For most, the question “where are you from?” requires about as much thought and explanation as answering “what’s your name?” Simple questions with simple answers. Like many, I used to be able to answer these questions without much thought, and it wasn’t until I moved to the US from Indonesia that it became more complicated. Growing up in Indonesia, surrounded by other expatriates, it was simple for me to say where I was from. Back then I would say that I was American and British, a good enough answer since most of my friends had also lived in places outside of their nationality. But when I moved to the US for university, I suddenly realized how little of a claim I had on being American. It was my feeling of being out of place in a culture I was inherently from that lead me to find out about the term Third Culture Kid (TCK). Officially a TCK “is a person who has spent a significant part of [their] developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.” In my case, I’m a TCK because my father is from the US, my mother from the UK, but I was born in Singapore, and grew up in Indonesia. Even typing that seems long winded.
Of course, one of the first things people ask when meeting a new person, is where are they from. Since I couldn’t just say I was from “here” or the U.S, my answer always seemed to turn into my life story. At first I didn’t mind sharing, going through how I ended up in Indonesia, why I spoke with an American accent, and so on. But having to go through so many details did get old quickly. Oh, and guess what every professor asks their students to share “name, where you’re from…” yeah, I got pretty good at summing it up in a few sentences. Luckily, it was during this time that I stumbled upon the Facebook group “I’m a Third Culture Kid, don’t try and understand me.” I suddenly had a definition of how I felt, and a whole community of people like me. I even found a thread where TCK’s commented on the best and worst part of being a TCK, and almost everyone said the worse part was having to explain where they’re from. It may not seem like a big deal, but for someone who doesn’t quite have a certain place to call “home” it was huge to see I wasn’t alone in feeling a bit lost.
Finding this “support group” made me realize how globalized our world is today, and just how many people have had the same upbringing as me. It also made me appreciate that, even though I may not have one place to call home, I’m lucky enough to have multiple homes. I’ve lived here in Austin, Texas for over 5 years now, and even though I miss Indonesia immensely, I’ve learned to adapt and can finally tell people that “Short version, I’m from Austin, longer version, you may want to sit down.”
With time, I also realized that one of the beneficial characteristics of being a TCK is my ability to adapt to where I am. Having grown up in such a drastically different culture, and being able to travel throughout my life, has allowed me to feel comfortable in different environments. These environments might be as different as walking through Bangkok at night, to joining a Zumba class in South Austin, where everyone, including the instructor, spoke Spanish. Instead of feeling out of place, I just danced along, trying to “mover el culo” or “shake your butt” in time with everyone else. Although I’m pretty sure I ended up looking like Jim Carrey in this picture:
-Written by Brooke Fay Bullard