Category Archives: Cultural Identiy

Here’s My Brexit

Goodbye globalizationYou’re going to be reading a lot of articles about the British vote to exit the EU today, or as it is has been called to sound more flashy and less terrifying over the past months, the Brexit. You’re going to read a lot about how the economy is in turmoil, about how Britain has effectively thrown the world into a spiral, or foresight on what is going to happen with other EU member countries now that Britain has chosen to leave. They’re all right, and they’re all valid articles.

This isn’t one of those articles, though.

If this isn’t your first time here, then you know that I’m a Third Culture Kid (TCK). You know that this collection is about the world, about viewing it through the eyes of a TCK, about the beauty of travel and the connectivity of all of us in a rapidly globalizing society. You know that I write here to inspire confidence in fellow TCKs who have not crossed the threshold of their national identity crisis, to show them that in the end, they’ll find peace in knowing they aren’t a citizen of a country, that their lack of patriotism driven by a lack of national identity doesn’t make them weak, but makes them stronger. You know that this collection is, for the most part, full of love where it may fail to achieve inspiration.

This isn’t one of those articles, though.

You see, I’m about to go to bed tonight in my house in America, 4000 miles away from my birth country of England, and when I fall asleep, should I fall asleep, 51.8% of the people in the country I was born in, a country for which I too hold a passport, will be waking up feeling a sense of national pride, while 48.2% will be waking up feeling a sense of national shame. That being said, perhaps the stats of how the vote turned out will not directly reflect the emotions of those reading them when they see the state of the world they created, and I’m sure there will be plenty of articles covering exactly that.

This isn’t one of those articles, though.

This article is about what my birth country did to me today. It’s personal, but then, it’s also so much more than that. It’s international, is touches everyone, even those who will not share my pain or even understand my words, because today, I was robbed of something I have taken for granted for so many years; today my birth country stripped me of my passport to a significant chunk of the world, and it did so out of ignorance of economics, ignorance of international relations, and ignorance of globalization of the people of the world.

Today, England decided to go against everything the first world has been striving to achieve for the entire course of my 29 year life. It decided that walls were better built than torn down, that separation from a global market was better than working alongside it, and it decided that free transfer of persons across its boarders, in or out, was not the way of tomorrow.

You see, I hold a UK passport. And as a TCK, what happened today is devastating. Today marks the day that will begin the breaking of my access to the EU, that free trade of my person into any country of theirs, to live and work and contribute to the economy of culture and capital. Today, the country of my birth, the country I had so much pride in as a man of international identity because of its commitment to an open, expansive, globalized society that tore down walls and showed the world a new way to be better than the boarders we have chosen to imagine and the patriotism we hide behind, decided that the real path to our future lies in isolation.

Today, England built a wall around its society. And in doing so, it didn’t just steal access to the world from me, it stole the very idea of a world without boarders from everyone. And it did so with cheering crowds.

As an man of no national identity, as a man of the world, no as a child of the world, as a Third Culture Kid, I can think of no greater tragedy to the forward motion of internationalism and globalization to date than what Britain just did with roaring crowds and celebrations.

Today, for the first time in my life, I am ashamed to hold a passport to the United Kingdom.

Today, for the first time in my life, the country of my birth betrayed me by betraying the world.

And so here’s my Brexit: Goodbye, England. I can no longer call you “home,” whatever lack of a meaning that has for this wandering TCK, because no home of mine would sit behind a closed border watching globalization fail to thunderous applause.

__________

 

Author of TCK LifePost by: James R. Mitchener

What We Leave Behind

TCK Life What We Leave BehindLeaving our lives behind is a concept that is inherent in every single Third Culture Kid’s upbringing. As far as foundations are concerned, the idea that a departure is always imminent is probably the strongest baseline you can find in the highly jumbled subcultures of TCKs from around the world. TCKs share very little when it comes to the cultural developments that made them, but they are all so close in the foundations that built them into the people they became. They are built out of leaving their lives behind, built of loss, adoption, and absorption. Of starting again, and applying the lessons learned of the past to new and interesting cultures that surround them. And their ability to adapt, to bounce back from loss and create something new from the rubble of their previous lives is all because they started this journey learning that loss is always more than probably, it is inevitable.

