third culture kid

Being A Third Culture Kid: Life In Between 25 Countries

third culture kid

β€œ A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background. ”

David C Pollok

All of my life, I have struggled with answering the question where are you from?Β At times I wanted to retort everywhere or even nowhere. My answers never seem to suffice. If I say I am from France, people wonder why my English is ‘ so good!!!’ or why my French isn’t top notch ( it’s decent enough). If I say I am British, I basically have to pull out my passport and show people as they hear my American accent and wonder what that’s all about. If I were to say I am American, that is an inaccuracy as even though I was born there, I never adopted the American culture as my own, due to the fact I am a dual citizen and was raised between 4 countries: US, France, Singapore, and UK.

This isn’t even counting the 18 or so other countries I visited before I was 19.

It wasn’t until I read Bonnie’s series on her childhood. She used the term ‘third culture kid‘ and I was intrigued, wanting to know more. After some further research, I grabbed a piece of my identity and understood why it has been so difficult for 30 years to express where I am from, as well as who I am.

My Childhood: An International Affair

I was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin of all places. My Mother was one of the only British people living in our town of 9,000. My father was a Texan geologist turned sailor and businessman. He was also a professional musician. I was almost born in Switzerland ( that would have been terrific, and beats Wisconsin in my book…) but my Mom and Dad made it back to the dreary midwest just in time. Shortly after she gave birth, I got my first passport ( US) and began a long, long life of travel.

My earliest childhood memories are of me riding in a boat in Bangkok, looking at abject poverty. I’m not sure what market we were floating down, but I remember that after we left the main area ( where people were selling their items on boats) we saw what seemed like mile upon mile of people living in cardboard boxes. It was at that moment, so young, I vowed to help them somehow. I vowed to not forget what I saw. And now, more than 2 decades later, I am back in Thailand.

After our trip to the Orient, we went to Antibes and purchased our home, located near my Dad’s office. Antibes has been and will always be my home. We then proceeded to spend part of every year in the US ( when I was at school), France, and Singapore, due to my Dad’s company having offices in all three locations. We were also frequently in the UK, as my Uncle and cousin still lived there and it is close to France.Β Most probably because of living in so many countries, I developed a mixed personal cultural identity. I loved spicy food thanks to Sing cuisine, and have always been a major foodie, disliking fast food in general. It was however the French culture that I identified with the most. This was more of a subconscious choice then me consciously preferring one culture to another. I also spoke French and most of my childhood friends were in Antibes. I felt secure and happy there, as well as in Singapore.

My youth in Wisconsin wasn’t so cheerful. The children at school rejected me and knew there was something ‘different’. I was isolated and soon had to be taken home to eat lunch as the ridicule caused me to become depressed as it was constant and also included insults from teachers; one claimed I didn’t ‘belong’. I did however have one very close friend ( who went to another school) and to this day we are still in touch.

At age 13, as a desperate attempt to flee the small town I was going to school in, I asked to be sent to boarding school in Minnesota. I should have asked to go to France but at that time I wasn’t familiar with boarding schools in my region so I took what options I had. Those years were very tough but I eventually developed peers. My cultural identity continued to be French as every vacation was still spent there, and that became my main home since I was rarely in Wisconsin anymore; home was either a dorm or France. Any opportunity to travel I took, and eventually logged 5 passports and 25 countries in total.

Studying Internationally

After traveling throughout Europe and Asia with my family, I was basically a travel junkie at that point. I was flexible in understanding people because I knew they had a different culture than I did, and I tried to really get to know their cultural tendencies. I wanted to dive deep. The summer before I began living and studying permanently in France, I decided to attend the Oxbridge program at Oxford University. My plans at that time were to one day attend Oxford and study ‘arch and anth’, so Oxbridge was a perfect opportunity for me to meet the faculty and to add to my resume.

My senior year was the best year of my childhood, finally in my ‘homecountry’ and surrounded by people who didn’t make fun of me. I was voted to the French equivalent of student president ( we had one girl and one boy). I was ecstatic. During this period of my life I visited Egypt with my school and also studied for a summer in Kenya.

The Third Culture Adult: What I Have Learned

I turned thirty in March, marking 3 decades of being on this incredible, humbling planet. I have seen terrible suffering and sorrow at an AIDS orphanage, and immense joy in the faces of Korean grandmothers who embraced my daughter as though she was their own. I have seen hatred and love. In other words, all this travel and a trans cultural upbringing has given me a deep understanding of our world and of myself. I have also learned about how the media is used in the US and other countries to try and make a public misunderstand world events as part of political strategy or for other reasons. I’ve witnesses how similar we all are in our world too, our flaws and our strengths.

My husband and I are both dual citizens, raising a fellow third culture kid. We love reading how kids such as Hannah ( well you aren’t really a kid anymore Hannah!!) andΒ Lillie feel about being a global citizen. At the end of the day, I know community is important and that we are really one big community on our planet. I hope to help in some small way bring more intercultural understanding that is in need in our war torn world.

18 thoughts on “Being A Third Culture Kid: Life In Between 25 Countries

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  2. Adam

    I never heard the term “third-culture kid” but it makes total sense to me. I can relate in some ways because I grew up in a different region of the USA then where my parents are from. Nothing so dramatic as international cultural differences, but I do sometimes feel a strange pull on my cultural identity because of it.

    1. SattvicFamily Post author

      You are also into design aren’t you Adam? And to me design is very cultural; I’ve noticed that many design savvy folks are drawn to travel as they are fascinated by architecture and art.

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  4. Jenn Miller

    Yep. I am one, and I’m raising four. I think that the next generation is going to see this type of life and childhood become more mainstream as the world shrinks, more people move around and the internet makes it increasingly easy to live and work anywhere. The concept of identifying as a TCK is helpful because it creates a “box,” if you will, for all of us who don’t really fit into the preconceived notions of nationality or home culture. πŸ™‚ Nice piece, my friend!

    1. SattvicFamily Post author

      I love this, thank you for sharing your journey and lifestyle choices. Your kids are amazing, as are you and Tony!

  5. Rachel G

    Hi!! My childhood wasn’t quite as international as yours–my parents lived in 3 U.S. states and then they moved to Malaysia when I was 13, but I still consider myself a TCK–I find it very misleading when I tell people where I was born, because based on that, they expect me to be a certain way, which I’m not. It’s an interesting background to come from, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

    1. SattvicFamily Post author

      Hey Rachel! It’s Elizabeth ( from the Bradleys) You have a really awesome childhood from the sounds of it! Where in Malaysia did you grow up? We’ll be heading to Penang at the end of the month.

  6. Mary @ Green Global Travel

    This is a really interesting story. I’ve had friends, so called “military brats”, who lived in different countries, but they always identified themselves as American. Thanks for opening my eyes to how hard it would be to grow up without a clear cultural identity.

  7. Bonnie Rose @ A Compass Rose blog

    We really are a tribe. I love what you said about ‘At the end of the day, I know community is important and that we are really one big community on our planet.’ That is exactly how I see it and so true with how small the world. Love that you are a TCK raising your own TCK. Her life will be so enriched and better for it. x

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