Tag Archives: First Culture Kids

The TCK Foreign Reality

TCK Life Logo and TextProbably one of the most unique and challenging elements of detailing what it means to be a Third Culture Kid is confronting the differences between the TCK community and the Expatriate community. To non-TCKs, or I suppose to anyone who doesn’t understand the internal workings of a TCK mind, the two are extremely similar. A TCK has lived all over the world, an Expat is living all over the world; a TCK doesn’t see their family often, an Expat doesn’t see their family often; a TCK is a frequent flier, an Expat is a frequent flier; a TCK knows the world in boxes and moving vans and shipping containers, an Expat knows the world in boxes and moving vans and shipping containers; and a TCK shows elements of cultures from around the world, while an expat shows elements from cultures around the world also.

To an outside observer, the two may very well be the same. But to us, the TCK community, we are entirely different from our expatriate counterparts. We are all built out of a sequence of events that has led to the development of our personality. Every structure capable of weathering time, especially the structures of our lives, must start with a strong foundation. This foundation is the blueprint for everything that’s built upon it, and each brick that’s laid on top of the next will either hold strong if it matches the plan, or will crumble if it doesn’t meet the requirements that our foundation has produced.

Like many things I write about in regards to Third Culture Kid Life, I make a conscious effort to find a neutral and core principle that encompasses the entire doctrine, then build up my explanation around that single idea. I do this for the sake of the parents of TCKs that read these pieces, not for the TCKs like myself that already understand on a fundamental level what it means to feel the way we feel. This collection was created to help explain who we are to those who simply cannot understand. So, when you’re taking on the impossible, I find that the items that are relateable to both parties are the only bridge to partial understanding that we can create.

When it comes to understanding why we as TCKs are not in any way the same as the traditional expat, even when we are living an expatriate life, I find it all boils down to one simple word with a sea of meaning; That word is “foreign.” To an expat, all travel is foreign. They are foreigners in a foreign land, outsiders, people living in a country that isn’t their own. Some of them love the place they’re in. Some hate it. But no matter how they feel about it, that country is never their home. They will always be intrinsically connected to the culture of their youth. They will have customs and lifestyle ideas that cannot be changed at all, and even more that cannot be changed without a great deal of effort.

It’s because of this interwoven knowledge that they are foreigners that will either make or break the experience for every single expat. They will either love viewing the world through their first culture lens, saying “Look at how different this is!” or “Back in [Home Country], you’d never be able to find one of these!” Or they’ll hate the entire experience for exactly the same reasons. But in the end, that lens through which they are analyzing their experience, the way that they are viewing the world, is built out of a single culture and a single line of experiences that was developed in their youth. They will always be First Culture Kids living in a world full of other First Culture Kids that are just completely different to themselves.

Of course, this does not mean an expat will not adjust. I have met many expats that have done their absolute best to assimilate into the life of a different country and culture. Plenty have even succeeded, at least on the surface level. But the truth is that during the developmental years of their lives, the years that built the foundation for the person they were going to become, their personality was constructed from the brick and mortar of a single culture.

This is where the TCK split comes into play. The stability that the Third Culture lacks, the one that has been a rampant part of almost every single article of the TCK Life collection, means that we view an expatriate life in a completely unique way. When we move to a foreign country, it isn’t anymore foreign to us than the last place we lived or the place our parents call home. The most common similarity with every TCK is that home to us is nothing more than a word other people use to describe the place they grew up in.

We are the children of the world, the global nomads that pick up and go not because we are wanting to experience something drastically different to what we already know, but because we are trying to add to the foundation of our development. The baseline of our lives, one that for FCKs was built out of stability and consistency, was built for TCKs out of country after country that had nothing to do with the place from which our parents originated.

For me, moving isn’t a burden. There is no fear in packing my things and starting my life somewhere I know absolutely nothing about. There is no discomfort in having no friends for the first few months of my stay in a different place. There is no paranoia in knowing I will not be able to understand, to interact, to survive with ease and simplicity. In truth, all those things inspire me. They motivate my internal cultural mixing pot and drive me to absorb everything around me. They make me adapt, to change, to understand everything I possibly can. Where an FCK will attempt to understand a foreign country by drawing parallels to the culture of their youth, a TCK will view a foreign land without bias or commitment from a land called “home.” I walk into any situation believing I will absorb and change in any way that inspires me.

