I consider myself a TCA, a Third Culture Adult. I’ve lived a third of my life in four countries and have learned to blend in, giving hugs, two- or three-cheek kisses in greeting, keeping my hand on or under the table during meals, depending on where I am. I claim I can mispronounce words in four languages, although I function totally only in two. I can blend in, but I am never, ever completely part of any culture, including where I grew up in New England.
But unlike Third Culture Kids (TCKs) I was the one who decided to move. I wanted to become a global nomad. TCKs don’t have that choice. They go where their parents go.
I write a mystery series about a TCK struggling with some of the identity issues that all TCKs face, so this book held a special interest for me. Although I’ve interviewed TCKs for my novels, to see how it affected my heroine, none of my interviewees were as articulate as the kids in this book.
Moving can be difficult for most children even within the same country: new house, new school, new friends. But it can be even more of a challenge when a child is set down in a different country with a new culture and even a new language and/or alphabet.
TCKs move from their parents’ culture to another at least once or in some cases many times if the parents are diplomats, international business people, missionaries and military–any of the millions of global nomads who change countries every few years for new opportunities or assignments. Some TCKs are the children of refugees, but this book deals more with TCKs who were not refugees.
This book includes the essays, poems, short stories and art work of TCKs from age five through approaching adulthood. They know the problems and the pleasures because they have lived it. The quality of the writing of even the youngest child in this anthology tackles feelings many people will never experience with a maturity that some professional writers would be proud to produce.
TCKs cope in different ways, sometimes embracing their new circumstances, but more often they feel lost at least until they can absorb parts of their new culture blending them with their old cultures until they make a combination their own. In most cases there are degrees of success, but it is hard.
Where is “home?” That word home does not have a simple answer. Is it where they were born, where their parents come from, where they live now? “Where are you from?” is a question many TCKs dread because they don’t know the answer. That is why the opening page that says “Home is here” is so poignant.
Moreover, if they go “home” to their parents’ country, they are strangers, not experiencing what those that stayed in one place experienced, making them forever a bit out of sync. As one TCK said, “My passport says Canadian, but I know I’ll never be.”
Five-year-old Grant Lief Siemens says, “My Grandma’s house is like a warm hug” about his visit home after an arduous journey.
“After all when you move, your other life is done,” eight-year-old Rahda observed in a poem as he saw his house that couldn’t “keep itself.”
A fourteen-year-old who has lived in Australia, United States, Nigeria, Thailand and Canada says he feels like a pinball machine. Having juggled languages, airports, currencies, he says, “The world is my home.” With wisdom beyond his years, he sees that “memories are nothing if you don’t spend them with the people you love.”
Armory, moving back “home” to England from Bangladesh, doesn’t like the cold. Leaving the friends he has known from kindergarten, he finds that he doesn’t know how to talk to English people. He doesn’t know how to get them to trust him, he said.
Fortunately kids learn languages faster than adults. Speaking the local language can be a major factor in adjustment. One child signed himself into a school in China where his playmates went to learn Mandarin. Later he learned German. He complains he sounds like an American because when he goes “home” to New Zealand, he doesn’t sound like he belongs there.
The book has art work. My favorite was a zebra under the title “Striped Curiosity.” But Rebecca Thorpe at 16, under the title “Identity Crisis,” has a face that is half western, half oriental. She has lived in China, Morocco and the United States. Another girl breaks her self-portrait into Picasso-like cubes.
Some of the works made me want to cry. Sixteen-year-old Zac Coleman from the United States was transplanted to Cameroun. In a poem he takes adults’ words that tell him he’ll adjust, he’s resilient, and replies, “but they are wrong, dead wrong.”
Robin, who has lived in five countries, separates home from hometown. When asked where she is from, a question echoes which many of the writers say they dread; she would reply, “From my mommy’s tummy.” When she grew older she would answer Japan, Thailand, Spain, United States and Hong Kong. She noted that just having a passport made her different from many of her friends in many places.
This book is a must read for any parent who is about to change countries to help understand what their children are experiencing. Oftentimes, the working parent or the accompanying parent is too caught up in the new job or coping with something as simple as getting Wi-Fi or the electricity turned on to think what the children are going through.
TCKs, who are facing moves, will benefit from the book by knowing that what they are feeling is normal. They are not alone. In a way, TCKs can bond with each other like those who stayed in one place most of their lives; they can share common things.
The reviewer is Donna-lane Nelson (http://donnalanenelson.com/), who writes a crime series with a TCK heroine.