Sunday, October 11, 2009

The TCK Experience

Third Culture Kids. TCKs. A term coined by sociologist Ruth Hill Useem to denote those individuals who, as children, spent a significant period of time in one or more culture other than their own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture into a third, unique culture.

Ruth Van Reken has recently suggested that the term should now be updated, to "Cross-Cultural Kids". Most TCKs I know have had to integrate elements from more than two countries into their 'third', composite culture, so the renaming perhaps makes sense, although in my view it removes from the identifier a critical constituent of TCK-ness: the composite culture created (still generally referred to as the 'third' culture) is more than simply the combination of several cultures. Useem's original hypothesis, with which I agree, is that the experience of the TCK means that their own cultural identity is different from either, or any, of the cultures that have gone into its creation.

This is why TCKs often find they have more in common with one another, regardless of nationality, than with non-TCKs from their birth or citizenship country(ies). They never have full ownership or full understanding of any of the cultures into which they come into contact, even the cultures of their citzenship and / or birth countries.

Returning to a nation of which one is a citizen when one has never actually lived there is not returning at all, although the majority of non-TCK individuals would view it as a homecoming.

What answer, then, to the question: where are you from?

Most people mean, where were you born?

I was born in a country of which I have precious few memories, a country the language of which I do not speak, and of which I am not a citizen. None of that country's more typical natives would view me as one of them.

Some people mean: what passport do you hold?

I hold two passports. I had never lived in either of my passport countries until I finished school.

Some people mean: yes, but where is your accent from?

My accent is a hotchpotch of voices, a motley assortment of lived experiences that have coalesced to create a unique bastardisation of the spoken English language. But what you hear? Well that depends on where you're from. If you're from North America, I sound English to you, or Scottish or Australian. Perhaps even German or Scandinavian. If you're from Australia I sound North American, or perhaps Irish. If you're from Northern Europe I just sound strange.

My answer changes depending on who you are, which is to say, I am telling you nothing about myself by my answer, I am telling you about yourself and your preconceptions of cultural specificity.

Defining characteristics of the TCK: Adaptability. Isolation.

No comments:

Post a Comment