TCKs, or Third Culture Kids, are people who were raised in cultural backgrounds different from those of their parents for most of their childhood. I am from South Korea (reflected in the colour of my passport and the genealogy of my parents), but I was born in Thailand, and I live in the UAE. Now I’m heading off to Massachusetts, USA, for university. I guess all of these countries that I have lived in and will live in makes me a TCK by definition. You can only imagine my dread whenever a person asks, “Where are you from?” Do I say where I live? Where my parents are from? Do I bore them with a 750-word essay? In the expat culture of UAE, I’m sure many of you feel the same way.
All of the countries that I have lived in are so different
in their own special way.
I don’t know where “home” is. I could just tell people I’m “from” wherever I’m living now. It might be Bangkok, Seoul, or Abu Dhabi. I would call Korea my home because I pride myself on being Korean and I also look like a Korean, but I have no friends or close family members there; after all, I only lived in Korea from kindergarten to third grade. I would call Thailand my home, but I don’t remember anything about living there since I was so young. I would call UAE my home, but it’s such a temporary abode and we’re only here because of my father’s work. I could call Saudi Arabia my home since I lived there for most of my elementary and middle school years. Or all these places can be my home. I’ve loved living in all of these different countries and I don’t know what kind of person I would have been if I had lived anywhere else other than the places I grew up in. All of the countries that I have lived in are so different in their own special way.
You can only imagine my dread whenever a person asks,
“Where are you from?”
With moving frequently, I also had the chance to explore the world. I’ve visited most of the famous tourist areas in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. I got to see places like the Petra in Jordan, St. Peter’s Basilica in Venice, the Hagia Sofia in Turkey, and Musée du Louvre in France. Thanks to my brother, who is currently attending graduate school in Chicago, I also got to see lots of places in the US such as the Union Station in Washington DC and Times Square in New York City. These are maybe a fifth of the places that I have visited and travelled to. Being a TCK has its perks, I must say.
“To me the most important benefit of being a TCK is that our actions and thoughts are based on different cultures.”
While we might not have a place to call “home,” living abroad gives us a sense of camaraderie with people from all over the world. I have friends in all continents except Antarctica and I still keep in touch with them and hope to continue to do so. Another positive is that Third Culture Kids almost all speak at least two languages: our native tongue and English. I speak Korean and English fluently and am gradually learning French. But to me the most important benefit of being grouped with third culture kids is that our actions and thoughts are based on different cultures. We know from experience that “my way” is not the same as “the right way,” and in a world increasingly dependent on global thinkers and innovators, it’s crucial to be able to take different cultures and lifestyles into account.
So to all the third culture kids out there, I say “thank your parents.”
So as much as I might sometimes long to stay in one place for more than a few years, there are millions—billions—of people who have lived in one country all their lives and never got the chance to experience even a tenth of what I’ve seen and done. So to all the third culture kids out there, I say “thank your parents.” What they’ve allowed you to experience is what makes you truly special.
By Junee Yang