There's a part of me that wants to make a video of shit people say to expats...

- “Oh.  My.  God.  Say something in that language!”

- “Wow.  That is so cosmo!”

- “Do they have grass there? … No, I mean trees and grass and shit.”

- “Who would want to leave here?!”

- “So are you American?”

- “You’re so not American.”

- “Does that make you a terrorist?" 

- "Ching chong ting tong ling long.  Okay, what did I just say?”

- “I’m not racist, but …”

- “Not to sound racist, but …" 

- "I’m not racist, but …”

- “Are they yellow over there?”

- “What do you eat?”

- “What is that accent?!" 

- "Can you vote?”

- “What do you mean you don’t know that?!  Everyone knows that!" 

- "Oh, you lived in China, are you Japanese?" 

In every generation there are a few souls, call them lucky or cursed, who are simply born not belonging, who come into the world without strong affiliation to family or location or nation or race. Those who value stability, who fear transience, uncertainty, change, have erected a powerful system of stigmas and taboos against rootlessness so that we mostly conform, we hide our secret identities beneath false skins of those identities which bear the belongers’ seal of approval. But the truth leaks out in our dreams; alone in our beds—because we are alone at night, even if we do not sleep by ourselves—we soar, we fly, we flee.
—  Salman Rushdie

We left Yonezawa before 6 a.m., in January. My too-big-for-Japan family clambered into a van with half our belongings crammed into suitcases around us. We were moving back to the States, and my heart was breaking.

My first pitched-to-editor non-fiction article! This magazine is for people who grew up at least partly outside their parent culture, becoming Third Culture Kids–of a weird interstitial paradigm that isn’t one culture or another.

My topic is on the loss of moving away from a place that no one else would call your home…

"Saudade” – A Word for the Third Culture Kid

It’s described as a unique word with no equivalent in English. It’s origin is Portuguese and it was first used in the 13th Century. I’ts a longing, a melancholy, a desire for what was. It is “Saudade”.

Many immigrants and refugees search for words that adequately describe their peculiar longing for what they left behind. Not the war and evil that is a relief to escape, but the land, the people, the food – all that encompasses that which is home. Doctors and nurses working with large populations of immigrants and refugees often simply put it down as “depression”.

In one instance I know of a health center that desperately tried to find out through a survey what percentage of their immigrant and refugee patients had depression. The survey was unsuccessful.  It did not reflect the narrative that these health care providers were hearing from patients. One day a woman from Haiti said to them “Have you ever thought about asking patients if they are homesick”. The looked at her in surprise. No – they had not. With a quick change of the word they felt they were more able to get to the heart of the feeling - but is it depression? Depression is defined as a “Severe despondency and dejection, accompanied by feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy.” and that is not what is usually described.

What is described are feelings so deep that you can scarcely give words to them. Your throat catches and you try and describe intense longing and desire only to remain wordless. How do I know this? Because I have experienced it first hand. What we long to describe is “Saudade”.

For many there is a clear recognition that they will never go back to the place where they feel most at home. They realistically accept this but not without “Saudade”. A Portuguese friend of mine recently told me about her father. He is in his nineties and came to the United States with a large family over fifty years ago. A year ago he went back to Portugal for what everyone thought would be a short trip. Now over a year later, he is still there. All the years he was in the United States he had “Saudade”. He has gone back so he no longer has to experience this intense longing; he is back in a place where he is viscerally at home in a land that he loves.

Third culture kids often struggle to give voice to their longing. Well aware that they are not from the country(ies) where they were raised, they still have all the connections and feelings that represent home. When trying to voice these, others look on with glazed eyes. Just recently someone said to me “But you’re not an immigrant! You’re American!” The tone was accusing and it was meant to be. What was unsaid was “Give it a rest! We know you grew up overseas. Big deal. You’re American and you’re living in America…” Ah yes….but I have “Saudade” I have that longing for something that “does not and cannot exist” and I know that. On my good days it is well hidden under the culture and costume of which I am now living. But on my more difficult days it struggles to find voice only to realize that explaining is too difficult.

