Third culture kid. I always thought that was one of the strangest expressions I had ever heard. I only heard that term when I was in high-school. By that time I had effectively lived my whole life as a third culture kid, without knowing there was a term to define “our kind” or that we were considered a separate “species”. In a world where we love labels, someone needed to find one for us. I don’t know if third culture kid was the best one, but as I have no viable replacements to offer at this time, I guess we’ll go with that for now. I did always wonder, however, why “third” culture? Why not second culture, or multi-culture? Why not every-culture kid, while we’re at it?
I also wonder if all the people who study third culture kids (third-culturism? – hey, if we’re giving labels, why not isms?) were third culture kids themselves. I’m guessing that not all of them were, so how can they really study it? I know, I know, not everything we studied we lived through ourselves. I realize that is impossible, especially in some areas (trust me, I know, I’m a history major), but not in this one. Being a third culture kid isn’t something you can understand by reading up on it. It’s just something that has to be lived to really be understood. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s impossible to explain or describe, just somewhat impossible to understand and know what it feels like, if you haven’t lived through it yourself.
How do you make someone understand what it’s like to pack your whole world into boxes, say goodbye to the places and people you know, and just start somewhere new? How do you explain the feeling when your parents tell you it’s time to move again? How do you describe what it’s like to think “this time I won’t make any friends, that way it’ll be easier when we have to move again” but know that as soon as someone talks to you, and or tells them to sit next to you, you feel you’ve found your new best friend? How do you make them understand that “home” isn’t a place you’ve been your whole life, it isn’t a specific location, or where you’ve grown up…Home is the place you’re in at that precise moment. Home is the family you go back to at the end of your day, it’s all those belongings that you pack into boxes that travel the world with you. As Pumba rightly and succinctly says in Disney’s The Lion King, “home is where your rump rests”. Who knew Pumba was a third culture pig?
And how in the world do you ever make them see that possibly the most complicated question someone could ever ask you is “where are you from?”…