I don’t really like labels, I don’t fit any of them and they are quite restrictive by nature. Still they help shape us and define our identity. Fitting under no label makes one feel lost and confused, one label that I not only like but which also helped me make some sense of myself (as I previously thought I was a complete and utter weirdo/crazy) is the term TCK – Third Culture Kid. It means someone who has a culture different to their parents, it’s usually from living in different places, thus assimilating the cultures from those places as well as the original parental culture and creating a “Third” culture.
This is what I am, a TCK. My parents are from Mauritius, I grew up in France and now live in the UK. In France I came across many cultures: Maghrebi (Tunisian, Moroccan, Algerian), some African cultures, as well as the blend of these cultures with where we all lived – France.
Then we moved to the London. A melting pot of culture, I came across Bengladeshi, Pakistani, Somali, Indian, Afghani, Polish and many others. Mainly through food. So many delicious dishes from all those cultures! But not just food, the way they think, behave, act, react, approach situations. I get an amazing perspective, I can be an outsider and observe a situation but I can also (maybe superficially) put myself in someone’s shoes and see the situation from their point of view. I think the life I’ve had has made me quite empathetic in the sense that I can see where someone is coming from and why they might do the things they do. Still I’m quite stubborn and wilful which kinda…cancels out all that empathy…
Mauritius is by nature multiracial. It was an uninhabited island, many European countries came across it, Mauritius was French at some point, and then British (it is now part of the commonwealth), through slavery and indentured labour people from Africa and Asia ended up on this little island. It’s been many years, though each “race” has retain some sense of its origins, we have fused to become Mauritian, our biryani, fried noodles, rougaille, tandoori, sweets and cakes etc…may have the same base as many different cultures (and the same name) but they taste different, they were tweaked and arranged to became Mauritian dishes.
I became aware of the term TCK in my late teen, before that, like any teenager I was going through an identity crisis, trying to figure out who I am and where/how do I fit in. It was pretty tough but I made it through, came out the other side with a few good friends and a personality I’m generally pleased with. When I was 14 I remember going home from school on the bus and realising the difference between alone and lonely. I wasn’t alone per say, I had friends at school, we got on well and had a lot of fun, but I could never connect too deeply, there was a cultural barrier (as they were mostly from the same or similar cultures), often time something would happen and I’d realise how differences. I could not be like them, I could not completely assimilate into their group, and that’s where I felt lonely.
It’s not so bad to be honest, my lack of attachment to a particular group means that I can fit pretty much anywhere and that’s what I did. In secondary school I did not particularly belong to one group of friend but would spend my free time with different groups on different occasions and at different times. This was all great and fun, but belonging everywhere means you also belong nowhere. No one would miss me if I wasn’t with them, because they’d think I was busy somewhere else, I wasn’t the core of any group, I was an electron whizzing around many different nuclei.
Lonely didn’t define me, but it was in the background, part of my identity. I had a lot of fun and made great friends and have great memory of my mid teens. Being a TCK made me quite strong willed, I did not follow peers much and I developed a rational mind that liked to do things for good reasons. I had a strong set of values I was not willing to compromise, especially for ephemeral teenage fancies. So when it came to choosing schools to move on to at 16, I chose a couple I particularly liked in terms of education and the future, I did not apply to the school most of my friends would go to, and I did not go there.
Maybe I was lonely when I started at that school alone? But it had been a few years, that feeling was part of the background, still I remember distinctly that when I decided to go to that school I told myself I wouldn’t bother making friends, I would just spend time in the library and get on with my studies. In the end I met 5 girls, looking back, one could say we were all outcasts somehow so we gravitated towards each other and ended up together, we didn’t go to the same university, we didn’t study the same subjects, we took very different paths but somehow stuck together and are still friends. That doesn’t mean we didn’t make friends with other people, but I was no longer an electron, or JUST an electron, I also now had a nucleus I belonged to.
Now, it’s not that all my actions and beliefs are the way they are because I’m a Third Culture Kid. I am me, but if I had to choose one word to describe me, TCK would be a good one. I could say that my ideas and plans for the future are the way they are because I am me, but I think they are also highly influenced because *I* am a TCK. I don’t see myself living in the UK for ever, getting a job, building a career, growing old here. I see myself travelling a lot, not for holiday or exploration, but I don’t belong anywhere, this dream of travelling…it’s different to most people’s. I don’t have a home country to go back to. The only thing that would make me come back to a country would be my family. I would travel those countries looking for “home” even though I know there is no home for me, I would explore them looking to live in them, even for a short while. I know I’ll be moving on soon enough but somehow, I can’t help but look for home.
Do check out the subreddit r/tck on reddit. Its quiet but has some good discussions going like this one or this one which is full of stories by other third culture kid. If you do browse the subreddit or look into TCK more, please forgive us in advance if we sound like a bunch of entitled prick, we really dont mean to, but I can say with the subreddit r/tck, we’re sometimes get extremely lonely and we go there to feel part of something for a little while.