Human kind lives in a world where society is still highly pocketed. Cultures exist within cultures, and many of those cultures rely and thrive on a degree of isolation. People cross cultural boarders more so than ever before, but in reality these borders still exist within the confines of an isolated and highly compartmentalized social and developmental structure. The world is getting smaller, but the rate of cultural adaptation hasn’t kept pace with humanity’s abilities to blur the lines within the cultures we inherit.

That is, with exception to those that have been thrust, most unwillingly, into the Third Culture.

The Third Culture is the closest we have come to defining human kind’s ability to embrace cultural adaptation. It starts with a core self identity crisis, in which a Third Culture Kid hits a wall in their lives where they suddenly realize that they are no longer truly a member of the culture of their parents’ culture. For some, this wall is mountainous to overcome. For others, it’s a small hurdle cleared with ease. But that realization hits every TCK at some point in their lives, and from that moment forward they will be tasked with the endless struggle of finding what it is that makes up their cultural identity.

From here, a TCK picks and chooses the pieces of his or her life that hold the most value to who they think they are. A little bit of culture “A,” a lot of culture “B,” and a dash of culture “C” all lends to the creation of a person who can transcend any culture they’ve touched, make themselves part of it, make themselves welcome and comfortable, but never truly becoming a completely interwoven part of the culture itself. This picking and choosing allows for the cross pollination of cultural ideas from a party that the impacted culture can trust, while offering a sponge of cultural absorption in the TCK who will carry the elements of the culture they’re interacting with onto every culture that follows.

The TCKs lack of ability to truly be indoctrinated by any one culture means that they will always be on the move, always looking for new pieces of the puzzle of self identity. This is the drive for forward momentum, like seeds being spread across a field in the wind. Everywhere a TCK goes, they evolve, become different, absorb new cultural elements. Then, when they leave, they leave behind a piece of so many cultures that will be absorbed into the culture they have departed, and the TCK takes with them even more cultural quirks to spread into the next culture they encounter.

As the world gets smaller, we are approaching the point in which culture will inevitably have to change. It may not be in the generation of the millennials, or the generation that follows them immediately thereafter, but soon, at least from a galactic perspective, the entire cultural foundation upon which civilization has been built will have to confront one of two outcomes should humanity choose to survive:

The first and most brutal is a complete cultural reversal. Inspired by mass extinction events of the past in which entire species are wiped out, we are looking at a potential Cultural Shut-down. Any large event, a World War, a technological hiccup that shoots us back in time through our ability as a species to harness technology, will distance us from one another once again and strengthen our ties to individual cultures, making cross pollination of cultures unnecessary and unwanted.

The second, and hopefully more likely, is Cultural Survival through Evolution. Globalization comes at a price. It unifies ideas, people, and minds. And at the same time, it forces the segregation of independent cultural norms that we accept in our current societal state. As the ability to travel comes ever simpler, as cultures rely more heavily on each other to prosper and survive, cultural blending will become absolutely inevitable. Language barriers will collapse. Food sources will be shared. Trade will increase. Boarders will weaken. And in that process, cultures will be mixed more heavily with one another unlike ever before in human history, fuelled by technology that was unimaginable in the days of isolated cultures.

This transition is happening now, only in its infancy, and that infancy lives within TCKs everywhere. TCKs are the signs of a world to come in which culture isn’t about isolation, but rather the sharing of ideas and theories. Many cultures will, albeit sadly, fade away into oblivion with countless millions of forgotten cultures before them. But in the end, we will have a more global society built upon the best pieces of the cultures we experience now.