I am English by birth, American/UK by passport, and Global by culture. None of these things define me. All of them define me. Really, the difference between an expat and a TCK is simple. To an expat, a new country is always a foreign place full of differences, good or bad. To a TCK, a new country is a place that makes the entire world a little less foreign, and a little more part of who we are.

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Post by: James R. Mitchener

The Author

Author

The TCK Barrier Between Parent and Child

For the most part, the Third Culture Kids produced in my generation were TCKs like myself. They were born to First Culture Kid parents, then yanked from that birth-culture and thrown into one or many different cultures throughout their development. At the time, if those TCKs-in-the-making were anything like me, they moaned and complained incessantly about always having to leave their friends. They cried and threw tantrums, made harsh exclamations of frustration, and spat empty threats at the prospect of leaving wherever they were to move somewhere different. But in the end, without fail, we always moved on, and our opinion of the matter meant little to nothing in the grand scheme of our parent’s expatriate lives.

Then one day, those TCKs grew up. We passed out of that bitter, hateful, aggressive teenage phase that everyone seems to pass through and became substantial members of society. We started being treated like adults, garnering respect for the things we said and the knowledge we had acquired throughout our lives; and that knowledge was impressive. Being natural cultural adapters, we had developed an eye that saw things that all but the most intuitive FCKs were blind to. And we did it naturally.

But there was something strange about it all, this internal belief that we were completely normal and yet, externally, we were regarded with incredible worldly knowledge and cultural intelligence, a feature of ourselves that we had always believed was a natural state of individual understanding. And when we realized in our early-maturity that what we had experienced wasn’t the natural state of affairs, we began searching for an answer as to why. In doing so, we were united with a world of TCKs that were scattered all over the planet who were so incredibly different to ourselves, who had experienced such vastly different things, but who truly understood exactly who we were and how we felt.

This, of course, is a highly condensed compilation of events, one that I will undoubtedly expand upon in greater detail in a later post, but it’s important to understand the development of our understanding before approaching the larger issue in our developmental realization; as we grew up, we realized that our parents who had spent all that time travelling the world with us didn’t understand a single thing about what we experienced.

My mother, who like all supportive parents is a regular reader of my works, called me from England where she’s been staying for almost a month now helping with post-funeral family situations to say that she had read my most recent post about being an expatriate everywhere. I thanked her, as usual, and asked how things were going back in the UK. Conversation continued along those lines before jumping back to the blog, where she said, with a hint of sadness in her voice, “Why don’t you write something happy about your experiences sometime?”

I paused for a minute, letting the words flow through me, and though I have always known it to be the case, and have in fact discussed it on multiple occasions in this blog and The Illusive Home, I realized just how disconnected from my experience she truly was.

Sure, we had traveled to all the same places, had seen all the same things, had gone on all the same tours and walked through the same foreign streets, but with every single trip we made, my perception of our travels was as different to hers as an apple is different to an elephant. She saw everything through the eyes of an FCK expatriate, a woman traveling the world with her family, always far away from home and the world she grew up in. She always had that stability, that memory of a lifetime of growth and development in a constant environment. She had memories of meeting her husband, my father, back in the UK, of getting married there with both sides of the family only an hour away from each other at most.  She remembers bringing two children into the world there, the first few years of our lives spent in that home that she had always known. And then she remembers leaving home, and always missing home, and always going back home to see the people she loved and grew up with.

And for me, the memories of my youth really began in Hong Kong. That home that she remembers so clearly was never a fundamental part of my life. I never had a stable set of friends that I grew up with. I never had grandparents that I spent years with and could escape to. I never had aunts and uncles and cousins that were right on my doorstep. I never had a place that felt like that word “home,” a word that means so little to a TCK. I never had the life she had.

Instead, I had a life of travel, of constant uprooting, of my formative and developmental years laced with culture after culture. I grew up transitioning from country to country that had starkly different political viewpoints, different caste systems, different streets, different smells, different laws, different educational systems, and different styles of general life. I had no stability, where she had an endless string of it.

