Third Culture Kids

A new HBO mini-series by Luca Guadagnino, We Are Who We Are, premiered yesterday (September 14th, 2020). There’s an immense buzz from the cultural media including this thoughtful piece by Noor Brara from the New York Times.

I read Noor’s article after seeing it widely shared within my international community or Third Culture Kids (TCK) community. I grew up in Asia and attended international schools from ages 4 to 18. Like many TCKs, you had to adapt and be a chameleon. It was easier for me to hold onto things or memories more than people because friends continued to move every 2 to 3 years. Noor’s writing brought these memories back and put me in the shoe of many TCKs. In one passage she states, “I was able to relate equally to someone from South Korea, Iceland, Japan, Italy or Jamaica, in many cases more so than to other Indian Americans whose lives, at least on paper, read closer to my own.” It’s why when I first came to the United States,it felt easy to fit in. I was used to being in new places, I could speak the language fluently, and I had similar cultural influence from sports to alternative rock.

Many in the TCK community feel that the world becomes our home because we don’t identify with the home on our passport. Noor highlights that borders are closing and “limiting those who find selfhood in marginal spaces, whose stories underscore the urgency of seeing the world as one.” This is where I disagree on the analysis of being a TCK. Our “lived experience” is nomadic, but nomadism within the context of a TCK comes from economic and social security. Many in the TCK community are diplomats, business people for multinationals, and teachers. These are not only good paying jobs, but often these placements are in countries with a lower cost of living. This leads to many in the community having stable safety nets supported by family and friends they’ve met along the way. When you combine that with a learned instinct of adaptability, TCKs are not frequently in a “precarious state”. Our selfhood is here and everywhere, and that is to our advantage.

About internationalism, Noor suggests that while the concept deserves examination, “what we stand to lose without it is our ability to lift one another up, to find each other in the in-between.” But internationalism and the “urgency of seeing the world as one” give too many TCKs an overreaching cover (in this moment) to yearn for what was, and not what is or will be. The cover to hide in the in-between as to not be fully immersed with their community because their home is neither here nor there, it’s just a temporary holding place. Ultimately, to not own the responsibilities of building up and maintaining a community in a traditional sense, because TCKs can easily emigrate to another.

I encourage other TCKs to put your worldly point of view to work and build your local community in your new “home”, whether that decision was voluntary or forced by the pandemic. Clearly, Noor and I look through the lens of being a TCK from different angles, but I believe that it’s okay to start shedding our TCK skin because it’s possible to lift one another up even when the world looks different. That doesn’t mean I’m going to forget the experiences that built me up, and I can’t wait to sit on my couch and experience We Are Who We Are.

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