Finding this word gives voice to these longings. I have often been looked at with impatience “Third culture kids are not that different!” says the skeptic. “We all have times of longing” but I would gently argue that the experience is different. We are neither of one world or the other, but between. Our earliest memories are shaped by sites,sounds and smells that we now hear only in brief travels or through movies and television. All of those physical elements that shaped our early forays into this world are of another world. and so we have “Saudade”.

It’s funny how the simple act of discovering a word that gives meaning to those feelings can validate and heal. That is what I believe “Saudade” can do for the third culture kids.


An enjoyable 40 minutes for all the TCKs out there. 

anonymous asked:

What's a third culture kid? Are you one?

ehehehehehe you have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into

Yes, I am a Third Culture Kid! But that doesn’t mean I’m any kind of expert - I just identify with the situations and feelings that are characteristic of TCKs.

A Third Culture Kid is basically someone who was born in one country, then goes to live in a different or several different other countries, and then returns to their home country. Basically where your parents are expats, you’re a Third Culture Kid because you have to grow up in this different culture, you know? You absorb it the way that adults don’t and can’t, and so upon return home you feel a weird sort of unbelonging. Like you’re not completely one nationality or the other. But it’s more than just what country you’re from; it’s a place to belong. It’s an identity. TCKs aren’t fully one thing or another. They’re in that awkward in-between place where nothing really feels like “home” because our homes have been so different. 

Sociologist David C. Pollock said it really well:

A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of [their] developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.

For a quick explanation, it’s a term for kids who have grown up in more than one country, but don’t really identify with either country’s culture 100%, so they feel more comfortable in this sort of “third culture” that they construct, a mixture of both (or more) countries.

I was born in California, but when I was six I moved to Scotland. Two years later, I returned to my home in California. After my freshman year in high school, I moved to England, where I am now. I haven’t returned permanently to the States yet but I intend to once I graduate high school next year. In a lot of ways, that weird rest period in between the two moves gave me feelings that I can literally only identify with the characteristics of a TCK. It’s a loss and confusion and search for identity, and a certain disconnect with people who haven’t experienced that. It’s an openness and general appreciation for all cultures, but a loss and confusion about your culture. So it feels more comfortable to construct our own culture, made up of several parts of different places.

But it’s more than that. It’s like…we struggle with this, and it’s something that people don’t really understand and it’s not really their fault, it’s just that people who haven’t experienced this just can’t understand. Our parents and adults don’t understand either; it’s during our developmental years, our younger or teenaged years, where we’re building and forging ourselves and our relationships, and as we leave certain places, parts of our identities get taken away. Things in different countries change so drastically that it’s like a Lego is missing from some part of you, like something is just wrong and uncomfortable. Which is weird, because TCKs also tend to be very good at taking change and adapting to it (no matter how much they may dread it). But it’s true that we don’t necessarily adapt to it - we cope. It’s often a confrontational experience to meet people from our past, instead of being nice and relaxing, it makes us uncomfortable. 

All or none of these traits apply to TCKs. We are a very varied group of people. For example, I’ve only had two major moves in my life, and both were pretty much to the same place, and I spent a long time in between the moves in my passport country (the US). But some people were born in America, or their parents are American but they were born in Saudi and have lived in Singapore, or China, or Egypt, or Libya, or France, or Switzerland, or South Africa, or Brazil or Mexico or any number of places. We still all qualify as TCKs. Many, if not all of us, still struggle with our identity and, especially as we grow up, finding a place that’s comfortable and that understands us. I think that’s the big problem about being a TCK. No place understands and comprehends us fully.

We have a globalized culture. It’s a great one, and it’s fulfilling and we’re so blessed, but it leads to frustrating dilemmas. It leads to a sense of being not a part of something, and to not belonging, and this weird sort of “where-do-I-go-when-I’m-done-here” feeling. You know? Like you can only globetrot for so long. What then? What happens to our lives then?

