Monday, March 17, 2014

What's it Like to Be a TCK?

It is difficult to understand exactly what it's like to be an TCK, a Third Culture Kid, or someone who has had more than one cultural identity. One of the problems in understanding a TCK is a lot of people don't try to understand them because they assume that they're not really that different from anyone else. I can assure you, they are a lot more different than you would guess by just looking at them!
I'm a TCK myself; I spent all of high school in different countries than where I was born. I can speak two languages; I often prefer wearing the shalwar kamis of India to jeans and shirts, and I would much rather eat dahl and rice than a hamburger and fries. Yet I'd also rather speak English than Hindi and I'd rather be in a forest than in a desert. I am a mixed bag of cultures.

So why aren't TCKs understood?

1. Many people don't know exactly what a TCK is. Even many TCKs don't know what a TCK is, and even more TCKs have no idea that they are one. We're familiar with the terms MK (missionary kid), and MB (military brat), but we forget about kids who were born with parents of two different ethnic backgrounds, refugee kids, kids who moved from one country to another in their early age, and kids who have a different home culture than the culture of their surroundings. All of these are TCKs. In essence a TCK is a kid who has at least two predominant ethnic cultural influences in their life. 

2. There are many different kinds of TCKs that are very different from each other. No two TCKs are alike. Consider three of my closest friends, Daniel, Beth, Caleb, and myself. We were all TCKs in India at one point, but we are very different from one another.

Beth spent eight years in Africa, eight years in India, and is now in England. She is influenced by all of those cultures. She also lived in an area of India where most people spoke English and were comparatively upper-class. She has spent nearly no time in the country her parents are from. She was home schooled, so in the TCK community that usually means that she spent a predominant amount of time with Indians or Africans, but she still got an American education and probably views the world through an American perspective as much as she views it from an Indian or African one.

My friend Caleb spent time in Indonesia and India and was affected by both of these cultures. He also went to an international school, so he was predominantly affected by other TCKs like himself from all over the world. This will affect how he views his country.

My friend Daniel is a TCK from two different places. as well, but while he spent nearly all of his life in one country he has spent only a few years in India. He is also home schooled but he interacts with many other TCKs who influence the way he views the world.

I lived most of my life in America. When I did leave overseas, I went from country to country very rapidly and did not have much time to develop a connection with a specific country. I lived in India for only a year, and the year I was there I worked among a predominantly poor community. I was online schooled and my social interactions were with other TCKs. this affected my worldview.

 3. There aren't very many of us. Although we are indeed a subculture, we are a very small subculture that is not easily recognizable or identified and with characteristics very diverse from each other.

I want to make it a little easier to understand what exactly a TCK is.

A TCK is unique. Other than their immediate family, no one in the world has shared the exact same experiences that they have experienced. This can make them feel alone and misunderstood, and they often feel like their experiences aren't appreciated by other people even though they know they have a lot to offer if anyone listened. This uniqueness can make a TCK feel insecure, lonely, or proud. It also can be something to enjoy and appreciate, and they can use their unique experience to influence others with less experience to see the world in a broader way.

A TCK chooses where they are from--and that's okay! When you have an affiliation to two countries or more, you can say which one you're from or can simply say it's complicated. If you feel you are from a country that people think you're not from, you have the right to claim it and you can stick to your guns. A friend of mine is Japanese, even though she is Caucasian and has American citizenship. She has the right to claim she is Japanese, because to a TCK where you're from doesn't have to deal with what the color or your skin is or where your passport comes from. It has to do with what culture has influenced you the most and what culture you identify yourself with. She thinks like a Japanese person, acts like a Japanese person, and dresses like a Japanese person--and she's allowed to do that! In my case, I refrain from telling people where I'm from because I am from many places, and I feel like it is a betrayal to the countries I come from to claim one above the other. Each TCK has the right to sort through this complicated subject the way they see fit, and this right should be respected.

A TCK can have a broader worldview. Having lived in a culture who has a potentially completely different outlook on life than their parents, TCKs can pick and choose which systems of thought work and which do not. Monocultural kids only get to deal with ideas and philosophies that spring up from their own culture or see other culture's perspectives through the lens of their own. A TCK is often exposed to more ideas than a monocultural kid from a very young age. This can cause them to understand the world at large a little better and think more critically on ideas they come across. It also can cause a sense of misplaced pride as they see the flaws in the ideas of people with less international experience.

TCKs have missed out. Let's be honest, living in two countries your entire life may only give you half the picture of both countries. I knew a woman whose parents had immigrated from Mexico to America when she was young; as a result she knew neither English nor Spanish fluently. This caused in her a deep sense of cultural confusion and frustration she would not have experienced if she had not moved. A TCK may grow bitter about moving from the country they care about or about not experiencing the life a monocultural person does. Other TCKs have not had the opportunity to build deep relationships with people around them because of how much they have moved. Some TCKs are bitter towards the loss that they have experienced in their lives. Although there are many benefits to being a TCK, I do not want to diminish the fact that many TCKs are hurting people like everyone else.

TCKs appreciate culture. Many TCKs are mini-cultural anthropologists and notice aspects of ethnic cultures and reasons behind them in ways that Monocultural kids do not. They have the ability to appreciate differences easier, understand the cause of differences, and cross cultural or social barriers with ease. They often like not only the cultures they lived in but the cultures their other TCK friends are from. They may choose to follow a random cultural fad from a culture they've never been to because they love it when they find a culture that does something the right way. TCKs in general feel comfortable around other TCKs; at the same time, however, they can become judgmental and easily annoyed with people who have had less experience worldwide.

TCKs are often missing someplace. We miss things about America when we're overseas. We miss things about overseas when we're in America. When we're in college or in boarding school we don't get to see our family more than once or twice a year. Many of us are used to letting go of things and starting over. Some TCKs have become extremely adaptable to wherever they find themselves because they've learned to blend in so often. Some TCKs can never go back to where they grew up, like refugees or families who have been kicked out of countries. Some kids have moved so often that they miss the feeling of having a home.

Hopefully this will help you gain a better appreciation of TCKs in general. Please feel free to leave comments about your own experiences or any questions you might have!

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