So our unique perceptions of the world we experienced together were destined to be endlessly different, destined to be unrelated. And no matter what I said to her, she would never understand that what I write on these pages, when I say that I have no home and that I am endlessly tormented by the constant need to leave everything behind and travel, to give up the entire world I’ve created and move on to something new, that this isn’t in any way a sad thing in my eyes.

It is simply my life.

Sure, it’s a drastically different life compared to the incredible number of FCKs in the world. Sure, it’s completely odd to many and impossible to relate to for the rest. But in the end, it’s who I am, and who I am is a man of multiple cultures with the gift of a life that is full of understanding, respect, and appreciation for every corner of the planet.

So I responded with an explanation I knew she would never understand, one that would give her no happiness and would answer no questions. But it was one that I knew she would not be able to argue:

“It’s not sad, Mum. You just see it as sad because of something you know, something that I have never experienced. To me, it just is. And to the TCKs that read my words, they always see the pain, but in that pain they see the beauty. My need to move was grown from a seed you and Dad planted when I was very young, one that you watered with every single move. But that’s not the reason I travel today. It’s just the catalyst. The reason I do it now is because I need to continue to water that seed. I restart my life because of my unquenchable love for that next unknown culture. I travel because, while I simply cannot stop due to my conditioning, I can’t imagine a time that I would ever even want to stop. And sure, it causes me a great deal of pain and frustration, and sure, it causes me heartache and loneliness. But in the end, it gives me a life full of understanding, knowledge, and possibility. And why would I ever want to trade that for anything?”

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The Author

Author

 

 

 

Post by: James R. Mitchener

My Passport Country is One of Two, and Neither Are Home

I landed back in the United Kingdom on Friday, April 6th. I had flown from Raleigh, North Carolina on a direct flight leaving the United States for the first time on my American passport, then arriving in England and passing through immigration on my UK passport. This is the first time I’ve done this since I naturalized and acquired my United States Citizenship. I was excited at first, feeling a bit like a spy or international man of mystery moving through the world with two forms of globally-recognized identification. It was going to be an auspicious event.

As it turns out, which is usually the case with me and the self-created expectations of my own emotional responses to new stimuli, I was wrong. It bugs me, sometimes, not having any control over what I think or how I feel about things. This was one of those times. As I passed through immigration and entered the country, I felt dirty, as though I were doing something I knew I shouldn’t. I felt as if I were betraying my heritage, having flown out on a US passport and then in on an English, something I am forced to keep secret so as not to annoy any governments to the point they revoke my nationality.

It didn’t take long, and I slipped back through into England with a quick glance at my passport and a “welcome home” from a man in a glass box. And that’s where it really stung. Usually I love hearing those words, walking into England and not saying a word so that my partial-american-accent isn’t noticed, and the first thing I am told standing on English soil is “welcome home.” Even though I know to my core this isn’t my home, that nowhere really is, it feels so nice to hear someone say it. Because the truth is, I really do love this country. I don’t have any desire to live her, mainly because I think it’s tinkering on the edge of total and complete catastrophic anarchy, but I really do love the country for all its natural beauty.

Last night, however, it hit me as to why this re-entry caused me so much grief. It’s not that I am sneaking around, it’s not that I’m violating some unwritten rule. Those things have never bothered me before, why would they now? It was something much more personal than that. Something deeper, more intricately woven into the substance of my existence. And I think it all starts with the simple fact that this Third Culture Kid happens to be at the point in his life where he’s realizing that the life he expected is not at all the life he is currently building.

It happens to all of us, TCKs or not, but I find it incredibly interesting now, with all that has happened since my arrival here, with my cousin’s death, with the distance between me and my family, and yes, the distance between me and the girl that I planned to start a family of my own with one day.

