Tag Archives: World Culture

What We Leave Behind

TCK Life What We Leave BehindLeaving our lives behind is a concept that is inherent in every single Third Culture Kid’s upbringing. As far as foundations are concerned, the idea that a departure is always imminent is probably the strongest baseline you can find in the highly jumbled subcultures of TCKs from around the world. TCKs share very little when it comes to the cultural developments that made them, but they are all so close in the foundations that built them into the people they became. They are built out of leaving their lives behind, built of loss, adoption, and absorption. Of starting again, and applying the lessons learned of the past to new and interesting cultures that surround them. And their ability to adapt, to bounce back from loss and create something new from the rubble of their previous lives is all because they started this journey learning that loss is always more than probably, it is inevitable.

Human kind lives in a world where society is still highly pocketed. Cultures exist within cultures, and many of those cultures rely and thrive on a degree of isolation. People cross cultural boarders more so than ever before, but in reality these borders still exist within the confines of an isolated and highly compartmentalized social and developmental structure. The world is getting smaller, but the rate of cultural adaptation hasn’t kept pace with humanity’s abilities to blur the lines within the cultures we inherit.

That is, with exception to those that have been thrust, most unwillingly, into the Third Culture.

The Third Culture is the closest we have come to defining human kind’s ability to embrace cultural adaptation. It starts with a core self identity crisis, in which a Third Culture Kid hits a wall in their lives where they suddenly realize that they are no longer truly a member of the culture of their parents’ culture. For some, this wall is mountainous to overcome. For others, it’s a small hurdle cleared with ease. But that realization hits every TCK at some point in their lives, and from that moment forward they will be tasked with the endless struggle of finding what it is that makes up their cultural identity.

From here, a TCK picks and chooses the pieces of his or her life that hold the most value to who they think they are. A little bit of culture “A,” a lot of culture “B,” and a dash of culture “C” all lends to the creation of a person who can transcend any culture they’ve touched, make themselves part of it, make themselves welcome and comfortable, but never truly becoming a completely interwoven part of the culture itself. This picking and choosing allows for the cross pollination of cultural ideas from a party that the impacted culture can trust, while offering a sponge of cultural absorption in the TCK who will carry the elements of the culture they’re interacting with onto every culture that follows.

The TCKs lack of ability to truly be indoctrinated by any one culture means that they will always be on the move, always looking for new pieces of the puzzle of self identity. This is the drive for forward momentum, like seeds being spread across a field in the wind. Everywhere a TCK goes, they evolve, become different, absorb new cultural elements. Then, when they leave, they leave behind a piece of so many cultures that will be absorbed into the culture they have departed, and the TCK takes with them even more cultural quirks to spread into the next culture they encounter.

As the world gets smaller, we are approaching the point in which culture will inevitably have to change. It may not be in the generation of the millennials, or the generation that follows them immediately thereafter, but soon, at least from a galactic perspective, the entire cultural foundation upon which civilization has been built will have to confront one of two outcomes should humanity choose to survive:

The first and most brutal is a complete cultural reversal. Inspired by mass extinction events of the past in which entire species are wiped out, we are looking at a potential Cultural Shut-down. Any large event, a World War, a technological hiccup that shoots us back in time through our ability as a species to harness technology, will distance us from one another once again and strengthen our ties to individual cultures, making cross pollination of cultures unnecessary and unwanted.

The second, and hopefully more likely, is Cultural Survival through Evolution. Globalization comes at a price. It unifies ideas, people, and minds. And at the same time, it forces the segregation of independent cultural norms that we accept in our current societal state. As the ability to travel comes ever simpler, as cultures rely more heavily on each other to prosper and survive, cultural blending will become absolutely inevitable. Language barriers will collapse. Food sources will be shared. Trade will increase. Boarders will weaken. And in that process, cultures will be mixed more heavily with one another unlike ever before in human history, fuelled by technology that was unimaginable in the days of isolated cultures.

This transition is happening now, only in its infancy, and that infancy lives within TCKs everywhere. TCKs are the signs of a world to come in which culture isn’t about isolation, but rather the sharing of ideas and theories. Many cultures will, albeit sadly, fade away into oblivion with countless millions of forgotten cultures before them. But in the end, we will have a more global society built upon the best pieces of the cultures we experience now.

That transition is many years away. Centuries, perhaps. But if the rapid growth of TCKs shows us anything, it’s that their self identity in culture, the adaptability of human kind, is the gift that they will leave behind for the generations that follow. TCKs are paving the way for a future that they will never live to see. But the future of our species depends on cultural adaptation, and TCKs are already doing something that has never been done before. They’re growing in numbers, and manipulating cultures in a world that has the technology and power to experience the difference adaptability makes in its every corner.

