Hong Kong Kids, the TCK Life I Remember

I was provided with this video today from a friend and teacher in Hong Kong who deals with Third Culture Kids every single day of her life. We have had many back-and-forth conversations and she has provided me with very valuable information regarding the early-developmental years of TCKs. She brought this video to my attention because of the impact that the video is currently having in the Hong Kong International School system in. As educators, their reaction to this video is understandable and certainly merits a detailed look. It may even become a serious central point for developing topics in handling Third Culture Kids in the future. However, before I continue to discuss it further, I would like to welcome my fellow TCK readers, and more so the parents of TCKs, to watch the embedded video here:

Where do I start? I think the best place to begin would be to use the talents of a Third Culture Kid and look at it like someone who isn’t me. After all, that’s what TCKs do every single day of their lives. We look at the world through our own eyes, interpret it, analyse it, then respond based on the community and culture that surrounds us. So, I am going to take my first verbalized look at this video as an educator in the International School system in Hong Kong, the schools in which these YouTube stars currently attend as High School students.

As an educator, this doesn’t exactly paint a great picture for kids growing up in Hong Kong. It’s immature behaviour laced with false-pride and a sense of undeserved authority just because the kids are part of the International School community in Hong Kong. The kids in this video are all under the age of 18 it seems, of course I will admit to be taking a wild stab in the dark there because since I got old, I have a really hard time guessing the age of people under 21. These kids are smoking pot, getting drunk, taking shots, walking around partying in the streets, riding buses and drinking on-board, and generally being rowdy. Let’s also remember that all these kids are part of the elite expatriate lifestyle. They go home to having live-in helpers who make their beds, wash their clothes, cook their meals, and handle their every need. They almost certainly don’t work and probably haven’t had a single job in their lives, and more than anything, they represent the community of international students and expats in Hong Kong and all the other students that attend the varying international schools across the city. And here they are, painting a picture of a life that grants them a status that’s so much greater than the lives of anyone else in the world when they themselves did nothing to deserve it.

There you have it. There’s the view of an FCK, a parent of one of these TCKs, and/or a member of the HKIS educational and administrative team. That’s how it’s being viewed by people all over the world, and how these little kids are being judged. All it takes is a quick look at the SkiBs facebook page and you’ll see some wonderfully insulting comments detailing exactly this. Of course, by attacking these kids like one person by the facebook alias of Denholm Reynholm does and saying “my dog has bigger bollocks than these kids,” sort of removes your entire right to speak on the issue. Discounting your maturity and lowering yourself to a level below those you’re attacking… come on now, that’s the first mistake in winning an argument! After all, you’re not arguing with SkiBs. The artist and team think they’re in the right. You’re arguing to win the vote of everyone who hasn’t already decided how they feel.

But now I’ve gotten that little side-rant off my back, I want to take the opportunity to explain my reaction to this video before I put on the mask of a different culture. I want to tell you what I saw as a TCK, as a global traveler, and as a Hong Kong Kid myself.

When I watched this video, the first thing I did was smile, especially at the title screen of “Hong Kong Kids” as it floats above the familiar sea-wall in Stanley not 10 minutes walk from where I used to live. My body filled with warm memories and I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmingly happy thinking about all the times I spent sitting on that exact wall and watching the water, or kissing my girlfriend goodbye the day before she left to move to Beijing sitting in the alcove beneath the seawall.

Then we jumped into smoking, drinking, crazy parties, the nightlife, jumping into the ocean. And my almost-26-year-old-brain went “wooooaaaa… what the hell are these kids up to?” But then I paused. And again I smiled. Because my mind jumped back to my freshman year of High School where I would go out and buy a packet of cigarettes, smoke them over the weekend, drink, get rowdy. I remember the crazy nights back when I was only 15 years old. Why? Because I was a white boy in Hong Kong, and I could see over the counter, so who was going to say no to me buying alcohol or smokes?

