Category Archives: TCK Thoughts

Be Heard

be-heardI’ve been writing for TCKs for a decade now, and during that time I have watched the global trend of globalized thought shift to an incredibly positive outlook on humanity as a whole. I have been full of pride in my interactions with so many FCKs who have grown up from generations built on oppression who have opened their minds to a more unified way of thinking, embracing the necessity of innovation and adaptation to provide an avenue for a world in which we as humans are stronger because of an inherent desire to embrace difference rather than fear and oppress it.

As a global nomad, the past week has been incredibly hard for me. I’m sure it has been hard for many TCKs, honestly. The TCK community I have most contact with seems to be reflecting that sentiment heavily, but you might be different to the majority. If so, I respect that, and I humbly invite you to tell me why, as a TCK and global nomad, the past week has not been troubling for you.

For the rest of us out there, I wanted to tell you a few things:

First, I’m coming back. I’ve been gone too often lately pouring my time into my work and neglecting this arena built to encourage globalized thought and provide information for TCKs and the families and friends of TCKs alike by opening up insight into the inner workings of a TCK mind.  This place was created as a safe space where you could ask me anything you wanted about being a TCK and not having a home or knowing where I belong, and my absence has gone on long enough. This past week has made me realize more than ever that something we need right now as people who live by globalization is a safe space. Third Culture Kid Life has been an avenue for dialogue and information sharing since its inception, and it’s time I bring that back.

Second, I want to promise you that I will not censor my words for fear of oppression, hatred, or any other reason. I do not like being political, I quite often find a significant amount of cross-party understanding in my views, and I am capable of drawing good from bad in most instances. But what the world is facing now, even if you aren’t living in America or have a passport from this country, is a leader who does not care about minorities, globalization, foreign policy, and worst of all, open communication. Censorship is already rampant, fueled by the office of the president, in a country that is supposed to be free. So, while I do not enjoy being political here, this isn’t about politics anymore. This is about the future of globalization and the core values that I, as a Third Culture Kid, believe in. And this collection, after all, is about the mind of one particular TCK. This TCK wants you to know what it looks like to him as the world he has dreamt of, one he slowly watched form over the years despite so many struggles and hardships, gets stripped away.

Third, I want to encourage you to use your voice for reason based on facts, not fiction. It is clear now, only a week into the next four years, that scientific thought and reason are no longer welcome in this country. The quest for knowledge was challenged constantly during the campaigns by the same man now sitting in the white house, and those challenges are now being put to extreme use. More than ever, you need to use your freedom to speak, and you need to use it with a basis of fact, reason, and logic. In a week, we have seen government agencies put in place for the benefit of the people be told they can no longer communicate with the public, that they cannot communicate with the press, and they cannot publish any scientific data without getting the approval of the white house who has no right or ability to vet the quality of that research.

This collection was designed to give TCKs without a home three things. First, a space where someone would tell them things that would hopefully make them see that the experiences they are struggling with aren’t just normal for a TCK, they are struggles that will one day become sources of empowerment. Second, an avenue for you to openly communicate with a TCK who will hold nothing back from you, answering any questions you want without bias. And third, a place of understanding for your friends and family to help you explain what it’s like to be you without requiring you to open yourself up in the capacity I have chosen to do.

This collection was built to bring people together. And today, as I feel myself becoming increasingly overcome with grief and concern for my love of this world, the people in it, and the pursuit of knowledge to better serve everyone on this planet, I am reminded heavily why I started writing here. I wanted to bring us together in my small way to support a global thought process. I wanted to do my part to make a better world for you. And no matter what happens going forward, I will not stop voicing my unwavering desire to build that world.

More than anything, I want you to know that I’m here for you, no matter what.

__________

Author of TCK LifePost by: James R. Mitchener

Net Neutrality is Globalization, Let’s Fight to Keep It

Third Culture Kid LifeI challenge you to find a Third Culture Kid (TCK) out there who doesn’t agree with this statement: The internet is the purest and most openly accessible form of connection between cultures currently in existence, the single exception being one’s ability to walk into a country and immerse themselves in the culture they’re surrounded by.

