‘Where are you from?’ It’s a simple question and most people have a straightforward answer. But not me. I dread getting asked this question, and unfortunately, it’s inevitable. It sounds ridiculous but I genuinely have no idea what to say. Do I say I’m English since I was born there? Or do I say I’m English and South African because my father’s South African and I have both passports? Or do I say I’m from Dubai because I lived there for the majority of my life?
I usually settle with Dubai, I grew up there and it’s the simplest answer. But this brings with it a whole other set of problems. When I met my first flat mate after moving to university the first thing he said after I told him I was from Dubai was that I speak really good English. Then I had to explain that I should, I am English. It totally confused him.
This problem is defined by a simple term: Third Culture Kid or TCK. The term was coined in the 1950s by John and Ruth Useem, who used it to describe the children of American’s working and living abroad. But in recent years it’s become a cultural phenomenon.
The term has now been stretched to include anyone who has spent the majority of their developmental years in a country different from their place of birth. There are Buzzfeed posts about it, websites dedicated to it, even a Wikipedia page. A video went viral in my school last year, describing what its like to be a TCK. If you sit through this video and say yes to pretty much everything, you’re a TCK.
Being a TCK definitely has its advantages. I speak four languages: English, Afrikaans, French and Arabic. I wouldn’t be classed as fluent in all of them, but I know enough to get by. I have a very wide worldview; I don’t approach things from any one way, I see it from lots of different sides. This comes from being surrounded with other TCKs in an internatonal school. Another benefit of this is having an increase in sensitivity, I know a lot about different cultures and religions, which means there are very few scenarios where I feel out of place.
But like everything, there are some down sides. International sporting events are hard for me, I have no idea which team to support especially when the unavoidable moment comes when they have to play against each other. The amount of stick I get for not being able to choose a side is enormous. Similarly, I know too much about too many countries, most people know about the political system of the country they live in.
I know about the American, English, Arab and South African political systems. It’s incredibly confusing and I get it wrong all the time. It’s equally embarrassing to know more about other cultures than your own. I have very few British tendencies, I don’t drink tea, I don’t like football, I don’t watch TOWIE and I avoid public trasnport at all costs. My flatmates will talk about things and I’ll have no idea what they’re talking about, they’ll use slang I don’t know and it’s frustrating. More so because even though it’s just another culture to learn, it’s the one I should really know about.
The number of TCK’s is growing rapidly with more and more people growing up in cultures that aren’t their own thanks to globalisation. This makes it just as confusing for other people as it is for us. My flat mates have no idea what I mean when I say I’m going home because to most people, that’s one place. For me it can mean several different places: here at university, up north where I was born, Dubai, or South Africa. I don’t even think about it when I call all these places home.
The old adage goes ‘Your home is where your heart is’ and if that’s true then I’m in a polyamorous relationship with several different places, though I think Medway and I aren’t hitting it off like we used to, so at least that’s one relationship that’s well and truly over.