I spent six months there, going out on weekends and riding buses all by myself, drinking on the street or drinking in bars, smoking cigarettes (I never jumped on the pot thing). I got rowdy, and I lived that life. And even now, I look back and say “those were the single greatest two years of my life.”

But look at me now. Now, I own part of a consultancy firm. I own part of an apparel company. I work two full time jobs, one as a marketing director and one as a website and branding adviser. I do public speaking events about culture and TCK life anywhere in the world. I write every single day, from short stories to novels to TCK Life. I pay taxes. I support myself, I treat my girlfriend to everything. I work hard, and I am proud of who I have become.

The reason I tell you this isn’t to brag. It’s to show you, despite how clearly I understand your reaction as a TCK parent or an administrator at any international school, that I did all of those things! That was me exactly 10 years ago. And while it may be shocking and in-your-face now that 21st century technology allows for kids to capture and share with the world all the things that I did in secret, those things have always been happening. They are part of life in Hong Kong as a TCK growing up there. It’s just… what happens.

You cannot get trapped in the negativity. My school, HKIS, as well as many other international schools in Hong Kong, provides a world-class education that will lead to those kids going to colleges all over the world. Some might come back to Hong Kong one day. But most of them won’t. Most will be like me, lost in the world, confused, scared. They’ll be struggling to find their identity, struggling to figure out who they are and why they feel like an outsider everywhere they go. And they’ll remember Hong Kong, and they’ll remember how at home they were there with all those people that they grew up with of different races and creeds.

But here’s the best part: While other kids in college are going crazy finally being free from their parents, partying hard, getting rowdy, making horrible horrible mistakes in dangerous places around the planet, those Hong Kong Kids will not. They’ll remember their youth, and they’ll know they’ve already lived that life, but they lived it in the best place in the entire world, one of the safest cities on the planet. And when they’re struggling to find the answer to why they feel so lost, maybe they’ll come looking for someone like me, someone who has done exactly what they did, just 10 years before them. And I’ll tell them like I am telling you, the International School administrators and parents of Hong Kong Kids:

Please, don’t worry. Everything is going to be fine. I promise. You’re doing everything right. You are teaching these kids to respect each other, to understand each other’s cultural heritage, to work as a team despite their differences. You have created bonds that you will never see anywhere else in the world, unities that will last a lifetime even if those kids never speak to each other ever again. You have shown them a world that most people can’t even imagine, and you are giving them the power to understand it!

Just keep teaching them well. Kids will be crazy. Kids will be kids. But in the end, everything will turn out alright. I promise.

After all, it did for me, and I couldn’t be happier with the life that I have today.


The Author


Post by: James R. Mitchener

17 thoughts on “Hong Kong Kids, the TCK Life I Remember

  1. Shamala Carlson

    Love it! Love this article and all your writing! I’m an alumni who is now working at HKIS (in the LP) and just got an email from the Head of School about this video. I did way worse in my time in middle school and highschool here and the same school that I got into so much trouble with hired me to work for them just a few years later. I think you’re absolutely right. The culture in HK makes it very easy for teenagers to do a lot of stuff they probably wouldn’t get away with in other countries. You are also right in your conclusion that here people just mature faster which means going through the stage that most kids experience in college, while still in highschool. I remember watching people binge drinking ’til they puked on their own shoes in college and wondering why no one had learned to control it. It was just that I’d already passed that stage of life and moved on to the next. Just out of curiosity where are you living now?

    1. James R. Mitchener Post author

      The funniest thing, with all the crazy responses from random people being so critical about SkiBs making this video, is that he’s actually incredibly talented! The cinematography, the lyrics, the style in which he put everything together, the excitement in the piece is all unbelievably impressive. The line “I hope this city remembers me… all you take with you is these memories” makes my stomach turn every single time I hear it. Why? Because it’s so unbelievably true. And now that my time in Hong Kong is so far behind me, and all my friends have moved on to different lives, I know that the city has forgotten me. But I will never forget it, because that was where I realized who I really was.