And that adaptability will be the idea that carries our species forward into a world of true globalization. It will be the gift that every Third Culture Kid will leave behind, for the generations that follow.

__________

Author of TCK Life

Post by: James R. Mitchener

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Net Neutrality is Globalization, Let’s Fight to Keep It

Third Culture Kid LifeI challenge you to find a Third Culture Kid (TCK) out there who doesn’t agree with this statement: The internet is the purest and most openly accessible form of connection between cultures currently in existence, the single exception being one’s ability to walk into a country and immerse themselves in the culture they’re surrounded by.

With talks of Net Neutrality sky-rocketing again in the United States (I say sky-rocketing with full knowledge that while there are many people making a lot of noise on the issue, there are far too few given the fact that the internet is a vital part of almost everyone’s lives), the fact that we may very well lose a free and open internet is becoming a topic of concern for anyone living in this country.  For the general public and life-long residents of the US, a free and open internet represents a connection to free speech and expression coupled with a gateway to free market enterprise.

The internet is home to everything now, and with that complete involvement in our lives, we find ourselves turning to it in order to acquire information, purchase anything we want, connect with friends and loved ones, start a business, get our name heard, learn new things, relax and unwind, watch television, follow rising stars, listen to music, find new friends, develop contacts, apply for jobs, work our jobs, and ultimately: connect ourselves to the world.

For America, one’s ability to start a company and rise to success has been the driving force of free market enterprise, and with the creation of the internet, that drive has never been stronger. People with highly marketable skills in isolated industries now have a portal of access that allows them to get their name into the world, to create a company that focusses on something unique and desired, and share it across a digital path that spans the entire expanse of our planet. And we do it all under the guise that our information is created equally, no matter what information we choose to share.

Unfortunately for Americans, that belief in a free and open internet is currently nothing more than a lie we are telling ourselves to help us feel better about our existence. And that’s where the Net Neutrality debate comes into play. If you are not aware of what’s happening with Net Neutrality, the FCC, and ISPs across the United States, I encourage you to watch this video. It explains, in as simple as a way as I can conceive, just what we were all so upset about earlier this year. You can read the comments, too, to get a nice spread of just how intense this conversation has gotten:

It turns out that when you allow a company to have a monopoly on an asset, they will often abuse the power of possessing that monopoly for profitable gain. It is foolish for us to blame them for this, as it is a natural part of running a business, but you also have to remember that one of the core values of the free market is that competition is fundamentally good for business. ISPs will argue all day that they do not have a monopoly, but their arguments are nothing short of propaganda that permeates the most hated industry by customers in the nation. In truth, they don’t have a monopoly in most markets. But their lack of competition based on mutual gain might as well be.

I’m not a fan of regulation. I don’t like governments at all and honestly believe them to be incredibly inefficient, money sucking machines driven by idiots, crooks, and thieves. But, unfortunately, there are exceptions to every rule, and while I am a free market person to my core, I am not foolish enough to believe that with ISPs being the same people that want us to watch cable television and buy premium shows, that they’re not going to bully us into them getting what they want. We’ve already entered into a slippery slope of being charged twice for access to an internet we never really recieved in the first place. And if you don’t agree with that, perhaps you forgot about Netflix and Comcast‘s spat earlier this year?

The thing is, as a TCK, the internet is more to me than just a tool for domestic business. Granted, I use it every single day for just that being the Marketing Manager for a rather prominent waste company, authoring this collection, and managing various other private contract roles with different organizations. But it’s bigger than that. It’s a point of connection, and my ability to do those things is driven by a free and open internet in which my traffic is just as valuable as anyone else’s in the eyes of neutrality, and it’s the consumer who decides my worth, not an ISP.

And this is bigger than you think. Hundreds of massive companies, including Google and Netflix have already sided with Net Neutrality advocates everywhere. And that’s a big deal if you think about it. People who yell “Well of course they don’t want to be forced to pay more to have people access their information, they’re giants” are missing the point. It’s true, they don’t want to pay, why would they? It hurts their bottom line. But the point is, if they have to pay, they can.

Can you?

That’s the thing you need to be asking yourself here. Can you afford to pay to get your name heard because an ISP has decided your content is taking too much traffic? Take me, for example. I host a completely free resource of information here at Third Culture Kid Life for TCKs, their parents, their families, and their friends. Over the past three years, it has become quite a trafficked site. I know that if ISPs get their way, they won’t bother with the likes of me right off the bat. But one day, they might. And if they do, what would happen?

Unfortunately for me, and hopefully my readers feel the same, Third Culture Kid Life would be no more. My content could be inaccessible all because I didn’t pay an ISP to get a pass-through to my website so that people could load my page. And with the content of the world at my fingertips, that entire concept is absolutely terrifying.