That transition is many years away. Centuries, perhaps. But if the rapid growth of TCKs shows us anything, it’s that their self identity in culture, the adaptability of human kind, is the gift that they will leave behind for the generations that follow. TCKs are paving the way for a future that they will never live to see. But the future of our species depends on cultural adaptation, and TCKs are already doing something that has never been done before. They’re growing in numbers, and manipulating cultures in a world that has the technology and power to experience the difference adaptability makes in its every corner.

And that adaptability will be the idea that carries our species forward into a world of true globalization. It will be the gift that every Third Culture Kid will leave behind, for the generations that follow.

__________

Author of TCK Life

Post by: James R. Mitchener

Dear Scotland, Please Don’t Go

Dear-Scotland-Please-Don't-GoDear Scotland,

You don’t know me, and sadly, I do not know you. Not as I should at least, not as I’d like. I have seen so many countries in my life that admitting I’ve never set foot on your soil fills me with a massive amount of shame, especially seeing as I was so close just under two years ago, planning a trip en-route to a convention that unfortunately I had to cancel due to a snowstorm and your airport being closed. I was excited, too, to meet you. There’s something beautiful about knowing you’re going to step off a plane and be somewhere completely different, somewhere completely new that you’ve never seen before in your life. And while you’re so close to the country in which I spent the first measly four years of my life, sharing a border with it in fact, I have embarrassingly never managed to make my way up into your lands.

You see, I’m what the 21st century knows as a Third Culture Kid (TCK). I was born in one country (England), grew up all over the world with various 2-3 year stints in different countries, and adopted various cultures from each and every place I visited instead of a singular culture most common in children that grow up in a normal, mono-cultural lifestyle. One of the most interesting things that happens to TCKs is that they have an incredibly hard time learning how to relate to the concept of a “home.”

First Culture Kids (FCKs) form a natural attachment to their homeland, understanding that this place, the place that me, my family, my friends have all lived, is my home. Even when they move away from that location, should they choose to in their adult years, they always retain that level of connection to their home-town. TCKs don’t have that. We travelled from place to place in our developmental years, learning from various cultures, communities, and countries but never being tied to a singular cultural or patriotic experience. We’ve seen dozens of sides of dozens of coins, and each one has some sort of value to us, but that singular connection, that place we can call home, is completely foreign to us.

Take me, for example. I was born in England, but England is just the country where my parent’s lived, where my extended family lives, and another place I frequently visit to share in scattered moments once a year with family members that go about their normal day-to-day lives without me ever being part of them. In a sense, my brother and I are the forgotten members of the family, the ones that are of course still in the thoughts of our extended family, but never like everyone else, never truly connected to the daily lives that everyone else shares so closely. We’re just too distant, too different, and too… foreign.

The reason why I tell you this is so that you can understand the gravity of my plea. Not understanding the concept of a home, not being tied to the lives that so many people live on a daily basis, TCKs have a tendency to view the world quite differently from grounded, level-headed individuals such as yourselves. We’re a bit of a mess, you could say, but that mess has its moments of realisation, and I believe that one of those moments is now:

I have a passport, you see, my ticket to the world. With it, I can travel almost anywhere I choose, visit almost any place I could want to see, and continue to expand my knowledge of both individualised and globalised culture. It is a ticket to everything, this silly little piece of paper with nothing but my picture, name, a random number that was assigned to me as my life-long identification,  all tucked away in this lovely little red book embossed with a beautiful logo. This passport is special, because while it sits comfortably beside a blue passport that reads United States of America, this one, the passport I was granted due to my birthright, carries so much more meaning to a child of the world such as myself.

This passport is one for The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

I have spent years of my life trying to understand what it is about that passport, that simple little red book that brings me so much pride. And you see, while I carry two, one for a country in which I currently reside and one for a country in which I have hardly resided, the passport for the United Kingdom symbolizes everything that a TCK has come to learn about the world.

This book, formed because of pacts and unities dating centuries, was a truly glorious and unforgettable claim for unified globalisation. It is the success story behind attempts that preceded it and followed it time and time again, a truly world shattering statement that we free people are better together than we are apart. That through each other, we can achieve so much more, go so much further, and be so much stronger than we had ever even imagined.

