This post is special. It is one I’ve been working to share with you for some time, one I kept hustling and hustling for, undoubtedly being the enormous pain in the ass I have a tendency to be when I get locked into an idea; a fantastic quality for work, not such a great quality for my girlfriend.
I have been asked many, many times from partners of Third Culture Kids how they can reach their TCK significant other when they themselves are First Culture Kids. I have always tried to answer as best I can, but in the end, we are always speaking two different languages. I know what I want as a TCK, but I am not the only TCK out there, nor am I in any real position to tell you as an FCK how your brain is going to relate to the things we say. We don’t understand a lot of the stuff you say, so I can only assume it goes both ways.
So, I thought to myself, how can I answer this question that will best help my FCK readers to resolve the issues inherent in the TCK-FCK barrier? And that’s how you got this article. I went to my girlfriend and asked her to write it for you, instead, detailing what it’s like being in a relationship with a TCK. I gave her no guidance, made no edits, and told her she could put anything she wanted on this page, so long as what she said was 100% true, even if she thought it might hurt.
After all, that’s the point isn’t it? To be an open book to help all of my readers find truth in the words of these pages? So, time to pull off another layer of the armor: Here is the single greatest answer I could have asked for. Here you’ll see how this little FCK managed to get past all the struggle that is… well, me… and decided that not only did she not hate me (well, not all the time at least), but that she wanted to stick around as much as I wanted her to never leave.
Oh, and as a side note: Happy Anniversary Chelsea Poole!
The following is a Guest post by Chelsea Poole:
I have a type. At least I had one before he came along. I didn’t realize it until he made it abundantly clear that he was a different one. I’ve dated brunette, blonde, tall, short, big, small, arrogant, humble, white, black, put together, and broken. But until he came along, I only dated Christian boys who were raised in the South and, with one exception, were born and lived their entire child and teenagehood in the exact same city as me. I dated FCKs. (To all my friends and family who I sent here, this is what WE are. Kids who were raised in the same culture as their parents… to put it simply.)
But then this one came along and from the moment I asked the elusive question, which for me went something like: “So, wait, you’re English, right? Where’s your accent?…Where are you actually from?” I knew that this guy was not my type. He is an atheist TCK and I a Christian, FCK and for the first time in my life I have crossed the line into unfamiliar territory that I didn’t ever think I’d ever make my way into. I’ve learned a lot about the TCK life from this blog and I learn more every time he posts something new. Something tells me I’ll never stop learning new things about him or this life I still struggle to understand. So now its my turn to steal his spotlight and try my best to show you a point of view he, and most of you readers, struggle to understand: the life of an FCK who has fallen in love with a TCK.
I would consider myself well-traveled. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to much of Central America, Bermuda with a few European jaunts as well as many different states in the U.S. But after hearing that he’s lived in places like England, France, Thailand, Singapore, and Hong Kong (all before age 15) I suddenly felt a lot less cultured than I thought I was.
I always always had a “home” to come back to in Raleigh, North Carolina, where we both live now. I’ve lived in the same square mile my entire life. Home to me is Raleigh, NC and it always will be. My entire family, immediate and extended (for the most part), lives here and I’ve gone to the same school with the same people since elementary school. My biggest adventure was moving into a dorm room at my University…3.5 miles away from my parents house.
If I had to name just one thing about the TCK life that I don’t understand it is the lack of a home. “But if you HAD to name one place…” or “So like, what do you write on doctors forms and stuff?” were popular questions for awhile until I finally realized I might never even get the same answer if he did finally fold. One time it was England, a few times it was Hong Kong, and through exasperated sighs and cringes he even said Texas a couple times. With time, this question evolved from the idea of home into the idea of multiple places of residence. Instead of trying to weasel a “home” out of him I began asking him to tell me specific things about each place he lived. The typical general questions couples ask in relationships, like “so what did you do for fun growing up?” turned into “what was your favorite food in Paris?” or “what do you miss the most about Hong Kong?” When provided with a specific question about a specific place, the answers came faster and he seemed more excited to reply.
Early on, I felt like he was judging me for having lived in the same place my whole life. I felt like he looked down on me for not understanding things about other cultures or assumed I was close-minded. I still get twinges of it from time to time, for instance when he calls NC a “backwards state full of backwards people.” He’s not entirely wrong but I can only assume that since he doesn’t quite understand what it’s like to have a hometown that he can’t relate to the feeling of me hearing mine constantly insulted.
What I understand now is that judgement is inherent in everyone. Everyone is raised differently and everyone will think their way is the way to do it. I constantly found myself in the beginning feeling sorry for him, asking myself, “how could his parents do that to him?” or “how could anyone live like that?” What I didn’t understand was that he LOVED it. He has never known anything else. Just like I loved living in the same place my entire childhood. I never knew anything else. Our lives were, ARE, different and though we still don’t quite understand it, that’s what we love about the other.
