Category Archives: Cultural Identiy

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.

 ________

Chelsea Poole

Guest Post by: Chelsea Poole

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They Will Call You…

They-Will-Call-You-BannerThey will call you different, because to them you are oddly out of place. The way words roll off your tongue, the way an accent they do not recognize leaps into a single word, the way you present yourself at formal events, hold your knife and fork, choose foreign foods over domestic, or travel without a visa. You would seem so different, if only in the slightest of ways, that they will separate you from their world due to a lack of understanding.

They will call you a foreigner, because your passport say so, because your birth country isn’t here, because your parents prove it, because your family lives so far away, because you use the word “home” to mean so many different places, even where you are now. But they won’t hear that. They won’t remember that you called this place home, because that is normal, and everyone says it. They will hear the slip of words that claim that other countries, other places, are home, too. They will not remember you saying which, or where, or that you have called seven countries in the past week home. They will hear it once, and realize home isn’t here, despite how many times you use the word to describe this place.

They will call you a bragger, because you talk about a life full of travel. They will not see a life that knows nothing else, that when talking about your childhood you have no choice but to speak of a foreign land because to you, all lands are foreign. They will not see that this childhood created a confused, different, and multicultural mess. They’d see a man who is talking about things they haven’t seen, and assume he is trying to best them, but that’s not it at all. It’s about connection, about drawing a bridge, about relating the past to the present no matter how convoluted an approach you take. But they will hear the words, not the meaning, and they will fail to understand that when you talk about your past, you never once do it to brag, but instead do it to understand a world you are not a part of.

They will call you a preacher, because the things you say are as foreign to them as the things they say are as foreign to you. They will think that you are too big to be true, full of too much talk and not enough history to have any backing. But they won’t know that when you were four you were surrounded by kids who prayed to a different god to you, who spoke a language you didn’t understand, who laughed at you for being different, and who welcomed you as one of them in the end because of all those things. They won’t know that you spent your life always watching, always paying attention, always adapting, because if you didn’t, you would be alienated while they all sat in the comfort of their culture with the same friends in the same place speaking the same language, never thinking what you were always, always, always thinking: when will be the day my parents tell me I have to say goodbye to my best friend? And when you try to explain this, try to pass on the things you learned while watching the world as a child as they did not, when you were more analytical than most college students at the age of six, they’ll laugh and think you are a fool for trying to convince them you, as young as you are, know the world.

They will call you a racist, because you have been immersed in so many different cultures and learned that if there is one consistency in the world when it comes to racism, it’s that the people who care the least about it are the most jovial in regards to multicultural predicaments. They will not see your joke about how rude the french are, or how the main dietary supplement for protein in Asia is cat, as funny. They will tell you that you are wrong, that it is rude, and that people deserve to be respected and treated with tolerance. But you’ll know better. You’ll know that you say the things you say because the culture you are discussing isn’t foreign, isn’t distant, like it is to them. To you it is part of who you are, and though you don’t share the physical characteristics of that culture, you truly feel as if you are one of them, at least in part, a part so strong that you know that if they would just open up and stop thinking of others as outsiders, they too might see it the way you see it.

They will call you unpredictable, because no matter how hard they try, not matter how good they are at reading into the thoughts and predictions of others, they will not be able to see what is going on inside your head. They will think they do, because you will do what you always do, and do it oh so well, and you’ll blend. They’ll think they have you pegged, have you figured out, have you all sorted when all of a sudden you’ll throw out a flair of that culture you hold so true to your heart but keep hidden away for the right time. And they’ll immediately be lost again, believing everything they had figured out was wrong. And their trust in you will falter, just a little, and you’ll see it in their eyes whenever you look at them. Because unlike them, you didn’t learn to read people through the culture of one, but the cultures of many. You learned the natural reactions of humanity, the unbiased and fundamentally shared reactions that every person regardless of culture exhibits. You learned to read Base Human.

