Home: A Tck’s Perspective
“As a TCK, I feel most at home when I am out in the world.”
In college, one of my roommates, Liz, had grown up in China. Since I grew up in Ethiopia, we bonded over our mutual third-culture-kid-ness and struggles to figure out college life at a state university. During our second year of college, Liz invited our whole Bible study to come stay with her family in China during Christmas break. Of course, my little wanderlust heart jumped at the chance. It ended up being me and our two small group leaders who made the journey. At one point, we found ourselves on a train to some tourist destination with one of Liz’s TCK friends, who was tagging along for the ride. When asked about his plans for college, his response put words to what my soul already felt.
“I think every TCK’s worst fear is they’ll be called to live in the States.”
And his answer resonated with me so deeply, that it stuck with me throughout the rest of my college years and even now, a decade later.You see, I started college absolutely convinced I would be returning overseas after I graduated. I just could not picture what it would look like to live in America long term. It felt so foreign to me – whereas being foreign was what was comfortable. I knew how to handle being obviously "other" and to skate across the mix of cultures growing up overseas involves. But I didn’t know how to handle it when I looked normal but felt other (Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds calls it a “hidden immigrant”). And I guess it shouldn't be surprising that many other TCKs felt the same.
Parents of TCKs: you probably already know this, but the word home carries a very different meaning for you than it does for your kids. When you look forward to ‘going home for the summer,’ they aren’t seeing that trip the same way you are. It’s not going home. It’s going to that place that has the grandparents and the stores and the junk food. There are several reasons a TCK might dislike or feel distant from their passport culture. It could be based on what they know of it through media coverage, or more subconsciously, because of a fear of permanence, or even just plain old TCK arrogance. But ultimately, the experiences they've had and the places they've lived during those significant developmental years have shaped them. Their sense of belonging spans cultures, with those cultures all mixed up inside of them, in a way that is much less black-and-white than the perspective of the TCK's parent.So, what is home for a TCK? David Pollock, co-author of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, says that “although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK's life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background.”
I still consider Ethiopia home.
The place and the people and the memories I have there are roots that go deep. But I identify with what Pollock says, because one other aspect of my trip to China stood out to me: how much my time there felt like home.China, of course, is vastly different from Ethiopia. But just doing life with Liz’s family – attending her brother’s basketball game at the small international school, going out to dinner with their expat neighbors, playing games in the evening with her younger siblings – it all felt so deeply familiar and right to my soul. Beyond climbing the Great Wall or visiting the Forbidden Palace, those ordinary daily moments were the highlights of the trip for me. I was a college student still finding my way and climbing a steep learning curve, but this I knew how to do – even though it was in a part of the world I had never been before.
As a TCK, I feel most at home when I am out in the world.
Four years after graduating from college, my husband and I moved to Rwanda. We now teach at an international school, working with another generation of TCKs.It’s refreshing to be back amongst people who understand my life experience. However, after having some years to live in the States, I now hold an appreciation for my passport country that I didn’t as a teen. It no longer seems as foreign as it once did and I’m happy to include it at as one of my many homes.
If any TCKs (or adult TCKs) are reading this, share how you define "home." How has growing up outside of your passport country molded you into the person you are today? Parents of TCKs, what questions would you ask an adult TCK if you were having coffee together? Share in the comments section!