What is a definition of a Third Culture Kid (TCK)? Do you think you are one? There is no clear definition of this term, but instead both advantages and disadvantages of being a TCK come together to form that definition. Somebody who gets to experience life in a foreign country, becomes more culturally and politically astute, adapts quickly to alien environment. But at the same time experiences loss of friendships, a place called ‘home’ and most importantly identity. Debating this topic in class made me think, do I come under this definition?
Five years ago I moved schools for the first time from Russia to England. For a 12-year-old child it must have been a big shock to move to an unfamiliar house, in a town you never heard of before, to live as a full time boarder with girls who don’t speak a word of your language. Sounds like a lot, right? But for 12-year-old me it didn’t seem so terrifying. In fact, I can say that it was exciting. It was like a trip to the supermarket to buy chocolate, but slightly further from home than your usual supermarket. Instead of paying for chocolate my parents were paying for my chance to become a citizen of the world, so later I could go buy that chocolate myself in any supermarket in any part of the world. Despite my lack of fear, I had one qualm as I said to my mum “I will never be fluent in English.”
I guess that change became the moment when I turned into a Third Culture Kid. I do live in England during the academic year and have indeed become very aware of the differences in culture. I still remember how I showed the number two to my coach on my fingers and got told by my new best friend that I had just sworn at that teacher. It is little gestures and traditions that make a culture so unique and having first hand experience is often vital to understand that. Being lucky to have visited 22 different countries (and still counting) made me more aware of those differences, so at least now I don’t insult anyone obliviously.
Yet, I can’t say that I have been robbed of a genuine home. Although I feel comfortable in any country so far, it is only when my plane lands in Russia that I get butterflies inside and the smell outside is so sweet and familiar. Even the grumpy and sometimes miffed faces of the airport staff, who tell you to go upstairs for passport control although the queue is evidently shorted downstairs, don’t get in the way of the feeling of joy of being home.
When it comes to my identity, of course it is not a one-word answer. I am an engaged student who reaches out beyond school boundaries. I am a loving, although not perfect daughter, as that father-mother-child relationship is yet to be mastered. I am a courageous athlete who doesn’t use her short legs as an excuse for not always being the quickest in the race. I am a bizarre optimist who looks on the positive side of every situation, although the negative is always closely lurking. However, most importantly I am a unique individual who is not afraid of risks and can now honestly say that I am fluent in English. I am a Third Culture Kid, although I have only adopted the advantages of being one.