They will call you hostile. Because you, unlike so many, are not content with ignoring the things that matter. You, unlike them, want to know a person to their core, to ask them questions about religion and politics and global beliefs, to ask the questions that almost everyone else fears because of the emotions they evoke. But you, you know that the only way to achieve total acceptance and understanding, to truly love someone for who they are, is to have challenged everything they hold important. Only then, when you have forced them to stand upon the edge of the abyss and stare into the face of a something completely different to everything they have ever known, will they show one of two faces: Will they shut down and reject in an effort to defend themselves, or will they stand tall, concede the differences of your beliefs, and want to be around you because of it.

They will call you a Third Culture Kid. And then, they will finally understand who you are. And the relationship you had for days, weeks, months, and years, the things they called you, will all fade away. Because now, they will know who you are. They will understand without experiencing, to believe without seeing. They will know that the world you saw, the culture you created, is as pure and true as any other.

And they will call you their friend.

___________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

Building Company Culture

Building-Company-CultureWhile this collection is based on a foundation of the Third Culture through the eyes of me, a particular Third Culture Kid that has grown up and joined the world of First Culture “normies,” I have started to realize that this isn’t really about the Third Culture exclusively. In reality, it’s about culture in general, it’s just that the Third Culture is a collection of so many cultures that it is the melting pot standard that provides a general level of understanding and bridging acceptance that is absent in most other cultures. Of course, that still means that in order for you as a read to appreciate this collection, you first have to appreciate, but more importantly to understand, culture as a whole. What is it, what does it mean, what does it do?

I have been thinking about this immensely since my talk at the University of Warwick’s One World Week Social Integration Forum. I got asked a question about how a person can find a job in a foreign country they aren’t officially allowed to work in. My default thought was “well, I mean you can’t. That’s illegal and you’ll get deported and won’t ever be able to come back.” Of course, I didn’t say that because that’s honest and I am generally only brutally honest when I’m writing here. But what that question did do, admittedly without its intention to do, was to get me thinking about the problem that company’s have with developing a company culture.

Company culture is a word like “Green” or “Sustainability.” Everyone loves it, but the more I work and the more I deal with people using the word (I’m a marketing and operations consultant, so much of my working life is using words like that to boost internal and external support), the more I realize that no one has a single clue what it means. Companies keep touting their great culture and how amazing it is, cramming their mission statement and motto down employee’s throats, but when you step back and look, the culture they claim to have created never existed in the first place. It was an illusion, a facade, a fake. An idea that never had any hope of becoming anything more than the words on a piece of paper a new employee was forced to read once and immediately forgot about.

A good example of this would be a little start-up I worked at called CityVoice. The Angel Investor there was the founder of a huge company I’m sure many of you know of if you’re even remotely internet literate, the managed hosting company known as RackSpace. RackSpace had an excellent culture, and it was believed by many of the original team who started RackSpace who also joined CityVoice that the culture was one of the main reasons for their overwhelming success. Everyone loved working there, and everyone loved using RackSpace for hosting. It was just an incredible environment to be in regardless of which side of the table you sat at.

When CityVoice started, they tried to duplicate that culture that had made RackSpace so incredible. It was all they talked about, maintaining the culture, loving the culture, living the culture. The culture was everything! But the culture they were describing wasn’t the culture the office had. It was a fun place to work, sure. We had nerf gun wars in the office, had a fridge stocked full of beer, had arcade machines and couches, an open working environment where everyone was sat in the same space as equals, but this happy-go-lucky culture just didn’t seem to grip.

And when the culture wouldn’t stick, the managers got mad.

I remember one time, my boss at CityVoice who was on the founding team of RackSpace for marketing pulled me into a meeting and said that I didn’t seem to be embracing the company culture. As a Third Culture Kid, I honestly found this quite comical and had to choke back a laugh and a serious argument and education lesson about culture.  Of course, “culture” was so important to these people that I knew this statement had serious ramifications regarding my continued employment, so I chose not to explain what I know and instead rejected a lifetime of conditioning for this very moment. But I’m not going to shy away from that now. Too many companies think this way, and I believe that it is my job as a Culture Specialist to address a too-often misunderstood concept:

Culture, not just company culture, is not something you create at will. It is something that is created by the actions, behaviors, thoughts, and feelings of a community. One person doesn’t make a culture. A group makes a culture, and that culture is impacted, shaped, and developed based on the external influences of other cultures and individuals. It can strengthen a culture, or it can weaken a culture.