With talks of Net Neutrality sky-rocketing again in the United States (I say sky-rocketing with full knowledge that while there are many people making a lot of noise on the issue, there are far too few given the fact that the internet is a vital part of almost everyone’s lives), the fact that we may very well lose a free and open internet is becoming a topic of concern for anyone living in this country.  For the general public and life-long residents of the US, a free and open internet represents a connection to free speech and expression coupled with a gateway to free market enterprise.

The internet is home to everything now, and with that complete involvement in our lives, we find ourselves turning to it in order to acquire information, purchase anything we want, connect with friends and loved ones, start a business, get our name heard, learn new things, relax and unwind, watch television, follow rising stars, listen to music, find new friends, develop contacts, apply for jobs, work our jobs, and ultimately: connect ourselves to the world.

For America, one’s ability to start a company and rise to success has been the driving force of free market enterprise, and with the creation of the internet, that drive has never been stronger. People with highly marketable skills in isolated industries now have a portal of access that allows them to get their name into the world, to create a company that focusses on something unique and desired, and share it across a digital path that spans the entire expanse of our planet. And we do it all under the guise that our information is created equally, no matter what information we choose to share.

Unfortunately for Americans, that belief in a free and open internet is currently nothing more than a lie we are telling ourselves to help us feel better about our existence. And that’s where the Net Neutrality debate comes into play. If you are not aware of what’s happening with Net Neutrality, the FCC, and ISPs across the United States, I encourage you to watch this video. It explains, in as simple as a way as I can conceive, just what we were all so upset about earlier this year. You can read the comments, too, to get a nice spread of just how intense this conversation has gotten:

It turns out that when you allow a company to have a monopoly on an asset, they will often abuse the power of possessing that monopoly for profitable gain. It is foolish for us to blame them for this, as it is a natural part of running a business, but you also have to remember that one of the core values of the free market is that competition is fundamentally good for business. ISPs will argue all day that they do not have a monopoly, but their arguments are nothing short of propaganda that permeates the most hated industry by customers in the nation. In truth, they don’t have a monopoly in most markets. But their lack of competition based on mutual gain might as well be.

I’m not a fan of regulation. I don’t like governments at all and honestly believe them to be incredibly inefficient, money sucking machines driven by idiots, crooks, and thieves. But, unfortunately, there are exceptions to every rule, and while I am a free market person to my core, I am not foolish enough to believe that with ISPs being the same people that want us to watch cable television and buy premium shows, that they’re not going to bully us into them getting what they want. We’ve already entered into a slippery slope of being charged twice for access to an internet we never really recieved in the first place. And if you don’t agree with that, perhaps you forgot about Netflix and Comcast‘s spat earlier this year?

The thing is, as a TCK, the internet is more to me than just a tool for domestic business. Granted, I use it every single day for just that being the Marketing Manager for a rather prominent waste company, authoring this collection, and managing various other private contract roles with different organizations. But it’s bigger than that. It’s a point of connection, and my ability to do those things is driven by a free and open internet in which my traffic is just as valuable as anyone else’s in the eyes of neutrality, and it’s the consumer who decides my worth, not an ISP.

And this is bigger than you think. Hundreds of massive companies, including Google and Netflix have already sided with Net Neutrality advocates everywhere. And that’s a big deal if you think about it. People who yell “Well of course they don’t want to be forced to pay more to have people access their information, they’re giants” are missing the point. It’s true, they don’t want to pay, why would they? It hurts their bottom line. But the point is, if they have to pay, they can.

Can you?

That’s the thing you need to be asking yourself here. Can you afford to pay to get your name heard because an ISP has decided your content is taking too much traffic? Take me, for example. I host a completely free resource of information here at Third Culture Kid Life for TCKs, their parents, their families, and their friends. Over the past three years, it has become quite a trafficked site. I know that if ISPs get their way, they won’t bother with the likes of me right off the bat. But one day, they might. And if they do, what would happen?

Unfortunately for me, and hopefully my readers feel the same, Third Culture Kid Life would be no more. My content could be inaccessible all because I didn’t pay an ISP to get a pass-through to my website so that people could load my page. And with the content of the world at my fingertips, that entire concept is absolutely terrifying.

So please, while you still can: Take a stand. Fight for a free and open internet. Fight for Net Neutrality. Let’s keep the culture of the world, and the culture of the internet that connects it, as strong as it has always been.