      The people maturing faster comment you made rings true to me, too. I find that the Hong Kong lifestyle made me grow up much faster than anyone I knew. When I left Hong Kong, I moved to Houston, TX. I couldn’t drive yet, so I was essentially a prisoner. I’d gone from complete and total freedom in a school I loved (HKIS by the way– best education, teachers, and social experience of my life) to no freedom in a school I felt like an inmate and not a human being. I was sick of being treated like a kid, because I didn’t feel like one. I remember at 16 I kept thinking to myself “when can I move out? I am so tired of being treated like a child when I’m in no way one.” By 18, I felt as though I’d wasted three years of my life just waiting for people to catch up to me, but then I got to college and everyone was partying and going nuts because of the sudden freedom, and I realized even then that people hadn’t caught up to me.

      This Hong Kong lifestyle, this craziness that’s getting SkiBs so much negative response, was the style that freed me. I did all those things that you should never do (but everyone does) in one of the safest cities in the world. But what really makes it incredible is that I did it with people from all over the world. My group of friends consisted of me (English), American, Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, French, Welsh, and Spanish. We had everyone, and you know what, I was closer to those guys than I have ever been with anyone else in my life. We just understood each other.

      Thanks for the comment, and in conclusion: I live in Raleigh, NC USA these days. Welcome to TCK Life!

  2. D

    I have to completely agree with everything you said when you got to the TCK view of the video. I was watching the video and the whole time just thinking to myself “boy, does that look familiar” haha. I did it. My brother did it. I saw other TCK kids do it. And now? I’m in grad school. My brother is organizing conferences and getting job offers from top companies and he’s only in the middle of his second year of undergrad. I don’t think we turned out too shabby. It’s just like what you said, we got all that freedom in high school that by the time we got to Uni, or just out of high school, we didn’t feel the need or desire to “go wild” as a lot of FCK Uni students do. We were ready to focus and figure out where we were headed in life(while of course still having fun!).

    1. James R. Mitchener Post author

      I was a little worried that my comments in this article might result in TCKs turning against me for supporting this behaviour in my writing. I must admit, the TCK community has once again surprised me and made me proud to be part of them and proud to have started this collection targeted towards people like us. It’s people like you and your brother, people like the administrators at HKIS that have reached out, those though have commented on this blog, and the readers who have pushed it out to their social networks that make me realize the life of a TCK isn’t one spent alone, but one spent with friends we’ve never met in all corners of the world. Thanks for commenting, and keep working hard (to both you and your brother).

  3. Cecilia Haynes

    I LOVE your response. It is exactly how I feel and the time period in which I went crazy was Chennai, India (not the one of the safest cities in the world), Manila, and Hong Kong. Most people go through the out-all-the-time drinking and partying phase and it is usually later in life. I am so glad that I got into the messes that I did when I had my family to take care of me as well as drivers, etc. Thank you for this great article.

      1. James R. Mitchener Post author

        Absolutely not stepping on my toes! Thanks for providing a back-link, and I read the article, it’s fantastic. Thanks for reading, thanks for commenting, and thanks so much for taking it one step further and helping push the level of understanding TCKs are having for SkiBs. I don’t know why, but since all this negative commentary the kid is facing, I can’t help but feel like he deserves the support of TCKs like us, the ones that have been there, have experienced it, have passed through it, and are now better because of it. Thanks again.

  4. Ellen Mahoney

    Thank you for writing this. I thought it was really thoughtful. I shared your post on our Facebook change, because I really think TCKs and Expat families should consider your point of view.

    1. James R. Mitchener Post author

      Thank you so much for sharing it. I’m glad it’s spreading well, and I’m extremely happy there are people enjoying my TCK perspective on the issue. Thanks for reading, commenting, and sharing!

