Author Archives: James R. Mitchener

About James R. Mitchener

I was born in Milton Keynes, England, but have jumped all over the world my entire life, living in America, Hong Kong, Singapore, and France, spending multiple stints in Hong Kong and America. Now, I'm a Content Developer, a Consultant, an SEO specialist, an Author, a TCK Public Speaker, and an inhabitant of Raleigh, North Carolina. This is not my home, but for now, it's where I live. Who knows how long I'll stay here, but it won't be forever. I'm James R. Mitchener, and I'm a Third Culture Kid. Connect with me on Google

Third Culture Kid Design Poster — Coming Soon

TCK-Blueprint-Poster

I know this is a little outside the ordinary for TCK Life, but I wanted to give my readers here the first glimpse of an item I put together that will be going on sale early this year. The poster in it’s full size is 19″ x 27″, and will be available for purchase online (obviously without the watermarks and URL) soon!

As always, thanks for reading, and stay tuned for another TCK Life article coming soon!

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James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

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.

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James R. Mitchener
Post by: James R. Mitchener

Why Your Company Needs a TCK Leader

TCK-Company-Leader-v1.2Globalization is an unavoidable truth. The world has changed a lot over the decades, and in that time we have transitioned from being a planet of fairly isolated industries to a global unit that crosses all borders and feeds off the people, resources, and cultures of countries that may not even be our neighbors. That’s the way of the world, and it is only getting smaller with every passing day.

For that very reason, leadership in every company needs an individual or individuals who fundamentally understand the varying differences between cultures and countries. The ability to look with great detail at the decision making ability and the cultural norms tied to a specific company is paramount to the success of your business. To truly understand the inner workings of your relationship with a particular business or community is a deal-making opportunity, and it’s one that no company can pass up if they want to succeed and grow.

The common misconception that cultures are isolated in today’s world is tied to a mentality that is flawed to its core. Many companies believe that they are an exception to globalization, all because they operate in a small area, they cater to a specific group, or they are restricted to working in one country, county, or community. Unfortunately for these organizations, they are heading down a path that leads them to falling very far behind, and possibly resulting in them losing touch with their customer base to a level that they will not be able to continue competing in the not-too-distant-future.

You see, the problem with believing that you are an exception to globalization is based on the flawed belief that globalization is only impacted by your personal social and professional reach. By saying “Well I only operate on the East Coast of the United States, so I only need to know about Americans that live on the East Coast” says two things: The first is that you do not recognize the fact that the East Coast is populated with countless thousands of cultures and sub cultures, all impacted by people coming and going from different parts of the country, and even entering and exiting from around the world. The second thing this says is that you, as a company, fail to recognize that the building-blocks of your business, no matter what it may be that you do, are pieced together from products, teachings, and practices provided by all parts of the planet.

“No, that’s not true, I am an American company!” Is that so? Well, let’s think about that for a second shall we? Let’s say you sell T-Shirts that say “Proud American!” which must be an american product, right? Not necessarily, actually. Your cotton could be coming from Brazil, your production done in Bangladesh or Indonesia, your shipping handled by a Chinese shipping vessel through an international channel, your customer service could be based in India, your marketing firm is from Australia, your investor capital is coming from Germany, and the final production piece, say a pocket on the front of the shirt and the label attached to the finished product, is done in the USA. Right there, you are touching seven different countries in a single sweep, just to build a single T-shirt, and each of those countries has its own cultures and subcultures, its own practices, its own form of manners, its own style of business, its own ethical values, its own legal values, and its own personal goals.

But lets pretend that isn’t the case shall we? Let’s pretend that you somehow got every single piece of your design from the United States, and no external hands touched it anywhere else along the way. When you distribute this item, who do you think is buying it? The most common misconception here, especially for First Culture Kids who have spent the majority of their lives, or all of their lives, in one city/town/state/county, is that they rarely realize their market. I say this out of personal experience; Your market is never what you expect. So, FCKs generally assume their market is people like them (continuing our T-shirt making company example), natural born Americans with a good strong accent from [insert location here] who love all things America. But what about everyone else? Not only was this country born on globalization, it has continued to be a hub for people from all over the world. In 2012, almost a million people became Americans, and this number does not include a single person born here. Those people are new citizens, people who came here from somewhere else, a great many of whom love America and want to show their support, a group of people with different backgrounds and different cultures to that of County X. These people are going to be a big part of your market.

