When your parents are from two different countries and you grew up in three others, life can get very complicated indeed, as Blandine West explains
Blandine West finds the question ‘where are you from’ a tough one to answer
As a ‘third culture kid,’ you live a particularly interesting life growing up abroad in a culture different to that of your parents. This experience is often very difficult to explain to those who haven’t been in your situation.
I’m half French and half English, and grew up in Thailand. My father is from Kent, and working in the engineering industry he was assigned to various countries around the world as an expatriate.
My mother is French, although she is of Spanish descent, and I was born in Singapore where Dad was on assignment, before moving to France for a year and then to Thailand where I lived until I finished school. My family still lives there.
Thanks to my upbringing, I find that meeting other international kids – and joining expat networks like InterNations – feels like reuniting with long-lost friends. You realise that you’re not alone and that they, too, identify with the following 10 things which I believe are the biggest struggles for a third culture kid:
1. Answering the question “where are you from?”
This is the most nerve-wracking and anxiety-inducing question and usually requires an in-depth explanation of your life story, which is exhausting when your parents are from two different countries, you’ve grown up in three others, and are currently living in an entirely different one.
The concept of home doesn’t mean the same thing, and even filling out your home address on official documents makes you uneasy. Having spent many years outside of your home culture and not quite fitting into your host culture, you end up feeling that you fit in nowhere and everywhere.
2. Explaining your “international” accent
Those who listen to someone’s accent in order to figure out where they’re from will definitely struggle after meeting a third culture kid. Labelled “international”, your accent may well resemble an American one the most, but there’s bound to be a twang of another depending on the various countries you’ve lived in, whom you regularly speak to, and which TV shows you watch.
3. Mixing up your languages
Given that you’ve lived in a few countries, you probably speak at least two languages fluently and end up mixing them together without noticing. However, that does not necessarily mean you speak much of the language of the countries you’ve lived in. You will of course know a few greetings and some directions to ask taxi drivers, but you’ve grown accustomed to living in a country where you can’t understand everything that’s being said around you. Most people are surprised to hear this, but between attending an international school and having other expats as family friends, for me it is understandable.
4. Planning holidays
Growing up with my immediate family, far from the rest of my relations, Christmas and summer holidays were usually spent together on trips visiting the latter. However, once you’re at university or working abroad, these holidays become even more of a struggle to plan. With family spread between two or three countries and friends on almost every continent, when you have a few days off work it is almost impossible to decide what to do and who to see.
5. Long-distance friends and relationships
You get used to people leaving when attending an international school where goodbyes are way too frequent. Once you leave for university, you’re moving countries instead of cities, away from childhood friends and family. It’s fair to say that third culture kids really know the meaning of friendship, after all; friendships that survive distance mean friends for life, right?
How do you fly home to see friends when you’re not sure where ‘home’ is?
You also end up having a long-distance relationship with family as they are most likely living in another country, and you’ll only get to see them once or twice a year; thank goodness for Skype and WhatsApp. At least third culture kids know how to handle a romantic long-distance relationship, but we’re probably looking to avoid that.
6. Dealing with ridiculous questions
Growing up abroad, you don’t realise that the concept of living in a country other than where your parents are from is actually quite peculiar. You eventually get used to the ridiculous comments and questions from those ignorant of life abroad. Here are some of my favourites: “So you grew up in Thailand, did you ride an elephant to school?”, “Do they speak Taiwan in Thailand?”, “Your English is really good considering you grew up in Thailand!” Yes, of course it is, I’m British.
You eventually get used to ridiculous questions from those ignorant of life abroad. “So you grew up in Thailand, did you ride an elephant to school? Do they speak Taiwan in Thailand?”
7. A constant need to travel
After living abroad and being exposed to the diversity of cultures, people and rich history, it is nearly impossible to not continue travelling. Many find it hard to comprehend those who chose to stay in one place; we just don’t understand what it’s like to grow up in your home town, continue to live there and never have experienced life somewhere else. Whether you choose to take a gap year, make the most of holidays or work, study or volunteer abroad — any opportunity to explore a new place is an opportunity not to be missed. We crave adventure and all have a serious case of wanderlust.
8. Passports and immigration
Having multiple passports can actually be beneficial, especially for those with dual citizenship in countries that require visas; allowing them to miss those dreadful queues at airport immigration. But the struggle is real when you need to remember which passport you booked your flight with, where it is and what the new visa requirements are to get back home.
9. Explaining your lifestyle
When you get asked about a typical day at home, you may be unsure whether you should be honest or make something up that they can relate to. Spending your days at the pool, eating out every weekend, and travelling to new countries may not be the answer they’re expecting.
“When you get asked about a typical day at home, you may be unsure whether you should be honest or make something up that they can relate to”
Third third culture kids can be wary of sharing certain things about their life abroad for fear of coming across as a snob.
10. Different currencies and costs of living
Living abroad, the local currency is the money that you become used to spending, and even back home, you probably still convert things into that currency to grasp how much something really is, which takes a lot of effort. For those who lived in a relatively cheap country, you probably went through a period where everything seemed ridiculously expensive. It all really hits you when you realise that you can’t actually buy lunch for 50p or afford to go to the cinema more than twice a year. via telegraph.co.uk