Tag Archives: Culture

Childhood Home

Childhood-HomeYou tell me about your childhood home, and I smile and nod, balancing on the edge of every single word watching as your eyes light up and the memories of your youth flood through you. As you comment so naturally, so consistently, on this backdrop of the events that made you who you are today, I hang on every jump from past to present tense of a home that both exists now, and existed then, that is as loved as any person in your family or any memory of your life. It isn’t just a place, this childhood home. The memories of your youth have interwoven with its frame to make it almost human, an evolving part of your development that changed as you changed, that grew as you grew, that shaped itself over and over as you went from crib to bed, child to teen, teen to young adult.

I listen with such overwhelming attention because you’re speaking to me of this natural world that to you seems so natural and so normal, but to me seems so foreign and confusing.  You pause in thought, smile, and sigh as the memory sits in the forefront of your mind. And then you ask me about my childhood home.

All at once, the neurons fire, grasping for memories that are not there. I realize now just how foreign of a concept this is to me, just how little a question like that connects to any experience of my life. How do I answer that, when my home has been in airport terminals across the world, when sitting on an airplane is more natural than a bus or a car or a train. Where do I begin in trying to bridge the difference between what was your experience and what was mine?

Do I tell you about my house in England? The small little home in a quiet little town, the one with the toilet under the stairs that I would get toilet roll out of to put on the floor in the living room across the hall to pretend it was a pit of fire? The one where my bedroom was up the stairs through the tiny hallway, just on the right, where I had a train set that my dad had built me that he painted a lake onto that I believed needed real water instead of painted water that would flow off the sides and nearly ruin the bedroom wall? The one where I had a little blue plastic stool to stand on to brush my teeth with toothpaste that tasted a flavour of some berries, maybe, or something else small and forgotten in the memory of a three year old boy?

Do I tell you about the apartment in Hong Kong? The small, three roomed apartment on the 17th or 14th or 16th floor, in building B? The one where we had a sofa couch made of some sort of foam composite that we would stand on its side and open up to make a wall in the game room? The one where just through the kitchen you could find Mallette’s tiny little room where she would sit and do whatever she did until Robert or I bothered her? The one where when we were getting into the elevator and I was carrying my yellow haired troll doll that I loved, and then proceeded to drop so he fell down the crack and tumbled to his grave beneath the elevator?

Do I tell you about the house my parents had built in Houston? The massive-by-English-standards home with the master bedroom upstairs that threw off the American builders who did not put master bedrooms upstairs? The one that we would run around outside of in the blistering heat of Texas playing action games with our neighbors, all about our age? The one where I sat in the kitchen for hours every single day procrastinating on my homework, driving my mother mad?

Do I tell you about the little house at the end of the road in France? The one where my Nan and Grandad drove across the ocean from England to bring us their old kitchen so my mum could get rid of the horrible green cabinets and replace them with the kitchen her mother had retired in a renovation? The one where I would walk all the way up the road to get on the school bus to attend my favorite school I had ever experienced up until that point in my life? The one where we got our first computer and discovered the internet with the large bay windows fully open letting in the beautiful french breeze?

Do I tell you about the five story connected townhouse in Hong Kong that was incredibly thin and shot to the sky? The one where my brother had an entire floor to himself and two bedrooms because one of the bedrooms was only just large enough to fit his bed, but not large enough that he could ever open his closet? The one that had the independent wall mounted air conditioning units that kept my room so cold it was like I lived in an ice box? The one where we got robbed three times and Ralph, our dalmatian, had scratched half-inch deep treads into the staircase as he chased the burglar from our home?

Do I tell you about the house we returned to in Houston that felt nothing like it had before, an empty shell of a past experience that was nothing as it should have been. The one in which I cried myself to sleep every night in that bed for weeks, as a fully matured teenager, upon arriving because I was in a room that I had sat in before and so helplessly could never escape from to go back to the world I loved? The one I locked myself away inside of, letting my grades slip into oblivion and my concern for the world fade to silence? The one where I learned how different I was, and who I had finally become, and slowly overcame the heartbreak to uncover the pride of all that I had seen?

