Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What Makes Us: A Third Culture Kids Story

For those unfamiliar with the term "Third Culture Kid" it is usually defined as a child who has lived in a culture outside their parents' culture sometime during their adolescence. Third culture kids often grapple with understanding their place is society. The most brooding and frightening question for us is "where are you from?" Others often are so confused about where to place us in their realities that they jump to conclusion, wrongfully categorizing us into a single culture, because many who have grown up in a single place or culture are unable to conceptualize that it is possible for someone to belong to many different worlds at the same time. 

But there are some blessings to being a third culture kid as well. The way we connect with others like us is the most magical feeling in the world. It's funny, actually. We tend to relate to people who have had similar upbringings more than people that belong to one culture we identify with. For example, a half-Chinese, half-American boy who grew up in France and Canada is more likely to relate to a person who grew up in South Africa with Vietnamese parents than they are to someone who lived in Canada all their lives. 

The world is so much smaller when you're a third culture kid as well. We have friends from all over, being that some of us spent our childhood in various international schools (though except for the skillful few, most of us can't speak more than one or two languages) and were given the chance to fall in love with so many places. We have so much appreciation for places and people because we feel this secret bond with the world. We feel nostalgic a lot because we find memories in the most strange places. We feel nostalgic because everywhere we go feels like home and foreign at the same time. 

Paul Young, the author of #1 NYT best seller The Shack reviewed David C. Pollock's Third Culture Kids: Growing up Among Worlds, said "As an adult TCK, I have long wrestled with how I fit into this world. This book is the 'bible' for anyone who wants to understand the blessings and the curses of growing up multiculturally."

And this captures exactly how so many third culture kids view our predicament. As a third culture kid, we are blessed with the opportunity to be a part of so many beautiful cultures, yet at the same time don't have complete ownership of any particular place or people. 

There have been countless articles about Third Culture Kids, all of them I have read been written by other third cultures kids, obviously. I have been thinking about writing something like this for the longest time, but I didn't know what I could add to the mix of articles already written by qualified individuals (unlike myself) that hasn't already been said. And then I thought about why: why do I, and why would any third culture kid, want to write about being a third culture kid if there were already sufficient material out their in media? 

So I thought about it for a few minutes, and I realized, from all my travels and short time on the planet, being a teen, I have learned this: we share these stories because they are and have always been ours. For a good portion of us, our lives have lacked consistency, but the one thing that we have always cherished is who we are. For many of teens, we still can't define our place in the world because there is so much more life we have to live. We migrate from bubble to bubble, learning more as we realize what we have lost and gained form each new place. 

So I write to you, third culture kid, and ask you, from me to you, as you venture into your future and find yourself in the most unlikely places, remember not to constrain yourselves within the boundaries you have set for yourself. We often choose to identify with a single place for simplicities sake (often out of irritation of other, less...informed people), or because we are so desperate to have some sort of "base" to call home. Sometimes we may feel that don't belong anywhere, and other times feel so attached to a people or a place that isn't even initially ours. 

I ask you not to settle with these boundaries. Because as I know you know, there is so much more beyond the matrix we constrain ourselves within. As you will continue to grow, you will realize that not belonging anywhere doesn't matter; in fact, it shapes us. This idea we have that home is a place of permanence is completely distorted. Our home moves and grows as we do. As tacky as this may come across, it is the small moments in our lives that act as the bridge between us and "home."

For old times sake, let me ask you this: Where are you from? 

I'll tell you where I'm from. I'm from eating french toast on the roof top and pretending to be warrior cats. If I grow old, these memories will be faint, but as all past homes are, their relevance will never waver. There is no where I'd rather be than this home I remember in my head. At the same time, remember the future promises new, greater experiences.

I wish you the best of luck in your journey home, 
The Gossamer

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