Tag Archives: Hong Kong International School

Hong Kong Kids, the TCK Life I Remember

I was provided with this video today from a friend and teacher in Hong Kong who deals with Third Culture Kids every single day of her life. We have had many back-and-forth conversations and she has provided me with very valuable information regarding the early-developmental years of TCKs. She brought this video to my attention because of the impact that the video is currently having in the Hong Kong International School system in. As educators, their reaction to this video is understandable and certainly merits a detailed look. It may even become a serious central point for developing topics in handling Third Culture Kids in the future. However, before I continue to discuss it further, I would like to welcome my fellow TCK readers, and more so the parents of TCKs, to watch the embedded video here:


Where do I start? I think the best place to begin would be to use the talents of a Third Culture Kid and look at it like someone who isn’t me. After all, that’s what TCKs do every single day of their lives. We look at the world through our own eyes, interpret it, analyse it, then respond based on the community and culture that surrounds us. So, I am going to take my first verbalized look at this video as an educator in the International School system in Hong Kong, the schools in which these YouTube stars currently attend as High School students.

As an educator, this doesn’t exactly paint a great picture for kids growing up in Hong Kong. It’s immature behaviour laced with false-pride and a sense of undeserved authority just because the kids are part of the International School community in Hong Kong. The kids in this video are all under the age of 18 it seems, of course I will admit to be taking a wild stab in the dark there because since I got old, I have a really hard time guessing the age of people under 21. These kids are smoking pot, getting drunk, taking shots, walking around partying in the streets, riding buses and drinking on-board, and generally being rowdy. Let’s also remember that all these kids are part of the elite expatriate lifestyle. They go home to having live-in helpers who make their beds, wash their clothes, cook their meals, and handle their every need. They almost certainly don’t work and probably haven’t had a single job in their lives, and more than anything, they represent the community of international students and expats in Hong Kong and all the other students that attend the varying international schools across the city. And here they are, painting a picture of a life that grants them a status that’s so much greater than the lives of anyone else in the world when they themselves did nothing to deserve it.

There you have it. There’s the view of an FCK, a parent of one of these TCKs, and/or a member of the HKIS educational and administrative team. That’s how it’s being viewed by people all over the world, and how these little kids are being judged. All it takes is a quick look at the SkiBs facebook page and you’ll see some wonderfully insulting comments detailing exactly this. Of course, by attacking these kids like one person by the facebook alias of Denholm Reynholm does and saying “my dog has bigger bollocks than these kids,” sort of removes your entire right to speak on the issue. Discounting your maturity and lowering yourself to a level below those you’re attacking… come on now, that’s the first mistake in winning an argument! After all, you’re not arguing with SkiBs. The artist and team think they’re in the right. You’re arguing to win the vote of everyone who hasn’t already decided how they feel.

But now I’ve gotten that little side-rant off my back, I want to take the opportunity to explain my reaction to this video before I put on the mask of a different culture. I want to tell you what I saw as a TCK, as a global traveler, and as a Hong Kong Kid myself.

When I watched this video, the first thing I did was smile, especially at the title screen of “Hong Kong Kids” as it floats above the familiar sea-wall in Stanley not 10 minutes walk from where I used to live. My body filled with warm memories and I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmingly happy thinking about all the times I spent sitting on that exact wall and watching the water, or kissing my girlfriend goodbye the day before she left to move to Beijing sitting in the alcove beneath the seawall.

Then we jumped into smoking, drinking, crazy parties, the nightlife, jumping into the ocean. And my almost-26-year-old-brain went “wooooaaaa… what the hell are these kids up to?” But then I paused. And again I smiled. Because my mind jumped back to my freshman year of High School where I would go out and buy a packet of cigarettes, smoke them over the weekend, drink, get rowdy. I remember the crazy nights back when I was only 15 years old. Why? Because I was a white boy in Hong Kong, and I could see over the counter, so who was going to say no to me buying alcohol or smokes?

I spent six months there, going out on weekends and riding buses all by myself, drinking on the street or drinking in bars, smoking cigarettes (I never jumped on the pot thing). I got rowdy, and I lived that life. And even now, I look back and say “those were the single greatest two years of my life.”

But look at me now. Now, I own part of a consultancy firm. I own part of an apparel company. I work two full time jobs, one as a marketing director and one as a website and branding adviser. I do public speaking events about culture and TCK life anywhere in the world. I write every single day, from short stories to novels to TCK Life. I pay taxes. I support myself, I treat my girlfriend to everything. I work hard, and I am proud of who I have become.