  5. Ellen

    Well put. From experience I would say that a lot of places follow the same pattern. Thinking back to my high school days in Puerto Rico and Nairobi, it was not so different. As you said, at the time we didn’t have internet, FaceBook or any other internet media to publicise our “activities”. The greater majority of my TCK friends have become successful, contributing members of society. Perhaps our teenage years were a little wild, but isn’t that what they should be? Isn’t that a time for experimenting and discovering? Rather than starting with discovery in College when there are fewer “safety nets” and consequences are more severe.

    Then there is a question: is it really only TCKs who behave like this or does this not also happen in a FCK environment, only perhaps the kids don’t have the gumption to put together a video and post it. Or are TCKs just more criticised because they are expats and carry a certain stigma of being “rich kids” and are presumed to live a preferential life style. After all, they still go to school, do homework, have to answer to their parents, tidy up their bedroom or perform other chores regardless of live-in maids, chauffeurs etc.

    All told the video shows a certain amount of artistery and thought, even if one was not to agree with the content.

  6. LS

    I’ve very glad I stumbled across this blog. I’ve been reading it for the past few hours, and have learned quite a bit. I’ve been put under the TCK label before, though I continue to wonder if I actually qualify. Technically I have only lived in two countries I hold the passport to, but wherever I am, I am considered the outsider, whatever my own thoughts might be on the subject.
    I grew up in local schools wherever I went, which I hated at the time since we had so much more homework and such longer hours than the international schools in town. But from my teenage years onward, I grew to appreciate all the extra work I was put to as a child, since it taught me the language, culture, and history in a way I would never have learned in an international school. The language especially. And meeting TCK kids in college, I too often bemoan the fact that they were not blessed with the opportunities I had been. How does one spend their entire life in a “foreign country” and not speak the language? It makes me sad, even angry when I think of it.
    But from your blog posts, and especially this video you shared, I realized that everything is give and take. I learn the language, I connect with some of the roots, but I am also limited by my experience. While I spent all my life hanging out with local classmates, TCK kids in international schools were meeting people from all over the world, gaining a much wider range of experiences and memories, and, perhaps most importantly, finding people who understand them. I am, I confess, jealous of the friendships, of people who understand.
    I guess its a matter of depth versus breadth. I am blessed with a depth of experience in one culture, while others are blessed with a breadth I could never hope to experience. I’m afraid I once stigmatized international school students as “rich kids,” but I know better now.

    I will also say that the video warmed my heart, even if I do not share any of the experiences. Anyone who likes Hong Kong this way is good in my book. 🙂

    I apologize for the exceedingly long comment…

  7. Pingback: A Christmas with Two TCKs | Third Culture Kid Life

  8. Chun

    Can u tell me more about your life in school when u was 16?what if u get a chance to go back to 16, what would you do rather than………..:)

    1. James R. Mitchener Post author

      At 16 I was back in Houston, TX, surrounded by FCKs again. Do you want to know about that experience, or the experiences I had just before I left Hong Kong a few months prior to that? Either or, I’m happy to share!

  9. Amanda S

    This is a really interesting article. I’m not a TCK, perhaps a “second-culture kid” if you will, since I’m a Chinese American in Hong Kong. While I do go to an international school, I never went out to LKF, never to Stanley, never to Wan Chai. I hear stories about kids getting wasted, getting home at 4 in the morning, smoking pot and shisha. It’s interesting how these experiences do help you grow up. When I asked a TCK friend who had been a drinker and has been “going out” since she was 13 whether I had missed out, she shook her head and said no. I was so puzzled; I thought that if I lived that lifestyle, I’ve be more street smart, cooler, kids at school would treat me like I actually belonged. (But in retrospect, I guess it probably wouldn’t have worked. I’m Asian, I look way younger than my actual age, and I doubt I’d be able to rustle up the money for a fake ID.) I don’t know. Part of me wishes that I had that freedom, so at least I could have experienced those things. But I guess in a way, I learned those lessons vicariously.


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