__________

Author of TCK LifePost by: James R. Mitchener

 

 

 

 

You Define Tolerance

You-Define-ToleranceAt One World Week at the University of Warwick, I was asked after my talk if I thought it were possible to change the opinions of others, to build a community that could change the world by bringing on equality. I am not normally one for dodging questions, but I admit, I side-stepped this one a little and said that yes, I believed it were possible, but that some people would never change their minds, and for them the only hope you have to remove their counter-productive argument was to wait for them to die, which hopefully wouldn’t be long for the sake of bringing on equality.

Now, however, I am starting to realize day-by-day that there is a much deeper, fundamental issue there that seems so obvious to me as a Third Culture Kid, but that none of my First Culture Kid friends seem to understand. I’ve never once discussed this with anyone, mainly because it started as a double blind study in which even I didn’t know I was doing the research, and then transitioned into a single blind study as I began to notice a commonality between all my “global tolerance” First Culture Kid friends.

This has been years in the making, something I have been noticing and farming for more information since I was a college kid my freshman year talking to all these strangers who had never left the country, except maybe for a week here or there to build houses, repair a school, or to save the souls of those that didn’t know their particular god, whichever god that happened to be at the time. And now, even today, I still have this talk with people that claim to be tolerant of the world and believe in the potential achievement of total equality. But now, I do it with motive, not for fun. I am farming for a secret.

Before we even get into the details regarding global tolerance, I want to address the nature of that two-word-item that has become so popular when discussing the pathway to global acceptance. Tolerance, in itself, is a horrible way to achieve your goals. The root word, tolerate, means “to put up with, to endure.” When we talk about global tolerance as a way the world needs to move, we are already setting ourselves up for failure. We cannot achieve unity by simply tolerating. We need to welcome, to invite, to protect, to respect, to love, to believe, to agree, and above all else, to understand everything and everyone. To tolerate them only means that you accept that they are here, despite your better judgement or desires. A world of tolerance is a world still built on the belief that your personal experiences, your culture, the colour of your skin, the country from which you hail, and the people you have relationships with are somehow better than those around you that you simply choose to “tolerate.” The idea that we are building a globalized world on this ridiculous notion of tolerance is not only counter productive, but it’s insulting as well.

I think that it is this is this belief in tolerance that stemmed the greater problem with the First Culture Kid approach to creating a unified world. But before we go on, I believe it important to make a statement regarding my appreciation for people trying to make the world better. The world is riddled with people that reject any form of difference from their own, especially when it comes to religion, which seems to be the only remaining platform where it is not only socially acceptable to attack someone for not believing what you believe, but appears to be encouraged as well.

That aside, why is it that this belief in tolerance is such a problem when trying to achieve globalized uniformity? Because right out of the gate, you are approaching it all wrong.

I have had many, many FCK friends over the years who have been very quick to jump to the defense of anyone who is even remotely different to them. One comment that doesn’t quite include everyone, one joke that even slightly alienates someone, and BOOM! All of a sudden the tolerant FCK is halfway down your throat about your poor use in language or how your beliefs alienate a group of people and that’s not acceptable in a tolerant world.

And right there is the problem. Sure, the intentions are wonderful, to create a world in which we are tolerant of everyone and ignore all distinguishing indicators like the color of their skin, their birth country, their beliefs, their politics, their sexual orientation, etc. But the best intentions often lead to some of the most brutal results.

You see, my wonderful friends who want so much to make everyone equal: There is never going to be any form of unity if you strip down the boarders that make us who we are. We are individuals, not a hive mind of shared consciousness. We require our individuality to thrive. I am a white, English born, Italian blooded, globally trained, American influenced, southern experienced, big toothed, greasy skinned, messy accented, brown haired, brown eyed, Third Culture Kid. I have been the minority almost all of my life, and yet I have never really felt like one until I transitioned into my role as a Domestic TCK. Why? Because it was not in my constant need to ensure I said nothing that separated me from the pack, but rather in my open arms that invited the words gwai-lo, red coat, lobster, cracker, bai tou, ghost, leche, gringo, etc., to make me part of the culture that surrounded me.

