Third Culture Kids (TCK) are people who come from multicultural homes, and often grow up or spend a significant amount of time in a culture different than the one their parents grew up in. This is one TKC's story.
By Farah Weannara
I never knew who I was until I got to college. Ever since I could walk and talk, I have always been surrounded by people who are like me - nomads. I am a Third Culture Kid (TCK), someone who has spent their developmental years outside of their parents’ culture(s).
My mom is Dutch and my dad is Thai, but I have lived in Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, India, France, and currently The Netherlands. And now I attend Clark University, a liberal arts research university in Worcester, Massachusetts.
It started at college orientation. To break the ice, everyone was asking one another where they were from. While most people answered with a state or country, I felt myself hesitating for the first time. I decided to answer, “Thailand and Holland,” but it never seemed good enough. Others’ answers were short and sweet, but I kept getting followup questions like, “Yeah, but where are you really from?” or “But you don’t look Dutch or Thai.”
I can’t begin to tell you how many times this happened to me during orientation week. At a time when I was trying to adjust to new place, I was also suddenly expected to have an explanation of where I was from. How could I find the right way to explain my upbringing? I am not from a particular place. I am the product of every single culture I have lived in, a number that happens to be more than most people.
Growing up as a global nomad has given me a lot of opportunities and experiences. When I lived in India, I took the opportunities to go river rafting in the foothills of the Himalayas and stay in a houseboat in Kerala.
When I lived in Paris, I was able to go hang out with friends in the gardens by the Eiffel Tower and go to famous museums all the time. However, sharing these experiences somehow invited people to make assumptions about me such as that I am spoiled, a know-it-all, or a social butterfly.
Other assumptions stem from the way I look. Because I am mixed, I don’t look like one nationality. I’m hard to pin down. A lot of people think I look like I’m from India, so they put me in the “India Box” and draw their assumptions about me from it. While it makes me feel included, it also makes me feel like I’m an imposter.
Others think I look Middle Eastern, Spanish, or Mediterranean. People like putting others in boxes. It’s an easy shortcut to knowing how to behave around others and thinking they understand them. When it comes to my physical appearance, I don’t fit into any one box. I don’t identify with one country over another, either.
Luckily, I found a community of TCKs at my university, and while we’re not an official group on campus, I learned that you don’t need to have a clear identity to feel like you belong. You can feel that sense of home just by sharing stories with people who have lived in similar places or have similar lifestyles.
My peers who have the same upbringing shared the biases they face and we were able to bond through that. We found ways to leverage our experiences and realized that global nomads are adaptable, open-minded, and comfortable with change, among other things.
Every year, Clark sponsors a conference that brings other TCKs to campus to share their stories. This year, I served as the student coordinator and conference chair. You can learn more about the conference here. By being able to organize such a unique conference, I was able to expand my network to TCKs at other colleges and even professionals interested in international education. It’s an amazing environment and an event I look forward to presenting at every year.
This is what I have learned from being at a small American university for a few years: if someone is having a hard time explaining where they are from, chances are it’s a little complicated. Get to know us first and all our stories will come later. Don’t just assume we’re from one place or the other, but ask. If you don’t get it, then be patient. Chances are we haven’t figured it out ourselves yet either.
To learn more about bias, and respecting other cultures, visit LookDifferent.org