The reason I tell you this isn’t to brag. It’s to show you, despite how clearly I understand your reaction as a TCK parent or an administrator at any international school, that I did all of those things! That was me exactly 10 years ago. And while it may be shocking and in-your-face now that 21st century technology allows for kids to capture and share with the world all the things that I did in secret, those things have always been happening. They are part of life in Hong Kong as a TCK growing up there. It’s just… what happens.

You cannot get trapped in the negativity. My school, HKIS, as well as many other international schools in Hong Kong, provides a world-class education that will lead to those kids going to colleges all over the world. Some might come back to Hong Kong one day. But most of them won’t. Most will be like me, lost in the world, confused, scared. They’ll be struggling to find their identity, struggling to figure out who they are and why they feel like an outsider everywhere they go. And they’ll remember Hong Kong, and they’ll remember how at home they were there with all those people that they grew up with of different races and creeds.

But here’s the best part: While other kids in college are going crazy finally being free from their parents, partying hard, getting rowdy, making horrible horrible mistakes in dangerous places around the planet, those Hong Kong Kids will not. They’ll remember their youth, and they’ll know they’ve already lived that life, but they lived it in the best place in the entire world, one of the safest cities on the planet. And when they’re struggling to find the answer to why they feel so lost, maybe they’ll come looking for someone like me, someone who has done exactly what they did, just 10 years before them. And I’ll tell them like I am telling you, the International School administrators and parents of Hong Kong Kids:

Please, don’t worry. Everything is going to be fine. I promise. You’re doing everything right. You are teaching these kids to respect each other, to understand each other’s cultural heritage, to work as a team despite their differences. You have created bonds that you will never see anywhere else in the world, unities that will last a lifetime even if those kids never speak to each other ever again. You have shown them a world that most people can’t even imagine, and you are giving them the power to understand it!

Just keep teaching them well. Kids will be crazy. Kids will be kids. But in the end, everything will turn out alright. I promise.

After all, it did for me, and I couldn’t be happier with the life that I have today.

_________

The Author

Author

Post by: James R. Mitchener

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From Home to Discovery

When I was in university, I was asked to do a visual exercise that was to detail the limits of our memory and the power of our imagination. I was asked to think about my home, and imagine a car. I was told to climb into that car, and start driving away from my house. Where I went wasn’t important, but I had to drive away from my home, and I had to continue driving in that same direction away from my house for as long as I could. We were given several minutes to think about the scenario, and when the timer ran out, we were told to write down our imaginary drive so that we could share it with the class and see how far we had each made it along the road of memory’s imagination.

Everyone in my class in Texas made it far. But they all made it right from the central point of a home that existed within that state, within that city. For me, the question itself had fundamental and confusing issues. Did they want to know about my drive from my birth country of England? Did they want to know about my current house in Houston? Or did they want to know about the other corners of the world that I considered equally as influential in my development as any other I’d resided in? Without knowing the answer, I chose them all.

Before I begin my drive, my brother and I run from the door and head straight for the tree that seems to always be in blossom, tiny white buds of fur that resemble caterpillars creeping from the branches until they grow too heavy and fall to the grass beneath our feet. Together, my brother and I run three circles around the tree before returning to the door, hopping across the concrete-rainbows that separate the grass of the garden from the walkway to the car. Once in the car, we reverse from the drive and pass the complex where we go to see the dentist. We drive along winding roads and past fields and tress until we arrive at the all-to-small road that leads to my grandparent’s house. Down lanes barely big enough for a single car, we soar past oncoming vehicles that run off into the shoulder to avoid collision, just as we have done. Just after we pass the oldest dove house in the world, we pull onto a road that winds past several pubs, including The Pineapple. Entering Dorney Common, we slow to a stop to allow the cows to cross the road. When they have made their rounds, we continue on into Eton Wick, Windsor Castle in sight not more than a thirty minute walk away, and turn down Queens Road to my Granny and Grandad’s home.

