Culture August 23, 2017
We are from nowhere, and fit nowhere.
Can you answer the question “Where are you from?” in a short and clear answer without having to think about it for about 20 minutes, wondering what the best answer is for the situation? If not, then like me, you are probably a Third Culture Kid.
Third Culture Kids is a term coined in the 50’s by sociologist Ruth Hill Useem that defines a generation of kids who spent their formative years in places that were not their parents’ homeland.
People don’t know much about us or even realize we are here. Now our struggle of not knowing where we are from or where our home is, is not a traumatic element in our growth as humans. On the contrary, it makes us stronger, and true chameleons.
We’ve grown up with so many different cultures that we tend to be more open to other cultures and other opinions. Yet some people think we are snobby or pretentious when we can’t answer the simple question of where we are from. So let me tell you my story and why it’s so confusing.
I was born in San Francisco, which makes me American. My family is made up of Italian immigrants who came flocking to the US before and after WWII. Like any immigrants, they left family behind in Italy.
At the age of two, my parents took my older brother and I overseas for a job opportunity. We landed in Brussels and I was immediately put in a French school. I learned how to write and read French before English. And if having two languages wasn’t confusing enough, my parents would speak to us in Italian, English and French at home. Needless to say, to this day, my brothers and I mix the languages together, confusing anyone who listens in to any of our conversations.
So if you were to think about it, the answer is easy, you are an American who grew up overseas, so why are you so confused? But what you don’t know is that I’m a dual citizen. Yep, not only do I hold a fancy American passport, but I hold an Italian Passport as well. So now you’ll say, well, you are American and Italian.
The problem with that conclusion is that, during my childhood, I grew up heavily influenced by my Italian heritage and culture. We spent so much time with my Italian family, that at times, as a child, I forgot I had family on another continent.
Now you wonder… wait, okay, so maybe she’s more Italian than American. And yes, that may be true, but I spent over 15 years in a French school, surrounded by French kids. And if that wasn’t enough, we moved to Switzerland, where I spent 11 years of my life.
As I was there, I celebrated French and Swiss national holidays and I know the French national anthem. I don’t even know the American or Italian ones by heart. I wouldn’t even be able to tell you how they start.
The confusion got so bad that when my little brother was born overseas, he was extremely confused about his background. One day at school they asked him to draw the flags of where he was from, and he drew the Belgian and Italian flags. The kid completely forgot that he had some American in him.
And honestly, how would he know? He still hadn’t made his way over there.
What you need to know about us is that we feel as though we have no home. We are from nowhere and fit nowhere. We are adaptable and open to other cultures. We have friends spread across the world.
During my FaceTime sessions with my friends, while I’m having lunch, they are having dinner. Airports feel like home, and become extremely familiar.
Many things differ us from others. We navigate the world in a very different way.
And today, there are more and more of us. We have to wonder what this means for the future of patriotism and nationalism, since we don’t define ourselves to one specific country or culture.
With the increase of us Third Culture Kids, will we eventually care less about the lines that define countries and cultures? Will we learn to blend and appreciate each other?
As a Third Culture Kid, I don’t strongly hold on to one country. For example, when I watch the world cup, I can’t be as competitive when Italy plays Switzerland, or France plays the US, because I don’t really care who wins. Either way, it’s a win for me.
Yes, it’s a struggle not having a home. Both my parents are constantly traveling around the world, and my family now no longer lives in any of the countries that are respectively “theirs.” So when people go home for the holidays, my family sort of navigates, and we’ve come to a point where, we as a unit, no longer know where to meet.
We’ve lost a sense of physical home, but being a Third Culture Kid truly makes you value family on a different level, because at the end of the day, you begin to realize that home has nothing to do with a physical place.
It’s the memories and feelings that make something home. So wherever my brothers are, or wherever my parents are is a small piece of home.
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