And that’s where the one big crack in the foundation of “tolerance” suddenly spreads, bringing down the entire building upon which you built this first culture mask of acceptance using a term that means nothing more than to put up with someone. We don’t want to be put up with. None of us do. And trust me, your pathological fear of offending someone through racism is not the answer. Every time you gasp in horror at how someone used a racial slur, or pointed out the funny way someone muttered a word with an unfamiliar accent, or challenged a different person’s faith in their respective gods, you are not helping this battle for unity, but hurting it. The person who is not racist, who is opening their arms to global acceptance, will not be phased by a word. But the person who does not understand unity, the one that leads the pack, or the secret supremisist using your fear of offending to his/her advantage will always be the one to ride your “equality” to their benefit. The rest of us who are proud of who we are and are unconcerned with racism really don’t give a shit about the ignorance that’s thrown our way.

Take it from a man who has slipped between cultures his entire life. The deepest connections I’ve had, the most meaningful relationships I’ve experienced, the total acceptances I’ve achieved from cultures I do not physically or verbally fit into, have all been born of realizing one thing:

When we accept that we are all completely different, when we laugh about how we are called gweilo, when we chuckle at someone making fun of our accent, when we embrace differences and are proud of them, we entirely remove the power of racism.

This is not tolerance. This is equality, something so much more powerful than the tolerance you seem to want to create. Because in tolerance, we are always fully aware of the differences in the people that surround us. In equality, however, we notice it all, we vocalize it all, and we do so with an air of acceptance and joviality that makes the bonds between us even stronger. And with every relationship that is built upon that foundation, the foundation of a realization of our differences and an open acceptance to understand them and embrace them, racism has one less place to breed.

___________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

I Imagine

I ImagineIn the morning, I brush my teeth, shower, and get dressed inside an apartment that is littered with the clothing and papers and dishes of the night before. I go to work taking a slightly round-about-route because I don’t like the fact I can get to my office in five minutes, so I try to make it 15. I sit at a computer, open Illustrator and Photoshop and Excel and Chrome and Word and Bridge and IE and Outlook. I set up my tablet beside me pulling emails from a different company that’s a thousand miles away and another that’s 150 miles away. I work and work and work, sometimes I’ll eat lunch, and then I work and work and work some more. I go downstairs to my other office for another company, I pour myself a drink, and I discuss more work with my partners. I unwind and go home, and I make dinner and eat and work and work. I look around my apartment and wonder why it is so messy, and think to myself “I’ll clean this tomorrow.”

Tomorrow comes, and I do it all again. The same thing in the same place, the same job with the same people. And day by day I notice more and more things that I never noticed before. I notice that I’m no longer noticing the Southern accent that stood out so evidently when I first arrived in this state. I notice that I let Southern twang work its way across my tongue. I notice that no one around me noticed me do it. I notice words like “fixin’to” popping into my head and narrowly missing the speech function of my brain. I notice that around me are tons of trees that were once so beautiful and foreign and different, but are now becoming normal and obscuring and a source of endless pollen. I notice that the people around me are almost all white or black, but mostly white, and that I am once again not the minority. I notice that I do not have to listen for other languages, pick up on essential phrases, or know the difference between Spanish, French, English, and Portuguese in the same conversation. I notice that almost all of my friends have never lived outside of the city, and almost all of them have never lived outside the state. I notice that I think of travelling as something in the distant future, and not the possibility of tomorrow.

I notice that I am surrounded by FCKs in a place where, on the surface, I fit in in more ways than I don’t. And it has made me realize that today, after 26 years of a life where getting up and going was always a single decision away, I am now living the life of a normal, First Culture Kid.

But that’s not me.

While I sit and look at this place around me, I shut my eyes and I imagine a city paved in artificial light, bustling and busy with the hum of a language I do not understand. I imagine restaurants tucked in back-alleys serving unrecognizable food blended with spices that even I have never seen. I imagine an airplane full of people going anywhere, soaring through the sky to the quiet rumble of the engines. I imagine a local market in a cobblestone town and a currency I haven’t figured out yet. I imagine carrying cash instead of plastic, of walking instead of driving, of smiling and nodding instead of understanding and responding. I imagine my mobile phone disconnecting, of buying a pay-as-you-go card, of watching my device illuminate with the worlds “World Phone” upon boot-up. I imagine standing in front of a room full of students in which no two have the same story, the same lineage, the same travel history, and explaining to them that they are like me, a Third Culture Kid, a global nomad, a melting pot of culture after culture.