As a family, we step into the elevator and my brother and I fight over who gets to push the button to go to the ground floor. I win, being older, unless my mother explicitly tells me not to push the button, and even then I may slip an arrogant and defiant jab at the ground floor to beat my brother.  In mere seconds, we arrive at the bottom of the building and walk past the gateway to the garage and start our trek down the hill, past a pile of rocks that we had salvaged for stones to allow our terrapins to sunbathe in the warm, incandescent lighting of our apartment. When we reach the bottom of the hill, we step into a red taxi and continue our trip towards downtown, soaring along roads far too narrow for any car to handle within the bounds of normal human safety. When we arrive downtown, we walk to the bank and pass by two enormous stone statues of Fu Dogs, where my brother and I climb upon their bodies and try to scale them to their heads. After the bank, we move through crowded city streets and make our way to the peak tram, passing through a park with a mushroom waterfall that, through age, no longer possesses a safe and dry approach to its center. Together, my brother and I attempt to dodge through the scattered droplets that fall upon us, then run back to our mother. Climbing onto the tram, we rush to seats that are positioned flat with the floor of the tram, but are slanted backwards to almost 45 degree angles thanks to the extreme incline of the tracks.

My brother and I climb into the captain’s chairs of an enormous van parked in the driveway of our suburban house. Our father finishes loading the cooler between our two seats, then he and my mother get into the front and pull out of the drive. We head towards the freeway, driving up into the air on an elevated crossing before veering right and entering the on-ramp of a three lane freeway heading towards San Antonio. We drive for what feels like days, but in reality is only a few hours. The road is straight, flat, and plain. The heat of the road makes the hills look like water is resting on the concrete a few hundred feet ahead. As we get closer, the mirage vanishes and we are left with waves of heat that pass us by. When we arrive in San Antonio, we drop off the car and start walking to the River Walk, a man-made structure of nearly stagnant water that brings tourists to San Antonio without anything more to offer them. I think nothing of the place, and continue on in childhood ignorance.

I sit on a bus passing French buildings and tiny Renault Twingos. The trees rush by my window, their branches occasionally scratching along the side as we dart down the suburban streets outside of Paris and head towards our school. When we arrive, the gate slides open, razor-wire lining the perimeter, and we drive into the compound that is the American School of Paris. Large aircraft hangers that are now gyms are scattered across the campus, long buildings that were formerly offices but now house classrooms for students sit peacefully in the center. There’s history here, the history of an American military base that now is home to the education of TCKs in a land they don’t belong.

I ride a bus alone, darting down faintly-memorable roads of a city I once lived in years before, one that rests in my mind like a drunken dream, a chaotic haze of flashes in time. I feel the weight of the bus tip as we pull around tight cliff corners, and I look out over the water that surrounds the tiny island I live upon. Around me is nothing but trees, rock walls, and water, but then out of nowhere a skyline appears, and I am driving down Queens Road and pulling up to the stop that connects Queens Road to the fish market. I walk from here, the smell of rotting flesh and neglected garbage wafting into my nostrils, a smell I have become so familiar with over the years that I smile. I look up into the sky as I walk and see the signs that will soon be illuminated in the night, but currently hang lifeless and old, a mess of clutter blocking out the sky that slices between the buildings of compact streets.

I am driving now, back in Texas and sitting behind the wheel. I’m heading back from college in San Antonio to visit my parents, taking the same straight and boring road I have driven dozens of times before. I listen to music loudly as I ignore the lifeless and uninspired flatness that surrounds me. I am sad, but I am hiding it well. I miss the world, I miss the culture, and I miss the life of my youth. I want to be on a plane, I want to travel the planet again, to see the things I never saw before in the places I never had the time to visit. I want to be free again, free to get up and go and do whatever I can wherever I land. But I am stuck, stuck in school and knowing that when I have finished my education, I will be stuck in a job, a prisoner to a life and a world that doesn’t understand a man like me.

I am all grown up now. I am in my job and I have finished my school. And I have moved, but I have moved from a city that didn’t understand me to one that understands me even less. As I sit in my car and drive the three miles to work and back every day, I think back to a question my professor once asked me in college: “How far can you drive before you can’t remember what the next part of the road looks like? Tell me about the drive you remember.”

I smile to myself, because I know now that she missed the entire point of the question she was asking. So I ask the question she should have asked, but one she never would have understood, to you, the only group of people who can grasp the depth of what I am asking:

How far do you have to drive away from your memories until you are free to discover the world you do not know? Tell me about the unknown.

_________

The Author

Author

 

 

 

Post by: James R. Mitchener

The Itchiest of Feet

When we were young, moving was never a decision. Maybe for some, their parents sat them down and told them this was what was going to happen, asked for their opinions and said they’d take them into consideration when deciding what the next step in their lives was going to be. Mine didn’t, but I’m not excluding the possibility for other Third Culture Kids. Some families have alpha mentalities, and some have democratic mentalities. Ours was an alpha household. Decisions were made at the top, and they trickled down the caste system until they hit the bottom, which was always my brother and me. It was just the way it worked. So when it came time to move, Dad would tell Mum, then some other people would find out and be told not to say anything, and then one day we’d find out. And that was the end of that. By then, it was law, no longer a debatable bill still passing through government.

