Tag Archives: global culture

A Christmas with Two TCKs

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, not our fault!

Again, not our fault!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Author
Post by: James R. Mitchener

The Definition of Global Synergy

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

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

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

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

Synergy is Culture.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

_________

The Author

Author

Post by: James R. Mitchener

The Third Culture Language

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Author

Author

Post by: James R. Mitchener