And then I open my eyes, and the world around me has not changed. The busy streets, the back alley food, the wallet full of cash, the room full of world-traveled students, is all replaced with the walls of my apartment that’s full of all that stuff that First Culture Kids cling to in order to pass the time and build the value of their immobility.

I look over at my girlfriend as she runs her fingers over lips in the same, rhythmic pattern, over and over and over, her eyes fixed on the television not even noticing the burn of my stare. And I smile to myself and think silently “I have so much to show you.”

___________

JM-003-72-condensed

Post by: James R. Mitchener

The Culture of Embracing Change

TCK Life ChangeChange is unavoidable. It surrounds us in everything we do, from the streets we’ll choose to take driving home from work to the start and end of a lifelong relationship. All things eventually end, and when they do they are replaced by one or more differences that thrust us forward into a period of transition. Third Culture Kids spend their developmental years becoming fully acquainted with this very idea, learning time and time again that the friendships they make will not be permanent, that the view from their window will not last, that the language they learn will not be their primary tongue forever.

The world is constantly changing. The universe is constantly changing. We, as people, as groups and as individuals, are constantly changing. On an atomic level, electrons hop in and out of existence. On an elemental level, reactions are always taking place around us. On a cellular level, our bodies are constantly dividing, changing, growing, and dying. On an individual level, our personalities are changing based on stimuli and information, our perception of the world altering the information we receive and process. On a cultural level, communities are adding new life with mourning the loss of old life, changing the group as a whole with new generations moving up and old generations moving out. On a planetary level, the surface is constantly shifting while old land disappears and new land forms. On a solar level, the sun is burning, adding new elements to its core in what to us appears to be an endless fusion reaction, but in truth is as ephemeral as everything else. On a galactic level, stars are spinning around the mass of a black hole, balancing on the edge of deletion. And on a universal level, everything continues to grow and expand, outward from our very point of perspective, infinitely and endlessly.

And yet with change so completely a part of life, a constant in every single aspect of everything we do, it strains my TCK-mind whenever I look out at the goings-on of cultural events around us in which there are always overwhelming groups of people constantly battling the very changes that will inevitably occur.

Because all change is inevitable.

This all sprung to mind when I read an article that the Church of England will grant Bishop status to openly gay men. It immediately prompted me to message my girlfriend and inform her of the news, and as soon as I hit send, I quickly added at the same time as she sent to me: “but not women…” We then proceeded to shoot back and forth questions about when the last time this could have happened, that gays gained the status of equality before women. I settled with the Ancient Greeks, but that was just a stab in the dark without actually following through on my normal process of intense research. The conversation then quickly turned to how the article we had both read commented on how many people in the church, and those who believe in its practices, were furious with the Church’s position of welcoming gay Bishops. My TCK brain began to spiral, as it always does when dealing with cultures that are so large and immense that they actually are built out of hundreds and thousands of sub-cultures that mask themselves into a greater Alpha-Culture.

The Third Culture’s natural ability to adapt, our talent of fitting into any social setting, requires us to invite change in all its forms. The equality of our species is key to our ability to socially position ourselves as insiders to a community that we are not truly a part of. Without equality, we cannot function. We welcome differences because by rejecting them, our ability to fit in completely vanishes. Welcoming change creates social integration, the catalyst of a thriving TCK. Rejecting change, however, creates the exact opposite; it creates only alienation.

For TCKs, there is no room for alienation in our lives. When we became part of the Thrid Culture, albeit a transition that was usually not of our choosing, we were forced to abandon the ability to restrict ourselves based on our apprehension of change. Our entire lives became about adapting to what’s around us, finding elements of the things we experienced and pulling them into who we are, being part of cultures that were never truly ours. We were created by change, and we hold onto the Third Culture Kid title by inviting it throughout the rest of our lives.

This is the way we live and breathe. It isn’t so much of a choice as a knee-jerk reaction to survival. We invite change because change is the ever-growing world we live in. We were raised on it, fed it as a source of sustenance when the normal options for survival of consistency and life-long-relationships were taken away from us. We understand based on a lifetime of development, growth, and minority status that, even though our minority lives are masked from the cultures and people around us thanks to our lifetime of cultural stealth training, the rest of the world doesn’t have the same luxury as us.