No.

I tell you about none of them. I tell you that I have no childhood home. That my life is a string of memories from all over the world, that every single one of them made me who I am, and that my life is not built upon the memories of a single location. I tell you that there are things I loved about them all, and things I hated about them all, but in the end, they were just buildings of my past, and the things that mattered were the friends I made and the experiences I had.

And you understand. Or you say you do, because that is what we do, and you agree that the house is just a place, but it’s a place full of memories for you, and that you and I aren’t so different in that regard, except that your childhood memories are on one childhood home, and mine are from many.

But I don’t think you understand. Because I don’t understand. And that’s sort of beautiful.

__________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

 

 

 

 

Domestic Cultural Blending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

 

 

 

 

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

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

The Death of Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blank-Tolerance-Graph

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

TCK-tolerance-graph

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

Biased-tolerance-graph

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

Extremist-Tolerance-Graph

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

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

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

__________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

How to Adapt to Cultural Shifts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___________

James R. Mitchener
Post by: James R. Mitchener

Defining a Third Culture Kid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sub-Cultures

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

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

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

Family

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

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

Family-and-Travel

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

Family-Travel-Friends

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

TCK

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

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

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James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

When an FCK Falls in Love with a TCK

When an FCK Falls in Love with a TCKThis post is special. It is one I’ve been working to share with you for some time, one I kept hustling and hustling for, undoubtedly being the enormous pain in the ass I have a tendency to be when I get locked into an idea; a fantastic quality for work, not such a great quality for my girlfriend.

I have been asked many, many times from partners of Third Culture Kids how they can reach their TCK significant other when they themselves are First Culture Kids. I have always tried to answer as best I can, but in the end, we are always speaking two different languages. I know what I want as a TCK, but I am not the only TCK out there, nor am I in any real position to tell you as an FCK how your brain is going to relate to the things we say. We don’t understand a lot of the stuff you say, so I can only assume it goes both ways.

So, I thought to myself, how can I answer this question that will best help my FCK readers to resolve the issues inherent in the TCK-FCK barrier?  And that’s how you got this article. I went to my girlfriend and asked her to write it for you, instead, detailing what it’s like being in a relationship with a TCK. I gave her no guidance, made no edits, and told her she could put anything she wanted on this page, so long as what she said was 100% true, even if she thought it might hurt.

After all, that’s the point isn’t it? To be an open book to help all of my readers find truth in the words of these pages? So, time to pull off another layer of the armor: Here is the single greatest answer I could have asked for. Here you’ll see how this little FCK managed to get past all the struggle that is… well, me… and decided that not only did she not hate me (well, not all the time at least), but that she wanted to stick around as much as I wanted her to never leave.

Oh, and as a side note: Happy Anniversary Chelsea Poole!

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The following is a Guest post by Chelsea Poole:

I have a type. At least I had one before he came along. I didn’t realize it until he made it abundantly clear that he was a different one. I’ve dated brunette, blonde, tall, short, big, small, arrogant, humble, white, black, put together, and broken. But until he came along, I only dated Christian boys who were raised in the South and, with one exception, were born and lived their entire child and teenagehood in the exact same city as me. I dated FCKs. (To all my friends and family who I sent here, this is what WE are. Kids who were raised in the same culture as their parents… to put it simply.)

But then this one came along and from the moment I asked the elusive question, which for me went something like: “So, wait, you’re English, right? Where’s your accent?…Where are you actually from?” I knew that this guy was not my type. He is an atheist TCK and I a Christian, FCK and for the first time in my life I have crossed the line into unfamiliar territory that I didn’t ever think I’d ever make my way into. I’ve learned a lot about the TCK life from this blog and I learn more every time he posts something new. Something tells me I’ll never stop learning new things about him or this life I still struggle to understand. So now its my turn to steal his spotlight and try my best to show you a point of view he, and most of you readers, struggle to understand: the life of an FCK who has fallen in love with a TCK.