By getting my second passport, I finally solidified the fact that I have no physical home. And to take it one step further, I was reunited with the simple fact that as a TCK, my definition of home, in finding that one person that makes you want to be with them anywhere in the world, is an impossible lifestyle for many First Culture Kids. I have been seeing my ex a good deal, what with her relationship to my family and being closer to my cousins and aunt and uncle than my own relationship with them, and through this time we have spent together I truly understand the words I’ve been writing since the birth of The Illusive Home. A TCK is not designed, on a fundamental level, to co-exist eternally with a FCK. Unless one of the two are willing or able to change the root of their existence, the incompatibility is completely unavoidable. And no amount of love, attraction, or desire will change that.

So my shock and sadness wasn’t in just realizing I had abandoned any official tie to my passport country, but was in the knowledge that what I considered to be my home, being with the person I love more than anyone else, isn’t even remotely possible. Because in the end, I have no ability to understand her lack of ability to leave. To me, it seems like she simply doesn’t love me like I love her. While she says “I cannot leave my family,” I hear “I will not leave my family.” But the truth is, as a FCK, she simply can’t leave them. They are her life, and always have been. They have always been there, and that family extends to the friends she has grown up with, my cousins being prime examples. And to her, when I say “I might come back, but I will not stay, and one day we will have to leave,” I am saying to her that I do not love her enough to let her stay. But the truth is, I simply couldn’t come back to England and stay forever. I know, fundamentally, that I would never be physically capable of doing that.

Because when I gave up my single-passport life, I made the decision to say goodbye to the place I pretended was home. As I grow older, and the family that I have always visited here moves on with their lives, and grandparents and great-aunts come to the end of long and happy lives, the foundation upon which I built a connection to this country fades away. With every life that moves on, be it separating from the flock or passing into what theists would call the afterlife, I lose one more reason to ever come back.

And I think that’s what shook me to my core here. With the loss of my baby cousin who I hardly knew, I needed to come back home. But when I got here, I realized that in every single aspect of my life that I had been building towards, there is no home here for me anymore. The country never has been, and me pretending that it is via the lives of family members I am not that connected with is foolish. And with my ex, it only makes sense, for her sake, for me to give up and let go, because in the end one of us has to give up our home, and when it comes to people I love, I’d rather the one that gets hurt is always me. That’s just the high empathy-introvert side of me, I guess, combined with the knowledge that when it comes to letting go of things, I’m more practiced than most.

But hey, I have two passports now. I am not bound to a single state of existence. It’s just a shame that I don’t consider any possible existence within those passport-accessible countries to be anything more than a ticket to another place that just doesn’t quite make me happy.

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Post by: James R. Mitchener

The TCK Unity Era

As Third Culture Kids, we are constantly examining the cultures of the world, even when we aren’t in the process of adopting them into our own Third Culture. We are cultural pirates, pillaging the pieces we want and leaving behind the parts we don’t. We talk about these elements of TCK life all the time, sharing reasons for what we take and why we love that aspect of a particular culture, yet rarely do we take a step back to examine the culture we have created.

We are natural adapters, capable of surviving almost any situation in almost any culture. It’s for that very reason that we are so ill equipped to turn it around and look internally at what we have done. We are a mess of chaos and unity fueled by self-driven cultural evolution. We are constantly changing, constantly altering the core of our existence without care to what we are leaving behind in the process.

But the reason we survive so flawlessly no matter where we are is exactly the reason we do not step back and consider the universe we have given birth to. Every single person is different, and thanks to the adaptation of a TCK, every TCK is different within a completely unique self-culture. Sure, we group those cultures together and call it the “Third Culture,” but the Third Culture is different for every single TCK, and it’s even more different from the outside looking in.

Until the final years of the 20th century, our ability to unite and communicate was limited to physical interaction and personal relationships. The only opportunity a TCK had to cross paths with another TCK was simple luck of the draw. There was no unifying moment, no sense of shared community, only the knowledge that somewhere else in the world was another person who had grown up similarly to yourself. However, despite this knowledge, the distance created by a lack of ability to communicate the TCK experience made it almost impossible for a TCK to feel anything but being alone.

Today, however, TCKs have finally started to come out of the bubbles of their personal worlds. And truly, they are highly personal worlds. The cultures that each TCK has created are so uniquely different from any FCK or TCK anywhere in the world. The unique experiences couple with our adaptive nature makes our Third Culture like a snowflake in the middle of a rainstorm; we are surrounded my elements of similar qualities, yet while each drop of water that’s so similar falls to the ground, we float casually and unseen through the mist, so uniquely different and so uniquely complicated.