A strong company culture is created by doing everything the right way. Look at Google and Netflix, two of the most successful culture stories of any business anywhere. They both treat their employees with the utmost respect. Their vacation policy is: “If you need it, take it. No hours, no tracking. Just get your job done and be happy.” They have fun as much as they work, and in doing so they work harder than ever. They are happy with their peers because their peers are equals, even in corporate hierarchy. Everyone’s opinion is valid, and everyone’s ideas are the building blocks to their success. Everyone matters. And above all, the customer is always the primary goal. When your card expires at Netflix, they just keep your account rolling and send you an email saying “Hey, your card has expired. Would you please update your card when you have a chance? We’ve kept your account rolling, so whenever you have time. Your streaming won’t be affected.” In doing that, they create a support level from customers that makes employees proud to work there, proud to be part of the team, proud to be providing a service that the vast majority loves and supports.

Those cultures weren’t built by saying “This is the culture, live it.” They were built because a company started with an informal motto of “Don’t be Evil.” That external goal, the desire to do everything they can to help better their community and peers, is what created a harmonic culture. A  shared idea, a desire to be part of something more, that’s what created the culture.

Unfortunately, that’s what most companies and leaders miss. They keep their employees on tight schedules, dock them holiday hours for needing to go to the doctor, watch their email and internet and write them up if they leave 5 minutes early or come in 5 minutes late. They Big Brother everything and put no faith into their team to be good, hard working individuals. They reject customer complaints and ignore change because “we know best,” and then they wonder why so many of their employees are miserable, quitting, not doing their jobs, or are incredibly inefficient. They wonder why customers hate them, why their churn rates are so high, why they are sales driven instead of retention driven.

And then they blame the people for not perpetuating the culture.

When I was eventually asked to leave CityVoice for oh so many reasons, one of the main being that I was constantly battling with people to stop forcing a culture and start doing things right for a change instead of lying to our employees and customers, I started consulting because I couldn’t bring myself to be in a situation like that again. Now, I work no less than four jobs at any given time, one of which is always full time work, and the others are just sort of “on the side for fun projects.” And in all of those jobs, in all elements of the success therein, I have focused on my understanding of culture to inspire and create a sense of belonging for everyone I work with.

And it’s all built first and foremost upon my understanding of culture in the world, and how you can strengthen the power of your team by making them proud to be by your side.

It’s a shame, really, that more TCKs aren’t in positions of leadership. Of course, we are still a young generation, and that will change over time, but one of the most crucial foundations for success in a business is a strong company culture, and that’s something too few seem to understand how to achieve. I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it again: It’s better to have 1 employee who wants more than anything to be part of what you’re doing than it is to have 10 who don’t care if they have a job with you tomorrow.

So, leaders of the world, let me leave you with this: Stop forcing culture. Make your people, both employees and customers, never want to leave your side just by doing the right thing, which more often than not you’ll see is as easy as stepping back and thinking “if I were them, what would I want from this situation.” Only then will you find the culture you’re looking for.

___________

JM-003-72-condensed

Post by: James R. Mitchener

Am I a Third Culture Kid?

Am-I-a-Third-Culture-KidI get this question a lot more than you would think. I say all the time that being part of the Third Culture isn’t so much the experiences you had, but the way you adapted to each experience at the time you had it. We aren’t TCKs because of where we have been. We’re TCKs because of the way we absorbed the cultures of the places we have grown. Even now that I have left Hong Kong, I still relate to it closer than any other place I’ve lived. I don’t know if I’ll ever go back, an idea that can easily make me sink into quite a severe depression, but I do know that I will carry the culture of the city and time that I lived there for the rest of my life.

Of course, that would make sense to a Self Aware Third Culture Kid. While I have been a TCK since I turned 4, I didn’t know it until I was 15 or 16 years old. And even then, I didn’t understand it until I was 17 or 18. Why? Because I have known no other life. Where other people can say they remember growing up in one country, in one town, with the same friends, I can’t even remember the  layout of my house in our seventh country. That’s just my life, and it’s all I’ve ever really known. To me, that’s just normal.