In truth, the fundamental problem that I have as a Third Culture Kid watching the world resist the changes that will happen regardless of their prolonged resistance isn’t the oppression. Oppression, despite how sad this truth may be, is a natural part of human existence. We have been doing it since the dawn of time, and it seems that the ignorant will always want to impose their lack of understanding and their fear of what isn’t them on everyone else. What upsets me the most is that I know that in almost any situation, I have the ability to pretend to be, to adapt into, either side of the conversation. I could fight either argument, and I could make those around me believe it was the only thing in the world I’ve ever known, despite how much I do not believe it inside my TCK brain. But I have the ability to do it. I have the ability to blend. I have the ability to fit in.

But the world has been “fitting in” for too long. We have reached a point in cultural evolution where understanding, respect, and mutual gain is becoming more than just a dream. As TCKs, we have the natural ability to bridge the gap between social groups. The cultures on both sides can find a commonality in us. As individuals, TCKs are so fundamentally different that where I might not be able to help bridge a gap, there is certainly a TCK out there that could.

Because we have been given the gift of cultural ambiguity, and with it we can become the catalysts to a better world. The only roadblock is change.

___________

The Author
Post by: James R. Mitchener

A Christmas with Two TCKs

A TCK Life ChristmasI have spent a good deal of time discussing issues that are relevant to the Third Culture as a whole with this collection, focusing heavily on presenting a semi-biased (all things are biased) but attempted neutrality when talking about culture as a whole. The topics have ranged drastically, and have covered matters that range from thought-provoking to lighthearted. When WordPress sent me my year-end report, my most popular articles included I Tell Them That I’m English, Hong Kong Kids, The TCK Life I Remember, and Expatriate Everywhere. These topics were all written very differently with very different goals. However, none of them were written conversationally, and none focused on an element I promised in this blog from Day One after I published The Illusive Home. This promise was that this collection would feature articles that stimulate the mind and make you think about culture, but that it would also show you the personal side of a Third Culture Kid living the life of an adult.

So, I figured with the holiday season almost at a close, what with 2013 looming ahead welcoming us to a New Year, it was time that I put up one final post for the year that did exactly that. Today, I want to embrace the spirit of the season, and just talk to you, my readers, about the experience I had this holiday season. As a TCK, this season is always interesting. There are endless battles throughout the year about who goes where, when we do what, who will join us, and why. This is just the way we do the holidays. My brother and I are TCKs. My parents are Expatriates. And while I live over a thousand miles away from my parents, my brother about 500 miles from them in the opposite direction, and all of us over 4000 miles from our family in England, we always pick one of our Homes, modern or historic, to go back to.

This year I went Home to Houston for Christmas. Of course, I had to leave Home in Raleigh to do it, and all the while I was thinking about the family back Home in England who I wouldn’t see and the friends in my Homes of Hong Kong and Paris and Australia and Singapore and anywhere else I have people I care about. But I had to pick somewhere, and my parents wanted me to come see them despite the desires of my brother and me to go to England and see the extended family. So Home I went, back to Houston, to see my brother, parents, and my maternal grandparents who had chosen to hop the pond this year and join us.

Christmas is always an interesting time of year when I am with my family in Houston, and even more interesting when I’m with my grandparents. To jump start it all, it was 80 degrees Fahrenheit on Christmas day, which is just wrong in my professional opinion as a seasoned meteorologist with a degree from the extremely prestigious University of Looking Up the Weather on Google. I am a Northern Hemisphere sort of person in the winter, and I strongly believe that the season demands cold weather. My parents, unfortunately, aren’t that way. They spent too much time in England in their youth and have an unnatural and inhuman fear of anything below 79 degrees.

On top of that, my poor mother lives in a home of three atheist male humans, a female canine that doubles as a piece of furniture when she’s not praying to the gods of Dog Food, and a male canine that believes all humans except my mother are out to condemn his soulless body to an absence of the afterlife upon contact. Then there’s Lynn. She is our key to all those religious things that partial Christians do, like Easter and Christmas and… well that’s really it, actually. She ropes us into these holidays full of fun, social, and generally sinful activities with the occasional sly nudge that sort of says “don’t forget, this is also Jesus’ birthday.”