And so we come to the point of it all: Why should I, as an HR Director or an owner of a small local company, care? What does a Third Culture Kid have to offer that the guy down the street doesn’t? Well, maybe nothing. People are all different. But, from a law of averages perspective, TCKs naturally offer your business the following skills that many FCKs do not:

  1. Cultural Bridging – TCKs have developed into natural cultural melting pots. They learn a culture quickly, fit into it easily, and have no problem mixing and mingling with cultures that would otherwise seem foreign or distant to an FCK. Why? Because TCKs have never had a single culture to latch onto, and so they have spent their whole lives building their own. This is a valuable commodity when you are trying to strike a deal with someone “foreign” or trying to communicate an idea to a potential customer that has different cultural values.
  2. Global Mindset – You may not be thinking about how many subcultures are impacted by your company or brand, but I can promise you your TCK partner is. While you’re paying attention to the big community in your area, the TCK is constantly looking at how to pull in all the other cultures, too.
  3. From Handshake to Bow – Business deals are struck all over the world. If you’re visiting a factory in Indonesia, or sitting around a conference room table in Shanghai, the cultural norms are going to be very different to what you’re used to. This is where a TCK really shines. If they don’t know the culture yet, they’ll have it down very very quickly. Their natural ability to pick up on cultural queues is unmatched, and they’ll rapidly have techniques for polite business transactions and authoritative stands alike down to a art.
  4. Manners are Key – Sometimes, something as simple as eating with your left hand can lose all the respect you have earned over the years. Remember, every community has different rules. And if you can’t remember, just ask your TCK. They’ve been silently learning how the culture works from watching people on the plane before you even landed outside of your element.
  5. Travel Away – Got a new facility opening up in a country 5,000+ miles away from home? Can’t find anyone who really wants to be on board with the move and help get things rolling? Well, you obviously haven’t asked the TCK you hired yet, have you? As natural movers, we’re the most likely to say yes, and we’ll blend exceptionally well with the new hires at our most recent branch of operations. It’s what we were raised to do!
  6. An Eye on Globalization – Globalization is only going to keep growing. That means that if you don’t stay with it, you’re going to fall behind. If you are going to remain a front runner, you need to get used to the fact that things are changing more and more every day, and the global-political discussions that are taking place right now mean a lot more than you think. Make sure you’re in the right position by having someone on board who understands this.
  7. Minority Thinking – If you haven’t noticed that offending people is becoming a rather consistent trend in the business world these days, that means you either don’t care about your customers, or you forgot social media existed. Regardless of the race, creed, or culture of a group, a TCK is very aware of your minority market. After all, we have spent most of our lives as a minority in the first place.

The world is a small place, and it’s only getting smaller. Remember that when you are looking at your next hire. TCKs have all different types of professional backgrounds. We are normal people with normally different desires and goals, so we are highly diverse in what we have to offer. So when you draft that letter asking for a person who can do X, Y, Z, why not throw in a little piece about wanting someone with international travel experience and a strong understanding of various cultures. See what happens.

I promise, you’ll be happy you did.

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James R. Mitchener
Post by: James R. Mitchener

How to Adapt to Cultural Shifts

How-to-cultural-shiftCultural shifts are a massive part of any Third Culture Kid’s life. Whenever we pass from one culture to another, our adaptability forces us to change a little bit of who we are. Sometimes we do this consciously, but in the early days of our TCK development, much of what we absorb is achieved naturally. We acquire elements of a new culture simply by being around it, and it’s the natural feeling of indoctrination that masks the change in our internal culture, hiding the cultural shift from our conscious memory. However, as we travel more, we quickly notice that many elements of previous cultures we have adapted to are no longer relevant in our active cultural environment.

Some of the largest of these fluxes in my development came from transitioning to a life in Asia, then back to a life in the Americas, all while carrying my United Kingdom passport and English heritage. The cultural shift, especially in returning to America from Asia, was by far the most difficult transition I have ever made, and I am not sure that I ever fully achieved a state of symbiosis similar to any of my previous travels.