The best way to understand the parallel and lack of realization would be to imagine that you and I saw two different versions of the color Blue. When describing it to me, you’d say “the sky is blue” and “the ocean is blue” and I’d agree, but what I see and what you see aren’t the same thing, and while we understand the connection, I am mentally incapable of knowing your perception of the color blue, just as you are mine. What appears to be blue to me may in fact be a green to you. But it doesn’t matter, because we can see the connection, we just can’t understand the mental process beneath it.

That’s what it’s like when an FCK tries to explain their home to me, or tell me what it was like having the same friends, or that they never want to leave because this is where they belong. I can see the parallel, I can draw the connection, and I can pretend to understand. But in the end, their home is a blue that I’ll never be a be able to see.

And while Self-Aware-TCKs understand this mental process perfectly, my readers who are just uncovering their TCK status might not fully realize the power behind this truth. So, I am going to break my rule of never creating lists, and I’m going to give you my top 5 silent bullets that I ask anyone (always without actually asking, but instead uncovering the answers through careful conversation and evasive questioning) who asks me if they are a TCK during a conversation with me.

1. When I ask you what home is, your eyes dart top right in consideration or bottom right in internal dialogue.
This is a nice little trick because Self-Aware-TCKs will answer with their stock answer like mine: “I was born in England, raised around the world, and I currently live in Raleigh where I moved to from Texas.” This informs them I am not from any of those places, they are just places, but it also ties in multiple locations they can hopefully relate to while combining an air of mystery. An FCK would just say the city/town/country that is their home. An expat would say “I am from England but I live in Raleigh,” always bringing their home into the equation of where they’re from.

But an unaware TCK will wonder. They’ve been asking themselves this same question for years, and in the end, they still aren’t really sure. So they’ll dart their eyes into the top right corner of their socket, triggering the visual memory portion of their brain, and fire through a list of locations they grew up and try to figure out the best answer based on all those memories. Or, they’ll be at a stage where they’ve been asking themselves that question for so long, mulling it over and over in the silence of their mind whenever they are alone, that they will drop their eyes to the bottom right portion of their socket and listen to the internal dialogue of a sequence of questions regarding where they are from, a question they still can’t quite answer.

2. When I ask you about a politically volatile situation, your impulse is to relate to the minority, not the majority, regardless of your connection to either party. 

There’s an air of globalized protection from TCKs when it comes to minority parties. We have spent our entire lives being the minority, even if we aren’t consciously aware of the situation yet. In a way, we are even minorities in the group of TCKs, because no two TCKs are alike. So naturally, we relate better with groups that have fewer members because we ourselves have always been the group with the fewest members. We default into joining sides with the party that needs us, in adopting the cultural stand of the group that is the weakest, because in a way we understand just how difficult it is living a life where you’re always just a little bit off from the rest of the group. No matter how good we get at fitting in, we are always going to be outside of the circle because we will never fully be a part of that particular culture.

Of course, there’s an exception to this rule that helps guarantee the success of the TCK response. From my experiences meeting TCKs, and I am not saying there isn’t an exception here, but as far as my conversations have extended I have never seen a TCK take the side of an oppressor, even if the oppressor is the minority party. We value human development above all else. Why? Because it’s in human development that we find who we are. We are cultural leaches, sucking out the good of every culture we come across. When a group tries to expel a culture we could absorb, it’s a personal assault on a part of who we are or who we could possibly be.

3. When describing your Passport country, you don’t say “home,” you say “[country name].”

This is one of the first things I started doing before I even realized I was a TCK. My passport country where all my family lived was never home. My mother would say “We’re going to fly home next month!” to my brother and me, and from then on I would say “[X] days until we go to England!” To my mother, it was always home. To my brother and me, it was just the country everyone we were related to lived in, with exception to our Australian family members.

To a TCK, your passport country is just another location in the list of locations you’ve been. So if we’re talking, and you have told me you were born in England, but you keep calling it England after that, I have a pretty good idea that you’re trying to find your identity in the TCK crowd if you haven’t already.

4. When you’re telling me stories of your life, they involve elements that an FCK would think “there’s no way that happened.”

“I was only four, but I loved riding the top of the double decker buses as they darted around Hong Kong. The drivers were on a schedule, and the system was incredibly efficient, and if you sat at the front on the top floor it felt like you were flying because the glass extended all the way to the floor. We would hold onto the bar and press our faces on the glass and watch as the bus took turns on the edge of the cliffs several hundred feet up so sharply that the bus literally lifted off the ground and made the turn on two wheels!”