I’m not an expert, I just find comfort in the experiences of other TCKs, because they make me not feel so weird and outcast. If you have any other questions, feel free to ask or contact iamatck or uncdan, both of which are more educated and articulate than I about what being a TCK means.

I move too much.

I’m getting pretty tired of it. 

The idea of making new friends is just getting tiring too, with every move. I was finally feeling really settled with the friends I had been living with these past months, and even though I haven’t moved far for the next 2 months, it’s still… 

Just the thought of having to do this even more times in my life is just so draining. And it’s basically a certainty that I will. 

It’s hard enough having good friends who I can’t be around anymore because they’re scattered around the world, but as you make more good friends that you like having around it gets even more difficult. 

I’m a person who likes having friends, and I’ve really enjoyed having the chance to get to know the people I’d been living with, and also for them to get to know me better. Good friends have always felt more like family than family has, because they seem at least a little more interested in getting to know who I am. 

At times like this I’m really jealous of my TCK friends who have managed to settle down, which is even most of them. Even among TCKs, I think I’m an exception. And it’s wearing down on me. 

I am going to go on a binge about TCKs and share them with you. Because, as I get older, and try to define myself more and more each day, I can’t help but to feel more and more like a TCK (afterall, I am). And the people who are around me are too. I read an interesting article (posted in my previous post), “So you think you’ve met a TCK…” and couldn’t help but agree and sympathize(?) empathize(?) with all the points in the article. Read the article here:

Then, I came across a WikiHow on: How to Understand a TCK

Get to Know what a TCK is. TCK stands for Third Culture Kid. A TCK is a person who has spent a part (or all) of their childhood living in a culture other than their passport one. i.e. a German passport holder living in Ghana, Japan, and the U.S. for most of their childhood. TCKs can also just be people who have spent a little time living abroad, but have deep cultural roots. i.e. a United States passport holder born in Russia and speaking Russian at home, even though he/she only lived there for a year.

Don’t Assume that they view their passport country or their “third culture” as home. Many TCKs feel like they don’t belong anywhere. They are not enough one culture to fit in there. Nor are they enough of a second (or third or fourth) to fit in there. for TCKs their time living in another country is not “foreign” to them. TCKs are usually comfortable anywhere. Inside, TCKs often feel sad and alone. They may have trouble making friends knowing that they will probably leave soon.

Be Polite asking obnoxious questions is rude. Realize that many TCKs are not happy to be back in their passport country. Questions like “You must be glad to be home!” or “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you survived in _____ so long!” are not helpful. A lot of Third Culture Kids view their passport country as very foreign. Understand that all of their friends, childhood memories, and homes are spread out all over the world.

Respect Language many TCKs speak a second (or even a third and fourth!) language. They usually don’t mind questions, but shrieky pleas of “oooh, say something, say something!!” will be irritating. Multilinguility is not a freakish talent.

Ask Questions Politely TCKs usually LOVE questions that are not obnoxious. Thoughtful, interested questions will not be refused. TCKs are eager to share their experiences.

Know Who You Are Talking To understand that the person you are talking to IS NOT BRAGGING. Most TCKs can come across as bragging given that they usually lead a very different (and often coveted) lifestyle. Don’t assume that the issues of cultural identity are made up. They are very real to the TCK who is dealing with them. Failure to understand this can end up alienating them.

Talk to Other TCKs The best way to learn is to talk to one. Learn about the history of Third Culture Kids and visit TCKWorld - the first and oldest resource on TCKs and the home of Dr. Ruth Useem, the originator of the term.

Amazingly, true.

If you want to hear real TCKs talk, here’s an article by AsiaLife on TCKs in Cambodia - featuring students that have grown up here (my sister, EK being one of the ones featured). It’s an interesting, well written article.