Having seen this world through so many different cultural lenses, having watched so many people strive for exactly the same thing in so many different languages, looking at my passport and knowing that long before I set eyes on this world, there were people fighting to bring it together in a way that strengthened their neighbours, not weakened them or belittled them or scared them, I couldn’t be more proud to carry that document.

So please, Scotland. I beg of you. Do not leave. I have no home like you know, I have no sense of national self devotion, no patriotism the way you would understand. I am a child of the world. And as such, I beg of you to stay. I beg of you to claim the authority you seek, but as a nation united with others in a quest to bring people together, not force them apart. Both you and your neighbour nations, the community for which I hold the single most important document of my life, are something to be so proud of, something that I am proud of each and every day from thousands of miles away, knowing that at any time I can return and settle down with pride in what you’ve all achieved.

So please, don’t go. You have the power to push unity on, or show that further separating the world is the right thing to do. And believe me when I say, we are all just people of the world fighting to be heard. Please, don’t go. Please, stay with us for globalisation, and make this TCK proud.

__________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

 

 

 

 

Domestic Cultural Blending

Domestic-Cultural-BlendingThere are two types of people in this world when it comes to culture. There are those like us, the Third Culture Kids of the planet, that find comfort in absorption and  who want to take a culture apart to add it to our lives in pieces, the pieces we love, and even sometimes, the pieces we hate. And then there’s the people who do everything they can to reject cultural absorption and isolate their life-experiences based on the culture that they were raised in.

Culture is a lot like religion in that way. People are a certain religion because they were born into it, which is exactly the same as a culture. You wouldn’t be born into an upper class Mexican culture, be raised in that culture, and mysteriously adopt all the cultural elements of Malaysian middle class culture any more than you’d be born into Buddhism, educated only on Buddhism, and somehow mysteriously adopt all the traits of a Hinduism when you’ve never actually experienced it or been educated in its teachings.

We are culturally dependent upon the cultures we have experienced, and that dependence is what has created so many different cultures across the world. Our parents educate us, teach us how to live, how to act, how to behave. They teach us societal constants, show us how to eat, how to sit, how to sleep, how to smile, how to greet each other, how to dance, and on and on until we have been fully educated in the culture of our youth.

But we also learn from experience, and that’s how we as TCKs came to be. If that education period is fractured, if you pull the child away from the source, you are going to create a cultural separation. We can be taught to do things a certain way, but if we are surrounded by those who do things differently, we are naturally inclined to believe that their way of doing things must be right, too. So, naturally, we absorb a little bit of both.

When you yank a child out of a culturally isolated situation and move them into a different culture, you shatter a window that is inherent in all mono-cultured children and adults. There’s a barrier in mono-cultured individuals that is rarely overcome, and that’s a belief that all other forms of cultural normality are incorrect, wrong, and foreign. The barrier for entry into a different culture and community is so immense due to a lifetime of community driven development that comfort takes over and mono-culturalism becomes a crutch for life.

Forcing a child to experience a different culture during their developmental years, however, creates a different type of beast, one that is capable of adaptation and camouflage not because they want to be, but because they need to be. It’s the opposite extreme, a person who is so vastly different from any one culture that they fit into none. And that, my friends, is a TCK to its core.

I bring this up because it has come to my recent realization that cultural melding is more than the extremes that many of us as international Third Culture Kids have experienced in our lives. There’s a side to the TCK upbringing that doesn’t necessarily require the developmental experiences we have had travelling the world. As international TCKs, we stand out more than anyone else. We don’t fit in really anywhere, and we don’t have a home.

But we’re not alone, are we. There are kids that are born in the south of the United States who move all the way to the North. Born on the east coast and move to the west coast. And if you know anything about America, there’s a lot of cultural difference between one state and its neighbor. These kids, while much more capable of fitting in, go through very similar identity issues as the internationals. The difference is, it’s harder for them to realize what is happening.