I’ve told that story to FCKs so many times, and they never believe me. Of course, ask anyone that lived in Hong Kong in 1992 and they’ll tell you the same thing. How all of us that lived there didn’t plummet to our deaths as we tumbled down a cliff into a rocky and watery grave, I’ll never know. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s true. And the best part? That’s one of the more believable stories of my youth. If you tell me a story about a far away land and the FCKs life an eyebrow in disbelief, there’s a strong chance your childhood was the TCK development period. The world of a TCK is just full of disbelief in general. Even now I wonder sometimes if what I remember is even remotely possible. Then I browse the pictures of my youth and am reminded that it all really did happen.

5. I tell you I’m a Third Culture Kid, that I am a global nomad and don’t have a home, and that I will always be moving because staying put is the worst punishment anyone could ever give me, and your face lights up while all the others around me look at me like I just shot their mothers. 

And the final trick. I explain who I am and what I have seen. And when I do, the FCKs around me look at me with shock, curiosity-masked-confusion, or inquisition, but there’s that one person in the group who’s eyes light up as if for the first time in their lives, someone said something that actually makes sense. Then the questions fire, and the TCK will say absolutely nothing but will listen to the FCKs firing off questions and me answering in my traditional global-nomad way, and all the while the TCK’s face will continue to glow brighter with understanding while the FCKs around them become more and more confused, uninterested, or distanced.

So if you read this question and all the others before it, and felt a connection to them as a point of truth or realization, there’s a good chance I would be thinking when I met you “looks like I have another TCK on my hands.”

Of course, there are always exceptions to every rule. This is just the most reliable sequence of events I’ve found in my life to uncover the unaware TCKs that surround me. And hopefully, in bringing that status from unaware TCK to Self Aware TCK, perhaps you’ll find the comfort I found in realizing that being the minority, in not fitting in, isn’t so bad after all. In the end, we have the whole world to draw from in defining who we are. And that’s a heck of an inspiring pool if you ask me.

___________

The Author
Post by: James R. Mitchener

The Definition of Global Synergy

Third Culture Kid Golobal SynergyOne of the most interesting words that permeates corporate life, outside of the whole “Green” word that has been making such a heavy-handed appearance as of late, is “synergy.” Synergy has become one of the most sought after elements of any intelligent corporation to date, and what makes it all the more interesting is that it’s actually an idea that is completely dependent on the individuals that make up a work-culture to achieve.

Regardless of whether your company wants to achieve synergy with partnering companies, synergy between internal departments, or even synergy with companies that fall into a mild degree of competition with your market, it all boils down to the people involved. Unfortunately, the word has been used so often and so loosely that it has become more of a buzz word than an actual idea, but it’s the idea that gave birth to the buzz word that ties so beautifully into the theme of this collection.

Synergy is, by definition, “the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.” (Google Definitions) Sure, we all appreciate the value in that definition, but like so many things in this world, the true power of synergy is so much more than the words on a page.

For Third Culture Kids, synergy isn’t a corporate word, but a way of life. It is how we have lived every single day, how we have grown and evolved and adopted, how we have changed the way we think and behave and how we have changed the thoughts and behaviours of others. Synergy is a fundamental lifestyle adopted by global nomads. It’s a level of acceptance, understanding, and strength. It’s a shared understanding that the perceived and projected disability of being “different” is actually the gateway to the most successful, stimulating, and awe-inspiring progress we can achieve as both individuals and a community.

Synergy is Culture.

I recently participated in an interview that covered questions concerning my life as an immigrant, the cultures I find greatest association with, and how those cultures were impacted by the faiths of those surrounding me. I was asked to tell my story, from birth to modern day, on where I’d lived and how those things had shaped me. Halfway through this interview, I was asked what it felt like to be a minority (I believe that Third Culture Kids are always a minority, even when surrounded by other TCKs), and how my culture was impacted by those feelings.