I would consider myself well-traveled. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to much of Central America, Bermuda with a few European jaunts as well as many different states in the U.S. But after hearing that he’s lived in places like England, France, Thailand, Singapore, and Hong Kong (all before age 15) I suddenly felt a lot less cultured than I thought I was.

I always always had a “home” to come back to in Raleigh, North Carolina, where we both live now. I’ve lived in the same square mile my entire life. Home to me is Raleigh, NC and it always will be. My entire family, immediate and extended (for the most part), lives here and I’ve gone to the same school with the same people since elementary school. My biggest adventure was moving into a dorm room at my University…3.5 miles away from my parents house.

If I had to name just one thing about the TCK life that I don’t understand  it is the lack of a home. “But if you HAD to name one place…” or “So like, what do you write on doctors forms and stuff?” were popular questions for awhile until I finally realized I might never even get the same answer if he did finally fold. One time it was England, a few times it was Hong Kong, and through exasperated sighs and cringes he even said Texas a couple times. With time, this question evolved from the idea of home into the idea of multiple places of residence. Instead of trying to weasel a “home” out of him I began asking him to tell me specific things about each place he lived.  The typical general questions couples ask in relationships, like “so what did you do for fun growing up?” turned into “what was your favorite food in Paris?” or “what do you miss the most about Hong Kong?” When provided with a specific question about a specific place, the answers came faster and he seemed more excited to reply.

Early on, I felt like he was judging me for having lived in the same place my whole life. I felt like he looked down on me for not understanding things about other cultures or assumed I was close-minded.  I still get twinges of it from time to time, for instance when he calls NC a “backwards state full of backwards people.” He’s not entirely wrong but I can only assume that since he doesn’t quite understand what it’s like to have a hometown that he can’t relate to the feeling of me hearing mine constantly insulted.

What I understand now is that judgement is inherent in everyone. Everyone is raised differently and everyone will think their way is the way to do it. I constantly found myself in the beginning feeling sorry for him, asking myself, “how could his parents do that to him?” or “how could anyone live like that?” What I didn’t understand was that he LOVED it. He has never known anything else. Just like I loved living in the same place my entire childhood. I never knew anything else. Our lives were, ARE, different and though we still don’t quite understand it, that’s what we love about the other.

I am the one he never thought he’d be with and he is the guy I wrinkled my nose at. I’m a little, Christian girl who spent every weekend on a farm growing up and is kind of a prude in more ways than one. He’s a tobacco smoking, English-Chinese-French-American-Etc.-Etc., who hates the twang that resonates through some of my words and doesn’t quite get why I bow my head before eating. But we are still changing and learning the ultimate word that is necessary in any FCK-TCK relationship: compromise.

I realize now that I’ve made myself seem like your typical southern belle who goes to church every Sunday and repeats everything my Daddy has told me when it comes time for political conversation. But James will be the first to agree with me when I refute that. I want nothing more than to break out of the bubble and live in as many different countries as life will allow me. I tend to disagree with most of North Carolina’s politics and I don’t feel the need to go to a church to find God. But as different as I think I am, I am an FCK and that’s one thing I can never unknow or unlearn.

I can’t speak for James but I could probably write an endless list of things I’ve learned in the past year of life with my TCK. I’ve finally perfected how to use chopsticks after 21 years of immense failure. I can say more than bonjour and au revoir in French. I now know that I would fit in perfectly in the Chinese culture because of what a messy eater I am. And I’ve finally caught on to what he’s referring to when he tells me to throw something in the “bin” or when he tells me, in the ever so blunt way I’ve come to expect from him, that it’s probably time to get my “fringe” cut again.

Our relationship is back and forth, give and take, my one culture clashing with each of his. When someone asks me where my boyfriend is from, I say “the world” and I find myself grinning and laughing and hoping for the day when I’m the one getting on the airplane with him, packing up my life to take on a new adventure, a new culture, a new chapter. I will always have “home” but sooner or later I know that will cease to be Raleigh and will start to become, much like the way my TCK sees it, the people I love.

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Chelsea Poole

Guest Post by: Chelsea Poole

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.

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James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener