I started with The Illusive Home my attempt to explain what it means to be a Third Culture Kid. I tried, very hard, but as I progressed through the work I realized that as hard as I tried to explain what TCKs are, it’s simply one of those things in life that cannot be shared through simple direction. Being a TCK means so much more than words, it holds so much more weight than a metaphor, and it’s so much deeper than the definitions created by psychologists to describe it. It’s simply something you are, thanks to a lifetime of having culture after culture poured into your own and shaken all up until you’ve become something so supremely different that you can hardly recognize yourself.
So here I am, taking the next step. My name is James R. Mitchener, and this is one life of a Third Culture Kid.
I really enjoyed “The Illusive Home” and what you’ve written so far on this blog. A lot of it really hits home. Most of it does, actually. Looking forward to reading more, and good luck with the job hunting in London! Thanks for sharing – it’s always nice to feel a connection to other TCKs, even if it is just through a blog.
My pleasure. It’s hard to find a TCK anywhere, so why not connect through the internet? I mean, before things like blogs, skype, Google+, facebook, twitter, bbm, whatsapp, etc., once a TCK moved on they basically vanished. Finding other TCKs was almost completely out of the question. Now, however, we have the ability to connect in ways that were impossible before. We get to at least talk to each other, even if we don’t know one another. But then again, I’d say even as strangers, we understand each other better than any other community.
Totally agree. With the launch of http://www.ThirdCultured.com we will be one step closer to connecting the community. Thoroughly enjoyed your writing. Cheers!
Well if you need someone to help you build it out, I’d be happy to put this writing skill to work. I’ve got a long history of website copy anyhow, and I love helping bring TCKs together. My passion is in our upbringing, so shoot me an email and let’s talk if you wish.
Pingback: Monday Mentions | Expat Educator
Hi James – I stumbled upon your blog through a random Google search and found that I could relate to many of your posts. I, too, am a Third Culture Kid (Japanese-German and living in LA) who spent a majority of my life living in all corners of the world. It relieves me when I find people I can relate to – it’s somewhat reassuring 😉
I “liked” you on Facebook – looking forward to reading your posts!
Well thanks for reading, Janice, and I’m glad you found the blog! I’m also glad my SEO history is working in my favour to get this thing to appear in Google to people that find it relevant. That’s a wonderful relief, I’ll tell you! There are certainly a lot of us out there, but thanks to the way we developed and the places we lived, other TCKs just seem so difficult to find. Thanks for the “like,” and feel free to comment and ask as many questions as you see fit. I love responding to inquisition as much as I enjoy writing the posts, and I am always up for a good discussion. Welcome to TCK Life!
Hey James, I’m doing research on TCKs and ran into your blog…thanks for putting into words what some of us cannot write so eloquently or openly. I’m excited to find more and more TCKs out there…
You’re ever so welcome, Clau. If you’d like to do a one-on-one for some more specific answers to your research, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be happy to answer anything you may be curious about, or expand upon anything I’ve written.
Wow- that’s all I can say. Reading your blogs have really opened up my eyes to a lot. My boyfriend (or should I say best friend) is a TCK, and for the longest time it’s been so difficult on the relationship. He is constantly feeling down and out of it, or uninterested in anything around him. He is often saying that nobody understands or there’s no point to trying to find a permanent home. It’s difficult for me to watch him at such a low point, feeling so hopeless and lost. I feel like all I can do is be there for him and try to help him through this and help him adjust to the states. Is there anything I can do to help him? He’s at the point where he is rejecting any form of help whatsoever, but I refuse to be just another temporary person in his life. What can I do? Is there anything?
Hi Mikayla. First off, thanks for reading. I hope the collection as it stands thus-far has provided a degree of insight that could in some way help you understand the situation your boyfriend currently finds himself in. This collection was written for you just as much as him, as a gateway to understanding a culture that’s so different from person-to-person that it’s actually impossible to really even call it its own culture. Each Third Culture is completely different to the next, however what we do share is common set of experiences from the internal and psychological perspective that will hopefully give me some direction in helping.