It led to a two part answer, one that inspired me to explain the power of TCKs and their ability to work seamlessly to create a synergistic culture anywhere in the world. It started with a story I have touched on before, derived from where I felt most comfortable as a minority. I talked of my second stint in Hong Kong when I was 14-15 years old, a freshman in high school. At the time, my group of friends were a mess of lost cultures, like myself, struggling to find a log to grab hold of in the sea of cultural identity. We consisted of one friend from each of the following cultures: Welsh, N. Korean, S. Korean, Vietnamese, Chinese, French, Spanish, Filipino, English, and American. We were all different, all wrestling with our passport country identity, and all Third Culture Kids with completely different developmental histories.

But that was what made us unite. We were all different, but fundamentally we were all driven by exactly the same ideas. We wanted to understand the world, and through our friends we had a gateway to 10 different countries, all of which had different cultural backgrounds and all of which possessed elements that we would adopt into our own Third Culture to expand who we were. And with those adaptations, with those adoptions of varying backgrounds, beliefs, and lifestyles, we became more synergized.

And this is where the true beauty of the power of Third Culture Global Synergy came into realization. We didn’t just unite as a group, we took those unities into ourselves and absorbed that culture of 10 different countries we had created with us when we left. We were all TCKs, all natural absorbers, all completely aware that one day we would separate and take the memories of our past with us. And with those memories, we had each added cultures to our repertoire that strengthened our abilities to work together, or work with others from any of the 10 backgrounds we now shared.

I think that it’s in this little developmental quirk that the true power of global synergy can be seen. TCKs are the definition of synergy, and synergy is nothing more than the ability to unify cultures. As TCKs, we were molded into the perfect tool for synergistic unity. Throw us into a room full of strangers and our natural ability to adapt will operate as a catalyst for anyone we meet. And that takes me to the second part of the question that was asked to me during my interview: What makes me feel like a minority?

I am a TCK, and so no matter where I go, I am always a minority. My culture is not shared by anyone because it was built out of the fragments of so many different pieces of so many different cultural puzzles. Even my TCK friends would agree that while we understand the fundamental truth that we share our separation from the First Culture, we do not even truly share our Third Culture. The Third Culture of each TCK is completely different from TCK to TCK. It all comes down to the elements of the cultures we were exposed to that we chose to adopt.

And so my status as a minority isn’t a feeling I notice. It’s a perpetual state of existence, one that has been present my entire life, one that I have both fought and embraced. But now, as an Adult TCK, I can say that the only time I feel out of place, the only time I feel like a true “minority” is when I lie to myself about who I am. When I cover up the truth of my multicultural background, pretend to be something I’m not, or hide elements of my life because I know they will cause friction with the culture I am part of, that is when I feel alienated, disrespected, or minoritized.

The truly interesting part of that feeling is that, unlike many other minority groups that feel separated because of the stigmas the world places upon them, I feel like a minority because I am placing the stigma upon myself. I can adapt, evolve, fit in. I can lie if I need to and be completely convincing that that’s exactly who I am. I can live that lie every day, and be a culture I am not because I have a completely subconscious and natural eye for absorbing the cultural queues that make me fit in.

Whether it’s lying by saying “amen” sitting around a table, lying about my sex life, lying about my dating etiquette, lying about where I tie my allegiance in sports, politics, or social issues, lying about how I perceive different races, lying about how I feel about other people’s reactions to cultural tension issues, these are the only times in my life that I feel truly out of place and separated.

In pretending to be one of “them,” I lose who I am. Which brings me full circle, back to the start. My life as a catalyst for synergy, a gateway for first culture kids to truly understand each other through the medium of my experiences, stems from a world in which I am both the biggest liar and the man who never lies.

As TCKs, we understand synergy fundamentally. We understand culture completely. And we understand that no matter how we fit into this world, we will always be entirely ourselves today, and yet never who we were yesterday.

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The Author

Author

Post by: James R. Mitchener

I Tell Them That I’m English

English TCKThey ask me where I’m from, and I tell them that I’m English. They look at me curiously, listening to the American accent with a hint of something foreign in its sounding, a distant memory of a corner of the world that doesn’t jump off the page of my life, but hides itself behind the dominant sound of a confused American who is neither Southern nor Northern, Eastern nor Western.

