Tag Archives: moving

Domestic Cultural Blending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

 

 

 

 

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

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

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How to Adapt to Cultural Shifts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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James R. Mitchener
Post by: James R. Mitchener