Expat Life: Musings of an Adult Third Culture Kid (TCK)

MsCaroline, adoring the baby chicks at the market in Bangkok.  This was (obviously) before Bird Flu.

Anyone who's read my sidebars (or just the headline on this blog) knows that MrL and I both grew up (more or less) overseas, and identify as TCKs (Third Culture Kids, or 'kids who have spent more time overseas than in their 'passport culture.')

Part of the fun of moving to Asia has been visiting places we lived as kids - not always so easy for TCKs to do - as well as enjoying some of the aspects of the culture that we remember so fondly (MsCaroline, for instance, has re-discovered just how much she loves anything made of sweet bean paste. Anything.)

Of course, as I've mentioned before, our kids are not typical TCKs.  While we did move several times thither and yon across the continental US, Sons#1 and #2 did not have to contend with any international moves until 2011, when we moved to Seoul.  Son#1, a recent high school graduate, delayed his University studies for a semester and enjoyed living abroad for 6 months before heading back to the US;  by the time we return to the US, he will undoubtedly be finished with his studies and living on his own.

While Son #1 spent his entire childhood in the USA, Son#2 moved to Seoul when he was just 14 and starting high school. While he's not exactly a TCK - at least not by his parents' standards -  by the time he leaves for Uni in the fall of 2015, he will have spent 4 years living overseas and attending an international school.

Like his parents, his high school experience has been one spent very interestingly - but far from typically for the average North American.  His teachers come from 6 countries;  his schoolmates, from at least a hundred.  His speech contains a mix of Canadian, British, and American terminology, (sprinkled liberally with Korean slang.)  When he says goodbye to his friends in the graduating class this year, they will be heading for universities on at least 5 continents.

It's not a typical sort of school experience;  in fact, it will undoubtedly set him apart for the rest of his life.  Not in a bad way, but in a way that will make him recognize other TCKs and international school students as 'kindred spirits' of a sort;  fellow travelers who've experienced a life outside the norm and who can't always identify with the shared cultural experiences of their fellow citizens.   Even all these years later, I found myself relating very strongly to this slideshow;  if you attended an international school, or your child does, I know you will be nodding your head in sympathy.  If you aren't, it's a great little insight into a world that's completely different - but, at the same time, maybe not so different at all.

 22 Signs You Were an International School Kid


Nance said…
What an interesting way to grow up! I'm sure it guarantees them a wider perspective on the world. I think that's excellent; one quality of those of us who live in the US our whole lives seems to be a narrow viewpoint that borders on the ignorant and Amerocentric. (If that isn't a word already, I made it up!)

I'm often stunned to hear what other nationals think of the US. Often, it's not exactly complimentary.
MsCaroline said…
Nance - to be fair, travel does not always prevent a narrow viewpoint, just as not traveling does not always result in one. However, in general, I think you're probably right. As far as what other nations think of the US; you're also right: it's not very complimentary (at least not very often; since I am both Canadian and American, people seem to speak quite freely in front of me...) Part of it is tied up - just as you say - with the fact that we tend to have a very Amerocentric (if it isn't a word, it should be) perspective and don't always realize when we're being offensive. I can't tell you how often I've sat at a dinner table with a mix of Americans and Koreans, cringing as I listened to some American spout off thoughtless, condescending, cruel, and patronizing commentary - often without realizing how offensive they are being(and the Koreans, of course, are far too polite to indicate that they're offended.) If nothing else, I think both of my kids have developed a sensitivity to this at a pretty young age. And for that, I'm grateful. However, I would like to believe that they would have been the same even if we had spent our whole lives in one place...
Trish said…
I think of my boy heading off to University this autumn (hopefully) and how anxious I am because he may well be five hours drive away. Then I read your post and realise your boys are in a different league altogether with regard to being away from home!
Hope all is well with you all. Watching the news about the ferry disaster and all those young Korean students. It must be affecting you and your friends very much. Xx
MsCaroline said…
Trish - well, in all fairness, both MrL and I grew up the same way, so for us, it's quite normal to go to University on a completely different continent - not that it makes it any easier, though!
The ferry disaster (and it really is a disaster) has hit everyone quite hard here in Korea - all regular tv programming last weekend was canceled so news reports could run, and it is in all the headlines constantly. Hard to explain how much a part of the culture a trip to Jeju island is for anyone living in S. Korea - you just don't live here without going there and it used to be pretty much the only place newlyweds went for their honeymoon. Besides the shock and grief at so many young people being lost, I think many of us are thinking - 'that could easily have been me.' So very sad.
Trish said…
The tragedy has filled our news channels too - constantly in the first few days. The world is feeling your pain. Just horrific and even more so when stories emerge about errors and delays.
I definitely relate to some of that (although in fact we didn't move around, it was just Hong Kong and then boarding school). But certainly the part about not really knowing where to say I'm from. What I find interesting is that many of my TCK friends have ended up living abroad as well (ie not in their parents' home country). My friends from Hong Kong are as far flung as Bermuda, Australia and California.
MsCaroline said…
NVG - You know, #2 has spent his whole life in his passport country (at least until he was 14)but we never lived anywhere longer than about 5 years, so he doesn't have much of a sense of 'home' either, at least not in the sense of 'This is where I come from and this is where I go back to." Of course, he has no problems with national identity or culture, but I definitely see that he is going to have a huge cultural gap where that 'typical' American high school experience would fit if he were living back in the USA. Mr. L and I both have found it extremely easy and very comfortable to live overseas. In many ways, it was far easier to move to Seoul than it ever was to move to any of the US states we moved to. The expat community is endlessly welcoming and ideally geared to plugging in new people, and it's so easy to get involved right away.

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