Interestingly, I enjoy celebrating Buddha’s birthday more, but we can’t have it all our way. This is Lynn’s time of year, and so my brother and I play along like the beautiful little cultural melting pots we are. We help her decorate the tree (this year it was done via a Google+ Hangout) barking orders from the comfort of the sofa while she does all the work. Usually we’re excellent managers. We know exactly where all the ornaments should go and we’re nothing but critical if things aren’t done properly. I’m blaming the results of this year’s tree construction on the conversion from a three dimensional viewing space to a two-dimensional viewing space. It’s so hard to gather depth and perspective from a computer monitor. That’s why I maintain that this was not our fault:

Again, not our fault!

Again, not our fault!

I suggested that we just leave it that way to symbolize the new tradition of “Relaxed Christmas,” where even the Tree gets to kick back and not care about anything. Unfortunately, this was vetoed by our more traditional-Christmas mother who set it back up with the help of some friends and redecorated it. Fortunately, the second time around it wasn’t as front-heavy and it remained standing. This probably had a lot to do with the 50+ ornaments that were no longer on it due to their inescapable fate of shattering on the hard tiled floor during the Great Collapse of 2012.

After that, we did the normal Christmas things. Our mother, who has effectively given up cooking since both Robert and I departed, left us to fend for ourselves. We helped with Christmas dinner, and by helped I mean I flew a remote controlled helicopter around her head while she prepared the meal and my brother made sure to point out all the pieces of skin on the potatoes that my grandfather had missed while peeling them. It’s a team effort, really. We opened some gifts, drank a substantial amount of alcohol, and generally had a good time.

So what was it that made this event interesting for me as a Third Culture Kid? Well, for starters, my global cultural outlook has developed a pool of different cultural and religious celebrations from all corners of the world. My favourite being Chinese New Year, the Lunar Festival, Buddha’s Birthday, and any apocalypse parties that accompany whatever end-of-world prophecy happened that year. Christmas, unfortunately, never makes the cut as my favourite celebration.

In classic tradition, my brother and I make sure to point out at least once that Christmas isn’t fun, it’s just stressful, and more importantly it’s not a religious holiday anymore but a merchant holiday designed to make you spend too much money. This always upsets Lynn because she wants to believe it is still a Christian holiday, but I think us saying that we don’t enjoy it upsets her for the wrong reasons. It has nothing to do with the fact that it’s Jesus’ birthday. I don’t believe in any god, but I am perfectly fine celebrating the religious holidays of any culture because I love the lifestyle that accompanies it and the joy in the believers eyes. It is inspiring. But Christmas isn’t like that. Christmas is stressful, exhausting, expensive, and has lost all cultural meaning. The only reason more people don’t flip out about it is because they’re too busy hating Valentines Day. That and they’re being showered with gifts, I suppose.

And this misunderstanding always results in the development of other unnecessary debates. For example, my grandmother (Nan), grandfather  and me watched the Queen’s speech. She made a reference this year to the birth of a child so long ago that taught the values of life, a reference she hasn’t made in many, many years. However, she intentionally did not say to which child. Just a child. My grandparents were immediately glad she finally did that because Christmas is a Christian holiday, and I quickly pointed out the fact it wasn’t, resulting in them getting upset. But the truth of the matter is, the Queen didn’t really point out anything. English roots run deeper than Christianity into the Pagan faith, one that shares almost to the letter the same exact story of a boy born on the same day from a virgin mother with the same beliefs leading the same teachings but all for a different faith. And there are countless hundreds more. There are so many little boys born around Christmas in the world-wide history of countless faiths and cultures who did similar if not almost identical things.

And that’s where the TCK side comes into it all, and the misunderstanding looms. For me, it’s not about the god’s validity. It’s about how you accept others. And when you immediately shut down the idea that there are other interpretations of this holiday, and that yours isn’t the only one, then I am afraid my TCK side dies a little inside. Because that’s not what the holidays are about,  no matter what faith you’re jumping into or what time of year you’re celebrating. Holidays are for coming together, celebrating, and enjoying food, culture, family, and friends. It’s about unity, celebration, and another cycle.

And I don’t think there’s a TCK out there that doesn’t understand exactly that.

___________

The Author
Post by: James R. Mitchener

The Third Culture Language

Third Culture Kid Foreign LanguageLanguage has become our most dependent gateway for communication. It’s an essential part of human development, a crucial step in our species-wide expansion, and a method of expressing elements of life that were previously confined to the entity experiencing them. In a way, it has become the portal into the minds of those that surround us, giving us a brief flash of insight into the parallel universe of another person’s mind. Language is the ultimate foundation supporting the success of us our species.