The world is smaller now. Transcontinental instantaneous communication is standard. We are even capable of looking into the rooms of others thanks to the increasing speeds and global spread of internet access, meaning with a computer and webcam, two people can sit in front of each other and have a conversation as though there were no oceans or borders or thousands of miles between them. We can fly anywhere in the world at a moments notice, travel wherever we want without much hurt or hindrance. And when we don’t want to travel, we can view the detailed lives of others through collections of data and information about their personality portrayed through a variety of social media tools.

Because of this boom in technology, this shrinking of our world, TCKs are being presented with the unavoidable truth that a life that was once built around the exterior is finally coming back home to the self. We are no longer isolated from other TCKs, having the ability to interact with total strangers that truly and completely understand what it means to be a Third Culture Kid. And they know not because we have to sit in front of them for hours or days or years explaining our lives, the decisions we have made, and the type of cultures we love. They understand because knowing nothing about our history or who we are that they too are as similar and different to us as two snowflakes in a rainstorm. Though we are similar in our name, the crystals of our lives that shape us make us different to the core, but when floating through a sea of droplets of water, there is nothing more comforting than that person that is completely different, and yet so very similar at exactly the same time. And though we may never see the world through the same lens, we at least understand the way that lens was crafted.

People, everywhere, spend their lives looking forwards and backwards in time, saying that “life must have been so much more interesting for people back then,” or “life will be so much better in a few years.” But honestly, I think that with the evolution of communication allowing for you, a reader, to sit at your computer and read the words of a TCK you have never met and probably never will, and me, a writer, getting to hide behind my words and engage you all through your comments on my posts or emails you send me, makes this the most exciting time in the history of TCK life.

These are the first days of our coming together. And just imagine, in fifteen or twenty years when this collection of individuals that fundamentally understands the intricate dynamics of cultural environments comes together, how powerful our impact on the world could be. We are the birth of a new era of realization, the fathers of tolerance and the mothers of understanding. And while we may have grown up TCKs many years ago, it’s here and now that we are finally given the power and ability to find one another.

Honestly, I cannot imagine anything more exciting.

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Post by: James R. Mitchener

Culture in Faith

Faith too often stands on its own in our current world. People are separated by it, define themselves by it, live their lives based on its principals. Yet, despite its completely interwoven nature with life, it is so infrequently discussed in the context of cultural development. The truth is, Faith is a fundamental part of all human existence, and how we approach it directly correlates to what our culture considers socially acceptable.

This entire process is visible in all corners of the planet. We will start with one end of the extreme, the cultural melting pots of the western world. Take, for example, the United States. Here you have a land full of different beliefs, a country founded on the principal belief of freedom. This freedom extends to all forms of life, from the right to speech to the right to practice, or not practice, the religion of your choosing. However, this once-radical structure of individual freedom was created due to radical believers being oppressed in a less radical society. So they left, traveled across the ocean, and created a colony of free beliefs where it didn’t matter how outside of the realm of normality you sat, you were welcome to be as radical or neutral as you saw fit.

This created a hodgepodge of faiths, faiths that all believed that they were right and the others were wrong, but faiths that existed in a world where all faiths were welcome. Here, society created two separate cultures, the Culture of Law and the Culture of Belief.

The Culture of Law stated that regardless of who you were, regardless of what you wanted to do, and regardless of your background, you were entitled to the same basic rights as everyone else who lived within the borders of this land.  You, like everyone else, are granted freedoms to do as you please with your faith, making that faith an individual decision that can be made by you and you alone. In exchange for that freedom, you are to accept that other faiths will be doing the same, and that they are granted the same rights and freedoms as yourself. This is a large part of being American, and it is an element of immense patriotic pride across the nation.

The Culture of Faith, however, subscribes to a different mentality. Many faiths, excluding a select few, believe that their faith is the only way to advance to a higher state of being. Your birth culture can throw you headfirst into your Culture of Faith, your parents raising you a Lutheran, taking you to a Lutheran church, spending time with Lutheran friends, teaching you Lutheran morals and religious laws. But your neighbor may be something completely different, a Buddhist or a Taoist, existing within the same parameters of their own unique Culture of Faith.