I will start by saying that I fully understand. Your boyfriend has heard people say to him a hundred times that they “understand,” but the truth is they don’t. This is always going to be one of the hardest parts of his life. There are very few people who do understand, and even fewer that are anywhere near him to help him one-on-one personally. Explaining to a non-TCK what it feels like being a TCK is as impossible as explaining colour to a person born blind. It’s unfortunate, but it’s true.
Without having much detail, I would guess that your boyfriend is that that point in his life that I was at about 10 years ago. Granted, I have slipped back into that feeling from time-to-time, but when it hit me hardest was 10 years ago when I first moved back to America. I was still in school then, closing up my high school days and moving into adulthood. I shut down, my grades dropped because I didn’t care about a school that was so vastly inferior in terms of cultural education as my previous one in Hong Kong, I didn’t make any friends because nobody understood me or who I was or what I did or why I behaved the way I did or saw the world the way I saw it, and I lost my drive to really achieve anything. I was completely isolated, and for the first time in my life I truly felt like a complete outsider.
Since then, I have come to embrace that feeling. See, the beauty of being a Third Culture Kid is all in the exact same thing that made it so terrible back then. I began to realize, albeit slowly, that being the minority in every single way in culture of people that hadn’t ever left the state, yet alone the country, wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. These people were resistant to everything, didn’t want to change, didn’t want to be different to who they had always been. They had had the same friends since childhood, lived on the same street, seen their extended family whenever they wanted, and never branched outside of their comfort zone. They knew their culture perfectly, and they feared anything different.
But the world doesn’t stay that way. The internet, globalization, employment, college, goals, aspirations, dreams, television, they all force change and the understanding of other culture. And this is what I realized that made me lift up my head from the depression. I wasn’t the minority that would never fit in. I was the natural adapter that could change the way they saw the world.
Sure, it didn’t work on everyone. But it worked on some, and some was enough to give it merit. I could actually adjust who I was so perfectly that I could pretend to fit in, and in fitting in I could invite people to change tiny little elements of their lives. I make good-ol-country-boys eat Dim Sum. I made them understand that their God wasn’t the only God. I made them play rugby and soccer when they had only ever played football and baseball. I made them shake hands instead of high five. I made them greet each other in a different language as an informal salutation between friends. I changed them, without them even realizing I’d done it, from the inside of their culture.
That’s what your boyfriend needs to understand. Right now he’s feeling isolated and alone because, in truth, the life of a Third Culture Kid is extremely lonely if you choose to look at it that way. But it’s also beautiful. We carry so many cultures, so many different elements from so many different corners of the world. We have the power to change entire worlds just because we truly and fundamentally understand the bridge between two completely different cultures.
He needs to understand that he can show the world what it’s missing instead of remember a world that he is missing. Then, he’ll remember why he loves being who he is.
So you want to help? Inspire him to bridge cultures. He lives and breathes for the cultural diversity of a life of change. He may not know that he does yet, but that’s one truth that all TCKs come back to eventually. We are driven by the worlds we have seen and the cultures that we can create. And he won’t change everyone. You will never be able to change everyone. But the people that matter: They’ll welcome elements of who he is, and if he watches closely, he’ll see that bit by bit they will open up their culture and start adopting traits he carries with him.
Inspire him. Tell him you want to know. Show him that the world is everything to you, not because you’ve shared in his experience, but because you want to see the world through his eyes because you’ve never heard of anything more beautiful in your life. Lift him up, and remind him that his home isn’t a place, but an idea. For me, my home is in myself. It’s the cultures I carry with me. There is no place, and I do not need one anymore. If I am sharing the world I’ve seen with people who want to see it, then I am always at home.
If you want to talk further, you can email me at email@example.com. If you’d like, have your boyfriend shoot me an email. I’d be happy to talk to him.
Thanks for reading, Mikayla. I’m here if you need me.
I never thanked you for your reply that you left on my comment. It has helped me tremendously and is a constant encouragement. He has been doing good, with the exception of relapsing every once and a while. I cannot even begin to understand what it is that goes through his mind day to day, or how he feels. But reading your blogs gives me an idea on how to approach him about it. I took your advice and encouraged him to bridge different cultures together. It seems like it has helped quite a bit. Thank you again for your advice.
His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
I know he would love to hear from you as well, or read some of your blogs. You have been an incredible blessing and I will treasure the encouragement you have given me. I will be sure to pass it on! Thanks so much!