The question I want to address today focuses on this very idea of, after we have undergone multiple cultural shifts in our identity, how do we adapt to a large and semi-permanent transition? One point I have constantly made when talking to Third Culture Kids who are still in the process of their youthful moving phase is that one day this hopping from place to place will begin to slow down. Granted, there are some people out there that have the resources at their disposal to keep doing it forever, but for most of us TCKs, a day will come when the trips to the airport become fewer and fewer with larger and larger gaps between each trip.

It’s a natural progression, but it’s one that causes a great deal of difficulty for almost every TCK I have had the pleasure of meeting. Suddenly, everything you have known your life to be changes, leading us to the question: How do we, as TCKs, adapt to that phase in our life where things begin to slow down after a lifetime of cultural shifts?

I wish I could say this was going to be easy for you. Unfortunately, most TCKs struggle endlessly with this time in their lives. But, unlike most TCKs, you’ve found Third Culture Kid Life and undoubtedly other TCK sites that are helping you to prepare for the transitions, shifts, and personal developments that are on your horizon. That on its own gives you a leg up on most of us who were TCKs before the internet had given us a place to find help and understanding. You are part of a day and age that allows for constant communication with people who are oceans away, and that on its own is something life-changing.

Even with the internet, though, you’re going to experience what I can only describe as a minor existential crisis. Be prepared for that. It’s pretty much inevitable, and the majority of TCKs seem to go through it. When things finally slow down, you’re going to wake up one day and think hopelessly to yourself “Oh no, I’m going to be stuck here forever aren’t I!” You’ll think that a lot actually, and if you think about it on the grand scheme of humanity, you’re certainly part of the minority thinking that. Most people wake up thinking “Oh no, what if I have to move and leave my family and friends?!” We’re the complete opposite side of that equation, and there are a whole lot fewer of us out there.

I digress. When your brain flashes with that fear that you’re never going to move again, don’t worry. That’s a completely normal thought, and maybe if you understand why you’re having it, you’ll be better equipped to understand and combat it. The worst thing you can do is let it get the better of you, to feel depressed and uninspired because of it. Your love for the world, your desire to chase cultures, your incredible ability to adapt to any climate are all absolutely incredible assets in a world built upon globalization.

Your biggest obstacle in this whole experience is a lack of understanding in what’s happening to you. That’s where the depression kicks in, and you’ll feel trapped and lost and surrounded by people that simply don’t understand. But understanding is the key to getting through it, so let me get that out right now: You are only feeling this way because for the first time you are surrounded by people and cultures that are not changing. Many of you have experienced a Third Culture Kid upbringing in international schools. This means you’ve had a constant stream of different cultures. In college, that constantly changing environment has been severely hindered. You are isolated in a pocket that feels odd to you, because unlike most of these people that feel out of place because they are in a different school outside of their hometown for the first time, you’re in a different school outside of your hometown without extreme cultural stimulation for the first time. This could also apply to post-graduation if you happen to fall into the category of people who continued their cultural exploits through university, and find yourself in a job that mimics this same cultural lock.

Getting through it is tough, no matter how you look at it. But fortunately for you, there’s a world of opportunity out there for people like you and me now. To help, find others who are like you. They can be near of far, and lets face it, distance has never been a problem for us, but find people who understand how you feel. There are a lot of us out there now, so go look, and do the following as much as you can:

  • Find articles written by TCKs online. Blogs are a great source of information, from expats to TCKs, you’ll get a lot out of those.
  • Comment! Almost every blog or digital article has a comment field. My experience is that TCK authors get just as much pleasure out of engaging their TCK audience as they do in writing. I know I do. That’s why I attend speaking events and Google Hangout with international schools. Engage your favourite authors. That’s why we write. It’s all for you.
  • Join social groups. Facebook has plenty of little communities. Some are invite only, but don’t be afraid to request an invite. All the groups I’m part of are wonderful, especially You Know You’re a Third Culture Kid When… The page creator, Mike Sullivan, is a wonderful and passionate TCK advocate, and all the people there are equally as friendly and engaging.
  • Join networks on LinkedIn that include TCKs. There are also websites that cater specifically to TCKs like TCKid.
  • Email your old friends. They know you well, even if you haven’t spoken to them in a long time. This is the 21st century, and we are all TCKs. We know what happens when you move. But that distance doesn’t have to be permanent.
  • Tell others about your travels. Don’t worry if people think you’re bragging. You’re not. This is your life! You didn’t choose it, just like the rest of us didn’t choose it. And sharing your experiences is one of the greatest parts of being a TCK. So share. Share share share. Share anywhere with anyone you want. You’ll never know what cultures you’ll find unless you look.

