These days, I have been filling my fringe hours preparing for an upcoming Third Culture Kid speaking engagement. In my very early morning researching, there has been a most peculiar but dangerous elephant-in-the-room topic that keeps cropping up in different ways. I can’t find much literature on the subject online, so I will just lump all the occurrences under my own title:
Cross-cultural sizing up.
Surely, you know what I mean. It could also be all those times you have sat in the room with another traveled person (let’s call her Travelista) and have felt the urge to inflate your own cross-cultural persona to be able to participate in the conversation. Most often, it’s all of those times you have felt about as small and shriveled up like a raisin because Travelista has lived in more countries than you. Her countries are perhaps more exotic, more extreme, more authentic, more rural, more [fill in the blank]. Said Travelista speaks more languages. Added to that, she was way more integrated into her host cultures growing up. In fact, she still works with all those places as an Adult Third Culture Kid. Basically, her Third Culture status is far greater than yours.
This is the era of the epidemic of discontentment that the international community isn’t immune to.
If you aren’t careful, or spend too much time on Instaglam or say on Worldschooling Facebook pages, that cultural coolness ranking can get even worse when you have kids. “Geez, our family is only living in France. All the while, their bi-racial single parenting family is world-schooling in rural Tajikistan, learning Tajik, Arabic and Swahili” you might think.
Cross-cultural sizing up is tragic, because it implies that your story isn’t great enough to be shared.
I get these feelings too. I recently listened to a brilliant AfroBlush podcast where one of the guests on the show reeled off SO many countries she had lived in, that I questioned my own identity as a Third Culture Kid. Woooooowww, she is so cool, I thought to myself. Indeed, I wasn’t brought up in a highly mobile environment, moving every two years. I hadn’t lived in exotic places like her. And I certainly don’t have to deal with racism that comes from being an ethnic minority. So, what do I have to say about all the burning topics like identity, grief, restlessness, belonging that cross-cultural kids typically have to deal with?
That’s how easy it is to invalidate our own experiences.
Just this morning, I watched a video of someone boast that they were way more than a Third Culture Kid. They are a fourth, fifth, maybe even a sixth culture kid based on all the countries their parents were from and where they have lived.
This is why the mother in the parking lot at school raising a kid in a country outside of her culture tells me her son really doesn’t qualify for that term. Surely, their story doesn’t matter as much.
I’m afraid, I think we need to bore ourselves with the classic definition for Third Culture Kids once more. TCKs are individuals who have spent a significant part of their developmental years outside of the culture (or cultures) of their parents. The first culture is that of our parents. The second is our host culture (or cultures). Our third culture is the amalgamation of all of those.
There is no fourth, fifth or more highly ranked culture. We are all different variations of the Third Culture.
Admittedly, research surrounding the initial Third Culture findings still has a heavy North American bias and deserves to be expanded to fit a growing population of worldwide trans-nationals, not to exclude refugees, adoptees and bi-racial kids. Perhaps, that is why we feel the need to explain that we are a bit different to those sorts of cross-cultural kids?
But, if we don’t find belonging in this group of individuals who share similar experiences, where then do we belong?
There is no more alienating feeling than to be disowned by the one group we can relate to. If anyone who feels like they fit the definition, they are absolutely welcome here. Whether you grew up in rural Chile, or in London, whether or not you are multilingual, “just bilingual” or simply monolingual, whether you have been back in your home culture for a month or 17 years – you belong in the Third Culture. Please don’t remain silent. You belong here. YOUR story play a critical role in freeing others to become the brilliant world changers they were made to be.