I attended your talk today at the University of Warwick. I must say I never even thought of the Third culture society. I have all my life just felt bogged down, felt like an outsider. Upto 2 years I embraced my difference . But now I just want to conform, be part of a community just be part of something. I was born in US lived in Mumbai and study in the UK. You were right about the fact that friendships in communities are formed even before children are born and it just makes you feel like an outsider when you hang around people like that. Always standing out is really no fun. I miss feeling like I am part of something but your speech really made me understand why it is so hard for me to stick to one group of friends or just live monotonously. I think as third culture kids we like to explore, do different things and do not particularly like routines.
or maybe thats just me?
Just wanted to say thanks for cheering me up 🙂
It’s absolutely not just you. Now, I don’t like to say that every single TCK out there behaves the same way, or that we all feel the same things, but there are exceptions that prove every single rule, and for the most part many of us fall into extremely similar categories. We are all travelers, we are all expatriates, we are all multicultural, and we are all unable to fit into a single culture. We can pretend to do any of those things because being a TCK means you are a natural adapter, but in the back of your mind you’ll always know that these people aren’t who we are.
But that’s not bad! It took me a long time to realize that, to understand that being a TCK isn’t all about the feeling of isolation. That happens, sure, but it also gives us the ability to be the bridge between social, cultural, and community-driven ideas. We are the catalysts to shared understanding, a group of people who were accidentally created to understand more than the isolated view of a single idea.
For example, think about how you approach a situation. When someone gives you their opinion, or someone tells you that “this is the way things are,” what’s your impulse? I’m willing to bet that the first thing you do is try to think of a reason why that isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. We do this because our entire lives have been one continuous experience of “normality” never being what other people think it is. We have watched two completely different cultures believe they are entirely right when they view the world in completely different ways. We know, first hand, that both cultures and communities can be right in areas, and wrong in others. We have also learned an even more important lesson than that; That it doesn’t actually matter who’s right, but instead only matters how the culture views and treats those that fall outside of what it considers “normal.”
The Third Culture always exists outside of the circle of normality. Of course, by being outside that circle, we have the opportunity to bridge worlds that have never been bridged before.
I’m glad you enjoyed the talk, and it was a pleasure getting to come to the University and speak for everyone. Please feel free to message or email me whenever you would like, and thanks for reading TCK Life!
I’m really happy to have found this blog. My boyfriend is a TCK and this helps me understand him a little better. Right now he seems to be going into a depression because he recently moved back to the states. I want to help. I don’t know how but this helps a little. I wanted to thank you for taking the time to write this blog. You’ve done an amazing job with it!
Hey Alessandra. I’m glad I could help, at least in part. I understand his current state, and can say I spent a good deal of time in it. Even now I slip into it from time-to-time. He’ll learn to figure it out one day, but in the interim he is going to have a struggle to identify himself with all the differences he has adopted over the years. That’s natural, and generally a hard experience for any TCK. But he’ll get there. And I can also tell you from experience, having someone there beside you helps a lot. It makes the world of difference when you’re finding a solid to latch onto that isn’t a culture. Thank you so much for reading, and if you ever need any further or more specific information, please don’t hesitate to comment or email.
LOL! I just had a loud row with my best friend of 20 years because I made the mistake of trying to explain how beng a TCK affects relationships for the rest of your life. I had to walk away. I will never again try to explain this to a non TCK. It is absolutely impossible for them to understand.
There is certainly a wall with many FCKs out there. Sometimes you’ll find the more cultural one that will rekindle that faith in humanity as a cultural whole, but not always. Don’t give up though. We are a growing population, and those that want to hear it will hear it, and even if they don’t understand, they’ll at least respect it. The others… well, don’t worry about them. They weren’t planning on leaving their hometown anyhow.
Thank you. This person as been a serious globe trotter as an adult. But that isn’t the same thing. There was a time when I returned stateside that I felt ompletely alone and didn’t understand why. I nearly had a complete breakdown. There was conversation about either getting me in school, or they were going to put me in a rubber room somewhere. It was a relief to discover that I was a TCK and not insane. … or alone. Other than the peole I wento high school with in Germany, I’ve never met another TCK. I appreciate you writing about this. Sometimes validation is a good thing