See, with domestics, they don’t necessarily have the physical recognition factor that internationals and expats do. When you were born in England and you move to China, it’s hard to not realize that you don’t quite look like everyone else, and it’s even harder not to realize that this place doesn’t quite look like where you came from. The domestics don’t have that luxury. Much of the architectural and ethnic differences in a country are fairly decently spread to an almost equal degree. You move from one state to another, and not much changes physically. But culturally, it can feel like everything has changed.

It’s this struggle for domestic movers to identify with a particular culture that has become truly fascinating to me. I understand what it’s like to be an international TCK. I’ve lived it and breathed it my entire life. But to feel different without anything really seeming that much different must be a very difficult thing to confront.

I have several friends that fit into this category, and it wasn’t until a recent conversation with one of them that I realized the level of connection I have with the confused domestic development thought process. It always seemed so different to me, not having lived outside of your country. But that’s not really what TCK life is all about, is it? It’s about cultural adaptation, about absorbing your surroundings and becoming something different based on the elements you choose to adopt.

And honestly, I find great beauty in the idea that if we can connect with domestic movers as TCKs on a deeper level, maybe the world us TCKs live in isn’t so small after all.

__________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

 

 

 

 

NEW FEATURE: After each article, I am going to post an additional piece going forward that invites you to discuss an element of this article as a community. I will of course participate, as I always do, but as TCKs, we spend too little time openly communicating with strangers that truly understand us and can help us better understand ourselves. So, here’s the first topic of discussion:

Let’s Discuss:
Do you find that you can connect with people that have moved around more or less than those that haven’t? Why do you think that is?

The Death of Culture

The-Death-of-Culture-BannerHere’s a thought to consider: The first world fear of offending someone who has different beliefs, characteristics, or values to us is killing culture as we know it, and not just ours, but the culture we are trying to protect as well.

How many times have you pulled up articles on the internet going over massive cultural and global events lately to find that every other article seems to be a criticism on how some person, group of people, or country failed to recognize the differences of another person, group of people, or country, and in the process they have fundamentally offended them. Then you read the quote from the person, group of people, or country who offended the other and they something cliché like “England has tons of Muslim friends and we apologize for walking over door mats because of their apparent similarity to prayer rugs,” and then a couple months later a law has been passed that you cannot step on a door mat anymore?

Ok, probably not very often with that specific item, but you understand what I’m talking about. I touched on it earlier, in fact, in You Define Tolerance, a piece discussing the implications of the words global tolerance and how they impact culture. I’m talking about how our constant fear of causing offence is not only killing our own culture, but is damaging the culture we are also trying not to offend.

Culture is a delicate thing. It has the natural ability to grow and evolve with changing times, and that means that with globalization increasing its reach with every passing moment, the culture that once was isolated will inevitably be impacted by various other cultures from all corners of the world. We cannot stop this, and in truth, we shouldn’t want to. There are cultural elements that should, for the sake of humanitarian needs, be eradicated and forgotten. Things like genital mutilation that has been masked as a cultural right of passage for centuries, unchallenged and unaltered due to a lack of education, or the inequality of women that plagues almost every major religion and has only recently been challenged in just far too few places around the world.

But then there’s the other side of the coin, the cultural elements that help define who we are, things like art, music, how we greet each other, the festivals we celebrate, the languages we speak, the clothes we wear, the way we dance, the accents we use, and many, many more. All of these elements are pieces of a global pie that makes us more than just “people.” We are the people of something-someting-province. The people of somewhere city. The people of someplace hill or sometime meadow. We are culturally specific, with differences that define and shape us, make us unique, make us different, and all those things help make the world truly and completely beautiful.