They ask me where my accent is, and I tell them I bury it well. I tell them it’s there, beneath the mask of my partial-American upbringing. I tell them that I can switch to it easily, if I want, but for the sake of understanding, I use the American one because it’s easier given the company I am around. And when I speak those words, I intentionally increase the English inflection on my letter A’s and my T’s. They hear the change, and begin to smile and say “Oh I hear it now,” believing that now that I’ve told them, they’re picking up on something that was always there, and they immediately believe that I am not from this country despite the way I sounded when we met.

They ask me to speak with my English accent, and I transition over without issue or hindrance. I flip the switch in my brain, and immediately I become something different. My tongue moves quicker, the words exiting my lips more mumbled. Letters become lettas, colors become colas, isn’t it becomes ennit. I grab a pen and paper and write them a note, spelling words as I always do, with the language of my original passport country, adding “u” in words like colour and favourite, switching “er” to “re” in words like centre and theatre, or bringing the validity of “-ise” back to reality in words like centralise and realise.

They ask me why I moved here, and I tell them my father’s job brought us here, that I went to university in San Antonio and then I took jobs in America and didn’t want to go back to England because of the taxes. I then tell them that I will leave one day, but I simply haven’t left yet. Yet is the operative word. They look at me curiously. Some are wondering why I would ever want to leave wherever I am, why I don’t love the area they love so much. Others are thinking about how much they, too, would like to up and go. But they don’t understand what moving entails. Many of them have never left the state, yet alone country. But they want to know. Or think they want to know.

They ask me if America and England were the only places. I respond no, and I string the list together of places I have lived. England, Hong Kong, Singapore, France, America. Then I throw in, almost as an afterthought, that there were other places I lived when I was young, but I don’t remember them so they don’t count. They say how cool that is, how amazing it must have been to see all those places, experience all those things. They say I must have felt so lucky. And I just respond that yes, now that I am old, I know that I was one of the luckiest people I know, that I wouldn’t trade the experiences of my youth for anything in the world; Now that I am old.

They ask me where my favourite place to live was. If at the moment of asking I am feeling isolated from the world, I will tell them Hong Kong because it’s the most exciting culture I’ve experienced. If when they ask, I am feeling sad that I hardly know my family, I will tell them England because it’s where everyone I’m related to lives. If I’m missing beautiful country, clean air, and bright skies, I tell them France. If I’m wishing I’d seen more, done more, been more places, I’ll tell them Singapore because I remember so little about it. I do not tell them why. They do not know the secrets behind my reasons. I just name the place, and fall silent. But in my head, I am thinking all of those things. But the place I never say, ever, is that it’s America.

They ask me first why I love that country, and I feed them some creative lie about food or lifestyle. But the truth is always the reason of the moment. The truth is how I’m feeling in that specific pocket of time, a secret I keep for me and me alone. And when the reality of where I’ve lived sets in, of all the places I’ve seen…

They ask me why my favourite place isn’t America. And I tell them because it’s a country of people who believe themselves to be a melting pot of cultures and a land of equal rights, but everyone seems to hate the person next to them who doesn’t believe exactly what they do, or wants to live their life slightly different to the lifestyle of their neighbor. I tell them that it’s not a melting pot, that it’s a culturally resistant country, one that believes that patriotism and Americanism (whatever that may be) is the only way to live, and that everyone else should conform or “go home,” wherever that is.

And they get mad, and ask me nothing. They then attack, respond, and retaliate. They defend or unite. They consider me an outsider and think that my opinions are invalid because I am not one of them. They brush me off, or become my friend, but no matter the outcome, I am always the “English guy,” when in truth I am no more English than I am Chinese or American or French. But to them, I am the foreigner, the man that doesn’t quite fit into the comfort of their Americanism.

To them I am different. To me, I am what I have always been; I am a Third Culture Kid, a TCK, a Global Nomad, and an Expatriate everywhere.

When I step off the plane in England and walk into the local for my first pint, my mates come up and give me a hug for all the time they haven’t seen me. They introduce me to the new people I have not met, and say, “This is James, he’s not from around here!” and they shake my hand and buy me a pint.

They ask me where I’m from, and I tell them that I’m American.

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The Author

Author

Post by: James R. Mitchener