Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Third Culture Kids

A few weeks ago, whilst having a drink with Sumit, our conversations turned to Third Culture Kids. He said I was one but I didn't even know what it means. Sumit told me that Third Culture Kids are people who as kids, spent a significant part of their developmental years outside the parents' culture. They frequently build relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. He told me that I should read the book because it discusses feelings that I've been feeling for a long time, restlessness and the feeling of not TRULY belonging. I bought the book yesterday and have been reading it on my train rides and lunch times.

For those readers who don't know, I am a product of a Chinese Malaysian mother and a Hong Kong Cantonese father. I was born in Hong Kong but at the age of 7, my family and I immigrated to New Zealand. Then when I was 16, my mum, sister and I moved to USA. At 24, I went back to New Zealand for my Masters. At 26, I went back to the states and just as I turned 28, I have relocated here to Melbourne. So, I personify the extreme Third Culture Kid (TCK) and my high mobility has taken a toll on me. Reading the book, I realised how being a TCK has impacted my personality and this weird restlessness feeling I have been feeling as I got older.
It never bothered me to move so much as a child and even into my early 20s. I got very good at adapting and as in the book, TCKs develope their own habits that may seem weird to others but to us, it makes sense. People always find my lack of packing and easy to part with my material things, a bit weird. I have had friends comment on how sparse my room is when I'm at University. I just don't have room for things, things take up space and when I'm moving every 3 years, what is the point of having things? So yes, its easy for me to move to another continent with only my clothes. I have one exception though. That is, my blanket. I have always needed a thin blanket to sleep. It stemmed from when I was a baby and as a toddler, I would smell it to fall asleep. As a child, we traveled back and forth between Hong Kong and Malaysia and the blanket was home. To me, that was home. To hold it, I could feel my heart slow down a bit and relax.
As a child or dependent, belonging was not a huge problem for me, it was where ever my parents were. Now as an adult, especially the past few years, I have started feeling homeless. I felt like I fit everywhere. When I go back to Hong Kong, I can get around and I feel like I'm really from Hong Kong. Then I leave it and I miss my dad, I miss waiting for the subway. I miss the smallest things that make HK, HK. I even miss speaking cantonese. The same as with NZ and even the States. I don't however, feel either of those places a permanent stop. The reason I picked Australia, aside from Aaron and job, was that , this is a new country that I've never lived in. I can make this my own home. I can dig my roots here. It can be mine.

In university, I was envious of all my new college friends who were still friends with their kindergarten friends. Oh how I love that. As a child, I read The babysitters club and those quintessential childhood girlfriend and I dreamed of a monoculture like that. You always want what you can't have.

Now looking back a few years ago, when I was somewhat depressed (after moving to NZ for Masters). I did not know why but I was horribly homesick for my friends back in the States. I miss the banter, the beers, the jokes and just hanging out. The lack of close friends in NZ when I first started, only made it worse as a contrast. Then I adjusted and time took over and I made precious friends, whom I also had to leave. I have been leaving friends and making friends for so many years that, this type of constant coming and going was making me truly tired.

I remember, I used to want to buy an island and hug all my friends from Alaska, Oregon, New Zealand and Europe and trap them on the island with me. I wished that for once, all my experiences could clash.

But now I know better, now I tell myself that I am lucky because I will always have people to see and reunite in different countries.

It is a great book and every time I read one paragraph, I stare into space and go huh, that's why I felt that way.

If you are a TCK, you should read it.
It's called Third Culture Kid by David Pollock. (Who has since passed)

This has been a long post, to reward you:

a photo of me eating chocolate ice cream after dinner
in my pjs


Angsana said...

You were in transit. Now, you have ARRIVED?!

charinthecity said...

Thanks for the recommendation - definitely to go on the reading list!

Munted kowhai said...

yes, my transition is now over with because i have finally nested (fridge, bed etc) that makes me feel all better, i have time to concentrate to participate in a community!

also the book mirrors my frustration when someone asks me where i'm from.
it's such a long story that, i tell them what they want to hear.
ie if i know that they want to know my ethnicity, i say hong kong. if i know they asked because they heard my "american" accent, i say oregon.

take 38 said...

I'm not a TCK, but I totally understand alot of what you said. I moved often as a younger kid, stayed in the same town high school thru university plus a few years, and moved to another town in the same state about 8 yrs ago. But even not moving very far, I don't feel like I really have a home...and it's definitely not where I live now. I still have friends from before I moved who I miss & keep up with, but my tribe of friends in my current town is lacking & it makes me feel that restless feeling...I've been here awhile but have no roots, as you said. Anyway, thanks for letting me think about it more...maybe it's time for a change?!?

tinypaperheart said...

wow, a great read. i love how you're always so honest & genuine on your blog. :)