In the end, no matter what you’re going through, there are always people out there who can help. As always, you can comment here and chat with me anytime, or you can find other TCKs like me who just want to help anywhere online. Our Third Culture lifestyle is built upon a foundation of awkward separation, but that doesn’t mean you are ever alone. Just reach out and ask. We’re here to help, however we can.

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James R. Mitchener
Post by: James R. Mitchener

Defining a Third Culture Kid

Banner-definingIf you’re a regular reader of Third Culture Kid Life, you’ve undoubtedly noticed that in my every explanation, I make a constant and overarching effort to emphasize that while TCKs share many different traits, the fact that our community is built out of multiple experiences with different cultures building a third separate culture that combines all other cultures we’ve touched, means that every TCK is truly different from the next. Of course, we are inherently natural adapters, we are listeners, understanders, cultural bridges, mediators, empathizers, and many many many other things, but we are still culturally different from all those who share the TCK title.

Oddly enough, that doesn’t change our connection. The ability we have to merge and adapt, to absorb the elements of our surrounding at a level First Culture Kids can’t even begin to understand, gives us a level of separation from other cultures that only fellow TCKs truly understand. It’s that natural adaptation level that brings us together and forms our unity with other TCKs.

But what is it that, fundamentally, defines us as Third Culture Kids? It’s not the culture we have created, or at least not the gritty details of that culture. It’s instead the grand idea that we are adapters, trained to absorb from such a young age, and trained so well that our ability is so completely natural that we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

I’ve said all this before, though. Many, many times, in different ways for different ears. And when I talk, I’m met with combinations of understanding, reiteration, support, and confusion. I’m related to the words of other TCK specialists, asked if my definition of a Domestic TCK is the same as David Pollock’s “Hidden Immigrant,” or if my Expat TCK is just a normal developing Third Culture Kid.

However, like all theories and ideas, my take on these items are an expansion of a system that has long since been under construction. One word, one idea, one hypothesis doesn’t build a theory. Testing, growth, and evolution build a theory. A constant eye on the changes that take place, the removals of constants, the additions of anomalies. All of these things, constantly documented, constantly noted, are what make a theory strong. These ideas, while based on the works of some very talented professionals and a combination of personal experiences and interviews with other TCKs, are the next layer of bricks in a tower of understanding.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t halt the questions regarding what it all means, or how you define a TCK, or how you can identify an FCK over a TCK with just a few quick questions. What experiences make you a Third Culture Kid? Some books say it requires international isolation, others say it can be adopted in a home culture, and even more put ridiculous restrictions onto the term to make it some sort of elite separation from society.

Well, I’ll tell you what. How about I just take the time to do what I should have done a long time ago. How about I map it out the way this collection, the way my experiences in the real world and the experiences of my fellow TCKs like to explain the entire thing. Except this time, I’ll do it with pictures, and I’ll do it in a way that is similar to how it was shown to me so many years ago.

So, here’s the world. If you were to take the planet, cut from north to south, unball it, then flatten it out, it would look something like this (just image how annoyed everyone would be if we actually did that…):

world-mapOf course, if anyone is reading this in a billion years, please disregard this map. It is clearly very wrong thanks to plate tectonics, but that’s a whole different lesson that doesn’t apply here. Besides, I’m not really writing this for you future people, I’m writing it for people of the early 21st century.

The way we’ve set up the world right now, that map is broken up into one-hundred and ninety-blahdnaf countries. Different countries recognize different states of existence, and some countries don’t recognize others at all. Then there’s countries other countries have just made up for the sake of making a country, like Iran where a bunch of guys went “You know what, everyone shut up, this is called Iran and I want to hear nothing else about it!” And that was that. Poof. Iran. Sure it may have been a bit more complicated than that, but you get the idea. Countries are hard to put a number on. We’ll go with 196. That gives us a little protection with 193 in the United Nations and some extras floating around that a lot of people don’t want to recognize.

