In my previous post, “Your Present, Their Future,” I began to explore different schooling options that parents can choose for their TCK. As the author of this column, I want to acknowledge that I have a somewhat limited and singular perspective on schooling systems around the world, given that I attended a private American school while living in Taiwan.
As a result, my goal is to incorporate as many different perspectives on TCK education as possible. This guest post has been written by Susie Campbell, a TCK originally from New Zealand but raised in Chile. Susie is currently studying towards a Bachelor of Science majoring in Economics and minoring in Psychology at the University of Otago. She will finish her undergraduate degree in November 2016, and intends to do her masters immediately after. Future plans aren’t too certain at this stage, but she would love to work in the United Nations, as well as working as a lecturer once she has her PhD, which she also intends to do at some point.
My name is Susie Campbell, and I am a Third Culture Kid. I only recently found out what this actually means, and it was one of those moments where everything just fell into place. It finally made sense why I always felt different; no matter what country I was in I always felt like the odd one out.
I was born in New Zealand in 1996, and at the age of three my parents, my brother and I packed up and moved to a small town in the south of Chile. We had no friends there, and no one spoke the language; to this day I have no idea what my parents were thinking, but it’s worked out incredibly well in the long run.
Throughout my childhood I travelled back and forth between the two countries; all my extended family was in New Zealand, so we went back to visit every couple of years. My school life and parents were in Chile, where I spent most of my childhood. However, as I said above, neither country truly felt like home. In Chile people asked me where I was from; I didn’t exactly blend in with my blonde hair and incredibly white skin, but when I opened my mouth to speak, fluent Spanish came out, which was enough to confuse everyone. When I travelled back to New Zealand to visit family, people would ask me where I was from, my English, although still with a kiwi accent, clearly wasn’t the same as everyone else’s.
At the age of 15 I went to Harvard Summer School for the first time, and once again people asked me where I was from. Trust me, that’s the moment that you just try to steer the conversation in another direction, because how do you explain it without blurting out your entire life story.
I was lucky enough to experience education in all three countries mentioned above. My school life was in Chile, I did summer school in the US, and I am now two thirds through my undergraduate degree at Otago University, in NZ, and I can say that moving between these three places was like completely changing worlds each time.
The school that I attended in Chile was a small private school. There were less than 1,000 students ranging from ages 5 to 18. It was a wonderful school, everyone knew everyone, it was a little community with so much love, but one that I never really felt a part of. I was never a very big fan of how the educational system works in Chile either. All high school years are essentially preparing you for one big exam at the end of your final year, called the PSU, that defines what career you end up doing. It all boils down to that one test. I’ve seen incredible people miss out on their dream careers due to a bad cold on the day of the examination, and I’ve seen people get into degrees that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise got in to, due to some top notch cramming, so it’s not really the ideal system.
After being in this educational system for some time, I came to New Zealand for university. I didn’t sit the PSU, heck, I didn’t even finish high school. Thanks to the credits that I obtained at Harvard I was given preferential entry into Otago University a year before finishing high school, so I just took that and ran.
People I’ve met in New Zealand have explained to me their schooling system, and it’s completely different than what I knew through high school. They go through what’s called “NCEA”, which I still don’t fully understand, but the grades obtained throughout all of high school are what get them into university, not one final exam like the PSU. In 2012 I went to a New Zealand school for a few weeks, and it was just so foreign to me. Students could choose so many courses from a very early age. In Chile our only selection was between art and music, whereas these kids were already specialising in the sciences and arts. They even had drama classes offered to them, which was something I thought was only on Glee, so yes, it was a completely new world to me.
Growing up in a small town and attending a private school limits your world view. You struggle to see past the fact that not every school in the world is like yours, that not all people in the world are the same as the 25 you share a classroom with. Going to Harvard, and then studying in NZ has opened my eyes immensely. I think, if I had attended an international school, I could have seen this earlier, realized I didn’t have to be from one place. I’m not truly a Chilean, just like I’m not truly a New Zealander, which is quite a confusing thing to think when everyone around you chants the national anthem with immense passion before any school event.
I went to Canada with my family at one point during my childhood and broke my arm downhill biking and had to get it fixed up in a Canadian hospital. I made a comment to my family that has been an ongoing joke for us ever since which was that I’m now a New ChiCanadian, born in New Zelanad (hence the “New”), raised in Chile (Chi), and broke my arm in Canada (Canadian). I really don’t know why I thought that breaking my arm in a country would make me a resident there but it goes to show how I thought of the world, as being from multiple places.
I’m eternally grateful about the fact that I’m a TCK. Once I understood what it means to be one, I understood that it’s okay to not have one place that feels like home. I’ve learnt to be comfortable being uncomfortable, something I realised recently. Being in New Zealand this year, I’ve started to blend in, and to be honest, I don’t like that. I now love it when people ask me where I’m from; it’s a chance for me to blurt out this memorized script describing my background, which is something I used to struggle with, but now thrive on! I used to feel uncomfortable about it because no matter where I was I missed somewhere, some people, or even a stage of my life. But now I’ve realized that if anythig, that’s a blessing. Everywhere I go is somewhere I already miss, so I’m always going home, even if I’m travelling to a country I’ve never been to, you can make it feel like home so quickly. Simply put, I fit in everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
Being a TCK, you learn to associate home with family. My parents, my brother and I are very tight, we skype at least twice a week, and have a family chat that goes off 24/7 since everyone is in different timezones. You’d think that between 4 people there’s only so much you could talk about through WhatsApp, but between awkward selfies from my dad in each different country he travels to, random videos/quotes that my mum sends, or my brother complaining about the weather, my phone literally buzzes all the time. But for this same reason, it’s so hard to be apart. When we first went our separate ways, it was incredibly hard on all of us, my brother and I came to different Universities in NZ, my mum is doing her masters in the US, and my dad spends most of his time in Chile working when he’s not travelling back and forth to see us. So one of the main challenges of being a TCK I think, is that since I grew up with the one constant being my family, when it’s time to move away from that, even though it’s just a physical separation, it is a constant struggle. I always miss my family, and I don’t think it’s something I’ll grow out of.
As a TCK, you either live in a constant state of culture shock, or are simply immune to almost all of it. I consider myself relatively immune, I used to be surprised by what people said/did, but now it’s all just normal. My Facebook newsfeed is essentially a global conference that I just cannot keep up with, but I’ve never known anything else, and I wouldn’t change it for the world!
If you would like to share your education experiences as a TCK, please comment below!