Let’s start with the basics: what does it mean to be a third-culture kid? An easy way to define it is the byproduct of multiple cultures merged into one by an individual who has lived with those cultures. The official definition refers to individuals who grew up with nationalities different from those of their parents, or different from whichever one their passport indicates.
There are many ways to be a third culture kid. A lot of them have lived in several different countries throughout their life and merged a little bit of each culture into their own personal belief system. This can be for many reasons; most commonly it’s due to parents who move a lot because of a job. However, most third culture kids grow up in a country different from that of their parents. Essentially, they grow up with the culture of the country they were born and raised in and their parents culture.
So.. what do they look like?
Quite often they dress the same, speak your language–they are much like chameleons. They take the color of any environment in which they submerge. Or maybe not. Often times they do not speak your language, they dress a little differently, they distinguish themselves easily. What goes to show is, all third culture kids are similar in the sense they adapt to where they live, but it’s because they create their own way of living that they will all look, and act differently.
But let’s address a common misconception. The idea of a third culture kid paints an image full of adventure and diversity but ignores the bitter side of it. Socially, those who move frequently find it hard to make close friends because they do not have the opportunity to forge friendships held by years of affection. This can bring a feeling of loneliness. On the other hand, moving can be heartbreaking. You get used to that piece of the world you live in. You get used to that street you walk home to every day, you remember the shade from the trees and that little shop, you know the people who pass by you; it might just be a two-minute walk when you get off the bus, but to you it’s a vital part of who you are at the moment. When moving, your mental map is relocated from your previous home to the new one. When you try to settle in a new place, while you walk your two minutes home in another street without the trees and that little shop, that’s the moment you realize with a shock that you have moved. It hits you that you live not only in another house but in another city, another country. That’s where the memories and the nostalgia come in, from there you realize that you like this walk home but you also liked the one before. This is where the biggest problem of being a third culture kid stems from: you ask yourself, “where am I from, or where do I belong? Here … or there?”
The idea of home is probably the biggest struggle for third culture kids. For many, home is not a place, but rather people and experiences. The common narrative is third culture kids claim their home is not in the form of a house or place. But there are quite a few who would disagree. For many, home is a place; they can adapt anywhere but home is that place they think of when they close their eyes, that colorful sunset or that day with endless laughter with loved ones in a cherished place. Regardless, third culture kids hold pieces of different cultures that create who they are.
Maybe you have or have not heard of them, maybe you are one, but the main purpose of this piece is just to tell a story of belonging. The planet might be a small place, but the world of cultural experience is wide and open to your disposal, and now you know or learned more about what it’s like to be a third culture kid.