So where the Culture of Law grants freedom and rights, the Culture of Faith requires conflict. If your faith states that only your religion will grant you access to the life beyond, then you are constantly attempting to pull people into that faith to essentially “save” them. And the two cultures will conflict, the Culture of Law saying that you have the right to believe what you want, and the Culture of Faith saying you believe what we believe. And though these two bump together, you are trapped in a perpetual stalemate where each different faith is operating under exactly the same rules, separated only by a baseline religious structure of their particular cultural faith.

Of course, this is not the only extreme, nor is it the most extreme on this side of the spectrum. Take, for example, the Rwanda Genocide. Their Culture of Law and their Culture of Faith bumped heads until the tension became so strong that there was no room for the Culture of Law in the minds of the people. The Tutsi, the Culture of Law majority but the Culture of Faith minority, were systematically slaughtered by the Hutu, the Culture of Law minority but the Culture of Faith majority. In a single night, Hutu neighbors of Tutsi individuals walked next door to the homes of people they had lived beside for years, dragged them out of their houses, and murdered them, creating a total body count of an estimated 100,000 people in a single night. Then, with the Culture of Faith driven to exterminate the Culture of Law, the Hutu continued their slaughter bringing the total death tole to an estimated 800,000-1,000,000 people, or roughly 20% of the population of Rwanda.

Our cultures define us. For the people in Rwanda, just like the people in America, the lack of agreement between the Culture of Law and the Culture of Faith were simply strong enough to produce unspeakable horrors. In the United States, excluding a few radical groups, the Culture of Law and the Cultures of Faith allows for enough symbiosis to survive simultaneously. However, whenever a political leader takes the stage and claims himself to be one thing, claims the country to be a country of only one particular faith (Christian being the front-runner in the early days of the 21st century), that separation begins to grow. The Cultures that support the Culture of Law are slowly pushed away from it by their Culture of Faith.

Regardless of who you are, you are driven by many different cultures. These cultures help define you, to create the person you will become and the reasons you decide to do or not do certain things. The problem for many First Culture Kids is that they have existed within such a tight set of cultures that they fail to see the harmony and uniformity that exists between them all. To them, their culture is the single way of thought. They don’t easily understand that others may not think the way they do, or believe the things they believe. They fail to see the differences because they have been brought up confined to the parameters of their birth cultures, just like the people they cannot relate with were brought up confined to their particular culture as well.

For a Third Culture Kid, however, we have the gift and curse of seeing past those borders. We gave up a birth culture long ago, so where everyone else is confined, we are constantly adapting and absorbing. The TCK mentality of survival through adaptation forces us to see the lines that connect every single culture all across the world. We understand, completely on impulse, that the Taoist and the Muslim neighbors really aren’t that different at all. They developed into two separate cultures and two separate faiths for exactly the same reasons. The problem is, they are so blinded by that Culture of Faith that they can never see their similarity.

It’s a benefit to us, being TCKs. We are universal acceptors. We can relate and understand regardless of what you believe. But we do that because we lack the cultural exclusivity that a First Culture Kid possesses. Where we fall short is in understanding why you cannot see just how similar you are to the man you consider to be so fundamentally different. This could be the reason why the TCK community is, predominantly, an atheist one. It could also be why the faith-based TCKs I’ve met in my life are the most laid back and understanding members of the religious population I have had the pleasure of discussing God with. It could also be that, like everyone else, we are part of the same broken system. Our culture, be it a Third Culture, doesn’t allow us to understand what it means to be so strictly First Culture.

Whatever it may be, I am glad to know the truth; It doesn’t matter what your Culture of Faith may be, your atheist, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, etc. brothers and sisters are no different to you at all. You just need to look past your Culture of Faith to see it. And that alone, at least to me, makes it worth all the hassle of growing up a TCK.