So, these countries, they have culture. People rally behind this cultural belief called Patriotism. It’s a large, broad, and difficult to define culture. But it’s a part of a culture, for sure. So here’s what that looks like:

Two-CulturesThe United States has a culture. Australia has a culture. So do all the other countries, but that’s 196 shapes to draw, and to be honest, I’m not that patient of a person. I mean I’m not even really covering the countries properly. All the people living in Perth aren’t part of Australia’s culture according to this map. Sorry, Perth. I think you’re a lovely place, and I didn’t mean to exclude you.

Within that country culture, though, you have countless sub cultures. Each pocket of space isolated by distance and time, locked into tiny spheres of influence within a greater cultural mask. That looks sort of like this:

Sub-Cultures

All these subcultures are inseted into the greater culture, overlapping on the grander cultural idea, but each one depicting its own ideas. And yet in those subcultures, each subculture overlaps into yet another subculture, making it uniquely different from the subculture that shares similar ideas because it is influenced by the cultures surrounding it.

Of course, this continues to go deeper for what feels like an infinite amount, isolating culture after culture into pockets of thousands, then hundreds, then tens, all the way down to the single cultural experience of an individual person who has been impacted by the cultures around them.

The question is, what does this have to do with being a Third Culture Kid? Well, it starts with the culture of your family, like so:

Family

This culture, the culture of your parents, your grandparents, your cousins, your uncles, your aunts, and anyone else who grew up and evolved along a very similar cultural thread, is shaped entirely by the people you were bread into unity with. This is the first culture, not to be confused with the First Culture (notice the capitals). This first group, the family group, followed one developmental path, a single childhood cultural experience impacted minimally by the cultures of others, isolated and strong in its cultural beliefs. One culture, which is incidentally the definition of the The First Culture.

Then, you move. Once, twice, ten, twenty times. You leave the security of the individual First Culture, taking your family with you, at least your parents, but now you’re somewhere different. You’re in a different country surrounded by different people. While your parents are set into their own beliefs, locked into their cultural levels already, they’ll still experience a little bit of cultural melding. This is normal. Everyone does it in expatriate life. And that culture ever so slightly crosses into theirs. This is the second culture, or your Travel culture. It looks like this:

Family-and-Travel

Now we’ve got two cultures that are slightly overlapping, but for the main part, completely independent of each other. But these aren’t the sole forces in your life. We have teachers in these foreign worlds, acquaintances, strangers on the street, and most of all, friends. We have friends from varying other social backgrounds, all with different cultures, all with different understandings of the world.  So we must add in what we will call your friends, a third culture:

Family-Travel-Friends

This is the single difference between you and your expatriate family. They can adapt and adjust, but they can never build the person they are like a child can, like you did as you grew up, by absorbing all of these cultures. You are building a personality, a future, who you are, when all of these things are already locked into your parents’ brains. They can adjust, add in new elements, but you, as young as you are, are a clean slate ready to have the information of the world inscribed upon it. And that’s where the magic happens to create that mysterious Third Culture. It happens right here, in the middle of it all:

TCK

There it is. The Third Culture Kid hybrid of creativity. It’s how we all came to be, one way or another, through different families, travels, and friends. But in the end, we all fall right there in the middle, an odd hybrid of everything we’ve picked up along the way. That’s the mysterious zone that our parents, our friends, and the people in the countries of our past can’t understand. Because while we are built out of the elements of each of them, we are not explicitly them. We are more. We are a combination, leaving behind massive chunks and taking on the pieces we want and need.

And that, in the simplest way I can imagine to explain it, is who we are and how we came to be. Many of my TCK readers know this already, and some will have wonderful further insights into the ongoing development of this idea. But here’s the baseline blueprint for the families that are building TCKs today. This is what will happen. This is what will make your child a Third Culture Kid.

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James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

When an FCK Falls in Love with a TCK

When an FCK Falls in Love with a TCKThis 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!

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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.

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Chelsea Poole

Guest Post by: Chelsea Poole