(Planet Earth from the ESA/Hubble, dress from Forever 21)
If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might be confused as to where I’m from. Or where I live. With a post from France here, a post from England there, a post from the Czech Republic in between, I don’t blame you. Whilst in LA last week, I stayed with friends we met when I lived in Singapore (excuse me, I’m not making this any less complicated) and they introduced me to a term I had never heard before but recognised myself in immediately: Third Culture Kids.
A Third Culture Kid, or a 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.” (David Pollock, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds).
I don’t think I’ve had such a big “aha!” moment in a while, if ever before. Being half-Czech, half-Vietnamese and having spent my childhood between the Czech Republic, Singapore and the UK, suffice it to say I often have trouble associating with only one, or indeed any of these cultures fully. Equally, some (though by no means all) of my best friends are TCKs, including a Czech raised in America and alternating between the two; an Afghan Canadian who spent her childhood in the Czech Republic; Russians raised in the Czech Republic, now living in England and Switzerland… the list goes on. When people ask me where I’m from, my standard thought in response is I don’t have time to explain. When people ask me where “home” is, I muster up little more than a blank, sometimes confused, expression. I’ve recently taken to just saying the first city / country that pops into my head, which doesn’t really help things either, but people don’t react well when you say “oh, I’m just displaced”. Sometimes I throw in the “you know, citizen of the world!” thing, which can’t help but make one cringe.
But being able to associate with a group of people who are defined by not being able to fully associate with – well, anyone else is somewhat liberating. Not that I’ve ever found my mixed background a disadvantage, much the opposite in fact, and yet the realisation that there is no need to associate with any one culture just feels good.
My mom (who is, ironically, Vietnamese) always tells me off for burning bridges with my Czech roots. I was born in the Czech Republic (and oh lord if you think it’s the same place as Chechnya then so help me) and carry a Czech passport. I spent roughly 2/3 of my childhood there, intermittently. And as much as I’m proud of my Czech roots, I don’t necessarily feel Czech. I don’t always understand the mentality of the Czech people and I have tended toward the international community there. In fact (and if my grandparents are Google translating this then I’m in trouble), I arguably associate with the Czech mentality less than those of other cultures. Being half-Vietnamese I have often come across racial discrimination and just a generally negative attitude toward foreigners – which is especially tough as I’m pretty much a foreigner everywhere. And I am by no means attributing this to the whole of the Czech population, but I am speaking from experience. I love the Czech Republic for many reasons and I don’t intend to burn bridges, but sometimes it’s just difficult to feel at home there.
In Vietnam on the other hand, I have always been welcomed with a sense of curiosity and openness, despite sticking out like a sore thumb both physically and culturally. Much as I’d like to connect more with my Vietnamese roots though, those western threads are sewn into me and I know I can’t associate fully. What’s more, I’m happy with that. I’m grateful for the opportunities my mom gave me through taking me around the world at a young age. I like speaking a number of languages and being able to find some sense of belonging, if never a profound one, almost anywhere I go.
So my (extremely extended, lengthily worded) point is, TCKs are a thing. And that’s good to know. And if you yourself are a TCK, or if you have a friend who appears to have lived everywhere and seems to act a little odd sometimes, I highly recommend the book Third Culture Kids: Growing Up AmongWorlds (David Pollock, Ruth Van Reken). And for a bit of amusement (especially if you are a TCK), this blog =)