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Post by: James R. Mitchener

Long Distance Love

As a Third Culture Kid, I see the world in a very different light to other, more ground-loving people. I’m a child of the sky. I love airplanes, love to fly, and love those 6+ hours in the air as I embark upon a transcontinental journey to a distant land. It’s blissful, freeing, and it gives me the sense that when I touch down and cross through that airport on the other side, I’ll be somewhere that isn’t the place I’m accustomed to. There’s so much excitement in those moments, going through immigrations, getting your bag, walking through customs, and then walking out into a sea of excited faces, of people waiting for those they love to step back into the country and back into their lives.

The arrivals terminal in any airport really is the happiest place in all the world. You’re never standing, waiting for someone and all of a sudden a nice big man comes charging forward and punches someone right in the face as they come through the gate. You only get the smiles, the little children sprinting at full speed towards their mother or father, the young couples finally reunited after however long they have been apart. It’s so beautiful, so perfect in every single way. And I know this because I’m a traveller, a Third Culture Kid that has walked through that gate countless hundreds of times. I’ve seen it first hand, from being reunited with family to being reunited with the woman of my dreams.

Like I said before, as a TCK, I see the world through a different lens to most. It’s small. Very small. So small in fact I can get to the other side of it in less than 24 hours. It’s so insignificantly small, in fact, that when I dated a girl 4,500 miles away from where I was living, it wasn’t the distance that bothered me, just the fact that I didn’t get to lie down next to her at night to go to sleep. To me, distance isn’t an issue. It never should be. I’m a global nomad, and I plan to stay that way. I will always be pushed and pulled around this planet, jumping from A to B, B to C, C to D, all the way down the line until I have to start using chinese characters instead of letters. It’s just the way I am.

So to me, that taboo of a long distance relationship, or LDR as I hear it called all to often when I’m in one, isn’t so much of a taboo. Instead, I think it’s the greatest test, the strongest evidence of whether or not you as a couple can stand to be together. If you can look at a LDR and think “I don’t care how far apart we are, nothing will ever stop me being beside you,” then you’ve got the makings of something spectacular. It’s that crucial flaw, one I’m guilty of and will never do again, of thinking: “I’ll see her in a month,” or “It’s only for another year,” that brings it all crashing down. The second you let that little idea crawl into your mind, you’re doomed.

The thing is, to a TCK, I don’t think a long distance relationship is that big of a deal. So many of our relationships are long distance, with networks of TCK friends scattered all over the world. It’s true, we are incredible at cutting people out of our lives when we move, of letting go of the past and starting again, but there’s always that network in the life of an adult TCK that never dies, that never fades, that’s always there despite how little you talk to them or how little you stay up-to-date on each-others lives. And so in a way, we are built to survive the distance.

The hard part is in realizing that not everyone else is. As wonderful as it would be for TCKs to find and marry other TCKs, the chances of it happening are slim to none. I’ve met thousands and thousands of people in the past six years, four and a half spent at university and one and a half in the adult world, and I can safely say that of those thousands, I’ve met no more than three TCKs. Three. That’s it. So the idea that we are going to stumble across a person we find captivating, beautiful, interesting, clever, and sexy who is a TCK just like us is slim to none.

So instead, we look for people that have characteristics of TCKs, ones that enjoy similar things. We hunt for the people that say things like “I’d love to live a life where I travel from place to place all the time,” or “I’ve never really had much of a family anyhow.” We look for people who are like us, slightly damaged and ready to live their life to the fullest by experiencing everything their is to experience.

The problem is, they aren’t TCKs. I have done this time and time again, looked for that girl that wants all those things. I thought I’d found her once, beautiful, smart, funny, gave me chills just looking at her. She wanted to travel, to see the world, to be brave and explore and never worry about anything else. And so we gave it a shot, with a 4,500 mile gap that to me meant nothing but to her meant everything. I saw it in her eyes, heard it in her voice, and so I would say those words that I knew, even then, were the words that called heartbreak up from the pits of hell. I said “we’ll see each other in a month,” and “we will get you out here soon, I promise.” I sang empty promises across the Atlantic Ocean, and in the end, heartbreak heard me calling and came to settle its score.

