A lot is written now about the TCK (Third Culture Kid). We are a sub-genre of the global world and we come in many forms. The classic – the kid moved from his birth or passport country to another thereby forming his own individual culture. The immigrant kid, under which must fall the illegal immigrant child, and the attendant issues relating to assimilation into a way of life that could be snatched away at any time. The refugee, the adoptee, and so the list goes on.
Sadly there is another. The arrogant and therefore ugly TCK.
Much is spoken about the adaptability and self-confidence of the child brought up in often multiple countries. Both are born of necessity. That sink or swim state of mind on walking into yet another new school breeds a natural stiffening of shoulders, that I don’t really care if you speak to me or not attitude. The glazed look in the corridor that says beware, don’t approach really means if you say something nice my defenses will crumble and I might cry and then I’ll never make friends. That’s not arrogance, that’s fear. Fear no-one will understand. I know. I’ve used those tactics.
But you do care. You of course desperately want someone to say something welcoming. Matter of fact is the best way to approach that off-hand distant face. Hi, where’ve you moved from? works much better than hi, where are you from? We don’t always know where we’re from.
That other type of TCK, the ugly one, comes across as brash which can initially be a form of nervousness, but rather than dissipating at the approach of a friendly face tends to increase. The I’ve been everywhere kind of kid.
I was reminded of this the other evening at a wedding anniversary celebration. It was a gardenful of expatriates and repatriates. Spanish and English floated across the blue-lit pool in a carelessly choreographed cadence of words. The food was Indian and the long-wedded couple were Scottish and Bolivian.
It was a lovely occasion jarred only by the swagger of a young man who’d been everywhere and done everything. My immediate reaction is always ‘how sad to be so jaded so early in life’. Followed quickly by irritation.
The young man introduced me to the girl at his side. This is my girlfriend, he said. She only got her passport this year. She hadn’t been anywhere until we took her to India in the summer.
Hello, I said to the slim young woman, wearing her sari with a quiet elegance, not always seen in Occidentals wearing an Oriental form of dress. It’s hard to define ‘anywhere’ isn’t it? I asked.
Well I’m a TCK, the young man said before she could respond, I’ve lived all over the place.
I congratulated him and turned back to the woman standing at his side. I wanted to say, dump him before he undermines you anymore but instead asked her where home was.
Houston, she said.
Well, Houston is the only place we have chosen to come back to, I told her. It’s quite somewhere to us.
We smiled and went our separate ways as the dinner gong tolled but the young man’s words stayed with me through the toasts, the laughter, the music, the recalled memories.
Our host’s children, TCKs themselves and of similar ages to the young man, and I would like to think my own TCKs are of the same ilk, showed none of his braggadero. They instead go about their business, quietly confident they can surmount most issues encountered with a mixture of empathy, compromise and yes, cultural intuition, be it in Britain, Bahrain, Burkina Faso, or even the US.
In 1984 Dr. Ted Ward, then a sociologist at Michigan State University said, TCKs were the prototype citizens of the future. But we TCKs must remember we have been privileged to be long-term guests in other people’s countries. That does not give us boasting rights. Instead it gives us a responsibility. There is an inherent understanding, for the most part, that to tread lightly through the quagmire of growing up a global nomad is a wonderful preparatory lesson for this multi-cultural world we all live in. Seeing the person before the colour or creed is a cultural radar in balance.
But we do need to remember we are not special, just different.