Third Culture Kid
The idea of the Third Culture Kid, or TCK, is often relegated to the realm of wealthy expat brats or international jetsetters, and therefore ignored in many reports about young people. However, with the number of refugees and asylum seekers rising, TCK’s are becoming more and more common as displaced youth are forced to grow up in foreign environments. Regardless of economic status, the parents of TCK’s often worry about their children losing their roots, and it is true that after a time, the traditional definitions of ‘culture’ and ‘citizenship’ are almost redundant to TCK’s. However, they don’t cease to exist – they are simply redefined, and there is much to be learned from this generation of young people.
My own experience as a TCK has allowed me to integrate the cultures of my homeland, adopted country and friends’ countries to create a globalised culture. Many other TCK’s have done the same, giving us a unique worldview that changes the way we relate to society. Continuous exposure to an international environment in our formative years results in multiculturalism on such a deep level that by the time we reach adolescence, even our thought processes are cosmopolitan. This not only endows us with a chameleon-like ability to fit in with people regardless of nationality, but also with a greater tolerance of others.
I have personally gained a wider spiritual perspective through my exposure to multiple religious systems. Being born Hindu in a predominantly Buddhist country, I was raised in the Middle East, and have experienced just as much wonder eating shuwa during Eid as I have making mooncakes for Chinese New Year or lighting oil lamps for Divali. Rather than be threatened by different belief systems, I have taken something from everything because having grown up seeing so many different variations of doing one thing, it is easy to question the idea that any one way is absolute.
Naturally, being a TCK has its own challenges. After being woven into the weave of so many different worlds, the question of identity is baffling. We don’t know where we come from and feel incomplete because we haven’t experienced a single place fully enough to call it our own. However, all cons carry seeds of pros, and the TCK who can transcend rootlessness feels at home no matter where they are. We are different parts of all the places and people we have lived with. The idea brings with it a feeling of unity, because the world becomes ‘ours’ rather than ‘yours’ or ‘mine’.
By the time we reach adolescence, TCK’s realize more than anyone that we are all different. However, we survived our childhoods by developing a belief system based on mutual understanding and acceptance, one that allowed us to see beyond the petty things that drive people apart. We belong everywhere and nowhere. And if we have to ‘lose our roots’ to discover that we are all part of the same tree, maybe it is not such a bad thing after all.
– 18-year-old from Oman (female)
This entry is part of a series of essays and messages from the publication "Adolescence - Beyond the Stereotypes" - written, compiled and edited by adolescents and young people themselves with support from Voices of Youth and UNICEF.