So please, while you still can: Take a stand. Fight for a free and open internet. Fight for Net Neutrality. Let’s keep the culture of the world, and the culture of the internet that connects it, as strong as it has always been.

__________

Author of TCK LifePost by: James R. Mitchener

 

 

 

 

Dear Scotland, Please Don’t Go

Dear-Scotland-Please-Don't-GoDear Scotland,

You don’t know me, and sadly, I do not know you. Not as I should at least, not as I’d like. I have seen so many countries in my life that admitting I’ve never set foot on your soil fills me with a massive amount of shame, especially seeing as I was so close just under two years ago, planning a trip en-route to a convention that unfortunately I had to cancel due to a snowstorm and your airport being closed. I was excited, too, to meet you. There’s something beautiful about knowing you’re going to step off a plane and be somewhere completely different, somewhere completely new that you’ve never seen before in your life. And while you’re so close to the country in which I spent the first measly four years of my life, sharing a border with it in fact, I have embarrassingly never managed to make my way up into your lands.

You see, I’m what the 21st century knows as a Third Culture Kid (TCK). I was born in one country (England), grew up all over the world with various 2-3 year stints in different countries, and adopted various cultures from each and every place I visited instead of a singular culture most common in children that grow up in a normal, mono-cultural lifestyle. One of the most interesting things that happens to TCKs is that they have an incredibly hard time learning how to relate to the concept of a “home.”

First Culture Kids (FCKs) form a natural attachment to their homeland, understanding that this place, the place that me, my family, my friends have all lived, is my home. Even when they move away from that location, should they choose to in their adult years, they always retain that level of connection to their home-town. TCKs don’t have that. We travelled from place to place in our developmental years, learning from various cultures, communities, and countries but never being tied to a singular cultural or patriotic experience. We’ve seen dozens of sides of dozens of coins, and each one has some sort of value to us, but that singular connection, that place we can call home, is completely foreign to us.

Take me, for example. I was born in England, but England is just the country where my parent’s lived, where my extended family lives, and another place I frequently visit to share in scattered moments once a year with family members that go about their normal day-to-day lives without me ever being part of them. In a sense, my brother and I are the forgotten members of the family, the ones that are of course still in the thoughts of our extended family, but never like everyone else, never truly connected to the daily lives that everyone else shares so closely. We’re just too distant, too different, and too… foreign.

The reason why I tell you this is so that you can understand the gravity of my plea. Not understanding the concept of a home, not being tied to the lives that so many people live on a daily basis, TCKs have a tendency to view the world quite differently from grounded, level-headed individuals such as yourselves. We’re a bit of a mess, you could say, but that mess has its moments of realisation, and I believe that one of those moments is now:

I have a passport, you see, my ticket to the world. With it, I can travel almost anywhere I choose, visit almost any place I could want to see, and continue to expand my knowledge of both individualised and globalised culture. It is a ticket to everything, this silly little piece of paper with nothing but my picture, name, a random number that was assigned to me as my life-long identification,  all tucked away in this lovely little red book embossed with a beautiful logo. This passport is special, because while it sits comfortably beside a blue passport that reads United States of America, this one, the passport I was granted due to my birthright, carries so much more meaning to a child of the world such as myself.

This passport is one for The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

I have spent years of my life trying to understand what it is about that passport, that simple little red book that brings me so much pride. And you see, while I carry two, one for a country in which I currently reside and one for a country in which I have hardly resided, the passport for the United Kingdom symbolizes everything that a TCK has come to learn about the world.

This book, formed because of pacts and unities dating centuries, was a truly glorious and unforgettable claim for unified globalisation. It is the success story behind attempts that preceded it and followed it time and time again, a truly world shattering statement that we free people are better together than we are apart. That through each other, we can achieve so much more, go so much further, and be so much stronger than we had ever even imagined.

Having seen this world through so many different cultural lenses, having watched so many people strive for exactly the same thing in so many different languages, looking at my passport and knowing that long before I set eyes on this world, there were people fighting to bring it together in a way that strengthened their neighbours, not weakened them or belittled them or scared them, I couldn’t be more proud to carry that document.

So please, Scotland. I beg of you. Do not leave. I have no home like you know, I have no sense of national self devotion, no patriotism the way you would understand. I am a child of the world. And as such, I beg of you to stay. I beg of you to claim the authority you seek, but as a nation united with others in a quest to bring people together, not force them apart. Both you and your neighbour nations, the community for which I hold the single most important document of my life, are something to be so proud of, something that I am proud of each and every day from thousands of miles away, knowing that at any time I can return and settle down with pride in what you’ve all achieved.

So please, don’t go. You have the power to push unity on, or show that further separating the world is the right thing to do. And believe me when I say, we are all just people of the world fighting to be heard. Please, don’t go. Please, stay with us for globalisation, and make this TCK proud.

