The True Pioneers in TCK Life

True-Pioneers-BannerPeople are always asking me what it was like to grow up all over the world. I know I’m not alone when I say that, and I know I’m not alone when I struggle to respond to that question. The thing is, it’s not like I know any different. Other people asking me what it was like growing up all over the world is like me asking them what it was like growing up in the same place. “It was normal, I guess?” You might as well ask someone what it’s like to breathe, or think, or smell. “It’s all pretty normal, I guess?”

It got me thinking, though, about what people think when they talk to me about my travels. I get so many “Wow that’s so amazing,” or “I’m so jealous,” and mostly “I could never do that…,” but what’s the motive behind the question, really? So, I started asking. When people asked me what it was like, I’d answer, and then ask them why they wanted to know. The answers varied, but they all sort of followed a similar theme in some sense, and that was the idea that it was something brave or pioneering of me to be a person that grew up around the world, always travelling.

Yet, it isn’t really pioneering at all, is it? It’s certainly not brave. It’s just life. This is the way we grew up, it’s not like we had a choice in the matter, it’s just something that happened to us, like eating lunch or driving to a friends house. It’s all just part of life. Our parents took us from country to country because that was what they had to do, and we, as TCKs in production mode, tagged along and did what do best: we thrived on culture.

This very idea that there is some sort of inherent pioneering nature or bravery in the mind of a developing TCK also made sense of something else that we as TCKs experience far too often. When FCKs hear about our travels, they have a tendency to think that we’re bragging. Even my girlfriend has said that to me: “Don’t you think it’s a little pretentious to talk about how you’ve been all over the world and how cultured you are all the time in your blog?”

“Don’t you think it’s a little pretentious to talk to me about how you’ve spent your whole life with your family on your doorstep, with friends you’ve never had to say goodbye to every three years, and how you had a consistent and strong education without spending six months to a year every two to three years readjusting to your entire life being turned upside down?”

It’s not our fault, and it never was, that we became who we are today, just like it’s not the fault of an FCK they did not travel in their youth. We are the products of someone else’s decisions, and like any child going through a developmental period, we simply learned to adjust to what was our new period of normality. There isn’t bragging in our words, or at least there aren’t in mine. It’s just a life, like so many others, with a different background and a different string of experiences. To ignore it would be to ignore who I am, and ignoring that I like the person I am would be a massive disservice to myself and my parents.

And then it all suddenly made sense. The FCKs who are looking at me and seeing a guy who loves to travel, one that wants to get up and go all the time, who loves cultures and different corners of the world and back alleys that lead to mysterious places, they’re confusing my sense of adventure with something bigger. They see a pioneer in me, someone who isn’t scared to step outside of what’s considered culturally normal to them, but I’m nothing special.

The people that are special are our parents.

They were pioneers to their core, completely brave, completely original. Our parents, barring those few of us who have TCK parents, in which case it was your Grandparents most likely who fall into this category, broke the mold of everything that is culturally normal to them. They, like all of those around them, were born and raised into a First Culture Kid life. They grew up with the same friends, went to the same schools, had their families all around them all that time, knew the feeling so well of someone being on their doorstep at a moments notice when need be.

But they chose to leave. They chose, knowing the entire foundation of their life would be so far away, to jump into something completely different and new. They chose something that so many seem terrified of. They chose to do the thing that so many FCKs wrongly credit me for doing, me, a creature of habit, chasing the only thing I know how to do in terms of travel, and that’s to keep going. They credit me for this bug, this itch, this endless need to go, when to me that’s nothing but a natural and inherent desire.

The bravery, the pioneering nature, that belongs to the generation that built me, the ones that said “I may be terrified, and this may be different, but you know what… I’m going to do it anyhow.”

Me, I sit here and think about how terrifying of a concept it is to stay put, something I hope never ends up happening to me. I want to go, I want to keep running, I want to see it all and never stop. And that’s exactly what I was built to do. In a way, I am no different to any FCK that doesn’t want to move. We are both just creatures of our development.

