Welcome to the third and final part of the “TCKs in Love” interview series. Join me as I interview part Chinese-Malaysian, part Filipino-Chinese Third Culture Kid Jackie who is married to her monocultural Korean husband. Find out how Jackie’s parents and her husband’s parents BOTH had hesitations about them marrying outside of their ethnic groups, how they are making their cross-cultural marriage work today.. and why they now live with their family in China! Over to you, Jackie! 🙂
Tell me a bit about your upbringing and how you met your spouse!
I’m what you’d call a Huárén in Chinese, which means ethnically Chinese but born elsewhere. My mom is a Chinese-Malaysian while my dad is a Chinese-Filipino (although locally we say Filipino-Chinese). I only spent four years in Malaysia before we moved to the Philippines. So I was raised as a Filipino-Chinese and was exposed to our Chinese-Malaysian roots during our annual visits back to Malaysia. After college, my mother signed me up for a Mandarin course in Beijing. There I met my Korean husband, who had by then fallen in love with Beijing and was determined to work there. A year and a half later we married, and since then we’ve moved back and forth between Seoul, Beijing and the Philippines. Currently we’re living the dream in Beijing. 🙂
How long have you been married?
We’ve been married almost eight years. How time flies!
How has your relationship been impacted by its cross-cultural nature?
My parents were initially apprehensive of the idea of dating a Korean. My mother had seen a few Korean dramas where men were very indifferent with their women. My father wasn’t certain if living abroad long-term was good for me, especially since I’d be so far away with no one with me. My husband’s parents were also a bit uneasy about marrying an outsider (Read this for more info) and had already warned my husband about the potential misunderstandings and disagreements we would have because of our cultural differences. In the end I’d like to believe we had won over each other’s sides, and both sides are satisfied with our marriage.
Tell me about a time you had a cross-cultural misunderstanding or differences in opinions. How did you work it out?
We’ve had quite a few, actually! In Korea, for example, being late can be seen as a form of disrespect, even between friends (don’t even get me started on how Korea and my countries see that term!) while in the Philippines my husband was quite dumbfounded by how laid back I could be.
We worked it out by talking. I admire people who suggest not to go to bed angry, but truth is it’s sometimes just easier said than done! And so we work it out by giving each other space to calm down, even if it takes a few days. It’s usually me who starts talking to him first, even if I’m still mad. But by talking to him I’m giving him the opportunity to try as well. When we’re both in a comfortable space, that’s when we start talking. In our case, the first step is to be aware that a certain action is offensive or not acceptable in the other’s culture. Then we need to find a way to control our cultural differences in order to meet at a more common, acceptable ground. Otherwise, another fight is bound to happen!
What is one great way for a spouse from a monocultural background to better understand a TCK spouse like you?
Believe it or not, this is something that I really love about my husband. My husband has really done his research! When he’s in the Philippines he makes it a point to meet up with my friends, to play basketball with my brother and his friends, to meet my uncles with my Dad, to read more about the Philippines through books and online articles… he even brags about the Philippines to everyone he meets! But most importantly, he listens to MY stories. He loves hearing the inside stories about how people are in the Philippines and stories he doesn’t get from books. Likewise, I like hearing how history had affected Koreans and why his culture is the way it is today.
What has been the best part about being married to a monocultural spouse?
I love the simplicity of his background. I’ve always been very confused growing up, trying to figure out my identity without anyone to guide me. I’m very blessed that I’m here to guide my children in their walk as TCKs, but truth is I like how my husband is just Korean. His lack of an identity crisis gives me a stronger identity sometimes: I’m the wife of a Korean. My children are Koreans AND something. It’s like…at the very least they have an anchor somewhere.
What has been one of the greatest challenges about being married to a monocultural spouse?
In my nuclear family, no one really understands what I’m going through when it comes to understanding my identity. My husband likes my reasoning and how I connect with my different cultures, but his fascination is my life. Some days I wish my life were a bit simpler.
How do you keep your cross-cultural marriage from being a constant fight of my upbringing vs. yours?
By discussing. We talked about how we wanted to raise our kids, and he mostly lets me decide. If there’s anything he feels strongly about, I’ll listen and modify our plan accordingly.
What is your best success tip for marriages like yours not to only survive but thrive?
Listen, even when there’s so much you want to say. Let him/her say his/her piece, then say yours.
Honestly, I would also recommend journaling and not telling your friends about your problems. I have this friend I’ve stopped telling my issues to because she always has an I-Told-You-So ready, even though I’ve already been quite happily married for almost eight years now! By writing your emotions on your journal, you’re releasing it without making other people think badly of you or your husband. Also, if possible, discuss peacefully. I realize that some cultures don’t see “discussions” positively, but it’s necessary to communicate one’s point and also be open to the other’s opinion. Keep shouting to a minimum, or none at all if possible!
Do you have any kids? How old are they and how does your cross-cultural marriage affect them?
Yes I do. 🙂 One just turned two and the other is three-and-a-half.
My family lives in the Philippines while my husband’s lives in Korea. We are currently based in Beijing, which means we are with neither family. We try to call them as often as we can but I can see that the connection is slowly weakening. And even when we move back—either Korea or Philippines—this means one family will still be left out. I grew up occasionally eating out with relatives, so this is something my children might not get to experience.
Not just that, they are currently TCKs. My older daughter prefers to speak Mandarin, a language that is neither mine nor her father’s mother tongue but is mainly spoken by her classmates at her school. It can also be confusing to shift from one culture to another, like how kids are expected to greet by kissing their elders’ cheeks in the Philippines but bow in Korea. There’s a lot, really! So we just have to be their guides.
What are some recommendations you have for young people who would like to be in a relationship with a TCK? Or tips for TCKs who would like to be in a relationship with a person from a monocultural background?
One of the blessings of being a TCK is that we are exposed enough to different cultures and languages that we think we are more knowledgeable than others when it comes to open-mindedness. But the truth is, someone from a monocultural background might be more open-minded than me just because he’s more well-traveled. So my suggestion is to forego judgments and listen first. Listen to the story of your partner, and when he or she is done talking that’s when you make an input. Everyone has a story—it can just get a bit more complicated when that story comes from someone from a different background as yours.
Thank you so much, Jackie for all the thought you put into making this interview so life-giving to other cross-cultural and TCK couples.
Head over to BringingUpTheParks.com to read more about Jackie’s wild and colorful Filippino-Malaysian-Chinese-Korean life in Beijing…which is pretty much like touring Asia without having to purchase a plane ticket! 🙂 And if you missed Part I and II in this series, you can read Niger TCK Suzanne’s story here and MaDonna’s story on what it’s like being married to German-Taiwanese TCK here!
Pssst – are you a Third Culture Kid in a dating relationship, a married TCK or a brave monocultural married to a TCK? I am collecting some data for a workshop I am hosting THIS WEEK for global caregivers on how TCKs can have great marriages. The giveaway is now closed (congrats, Sara J. on winning!) but I’d still be really grateful if you could fill out this little survey if you haven’t already! We’ll be sharing some of the fascinating results shortly on this blog, so watch this space.