I love being a third culture kid. I embrace it as a unique characteristic that defines who I am. But like everything else, there are things that I constantly deal with, no matter where we go or who we meet. Coming back to the motherland was no exception, and there were some things I had to deal with repeatedly. Here are a few examples:
1. Getting my identity questioned. All the time.
I’m pretty sure this one is a no-brainer and a staple problem for many fellow TCKs out there. As a matter of fact, this very topic is what the concept of TCK is built around. To others, we’re very difficult to put a label on. How many times have you explained the story of your life to someone you’ve just met? And the struggle to crunch the whole story in just 1 minute? Psh, we’ve already mastered it.
For instance, I am Korean by birth and nationality, however, my values and behavior don’t quite reflect that of a typical Korean you would meet in Korea. This is when questions start to pour in. So your parents are Korean? Where did you grow up? Why are you this or that way? The questions never end.
2. Asked to translate.
I am always the go-to person for translations. I have served as a translator for almost all kinds of imaginable situations. I’ve translated movies, songs, literature, signs, resumes, essays. We’ve translated for parents, friends, bosses, colleagues, strangers, clients. The list can go on forever.
Translating doesn’t always refer to languages. Sometimes I get asked to decipher different cultural nuances. For instance, if something means one thing in Korea, it could mean something similar but with a different feeling in China, or it could mean something completely unrelated in America. This is where I come in to save any type of cultural mishaps and misunderstandings.
3. Not knowing where to call home.
This goes hand-in-hand with #1 on this list, my questionable identity. It’s really hard for me to pick one place and call it “home” for an extended period of time. I don’t have what some people might typically refer to as home, a place they grow up and know every ins and outs of every corner. I don’t have a sports team that I’ve been rooting since birth. I don’t have special places where I grew old with, i.e. a mom & pops store, a restaurant, or a park. I don’t have a group of friends that I’ve known since kindergarten. All those mentioned are a very foreign concept to me. I recently read an article on WSJ about this very dilemma – a third culture kid not knowing which “home” to identify with. It felt almost relieving to read this article, because it reminded me that I’m not alone in this confusing state of identity. It’s a very good article, and highly recommend reading it!
When you’re actually living in your “home” country, it’s wholly different story. You don’t feel quite at home, and it’s almost like the word and the definition don’t want to go hand-in-hand. I guess in this case, you just gotta go with the saying, “home is where the heart is.” Or in some cases, “home is where the food is.”
4. Having to defend so many countries/cultures.
Having lived in different places and countries means you had that much more opportunities to be exposed to different cultures and customs. Some are familiar to you because you have personally experienced them, whereas the others you have second-handedly experienced them through your diverse group of friends or via all the people you have met during your journey. All these exposures serve as important building blocks that made who you are today. So it’s hard to brush off ignorant or satirical statements without getting slightly (or at times, very) defensive. Hey, you can’t help it when some people wonder if I’m from North or South Korea (yes, I have been asked this a few times…) or when they asked how I survived in Shanghai with no TV or internet (facepalm).
Despite these things I have to deal with, I absolutely love being a TCK, and I am not, by any means, complaining about them. I am forever grateful for all my experiences, and just thought I’d share some insights on what it’s like to be a third culture kid. 🙂