So for me, traveling was never a choice, it was a requirement. I was told when I was going to move, told that I needed to say goodbye to my friends, told I was going to start a new school in a new land, told what apartment we were moving into, told what country we would land in, told with which grandparents I would stay with while we waited, told where we going on a family holiday, and told that everything would be alright and I’d meet new people and make new friends and uncover new and exciting things. But the strangest thing about being told all of these things by my parents is that, after reading my works in The Illusive Home, my mum sat me down extremely concerned and asked me if I believed they had ruined my life in moving me to all those places. She told me she had no idea that I was adopting cultures, that I didn’t believe I had a home, that there was no country that I completely fit into. She truly believed that my experience growing up all over the planet was exactly the same as hers as she moved from place to place as an adult; it was just a long trip away from home.

What she didn’t understand was that in a way, she was right. It was a long trip away from home. But the length of the trip was infinite, a permanent trip that was like a classic science fiction story in which humanity all boards a shuttle and jettisons themselves into space, saying goodbye to the Earth as it burns up into nothing behind them. I was that shuttle. When I started my life as an international nomad, I watched as my home burned to nothing behind me. I would never be able to return to it, because everything that it was to me ceased to exist. It was nothing but shattered memories and distant echoes.

Like that shuttle full of refugees escaping the destruction of Earth, I was looking for another place full of strangers to be my home. I wasn’t looking to take over, to claim control and oppress my views. I was just looking for somewhere that I fit in, somewhere that I could safely say was mine and mine alone. The unfortunate truth of the situation is, however, that the only place that existed was in my high school in Hong Kong. At the Hong Kong International School, or HKIS, I was completely at home. I was surrounded by other TCKs, other kids that had no idea they were part of the Third Culture Kid community. We were immersed in each other, trying to do the best we could with the lives that were thrown upon us. Everyone on the outside called us lucky. They knew us as the rich white kids that came to this foreign land because we were special. But inside that community, we knew were weren’t what everyone else thought. We were something else. We were different.

With the life that was given to me, I grew. I adopted everything I could, learned how to survive to the best of my abilities. I knew that my time in Hong Kong was limited. I knew that the end would come, and I would be moving again one day to somewhere so foreign that I’d have nothing in common with anyone. I never thought it would be Texas, though; a backwards world of people so proud of a state they’ve never left. But that’s where I ended up. And so I survived. But in the time that I survived, I adopted a trait I never expected.

I got itchy feet.

Today, at 24 years old, almost 25, I sit at home and think “where can I go next?” I don’t want to stay here, I can’t stay here. Texas isn’t for me anymore, and I know that I’ve learned all that I’ll ever learn from this culture. I’ve adopted what traits it has to offer, and so I need to move on acquire new ones. But while I was in University, I was a prisoner. I couldn’t go anywhere but where I was, and so I did what little I could to satisfy the crazy. Every year, without fail, I moved apartments. I moved every single chance I got, 6 month leases, 12 month leases, it didn’t matter so long as I got to pack my things and start again somewhere else. It wasn’t the same, moving down the street, but it was enough while I was there.

Then one day, something strange happened. I met that girl you have all read about, the one that lived across the ocean, and through her I no longer wanted to move. She loved what I had, and it made me love what I had. I was proud to live in America, maybe not Texas, but I was proud to be in this country. It made me want to stay. But all the while, I still wanted to move somewhere new. And that need to move, that feeling of incredibly itchy feet, could be satisfied in one of two ways.

I could leave America, and go somewhere else. Start my life with new people in a new land and never look back, or I could move someone I loved to me. I could start my life again and see all those places I’d seen before in a new light, visit all those sights I’d seen a hundred times, but add a completely new value to each of them. I could share what it meant to grow up a TCK. I could be proud of who I am.

And that’s the curse of itchy feet. It doesn’t matter how we approach it, but a TCK is always going to want to move. One day, we’re going to feel that burning desire that we simply cannot avoid. We’re going to need to get up and go, to experience something new and unique. There was a time I believed that meant that I had to get up and go and experience an entirely new country with a completely new culture. Maybe that is still the case, maybe I will always end up back at that belief, but I’m pretty excited to see if there’s a way around it. What if all I really need is someone there to show me a different perspective? What if I just need someone to make me proud of what I have, because they’re walking me through it like I’m seeing it for the very first time?

