The Third Culture Experience

I consider myself as a third culture kid, well I guess now I’m an “adult” third culture kid. Third culture kid (TCK) is:

“An individual who, having spent a significant part of the developmental years in a culture other than the parents’ culture, develops a sense of relationship to all of the cultures while not having full ownership in any. Elements from each culture are incorporated into the life experience, but the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar experience.” (Pollock, 1988)

The “third culture” can be described as:

“a combination of an individual’s home culture and host culture (or cultures), which amalgamated to form a unique third culture. This third culture is then reaffirmed when TCIs, who share similar backgrounds, interact” (Donoghue and Useem, 1963)

This concept accurately encapsulates my experience. I strongly identify myself as Thai but there have been times when I feel out of place in my own country due to my different world view that is reflective of my foreign upbringing. I was born in Bangkok to Thai parents and spent the early years of my childhood in the suburbs. In 2002, my family moved to Athens, Greece as my mother was posted in the diplomatic mission there. I attended the American Community School (elementary school grade 2 to 5) and learned English for the first time. My second culture is rather ambiguous, I lived in Greece and was exposed to Greek culture but I was also simultaneously exposed to American culture through my education. So, my second culture is Western culture rather than just Greek or American culture. I really enjoyed living in Greece, I was exposed to the joys of Christmas and Mediterranean food. After four years, we moved back to Thailand where I was fortunate enough to attend an international school with an American curriculum. I did not feel much cultural difference in school because I was already familiar with the American curriculum and I also made other TCK friends. As I grew older, I started to notice how the worldviews of my friends and I were vastly different from other people in society.  I felt an obscured sense of belonging. I strongly identify as a Thai national but I do not actually know what it means to be Thai. I feel like I do not know enough about Thai history, culture, or language to effectively present myself as a Thai person. To complicate things even more, in middle school, I was exposed to K-pop and I immersed myself in Korean culture. I was an avid fan of K-pop, at that point, I only listened to K-pop music and watched Korean dramas and TV shows. At that point, K-pop was not only m preference but Korean culture became a part of my life. It is not an exaggeration to say that I am truly the product of globalization. As a teenager, I was aware of my different cultural identity but I did not understand its full impact until I began university in Wellington, New Zealand. I noticed that my international friends could easily get along with the others from their country but I found myself having difficulties making friends from my country. It was much easier for me to make friends from other countries, it is quite weird right?

Experts have discussed the concept of TCK as having an impact on the formulation of the sense of belonging and identity. However, in my experience, I think being a TCK has impacted me the most in social relations. They suggested that TCKs do not feel that they belong to anywhere and that their sense of belonging is based on people and their relationships. In my case, that is somewhat true. Unlike other TCK who do not feel like they belong in their home country, Thailand will always be my home. The fact that my mom works for the foreign affairs ministry has probably played a part in my education, they instilled the sense of nationhood and loyalty to the country, it is basically her job to represent and protect Thailand’s interests. On the other hand, although I feel very comfortable conversing with people from various countries, it is much more difficult for me to talk to people from the same country because I cannot really relate to their experiences and vice versa. It is much easier just to make a new friend from another country and learn about their experiences because there is a mutual lack of understanding about each other’s backgrounds whereas talking to another person from the same country, there is an assumption of understanding each other’s background. In contrast, I have had a lot of experience with cross-cultural communication and but I still get confused about how I should act because I am aware of multiple cultural practices. My third culture experience has made be very cautious about my behavior. Do I maintain eye contact? Can I end the conversation now? What would this term mean to him/her? Will they understand this cultural reference? Even though we communicate in English, there are many types of English. So far, I have learned American, New Zealand, and British English (I tend to speak English with an American accent). These types of English are very different, the same word can mean very different things and I have to constantly remind myself who I am talking to and which term would be the most appropriate to get the message across. I am very culturally confused.

There are actually many positive benefits of being a TCK. The most important benefit, in my opinion, is the uniquely broad view of the world. Being a TCK has opened up the world for me. Experiences shape the lens through which individuals see the world and being exposed to multiple cultures shapes the lens in unique ways. I have been influenced by both Eastern and Western ideologies and it has allowed me to be more tolerant of other people’s views and understand them. Having lived in multiple countries, I have learned so much about what the world has to offer. There are so many places to go, things to do, and food to try. I have accepted my identity as a culturally confused TCK.

My experience as a third culture kid has shown me the world. Why be limited to a culture when you can be a part of multiple of cultures?

Image from https://dribbble.com/shots/1736845-Illustrated-World-Map
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