As Third Culture Kids, we have spent the formative years of our lives picking up the details on all of these elements, from the good to the bad. We have adopted characteristics that strengthened our shared culture, and made a subconscious effort to become more like certain cultures while building a person that is completely unique of all the cultures we have absorbed. We have made more cultures that support and strengthen, never lessen or belittle, the cultures we have touched. We have embraced these things because they are beautiful, unique, and individual. They are qualities that are foreign, and in being foreign they are something we adore and aspire to be part of.

And yet, as the world begins to globalize and more people who have culturally isolated begin impacting the opinions of the world, something odd is beginning to happen that is breaking down the cultural value of our individuality. There are people arguing both ways, saying on one extreme that we need to rid the world of any form of differential recognition because differences imply that we are not all equal, that we are not all human. And then there’s the other end that implies that either we are different, and that these differences make one group morally, spiritually, and ethically superior to another.

It all comes down to our cultural tolerance level. Every single one of us starts in the center of our cultural tolerance, no matter where we stand in our opinions, and on either side of our cultural tolerance marker we have two varying extremes of cultural tolerance that are maximum level we will swing on any cultural adoption. The radical ends, as they are listed here, are massive changes to our cultural “You.” It looks like this:

Blank-Tolerance-Graph

TCKs have a highly attuned cultural tolerance map. We are extremely adept at identifying items within a particular culture that we want, pieces that can fall on either side of the chart all the way to the radical spectrum. We can swing both ways, absorbing cultural elements from all pieces of the chart regardless of how radical their nature becomes, governed almost solely by the idea that what we absorb is being absorbed because we believe it is benefiting us and our cultural whole. Naturally, as adapters, we are completely capable of absorbing anything that is radically different to us, however making radical changes to our culture is difficult and is therefor done less frequently as moderate and minor alterations. It looks like this:

TCK-tolerance-graph

A good number of people are capable of absorbing cultures also, especially those who have an intense interest in things like art, music, and general culture. However, these people tend to lean only one way on the cultural chart due to biases set in place by the “You” culture, or the culture of their developmental years. What this means is that they’ll happily change the entire way they dress (Radical B) for a big culturally different party, but they will never show up naked (Radical A) if the culture requests it because their internal cultural bias about what is right and what is wrong gets in the way. They are cultural leaners, and they pick a side and relate heavily with items closest to them in one radical direction with a tapering amount of enthusiasm until the extreme, but will only lightly play with ideas on the opposite side of the equation. They’re like this:

Biased-tolerance-graph

The people that are fighting for total inequality, and yes, even those fighting for total equality, are operating on very limited scopes. They see the world in only one possible outcome, their own, and are incapable of relating to either side that extends beyond their limited field of perception. They lean in one radical direction only, in this case with their core principal being highly extreme, such as making every single person follow the same laws in regards to what clothes they have to wear, they relate with people who have similar views. The further away from the “You” cultural opinions fall, the less likely they are to agree with or relate to them. If they are making the argument that all people should be forced to dress the same, they’ll have a dwindling level of agreement with people who also agree. Their drop off on either side happens quickly, and they are isolated from understanding the value of cultural difference regardless of whether they’re fighting for equality or inequality, because in reality, to achieve either, you have to completely remove culture entirely. They look like this:

Extremist-Tolerance-Graph

And this is where the death of culture comes into play. The leaders of the world almost exclusively fall into either the Biased Cultural Tolerance graph or the Radical Cultural Tolerance graph. As for extremists, equality is winning, and if you were going to pick a side, that’s by and far the best winner because no one deserves to be treated like anything less than an equal human being with equal rights.

We are walking a very new path in human history right now, one that is seeing the world come together and unite in ways it never has before in the history of the planet. The big question is, when it is all said and done, do we want to be one giant cultural blob on the same types of people, or do we want to remain unique in our cultural heritage and show that the world is made up of more than one kind of person?

Personally, I would never want to see the cultures of this world that I have had the pleasure of experiencing be replaced with one, unilateral culture of earth. But then I’m just one voice in the sea of billions of voices. The question is, really, what do you want for the future of global culture?

__________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

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!

___________

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