TCK. Are you familiar with this acronym? It stands for Third Culture Kid. According to Wikipedia, “Third culture kids (TCK) are people raised in a culture other than their parents’ or the culture of the country named on their passport (where they are legally considered native) for a significant part of their early development years. They are often exposed to a greater variety of cultural influences.”
Sometimes I feel like there should be a TCK Anonymous group. “Hi, I’m Emily and I’m a Third Culture Kid.” All: “Hi Emily”. I would then share about how I feel like I don’t quite fit in amongst most Americans and feel more comfortable while traveling or living in other cultures. I’m sure everyone’s experience is different, but sometimes I find myself longing for the simpler, safer, more loving culture of China, where I grew up. To be clear, I love America and am abundantly thankful for my freedom, but that doesn’t keep me from wishing certain aspects of life here could be more like that of other cultures. I find myself instantly forming a special bond with those from other cultures or those who have spent time living or traveling in other countries because they just “get me” and that’s all I’ve ever wanted in relationships. I wouldn’t trade the adventures and experiences I had growing up for anything, but there are definitely some struggles. I first titled this post “The Struggles Of Life As A TCK” but then realized the struggles have made me into who I am today, so I ultimately think of this life as a blessing more than a burden. Still, I think it’s important to be honest about the struggles that do come with the territory, so I’m sharing some of those things below.
Top 10 Struggles As A TCK
- It’s impossible to answer “Where are you from?” because you don’t have roots in one place.
- You’re constantly doing math in your head to convert time zones, currencies and temperatures to that of other cultures. (If America could switch to the Metric System, that’d be great!)
- You get stir crazy and grumpy if you can’t travel (or don’t have a trip planned).
- You try to explain your childhood in a low-key way but you get asked tons of questions rooted in American stereotypes.
- You have to adjust to a constant stream of friends leaving and/or leaving them and maintaining multiple long-distance friendships.
- You have 2-3 Passports by the time you’re in you’re in 20’s.
- Your brain constantly has greetings in multiple languages swirling around, and sometimes you get languages confused.
- You love ethnic food more than any of your friends and they wonder why you eat weird snacks all the time.
- You don’t want to put down roots in one place because that would stifle your adventures, but at the same time, you long for local, meaningful friendships.
- You want to establish roots for your family, but also want children to have a multicultural childhood and experience what other cultures have to teach them.
Despite some of the interpersonal difficulties, as I mentioned above, being a TCK is something I’ve become increasingly grateful for over the years. While living in China as a kid, I was not always thankful or happy about being there, that’s for sure. I missed the familiarity of the USA along with my grandparents and friends back home. Living in China from the age of 5 to age 9, it was hard to always understand why I had to live a different life in a foreign country. I’m thankful my parents made the decision to take our family overseas. I can’t imagine that kind of move with such a young child, but because of their desire to share the Bible in Asia, I was able to see firsthand the lives they impacted for eternity and will treasure those memories forever. Also, I now feel like I can relate to so many types of people that I wouldn’t be able to without having this background. I’m truly the most comfortable when in a global setting, like my recent opportunity to mingle with Google Local Guides from around the world.
If you’re feeling different or like you don’t fit into your current surroundings, try to shift your perspective to see it as something positive. God gave you an incredibly unique background and set of experiences for a reason and you have been placed where you are to make an impact and hopefully open the eyes of those around you to appreciate new perspectives!
Thinking about how I often feel “different” culturally and working to be able to embrace that also led me to listen more carefully to a song by Micah Tyler that I probably sang along with on the radio many times without ever paying attention to the words. The below lyrics especially stuck out to me:
And I don’t wanna trade Your plan, for something familiar
I can’t waste a day, I can’t stay the same
I wanna be changed
‘Til all of me is gone
And all that remains
Is a fire so bright
The whole world can see
That there’s something different
So come and be different