Growing Up As A Third Culture Kid

“Where are you from?”

While this is a basic question to most, to me it is a daunting question that I often dread. Answering this has never been simple or easy: where am I from? I am American and ¼ Greek, I was born in Germany, have a Turkish step-father and I grew up in Ankara, Turkey. While my situation is definitely unique, I fall under the category of a TCK, or a “third culture kid”. Third-culture kids are “people raised in a culture other than their parents' or the culture of the country named on their passport for a significant part of their early development years.” The strange yet incredible facets of being a third culture kid have shaped me into who I am today and I would not have had it any other way. 

Although I got to grow up in two incredibly culturally and historically rich countries like Turkey and Greece, there were aspects of my life I did not understand as I was growing up. This lead to a lot of confusion, a desire for a sense of belonging and frankly, insecurities. How could I be American if I have never lived in the U.S. and wasn’t even born there? Am I actually German since I was born there? Am I just Greek? Should I just say I’m Turkish? These were the pretty heavy and borderline identity crisis type questions that raced through my very adolescent mind every time I was asked where I was from. Another difficult aspect and insecurity is that I have never been completely fluent in either Turkish or Greek. Not speaking enough of the languages made me feel estranged from my Greek and Turkish peers. I was in a strange gray area. I felt as if I was never “enough” of any country to accurately and comfortably define myself. This struggle soon lessened as I matured and learned that I could actually accurately define myself as exactly what I am. An American who was born and raised overseas. The realization that I did not have to over-explain myself and tweak my answers to make more sense to others was liberating. While a slew of questions and comments usually follow like “how do you speak English so well?” or “wow you don’t even have an accent!” I have learned that such responses are merely a part of the process. Finding the humor in these situations is far better than getting upset over them. 

Despite the confusion and challenges with my identity, one of the parts of my early life I have grown to love and appreciate the most was the diversity I was exposed to. The American school I attended for 8 years in Ankara was small, but during my senior year, there were over 35 countries represented in the entire student body. Some of my closest friends growing up were Spanish-American, Danish and Israeli. My schooling best reflects the cross-cultural experience that makes up who I am. My schooling was broken up between an American military school (DoDDS), a Greek International school in Athens, a Turkish International school in Ankara and then finally, my last two years back at the American school in Ankara. My high school soccer team traveled to Germany for a soccer tournament and provides a perfect example of how internationally diverse my environment was. As we approached passport control, the team pulled out their passports and IDs, there were American, Italian, British, Indian and South African to name a few. Growing up in such a diverse environment you naturally develop a diverse mindset and greater perspective. You become naturally tolerant and adaptable and you really don’t know any different. You get to celebrate, appreciate and admire beautiful cultures and their traditions. To use anthropology terms, you have limited “ethnocentric” views due to exposure of varied peoples, cultures and religions. If anything ethnocentrism or the belief that “my way is better” is unnatural to me because I have gotten to see many ways. The wealth of knowledge, awareness and experience gained by simply being immersed in a diverse environment from a young age is pretty much unequaled. 

 

My mother, my Yiayia (Greek for grandma) and I in Cappadocia, Turkey. 

 

Albeit strange and often confusing, I would not trade my life as a TCK for anything. My childhood consisted of running around ancient Greek and Roman cites and underground cities. I grew up with the context of living in a metropolitan city to driving out of the city and experiencing traditional village life. I grew up going from a Turkish Kina Gecesi or Henna Night (a traditional wedding custom) to the 4th of July celebration that was hosted on the American military base. I eat calamari and tirokroketes and drink wine and Ouzo with my Greek friends, but I have never been to a baseball game. In fact, coming to college my freshman year is the first time I’ve ever lived in the US full time. The complex cross-cultural theme in my life has given me all that I know, a multi-cultural family and experiences that I will carry with me and cherish for the rest of my life. 

This was taken at the site of Aphrodisias, named after the Greek goddess Aphrodite and most famous for the Temple of Aphrodite.