It’s the 21st century now. We passed into the second millennium of our calender 11 years ago, and today that amazing step in history is old and forgotten news. But to some of us, that transition has been an important landmark. Some of us, and it’s really not many, have spent our lives hopping from country to country, growing up in lands that are foreign to the lands our parents call home. Our parents, who have shared in the experiences of constantly moving along side us, never experienced the same things we did. We saw the same places, we lived in the same houses, and we experienced the same cultures. But we lived in two completely different worlds. Our parents, born and raised as citizens of their homeland, could return home on a dime and fit right back into the culture of their youth, while we, the cultural mixing pots, have grown up in so many vastly different worlds that the country from which we hail has no meaning beyond the fact that it’s the place that our passport says we belong. Some of us today are in our fifties. Some of us are older still. Some of us are only just now traveling the world as children, building our cultural mock-ups. However, we all share one thing, we are all Third Culture Kids.So before I discuss the lives we all share as Third Culture Kids, despite our drastically different upbringings and our cultural blends, let me tell you about my life, and how being a Third Culture Kid has played such a crucial role in the man I have become today. Today, I am 24 years old. I live in San Antonio, Texas and am employed as a content developer and marketer. I have a double concentration bachelors degree in professional writing and creative writing. I have always been drawn to writing, since before I can even remember. I blame my Third Culture Kid upbringing for this; Writing has allowed for me to pretend to be anyone I have ever wanted, and to share those experiences with anyone who reads my words. It has helped me deal with a lot of the issues I have grown up with, some of which were stressful, but all of which have made me a better man.
I was born in Milton Keynes, England. I spent less than 6 months there before our first major hop. I believe we ended up in Singapore, but who can remember at the age of half a year? It didn’t matter to me, I was a baby still crying my way through the night, but it was this first jump across the world that laid the groundwork for who I was going to become. Both my father and mother became addicted to traveling after this, and even though they came back to England just six months after our trip to Singapore, they were set on leaving when the time was right.
Two months after my second birthday, my brother was born in Reading, England. This is where I consider myself exceptionally lucky. I have met many Third Culture Kids in my life whose parents only had one child. These kids, well now adults, spent their youth jumping from country to country with no one to share their experience with. They went from being normal, first culture kids to being third culture, and had absolutely no one to share the burden with. See, the thing about being a Third Culture Kid is this, and it’s something only other Third Culture Kids will understand, excluding the few exceptions in the Second Culture Kid area that actually do have insight into this experience, and it’s that no matter how hard you try to explain to someone what it feels like being a Third Culture Kid, they’ll never understand unless they too are a Third Culture Kid. I was lucky. I had a brother, one I got to share every single move with, who understood everything I did perfectly, more or less.
It was when I was four that we moved to Hong Kong. We spent two years there. I don’t remember much of it. I do remember my maid, Mallette, and I remember the Tiger Balm caves, and a little of my two schools, The Woodlands and Bradbury Jr. School, but other than that, I don’t remember much. I know that when we left Hong Kong, Robert and I, Robert is my brother by the way, could use chopsticks with more efficiency than we could a knife and a fork. The Chinese loved us for that. We ate like lower class citizens, grasping our chopsticks as close to the base as we could, shoveling food into our mouths with expert precision and speed. Watching a four year old and a six year old white person do this so flawlessly was a scene of much amusement for many waiters on the back streets in Hong Kong.
At the age of six, right before my seventh birthday, we took our expert chopstick skills to the one place on earth they would be of least value, to good ol’ Houston, Texas in the USA. We spent 5 years here, where Robert got lucky. He was still extremely young then, only 4 when we moved, so he became very Americanized very quickly. He would never be American really, but he fit in exceptionally well. I did too, but I had too many memories back then of Hong Kong and a different life, ones which have left me as I’ve aged. I tried to become American, even pretended to be American for most of my youth, just trying to fit in with my friends. It worked, until I was 11 or 12 and we moved to Paris, France.
In Paris, France, I attended the American School of Paris. I don’t know what happened, maybe it was the sudden difference of being fully immersed with all these Second and Third Culture Kids, but it didn’t take them long to realize I wasn’t American, but was English. For the most part, they weren’t as traveled as me. They were out there because their parents worked for oil companies and they had two year contracts out in Paris. This was the only place they’d lived, but we did share the fact that we didn’t fit into Paris. The language barrier made that extremely evident, the French population being so wonderful in Paris that if you tried to speak French, they hated you for butchering their language, but if you didn’t try to speak French, they hated you for not trying.
With my Third Culture Kid background growing rapidly, my parents took us back to Hong Kong two years after we moved to Paris. It was here that I learned what being Third Culture was really about. I had never even heard the term “Third Culture Kid” until this two-year-stint back in Hong Kong. I was at school, in the Hong Kong International School, listening to a public speaker talk about what it meant to be a Third Culture Kid. It was a life changing conversation, beautifully crafted and completely self-defining. I remember it like it was yesterday, but more than anything, I remember the final words of his speech, how he closed his entire presentation. These words that came from his lips, this stranger who I never got the pleasure to formally introduce myself to, burned into my mind as I sat in an auditorium filled with the entire high school body of roughly 250 students. He said: “You will never be as close to finding a home as you are right now, in this room, sitting beside your friends and colleagues who understand completely what it is like to be a Third Culture Kid.”
He was right. I left Hong Kong in 2002. I came back to Houston, Texas. I never once pretended to be an American again. I said I was English, but I didn’t mean it. I said it because I wanted them to know I wasn’t one of them, but to explain to them that I wasn’t English, that I was Third Culture, would be like trying to explain the color of the sky to a man who has been blind since birth. And since then, I have lived this way, learned everything I could about expression and culture and the world and religion and everything that makes us who we are. And I have bottled it up, kept it close, for this very reason. I want to share with you the same level of comfort and understanding that the man in the Auditorium of the Hong Kong International School shared with me.
So to all my Third Culture Kids out there, young or old, who have experienced something so unlike everyone they know: Welcome to your illusive home.