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Third Culture Kids: A Cross-Culture Journey

Posted: March 24, 2015

Who are global nomads? Who are Third Culture Kids? Where is the sense of identity? Here’s a post that discusses some of these concepts in detail.

“Mom, seventy seven countries are participating in our school’s International Day this year!”, my super-excited son told me as soon as he came back from school. “Is it? That’s amazing!”, was my instant reaction, but at the back of my mind I was thinking if I’d be able to write down the names of so many countries in one go.

On the International Day we had to represent one country. Initially, I was confused between India and Japan. My Indian husband was raised in Japan, and his soul is more Japanese than Indian. For me, six years of staying in Japan didn’t make me feel non-Indian. My son’s mother tongue is Hindi; he loves (is crazy about) Bollywood movies and songs; he worships and knows the names of Hindu Gods; we celebrate all Hindu festivals with zest; we love homemade Dal Chawal! But again, we also love Japanese food, and I cook tempura more often than pakora (Indian fries); we love manga (Japanese animation) and collect these alien characters; my son is learning the Japanese script Hiragana and not Hindi; we enthusiastically celebrate matsuri (Japanese festivals) and our Dal Chawal has sushi rice, not basmati.

Somewhere in our hearts, we felt that we wanted to represent India. We all have Indian passports and we believed that we belonged to the country of our ancestors. Though we have adapted a few healthy features of the Japanese (read robot) life style – like wake up before sunrise, eat dinner at sharp 6pm, we are super organized and punctual (not me) most of the time and are comfortable in doing our work by ourselves than to have someone else help us. But, when India is playing against Japan, we will support India!

My son is the only Indian in his class. He doesn’t feel that he doesn’t belong to his multicultural group. He gets along with them and has a unique way of interacting comfortably with everyone. I am glad that he is not biased towards his friends based on their origin. I feel that he and his friends are fortunate to experience this diverse cultural exposure. Our children are now being raised in a cross-cultural environment and a new concept has evolved and it is referred to as the Third Culture Kids (TCK). They flew before they learnt to walk and understood two or more languages before they could spell any word. They are sponges that absorb elements of different cultures. David C. Pollock, an American sociologist has defined TCK as – ‘a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all other cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background’.

Once someone asked my son who was a five-year-old then “Where are you from?” His simple answer was “from India”. Again, he was questioned “Which city in India?” and my naïve son confidently answered “Dubai!” At that time, we had moved to Dubai only two months ago from Japan and how easily he made this foreign land his ‘home’. His candid answer made me ponder then, that does it really matter where we come from? But then, I think it does play a role in our present lives. The country of origin helps us form a base and shape our future; it gives meaning to our lives.

I think what matters the most is our present – where and with whom we are living currently. Our present personality is a concoction of all the countries we have lived in and with all the nationalities we have interacted before. We carry a little bit of everything within us. Thus, home becomes a relative term. According to a mother who is half-Jordanian and half -Palestinian and has just shifted to Dubai from USA said “ We have no official home and my children have traces of Palestine, Jordan, America and now Dubai.” Pico Iyer correctly said in one of his TED Talks, “Where you come from now is much less important than where you’re going.”

Being a TCK is not always easy, as many hardships may arise. Some children with diverse backgrounds tend to develop a blurred sense of identity. The concept of cultural belonging is conflicting. They immerse themselves in completely new environments and still remain an outsider in their host country. My close friend, Yulia from Russia, who had lived in Japan before moving to Dubai said, “My kids and I enjoy cultural diversity, but we were strangely referred to as aliens in Japan. We had to carry an alien card as our identity. Though, my son (now ten years old) has picked up Japanese language, but is still not good enough to communicate.”

Additionally, frequent transitions can create a fear of building close friendship as children tend to fear the pain of loss. Tanya, a teenager from India who now lives in Dubai said, “I lost contact with my friends from India because life changed drastically. Facebook and other social media also didn’t help as I became busy with my daily routine.” TCK create a social network all around the world, but it may also lead to the out-of-sight-out-of-mind attitude. Some times, re-entering the home country can be a reverse cultural shock. The child might feel like a hidden immigrant in his home country. Manisha, a mother originally from India, who has lived in Canada and Singapore felt the same for her teenage son, Eklavya. She said, “We were regarded as foreigners in our home country, when we decided to shift back to India. My son couldn’t relate to the current TV shows and latest trends. I also felt alienated and was unable to relate with my childhood friends.”

In this globalizing world, numbers of TCK are increasing. Parents and teachers are aware of these constantly evolving personalities. They are working towards enhancing their experience and providing them with a sense of security. There are lots of online support websites where teenagers can share their cultural encounter abroad and life changing experiences.

I consider myself a global nomad. I realized that I came to know more about myself when I stepped out of my home country. Albert Einstein described himself as a world citizen and supported the idea throughout his life, famously saying, “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.”

 Image of happy children via Shutterstock 

Meenu believes in enjoying little things in life. Very social but at the same time

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Comments

3 Comments


  1. Hi,
    Very good article !

  2. Sociologically speaking this thoughtful article is eye opening and worthy of further sociological analysis and research!!

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