And yet, in all of its power to connect us, to explain what we understand and why we understand it, to experience the world through the eyes of another, language has also become one of the greatest barriers of our species. There are over 6800 languages that are used in the world today, and with them comes a barrier of communication that we have become completely reliant upon in order to convey any conceivable message. We speak and write in the words we know, and yet in doing so we isolate ourselves to a community that’s severely limiting.

For native English speakers, we occupy a community of only 350 million people. That’s 350 million of a global population just shy of seven billion. So as you read these words on this page, if you have stumbled upon this collection seeking the views of a Third Culture Kid in a world full of cultures that outnumbers languages hundreds to one, know that you are one of only 5% of the world that will ever know the picture painted here.

To a Third Culture Kid, this idea is heartbreaking. This collection was put together to help explain to the world what it means to be a TCK, what a life of adopting culture after culture does to a person, and how TCKs view the world with such a drastically different approach to our single-culture brothers and sisters. We are global nomads, people of the world sharing a single culture that has nothing in common with any other culture anywhere, even the culture of other Third Culture Kids.

I have created the culture of James, a mess of different elements from France, England, America, Hong Kong, Singapore, Bali, Indonesia, China, and all the sub-cultures in the different pockets of those areas that I have experienced. I have picked and chosen who I am, what I love about the corners of the world I’ve visited, what I consider to be my home, but even for someone who has experienced exactly the same things as me, their Third Culture is completely different to my own. And I have evidence to prove it, having traveled the world with my younger brother, Robert, who experienced all the same things I did, and yet his Third Culture, his home, is nothing like my own.

And so I try to share this with the entire world, the experiences I have had and the person I have become, because there are so many TCKs out there that feel alone and confused just as I did as I went from my childhood into my adulthood, until I realized the sheer beauty of what being a TCK means. But as I share my experiences, I am touching only the five percent that can read through the barrier of my communication.

TCKs are a culture of the world. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what language you speak, or what cultures you have adopted into your Third Culture Home. And yet, even though we come from anywhere, are all born of the same development, are all part of one community of people that unites us as global thinkers and neutral worldly admirers. Yet we are all separated by the words that we speak and read.

The language that has given me the ability to write to each of you that gives you the ability to write back and tell me your experiences, the comments that inspire me to write more posts and discuss more issues that plague the Third Culture community, are all restricted by if you’re one of the 350 million people who can even understand the language I am forced to use order to communicate.

I believe there are TCKs out there that noticed this dilemma far earlier in their lives than I did. Many TCKs probably attended schools that didn’t even speak their native language, forcing them to add another method of communication into their arsenal. But even then, we are still only scraping the surface of our ability to communicate. Monolingual, bilingual, or multilingual, we cannot possibly learn in the short time we have on this planet the 6800 languages that span this insignificant little rock full of so much beauty. And so, we will always be restricted, always incapable of communicating with the people who will never be able to read into who we are and what we have to say.

Of course, this barrier is not the end of understanding. It’s not a culture’s language that inspires our ability to adopt new qualities of it into our lives. It’s the behaviour, the action, the style of life that inspires us and guides us. I have learned more about culture from people with whom I have not shared a single word than I ever have from those I communicate with.

Where language is the method we choose to communicate, it is also limited by the content available within it and our ability to manipulate that content to describe an experience.

I have said time and time again in this collection that trying to explain what it means to be a Third Culture Kid is impossible, however I will attempt the impossible all the same. The truth is, it’s not impossible to explain what being a TCK is; It’s simply impossible to verbalize the experience. To know what it means to be a TCK you need to experience it. My children will understand, because I will explain it to them just as it was explained to me; I will explain it by showing them the world, without words. I will explain it by presenting them with an ocean of cultures, cultures that do not care what language you speak, but how you behave and operate within them.

But with you, I am limited to words. Words that only 350 million of you can understand. But with those words, I will continue to try to paint you the only world I understand. Because in the end, 350 million, 350,000, or just 350 people who wake up knowing they are part of something amazing in the TCK world, or are prouder of their children or their family or their friends by getting a glimpse into the window of our minds, is endlessly better than changing the lives of no one.

_________

The Author

Author

Post by: James R. Mitchener