Our parents, on the other hand, reshaped their world to make us. And while some of us may still be in that transitional phase of realization, and others may have made it through and love their TCK nature, and others still don’t even realize they have the TCK inside of them yet, it was our parents that took the plunge and changed everything.

So, in the spirit of the season, whatever cultural celebration you may be having at this time of year, or perhaps just in the spirit of us being people thrust into this crazy world: This TCK would like to thank all the parents in the world who were brave enough to take that leap of faith and do what so few have the courage to do. You left a life of comfort, predictability, and normality behind, and in the end, you created us.

So truly, thank you.

We love you guys.


James R. Mitchener
Post by: James R. Mitchener

5 thoughts on “The True Pioneers in TCK Life

  1. expatsincebirth

    I like the way you describe and defend the pioneering nature of TCKs. This itch to be continuously on the move: I know it all so well. But, yes there’s a but, I’m now experiencing the “staying put” and it’s energy consuming.
    I still need to change constantly (I once described my urge to change things in my life all three years in a post), but shifted from the geographical change to changing jobs, friends, hobbies and focusses in my life. All kind of changes have a cathartic effect.
    I don’t know if I will stay put forever (even writing this makes me feel very uncomfortable!), I would love to move, but at the moment that’s not an option for me, my family. – What should a TCK do if he/she needs to stay put, or doesn’t have the choice to continue moving?

    1. James R. Mitchener Post author

      That’s an excellent question. I actually addressed that very issue in a blog about adapting to cultural shifts, one of the biggest being the idea that we aren’t going to move anytime soon. When I was in University, I was suffering through this issue a lot, the feeling of being incapable of escaping. And truly, you are. You can’t change schools for fear of credit hours being dropped, you can’t just up and go for fear of missing classes, and through all of it, I was incredibly anxious and uncomfortable. The article can be found here, by the way: I also talked about this at the University of Warwick in the Q&A section. Saying “one day you’ll move again” is tough. You have to really want it. I mean really want it. It’s a lot easier to find a job these days that takes you from place to place, but it’s hard to find a job that will get you the experience you’re going to need for such a role. That’s the tough part. My advice is just keep pressing on. If you want it, you’ll work your way there. One of the tricks I’ve found to handling it is just staying busy. I work multiple jobs not because I need to, but because I want to. I’m passionate about the things I do, and that distracts from the lack of movement. Just stay busy, you’ll find your way out, or you’ll find a reason you don’t want to get out just yet. But we’re TCKs. We can always get back to the world if we want to. It just takes a lot of work, is all.

      1. expatsincebirth

        That’s exactly what I’m doing. I’m language teacher, translator, I’m in several boards, writer and going to be counsellor&coach. I have never had only one job at a time. I read your other article you’re referring at and yes, being busy helps a lot (I guess it’s the only thing that helps…).

  2. Dounia

    I love this post. It’s so well-written, but more importantly it’s so true what you say about our parents being the real pioneers. All the observations you made (the questions people ask, why they ask them, how they see us, what our parents have done, etc) are interesting and things I’ve noticed as well, but I’ve never been able to express them quite as clearly as you’ve presented them here.

    Those last lines sum it up perfectly: “This TCK would like to thank all the parents in the world who were brave enough to take that leap of faith and do what so few have the courage to do. You left a life of comfort, predictability, and normality behind, and in the end, you created us.”

    Yes. Truly thank you to our parents, the real pioneers. Thanks for writing this and putting into words what I’m sure many of us have thought (or should have thought). Despite the tough parts of growing up as a TCK, I wouldn’t trade that life for anything, so we’re lucky to have parents who took that leap of faith and gave us this life.

  3. Marta

    Thank you so much for writing this post. I’m a parent of a TCK, the one who moved out of a home country to become a global nomad, and I’m constantly worried that forcing my daughter to be a TCK will hurt her and that she will have a perfect right to be angry at me when she grows up for depriving her of one stable home. I found your post very touching and very reassuring. I so hope my daughter, when she grows up, will also think of being a TCK as a great thing, not a bad one


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