__________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

 

 

 

 

I’m Not Done Here

TCK Life I'm Not Done HereIf you’re here, then you’re either a Third Culture Kid, the parent of a TCK, or have some sort of intimate relationship with TCK life and/or expatriation. In some way, you at the very least partially understand that TCKs are a mess of culture driven by this seemingly unnatural desire to get up and go, experience more, and jump from location to location leaving everything behind in hopes of capturing that next piece of the puzzle that makes up multiculturalism. People have coined us everything from Permanent Internationals to Global Nomads, and you know what, we’re proud of all the titles that non-travelers and international explorers alike have thrown our way. We embrace our multiculturalism with such ferocity that anyone would think we have in our possession something as precious and sought after as the fountain of youth.

We talk about how much we love the world, how much we always want to see more, how much we need to move and experience the next step. We talk about how we don’t mind saying goodbye, how we handle departure differently from everyone else, how nothing is permanent in our lives, even the culture we create. We talk about all the things we’ve seen, all the things we want to see, and how all these sights made us who we are or will make us into something better. We talk about going, moving, and the next step in what appears to be an endless path of places for which our thirst can never be quenched. But in all my time as an author for Third Culture Kids, the one thing I’ve never said is this:

I’m not done here yet.

It’s time that changed. When TCKs talk about what it is that makes them who they are, TCKs that have truly embraced their multiculturalism, there’s an oddly consistent trend in which we don’t really talk much about the place we are right now. We talk about the cultures of our past, the pieces we’ve already absorbed and are confident in explaining, the shining lights of memories past. We talk about the future and what it holds, the potential for new cultures and the promise of an ever-changing understanding on what it means to truly be a citizen of Earth and not a member of a single country. But we don’t ever really talk about where we are, right now.

In part it’s because we haven’t fully pieced together the elements of the culture we are currently experiencing, we haven’t decided on our final adoptions in regards to cultural development, and we know that by admitting that we are still learning, still adopting, we bind ourselves a little closer with the inevitable goodbyes that sit in our future. We know that by opening that door, we strengthen bonds to people that would start believing that they understand us, when the truth is we don’t want you to understand us because we aren’t like you. We don’t see the world as countries and pockets. We don’t believe that one person or culture is better than another. We don’t want to be another person in the herd of a like-minded community. We want to challenge everything, we want to make you think, and we want you to see the world as we do: That we are all just people, like everyone else, stuck here fighting to be more than just a forgotten name in a forgotten world.

But that’s not fair for the now. Because the truth is, as I sit here in Raleigh, North Carolina and look out at the rest of the world and consider the next inevitable step, a move that will absolutely come one day in my future, maybe soon, maybe not, I can’t help but shake that one thought in the back of my mind, one that counter-acts our entire external projection of what it means to be a TCK. The truth is, I’m not done here yet.

I know I’m not alone. I know that TCKs everywhere have whispered that same silent thought to themselves, maybe not everywhere, but somewhere. They’ve said quietly “But… I don’t want to go. I’m not done here yet. I need more time,” and no one has heard them.

Because who would we be, the TCKs that we are so proud of, if we let the world know that there was actually something about this place that was more special than all the others? Who would we be if we admitted that this culture is still growing, still adding to the pot of knowledge that we possess, and there’s more to it than we pretend to have already figured out? Who would we be, the people that are so confident in our ability to just let go and move on, if we admitted that in this place there are people that we just aren’t ready to do that with, that we just aren’t ready to leave behind and release from our world? Who would we be, if we admitted that we wanted to stay, if only for a little while longer?

But the truth is, we’ve all thought it. And we’ve all pretended we haven’t. And we’ve all moved on and gone to other places and left whatever it was behind just a little sooner than we would have liked.

But we don’t have to. It’s alright, you know. You can do it, if you really want to. You can look out over the trees or plains or deserts or mountains and think how beautiful they are. You can look at a colleague or a friend or a lover or a partner and think “I’m not ready to let you go.” You can get in your car or on the bus or on a bike and go from A to B without discovering anything new and know that you don’t really mind that you’ve taken this road before a thousand times and still find it fascinating.

You can admit that maybe, just maybe, you’re not quite done here yet. And if you really want, it’s alright if you choose to stay a little while longer.

__________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

 

 

 

 

Childhood Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

__________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

 

 

 

 

Domestic Cultural Blending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

__________

James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener

 

 

 

 

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

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

The Death of Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blank-Tolerance-Graph

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

TCK-tolerance-graph

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

Biased-tolerance-graph

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

Extremist-Tolerance-Graph

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

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

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

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James R. Mitchener

Post by: James R. Mitchener