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Three Things All Third Culture Kids Struggle With

The relatively new term “Third Culture Kids” (TCK) is used to define the expat children raised outside of their parents’ country of origin, or their own native land. Having moved around with my parents, part of my formative years were certainly spent outside of my home country. As a child you don’t get much say in where you go, you learn to just go with the flow. For some kids, moving is all they know and staying just in one place seems impossible to imagine. Even now in my early 20s, I have followed in my parents’ footsteps, and searched for opportunities abroad. Looking back now, I seem to have romanticized the whole experience. However, this is not say it was ever easy. I remember days crying about missing friends, family, and home comforts. Here is a list of the three main struggles which most TCKs can relate to.    

“Where Are You From?”

This may seem like an easy question to most, but when you have grown up across several countries, and have parents from opposite sides of the world, sometimes answering this question may feel like more effort than it’s worth. Trying to decide which country to call home can be nerve-wracking — do you choose the country you like most, your mother or father’s home, your country of birth, or the country you are living in at the time? You don’t want to offend either parent, or confuse people, but you may not truly know yourself where really feels like home. Over time this can change, and some days you may feel like you are more connected to one place, but then have certain traits which identify you as being from somewhere else. I have heard many TCKs describe themselves as citizens of the world. While this may sound exotic or exciting, sometimes we all just want one place to feel like home. 

Switching Accents

You may not necessarily be fluent in several languages, but you will have definitely picked up local slang words. Hence, you will find yourself having to switch tones, accents, and words when arriving in a new place or meeting new people, in an attempt to not only be understood, but to try and fit in. Sometimes even a common language isn’t enough to understand each other. I remember struggling to understand locals when I first moved to Trinidad and Tobago, despite all conversations being in my native English language. A couple months after moving, I found myself re-structuring my sentences and throwing in local words. As you grow up, being different doesn’t faze you as much, but as a child you are desperate to fit in, so you end up with a mish-mash of accents from around the world. Even as an adult, other expat kids will say to me — you have an “international school accent”, as they too have this strange mix of accents.

Going “Home”

As an expat you kind of lead a double life. Many expats will return to their home country during the summer break and Christmas but your expat life and “home” life may be completely different. When I am abroad, I find myself dreaming of my home countries, remembering only the good, but going back may never live up to an idealized memory of home. It can be hard to go back to the place which you should call home, and feel like you don’t fit in anymore. This falls in line with the last point about switching accents: you go home and expect to sound like everyone else, but it is inevitable that some relative will comment on your accent. As far as your friendship group goes, you may not have close friends in your home town, as you only see them a couple of weeks each year. While abroad you are most likely surrounded by kids who are in the same situation as you, used to moving around. However, your friends back home may not understand this and so you may not have as much in common. 

These just scratch the surface of the struggles of being a TCK, but it’s important to note that there are as many, if not more perks to this lifestyle. For one, you get to see the world and experience different cultures. By the time you leave home, you have already build a global network of friends, without even realizing it. As an adult you don’t feel constrained by one country, you are not afraid to move, and can seek work or opportunities elsewhere. While constantly being on the move has its down sides, for a TCK it is the norm. I think most TCK’s can relate to that feeling you get when arriving in a new place — a weird mix of nerves and excitement.

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