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Third Culture Kid

By , Ascot, United Kingdom
As I tried to think of how to describe what it’s like to be a Third Culture Kid, the only thing I could think of was to relate it to a roller coaster ride. No matter how many times I’ve moved, moving always comes with a series of mixed emotions. It’s like that moment that I get onto the roller coaster. I secure my seatbelt, sit back, and take a deep breath. I glance back at the dozens of people waiting in line to sit in the very seat I am in. The ride starts with a jolt and adrenaline rushes through my body. Everyone screams and raises their hands high in the air.

A Third Culture Kid, or TCK, by definition, is someone who spends a significant part of his or her developmental years outside of the parent’s culture. If you go by passports, I am as much American as I am German. Unfortunately, in the case of TCK’s, a passport is merely a travel document, but does not define where home is. For me, elements of living in England, America, and Germany have merged into a third culture of their own. When I moved from America to England, I had never been here before, and I had no interest in moving. The thought of leaving my friends to go to a country I didn’t know anything about seemed daunting. I didn’t know if I would be able to survive the predicted time in a strange environment. But, this is the part that we all go through when we move. And like a roller coaster, we become accustomed to it. I for one love the thrill of travelling at breathtaking velocities. Roller coasters climb and the tensions rise at the anticipation of the drop. I begin to question my decision to be on the roller coaster, and sometimes I think I’d get off if I could, but I cannot.

This past Winter Break, I went back to America for the first time in 18 months. It was so exciting, as I felt like I was going home. When I arrived, I wasn’t disappointed. I was surrounded by American accents and everything was familiar. There were signs that said YIELD instead of GIVE WAY. Steering wheels were on the left side of the car. But, then I realized that I’d changed since the last time I was there. The fact that there were massive aisles filled with candy shocked me. And seeing a Wal-Mart on seemingly every block was not expected either. When I spoke to people who had never lived outside the country, I realized that I was different because America wasn’t my only home. I didn’t think about things the same way that I used to or the same way that most of the people I met did. This confused me because I didn’t feel like I was only from America anymore. I wasn’t sure where I felt I was from. The roller coaster plunged. For a moment I didn’t know if I could hold on for the roller coaster to level off. I wished the falling sensation would stop and I would feel safe again.

It has taken me two years to become accustomed to living in England and to learn that it is possible and actually very exciting to feel at home abroad. I’ve gained a lot from living in England. I’ve been able to visit foreign countries and cities that were only places in a book or a newscast before. I have made great friendships that I cherish and hope will stay with me throughout my life.

The roller coaster plummets into the bottom of the big drop. The terror that I left in the plunge transitions to elation as quickly as the car I’m in levels out and I realize that I am secure. I knew that I was never in real danger, but it seemed real and the perception of danger is as frightening as the real thing. A moment ago I felt frightened and now I am untroubled.

And there are things about being a TCK that only we experience. The fact that it’s completely normal to hear people transition their conversation into another language and the fact that I took a transatlantic flight when I was 2 months old—before I could even walk. We have multiple time zones saved on our phones—and use them all. The moment that you realize that you’ve sent someone a Happy Birthday on his or her Facebook wall before it’s their birthday where they live. Or vice versa. We’ve been in airports way more than is normal. Jet lag? We’re used to it. Before making big purchases, we convert the price into different currencies to understand the real price. And most of all: We are put through the most relentless training of figuring out who we are… Real life.

The hard parts of being a TCK help me to appreciate the parts that have changed me as a person. I no longer feel solely American, but I am a product of the places and cultures that I have been introduced to. Like the roller coaster ride, the discomfort is part of the whole experience that makes it worthwhile.



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This article has 2 comments. Post your own!

JustusMagic said...
Aug. 29 at 10:44 am:
Very good description.  I am a tck as well, living in Thailand.
 
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Travel Mom said...
Jul. 27 at 3:14 pm:
Thanks for sharing your feeling and expiriences. Very well written.
 
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