The truth is, as TCKs we will always be looking for someone to love, to build a family that we’ve never had and one that’s so unlike all the ones we know. We will look for like-minded thinkers, first culture kids who want what we want. But in the end, we must always remember that they are not like us. They do not see the world through the same lens that we do. They do not bear the weight of three, or four, or ten different cultures. They will never be as comfortable with distance and loss as we are. They will never stare heartbreak in the eyes, and say “you can hurt me all you want, but I will keep looking for her.” So remember, no matter how hard you try, do not believe that they see the world just as you do. Because the truth is:

They will never be Third Culture Kids.

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Post by: James R. Mitchener

What if They’re Like Me?

I’ve been feeling exceptionally old lately, what with all my friends pairing up, getting married, expecting babies, having babies, being engaged, or buying property together. Through all of this, I’m still here, still single, and still without prospect. I can’t seem to bring myself to pursue anything. What with not having a place of residence, going to England for a month, and then having absolutely no idea where I’m going to end up, it seems very immature to pursue anyone who doesn’t understand what it means to be with me. Here’s the catch: All those people who know what it’s like to be with me have decided that it’s not the life they’re looking for. How can I not respect that?

So for now I’m living life in the classic Third Culture Kid nomad style; I’m living life alone and without attachment, going where I can whenever I can. But the funny thing is, that’s very counter-TCK in my books. I am extremely relationship dependent. There are three people in existence that I’ve ever truly opened up to, and all of them have been girlfriends. They know me better than anyone on this planet, with a level of detail and insight into my personality that if they were to share what they knew with other friends of mine, no one would believe them because it’s so starkly different to what everyone else knows.  So living life like this is a strange and uncomfortable experience for me, because currently, I have no one I can talk to that really understands what’s going on inside my head. And honestly, I don’t like it.

At the same time, however, I think it might not be a bad thing. I want to be with someone, find that life partner that completely understands me and this TCK brain built of chaos and confusion that exists in my head. But at the same time, finding that life partner means that I am going to end up with kids. And frankly, that’s absolutely terrifying. It’s not because I don’t like kids. Honestly, I love them. I would love to be a dad, really, truthfully. But if I were to have them, I will be forced to face the concern of turning out to be like me?

See, I’m a Third Culture Kid. I know that, I respect that, and the woman I marry will marry me because she loves that part of my life. But she chose it. She chose me. Our kids didn’t. So there are two options: the first is that I stop moving and keep them in one place, raising first culture kids and living a normal life. And even as I type this, I’m shaking my head negatively because I know so completely that I would never be able to buy a house and settle down and stay put. I’m getting nervous just thinking about, the idea of being trapped and tied down to a single location, of never getting up and moving to another country again. It simply isn’t an option.

That leaves only one alternative; If I were to have kids, they would end up being TCKs, just like me. I would live an expat life, take them around the world, and force them to have absolutely nowhere they can call home. I’ll throw them headfirst into the life-long crisis that is being a TCK, and leaving them to learn how to deal with it just like I did. And honestly, as an adult I still don’t have a clue how to handle a lot of the aspects of my TCK upbringing.

The way I see it, it’s like religion. People who take their kids to Sunday School breed nice little Catholics. They are forcing a belief on youthful and malleable minds. You can argue all day long that it’s not forcing at all, that faith is a choice, but when you teach something to a child, developmental psychology has taught us time and time again that even the most irrational beliefs are almost impossible to shake if they were taught at a young enough level. Kids believe their parents completely. It’s how they learn to survive. So for that very reason, I will never take my kids to church. Until they are old enough to know that it’s a belief, not a law, they will not go. They can then make the decision when they’re older if they want to believe, and if they do, then off they go without a single complaint from me. It’s their life, and they should be happy with it. But they should get to choose.

And there in lies the greatest problem. If I were to have kids, I would take away their choice to be a TCK. I would force something upon them that will change them so completely, so fundamentally, that I would hate myself for doing so. And though I love being a TCK, I understand all the drawbacks. Sure, I got a hundred skills and experiences from what I’ve been through, but I’ve lost my family, my homeland, and the ability to keep my partners happy. And maybe that’s just me. Maybe my kid’s personalities would make them more resistant to the crazy that grows inside of me with every passing day. But what if that’s not how it ends up?

What if they’re like me?