I am the one he never thought he’d be with and he is the guy I wrinkled my nose at. I’m a little, Christian girl who spent every weekend on a farm growing up and is kind of a prude in more ways than one. He’s a tobacco smoking, English-Chinese-French-American-Etc.-Etc., who hates the twang that resonates through some of my words and doesn’t quite get why I bow my head before eating. But we are still changing and learning the ultimate word that is necessary in any FCK-TCK relationship: compromise.
I realize now that I’ve made myself seem like your typical southern belle who goes to church every Sunday and repeats everything my Daddy has told me when it comes time for political conversation. But James will be the first to agree with me when I refute that. I want nothing more than to break out of the bubble and live in as many different countries as life will allow me. I tend to disagree with most of North Carolina’s politics and I don’t feel the need to go to a church to find God. But as different as I think I am, I am an FCK and that’s one thing I can never unknow or unlearn.
I can’t speak for James but I could probably write an endless list of things I’ve learned in the past year of life with my TCK. I’ve finally perfected how to use chopsticks after 21 years of immense failure. I can say more than bonjour and au revoir in French. I now know that I would fit in perfectly in the Chinese culture because of what a messy eater I am. And I’ve finally caught on to what he’s referring to when he tells me to throw something in the “bin” or when he tells me, in the ever so blunt way I’ve come to expect from him, that it’s probably time to get my “fringe” cut again.
Our relationship is back and forth, give and take, my one culture clashing with each of his. When someone asks me where my boyfriend is from, I say “the world” and I find myself grinning and laughing and hoping for the day when I’m the one getting on the airplane with him, packing up my life to take on a new adventure, a new culture, a new chapter. I will always have “home” but sooner or later I know that will cease to be Raleigh and will start to become, much like the way my TCK sees it, the people I love.
Guest Post by: Chelsea Poole
When she asked you what your favorite food in Hong Kong was, I hope you answered with, “Aztec’s ham and cheese sandwiches…”
You ask as if there were ever any other acceptable answer my friend.
Nah, I knew the answer. I just wanted to add my own little piece to the story. Ya know?
Very well done. You will always be home to me.
As a TCK, I never judge FCK people. In fact, I think many of us want to find a FCK to marry so we can settle down and have somewhere called home.
I’d rather be a FCK and have a simpler life, quite honestly. But I can’t change that. It’s a bit like having had the red pill in the matrix when the blue one would have been easier, given the choice. But there never was any choice. So we move on.
I’m a FCK and have been married to a TCK (German grew up in Taiwan)for 14 years now. This relationship can work, but as with any marriage it takes work. When we were dating I had the opportunity to listen to David Pollock on TCK issues, and I left thinking, “There is NO hope for the two of us making this relationship thing work.” BUT, then I actually got to talk with David and I asked him if he knew of other couples like ours and if we had any chance. His answer? What I just said…any relationship takes work and commitment to make it strong.
Has our marriage been easy and smooth? No, but whose has been? I mean, we’ve committed to stick it out and learn from and about each other. He has to be patient with me and I with him.
I think one of the best ways to help us FCKs is to go to those places our TCK spouse/significant other has grown up. Maybe you can’t visit each place, but being able to see and experience a little of what they did can really help. The other thing that helped was to spend time with his TCK friends – like those high school reunions. Listening to all their stories has helped me get to know the part of him I didn’t know.
We are currently living overseas with our kids…they were born overseas and having my husband around and his vast knowledge of what they are experiencing has helped me know how to best help them.
I wish you two the best as you search out life together.
Wow is all I can say!
I have been with my lovely TCK English/Irish boyfriend for almost 2 years now and I can completely relate to everything you said.
Became a bit emotional too, what a beautiful piece of writing
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Thank-you for referring me! This post definitely inspired me and I look forward to more of yours. I referenced this post at the bottom of mine 🙂
Between FCK and TCK, where do ABCs (american born chinese) stand, i wonder?
Well as an ABC TCK in “Africa”, I would say it depends on what type of community you live in. An FCK if you’re in a Chinese-American community, but also with a small-but-still-there sense of TCKness when you’re outside of that community.
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Great post! So happy to have happened upon this place. I think as an atck/former diplomat brat, there is a part of me that my (simple, southern, American boy) FCK husband would never be able to connect with. First, I married him because he is hilarious, loyal, hard working, and passionate. That said, there are circles of international friends and associates of my parents I could never expose him to, because he says embarassing things that suggest America is the only country in the universe. (I am HYPER sensitive about such things since we were groomed by the embassy to show respect to other cultures and it’s hard to turn that off!) So, I keep those worlds separate to simplify. My mother always recommended finding somebody with a similar TCK background, but aside from humans generally not being able to choose who they love, I instinctively felt that sameness would result in disaster. I’ve found I needed somebody “grounded” to balance my natural state of wanderlust and disconnectedness. If I’m keeping it 100% honest, the rare times we have argued over the last 15 years, I find these environmental differences are thrown about by both of us. He says I’m judgmental and flighty, I say he’s narrow minded and predictable. 🙂 Thanks so much for this site!
I’m a couple years late to respond (well about seven years), but this was beautifully written. As a TCK who was born in a small Southern town, it was incredibly important for me to hear it from the other side as well. I relate to you both so much!