It’s a simple question for most people, but for many Third Culture Kids (TCKs), the answer is not straightforward. Our children are perfect examples. Our daughter (10) was born in Hong Kong, our son (7) in Switzerland. Neither is entitled to a birth country passport and both carry passports from two countries in which they have never lived. Our daughter has lived in five countries, Our son in four. Besides a brief period when our son thought that he was born in the then newly opened Hong Kong Disneyland, the question “Where were you born?” has been easily answered by both from an early age. “Where are you from?” is more complex. Our daughter in particular has become adept at making an assessment of the interest level of the questioner and will give answers that range from “I was born in Hong Kong” to a short synopsis of her life story. I laughed when I recently read Brice Royers list of ’15+ Ways to Answer the Question “Where are you from” ‘ as I think I have heard our children give at least 10 of his answers.
The more serious side to the dilemma is one that my husband and I worry about frequently: Is our children’s lack of a national identity or even a sense of belonging going to negatively affect them in the long run? Both children will tell you, if you ask, that they are Scottish and Australian, but having never lived in either place, they don’t have a strong sense of what it means to be Scottish or Australian. If we put them into a school in Scotland or Australia today, their classmates would undoubtedly view them as outsiders. During our recent two year assignment in America, our children attended a local school in which the number of international students was very small. Our son quickly adopted all things American in an effort to fit in, learning all he could about baseball, American football and icehockey, enthusiastically pledging allegiance to the flag each morning with his class and arguing with me about the pronunciation of “tomato”. Our daughter adapted less and found her community of closest friends principally among the handful of TCKs and cross-culture kids (CCKs) in her class. Upon moving to her current school in Brussels, which includes children of 70 nationalities in its student body, she proclaimed “Mummy, it’s so nice to be back in a school where everyone is like me!”
As parents, we have taken the view that the benefits to our children of our family’s peripatetic existence outweigh the negatives. Like many expat parents, we try to understand our children’s TCK experience and support them through their transitions, trying (difficult as it is sometimes) not to view their adaptions to other cultures as a rejection of our own, but as a way for them to have a sense of belonging in their community. We hope that, as adults, they will be able to be confident in the strengths that their TCK experience has given them but that they will also be able to find a sense of community and belonging, whether it is in a culture they adopt or among people who have shared their TCK experience.
Some additional TCK resources:
‘Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds’ by David Pollock and Ruth van Reken
Raising Global Nomads: Parenting Abroad in an On-Demand World by Robin Pascoe
Unrooted Childhoods: Memoirs of Growing Up Global by Faith Eidse and Nina Sichel
P.S. My husband’s car is now imported, registered and insured. I can report that although there was considerable frustration, no further tears were shed!