want to have any close relationships. When they leave a country, they tend to let go of the friendships that they have formed far more easily - they lose touch with their old friends a lot more quickly than most people would.

A TCK can never turn back into a mono-cultural person, and for the majority of their lives they may choose a similar life to that which their parents chose. They are usually very tolerant of differences between themselves and other people, and are often extremely friendly and good at making friends quickly - something they have learnt because of much practice. Unsurprisingly TCKs tend to be good with languages, a skill that they have often learnt out of necessity. They find it far easier to change their behavior, language and actions based on the situation due to the fact that they will have often had to do this many times in the past.

Whilst there may be benefits to having such a lifestyle, there are of course consequences. TCKs often feel no sense of belonging to any particular place, so they often spend their adult lives traveling from one place to another to try and find where they can belong. They often have no qualms in losing a relationship, sometimes finding it preferable than having to spend time trying to solve problems that may have arisen in a relationship. Often the parent's of TCKs express frustration at the fact that they do not identify with the same country as the parents do.

Hey there.

Now we may not know eachother very well, but I’m gonna fill you in. Just like with any first encounter I guess we got to get around to those boring questions. You know the ones you and everyone else asks because the hope of a natural conversation with some people is, well, to reach for the stars. So, let’s see, I’m half French, half Swiss german, but grew up abroad. In Central Asia actually. In one of those Stans that no one cares enough about to know how to pronounce correctly.

This sort of brings me to the topic at hand, that is to say, third culture kids. No it’s not a requirement but I guess it helps the storytelling side if you grew up in a third world country. Essentially all it means is that you grew up in a country with a culture that is not your own. Basically, it works like this. You leave country A to arrive in country B with culture number 1. There you encounter culture 2. You then leave country B to go back to country A but have discovered that you no longer have culture 1 and never managed to fully assimilate culture 2, leaving you with, yup, you guessed it, culture 3. I know, I was never any good at those demonstrations in math either.

Now that we’ve established what the third culture kid thing is all about, let’s move on to the subject at hand. That is to say, feeling like a foreigner in your own country, city, or hillbilly town. Now, hopefully your parents have the presence of mind to remember why they left that hillbilly town in the first place, or a weighty wallet and you end up in a place where not everyone is related to big Bob, but then again, who said life was fair. But let’s try to stay on point. Initially the biggest shock is arriving in a place, where there are rules that can no longer be bypassed by a brief encounter with the ever smiling face of Benjamin Franklin, tastefully tucked between your driver’s license and the card of that plumber who screwed you over. I mean you don’t even haggle anymore, and the stores all have roofs. I mean what’s up with that right. Way to cut yourself off from Mother Nature. Now I’m not trying to slag off where I grew up, I mean you could buy a kilo of tomatoes for about 5 cents and the guy would even throw in an eternal debt of gratitude just to seal the deal. All I’m trying to say is that it’s different.

It’s all so clean, you can’t smoke everywhere, cabs smell like fabreeze, and you actually have to look at the prices on the menu. I remember when I could sit down in a restaurant and know that I was Daddy Warbucks. Jesus, I know, I’m starting to sound like a broken record. It’s all different on the surface, culture shock and bla bla bla. Thankfully that’s not what truly makes you feel like a foreigner. It’s mainly for those conversations that you have with people, where in the beginning you were the most honest joe around and really explained what your past was comprised of, with all the weird gimmicks that entails, the map, anecdotes, that traditional hat from that really cool town, the works really. Except the negative side to that is that you usually end up hitting a wall or listening to yourself speak for the next 20, 30 or 40 minutes depending on how many drinks you’ve had or rather shallowly on how high you’re listener scores on a scale of 1-10.

Now let’s set the record straight, having an atypical upbringing doesn’t make you special or an interesting person. What it does is give is another pair of eyes to stare at the world around you. However you usually end up with someone in front of you who just doesn’t want to add anything, or just assumes that you’re an alien or should be well on your way to be shipped off to some camp for illegal immigrants. You feel like telling them that you’ve read the same books and listened to the same music that they have (with a two year delay of course), in most case you’ve usually watched the same movies or played the same games, but the conversation never usually gets that far. In the end it just switches off.

In turn I suppose that you start getting defensive and at the same time, fun as it is to waddle around in life on your own, a couple friendly faces on the way never hurt anyone, you begin to dumb your version down, dilute it, whitewash and flake it. Your story no longer starts with “My parents met in New Delhi” it becomes “Grew up abroad and then came back for Uni”.

You get a better reaction from those around you, so you continue. Every time you tell the story it becomes more word efficient, infinitely less elaborate until you almost forget your own past in that country. Some would say that memory fades, but I’d argue that it becomes almost a conscious effort to forget, given that the experience is no longer of any pressing use to you. So you put it in a box during your quest for normalcy until you finally figure out, that no matter what you do, who you meet, or how much time you spend in one place, you will never be from that country, you will never be everyone else. In my case, I would always get asked if I were Canadian. I have nothing against Canadians, they’re even my favorite polite country, but if you speak French, you can understand why that’s not a compliment.

Eventually you arrive at a point of no return where you start actually faking to be from another country because everyone will probably assume you come from there anyway. But deep down you just want to see if you can get it away with it. When you do, well let’s just say that you’re filled with mixed emotions, like having sex for the first time. One day you’re just like “fuck it” and normalcy and just have to start assuming the strange thing that you are. You even start playing into it more and more, pushing your accent further on, where people just start speaking to you in English because they assume that there is no way in God’s green earth that you could possibly be French, and you relish it. The fact that you lived abroad becomes your brand, your opening line, your defining trait and you milk it until that udder’s turned blue. No, I’ve never done any farm work, and have no idea how that whole thing functions but you get my point.

In the end you just finish as a hollow caricature of what you thought your experiences had brought you, only jotting out what you know will get you a positive reaction, from people who don’t want to actually know anything about you except the fact that you changed everything about yourself to live in their world. It’s as if we’ve arrived in a world where there is no value for someone who confronts someone’s vision of their own environnement. If the encounter does nothing to validate one’s own existence and one’s own morals than it isn’t worth having it would seem. We count on one another to reassure eachother that our method of existence is acceptable, as did I for longer than I care to admit.

But that’s all over now, because you see, I can't help it, I’m just a third culture kid.

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