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Post by: James R. Mitchener

The TCK’s True Family

I believe that at this point, it can be fairly well agreed upon that Third Culture Kids who have been constant country hoppers have a problem with family. I use the word problem lightly, of course, because the truth of the matter is that our disconnection with our families isn’t a problem, but simply a trade we were forced to make to have the experiences that were handed to us. Despite all that, the end result is always the same: TCKs have been forced to distance themselves from establishing relationships with people they are supposed to trust.

Like I said in Foreign People, we were never really given the opportunity to connect to our family. A couple days a year, even a couple weeks a year for those longer trips back to our parent’s passport countries, is never enough to establish that sort of tight-knit family bond I keep hearing about. When people say to me “my family is the most important thing in my life,” it makes me let out a little mental laugh. Of course, they never know I’m reacting that way, and I usually mask it by saying “I know what you mean,” but the truth is I really don’t have a clue. I’m oblivious, because my family has never been a staple part of my life. In fact, they really are the most distant parts of my regularly occurring life.

The reason for this is that when TCKs hop around the world, they usually end up in places where there are other TCKs with them. If I’ve noticed anything in my life, nobody forms bonds better than Third Culture Kids. The bounds of social situations that exist so clearly in First Culture societies are completely nonexistent in TCK worlds. Where an American school in the United States has the geeks, the losers, the popular kids, the theatre kids, the band kids, the cheerleaders, the football players, the jocks, the pot heads, the science geeks, the honors club, the over achievers, the under achievers, the bullies, the bullied, the goths, the emo kids, and every other type of defining separation, TCK schools just have kids.

From ASP to HKIS, I never once felt like there was a separation between any of us students. Some of us were assholes. Some of us were quiet. Some of us didn’t get close and some of us wouldn’t let go of each other. Some of us had huge welcoming hearts and some of us couldn’t care less. But the truth is, we were all aware that we were all so similar that, despite the fact that some of us didn’t get along and that we may feel drastically different regarding certain situations, we were all in it together. And the “it” that we were all in wasn’t just a day at school or a field trip to a museum. It was the full, all encompassing aspect of our lives. We were all thousands of miles away from what had once been home, and now was simply a land full of strangers like the one we lived in at the time.

What that did to us was pull us together. We bonded in ways that kids in a First Culture Kid community never would. Things that made us different, things that would make FCKs run away from each other or hate one another instead drew us together. We wanted to learn the differences between us, embrace how we were uniquely different from all the other kids all over the world that didn’t know what we knew. We learned to love one another not despite our differences, but because of them. We learned that multi-cultural viewpoints and different perspectives were not something to be feared, but something to embrace. By using each other, we learned that multiple minds were better than one. And in the end, we understood each other so well that there wasn’t a team on the planet that could work together better than us.

What was so strange about this is that, for the most part, TCKs are natural leaders. We would walk into a room and every single one of us would have a presence that’s only met by a collection of CEOs. We are commanding, we understand things on such an incredibly broad level but at exactly the same time see all the little cogs that build our entire product. We can explain things so amazingly well and motivate people with the passion of a king or queen. We are leaders, thinkers, and doers. And yet, unlike most leaders, when paired with another TCK we are made stronger, not weaker. There is never a conflict, never a butting of heads or a pissing contest to see who’s stronger or smarter. There’s just harmony. Complete and total harmony with the most blissful balance of collaboration and achievement. It’s absolutely glorious, and it has been too long since I have seen it in action.

Why then do TCKs have the ability to work together where other leaders would never have the ability? Because we were built to coexist. In learning that we were never going to fit in anywhere in the world again, we built our own country. In finding out that we were never going to be understood ever again in our lives, we built our own support group. And in knowing that we would never again see the world like everyone else, we stared at each other and understood that we at least had each other. And out of that mess, out of the chaos of losing everything every other normal person clings to in order to define themselves, we decided to define ourselves by the way we impact the world. And in doing so, we created the strongest family that no one else would ever understand.

We created the Third Culture Kid community.

And no matter where we go, no matter who we run into, if we ever meet another TCK, we will smile and know that we have just met a family member we never knew existed. And without saying a word, we will both understand exactly what that means.

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Post by: James R. Mitchener