Whether you’re introducing yourself on the first day of class or filling out a resume, identifying where you are from is always a requirement. Regardless of whether you are from the Chicago area or across the United States, you most likely don’t need to think twice before answering. But for some Loyola students, this question is one they are not sure how to answer. They are called Third Culture Kids, or TCKs.
It wasn’t until the 1950s that Ruth Hill Useem, an American sociologist and anthropologist, started using this term to refer to people who have grown up moving all over the world, often owning passports from several different countries.
The term TCK was once exclusively used to refer to children of military, missionary or corporate expatriates who were stationed abroad, thus the children spent their formative years (ages 4-18) either in a country other than that of their parents’ upbringing, or constantly moving about. Because of this, the children developed a “third culture,” one different than that of their parents, and also different from the country (or countries) in which they grew up.
As communication and transportation technology increases, crossing country borders becomes more like crossing state lines, and though hard to track, the number of TCKs (or people becoming aware that they are TCKs) increases. One signifier of this increase is their growing prevalence on the Internet. Today, the Internet is abundant with videos on Youtube or memes on Tumblr pages about being a TCK. For example, BuzzFeed features a list with 31 signs that all TCKs can identify with.
Because TCKs have been all over the globe, they develop an array of skills that set them apart from less-traveled young adults. At a young age, they learn to speak multiple languages, mentally convert currencies and time zones and quickly adapt to a completely new environment.
However, being a traveler presents hardships. Imagine never being able to own a dog, attending multiple schools and constantly being the foreigner.
The experience of being a TCK is complex and unique to each individual, so we’ve found 11 Loyola TCKs and had them share the ups and downs of being global nomads to get a closer look at what it’s like to be a TCK.
Minors: Spanish literature, French literature, urban studies and Latin American studies
Countries and cultures I identify with: Canada (both Anglophone and Francophone), United States, India, Mexico, Italy
“I took my first flight, which was transatlantic, at 6 months old, so just around the time that I was figuring out how to crawl.”
“I have the habit of forgetting which language I am supposed to be speaking on a regular basis. There was one time I was eating in a restaurant in Spain, and was with some francophones, so we were talking in French. When the waiter came to take our order, I spoke to him in English, but was utterly convinced that I was speaking Spanish, and the poor man just looked at me with this horribly confused look until one of my friends pointed it out.”
“There are parts of my identity that I am very sure of, like my name, gender identity, sexual orientation. Then there are parts that are very hard to pinpoint. I don’t have a mother tongue, an ethnicity, a culture, because I have many. Consequently, I don’t belong anywhere, and yet I belong everywhere.”
Cameron Woolley, 21, senior
Major: International studies
Minors: Political science and Asian studies
Countries and cultures I identify with: Canada, United States, Japan
“I’ve lived in the U.S. for 15 years, but I’ve only been in the country once for Christmas. [Something] frustrating about being a TCK is even though I’ve lived in the U.S. for the vast majority of my life and hold citizenship here, some people still attach the ‘perpetual foreigner’ status to me.”
Carl-Lukas Dürrenmatt, 21, senior
Minor: Visual communications
Countries and cultures I identify with: Switzerland, Hong Kong (China), United States, Thailand.
“[It’s frustrating] trying to plan calls to my parents [in Bangkok] around a 12–hour time difference … and When I found out that McDonald’s in countries outside of South East Asia doesn’t deliver 24/7.”
“Sometimes [I] have to specify which country of friends [I’m] talking to when we write a status on social media.”
“I convert all my purchases to Thai baht [Thailand’s currency] in my head.”
Caroline Sletten Larsson, 20, junior
Majors: Sociology and ad/PR
Countries and cultures I identify with: Sweden, France, United Arab Emirates, Denmark, Norway
“A close friend of mine [and I] have both lived in Dubai. Sometimes, when we start to reminisce about our days in Dubai…we both can get an Arabic accent, and we’ll both start to throw in Arabic slang while we speak. People can get very confused.”
“People will ask me where I’m from, so I say Sweden. Their response: Oh, you have such amazing chocolate and skiing there… Yes, we do have skiing and chocolate, but I assume that you are talking about Switzerland now…. After this occurring many, many times, I finally get a shirt printed: the front say’s Sweden / Switzerland. The back has a graph. In the Switzerland column: watches, skiing, chocolate, cows. In the Sweden column: awesome, awesome, awesome… Should arrive in the mail any day.”
Person: Where are you from?
Person: Oh my God, me too!
Me: *speak Swedish* *excited*
Person: Well, I don’t speak Swedish… my grandmother’s father’s brother was Swedish
Me: *faceplam* and slowly walk away… easiest way to explain the disappointment.”
“It can get really annoying when Americans agree that there are many ignorant Americans, but play themselves off as if they are not. Americans are really the harshest people to judge themselves. Usually, I don’t have to say much, but they will go on and on about how ignorant they are about the rest of the world (fair enough, I think)… They will then finish the conversation by asking me what the difference between Danish and Dutch is, Swedish and Swiss, is Dubai next to Sweden…”
Christian “Hans” Hvide, 21, senior
Majors: Finance and information systems
Countries and cultures I identify with: Singapore, Norway, United States (Caddo Native American)
“When you take a taxi or meet anyone older than you in Singapore it’s polite to call them uncle or auntie regardless of whether you know them or not. So, occasionally I’ll accidentally call someone uncle or auntie while out and about in Chicago.”
“[It’s frustrating when] everyone [assumes] Singapore is in China and that it is the third world. Singapore isn’t really like any other country in [South East] Asia. [On the other hand, it’s also frustrating when] people ask me if it is my first time in Asia when traveling back home. ”
Fiona Baqai, 21, senior
Major: Information systems
Minors: International studies and Spanish
Countries and cultures I identify with: Germany (Bavarian), Belgium (Flemish and Walloon), Austria, Japan, United states, Pakistan, Iran, Canada
“My closest friends also grew up in a very mobile [childhood]… It was always really nerve-wracking and sad when friends left. However, after some time you learn to adapt, and you almost become desensitized to saying goodbye to friends, … but this eventually does become a positive experience because you get to visit them in their new ‘home country,’ and those friendships still feel like no time has passed even after several years apart.”
Giovanna Giuriolo, 21, sophomore
Majors: History, international studies
Countries and cultures I identify with: Italy, Brazil, United States
“I feel Italian more than anything else because I grew up there and I was raised in an Italian family. Even though I was born in Brazil, I am and feel more Italian than any Italian you’ll ever meet. I feel a connection with Brazil because [it] is where I was born, and my ethnicity is Brazilian. I felt 100 percent Brazilian during the World Cup.”
Melissa Owen, 18, sophomore
Minors: Italian language and literature
Countries and cultures I identify with: Italy, Canada, Philippines, Ethiopia, Kenya
“I’m half Filipino and half Canadian, and the amount of people trying to guess where I’m from is endless. I’ve gotten Mexican, Colombian, Chinese, Italian, Vietnamese, etc. Most people in Canada think I’m Native American, and think my half brother (who is half white/half native) is Japanese. It used to bother me a lot, I felt white and wanted everyone to see me as white, but I just learned to deal with it and take it as a compliment. It wasn’t until I visited the Philippines last Christmas that I learned both my brother and I are “as white as the wall”
“I lived in Ethiopia for some time as a kid, where blackouts happened at least twice a day – they were so common that no one cared when they happened as the power would just come on eventually. One night during study hall in my boarding school, the power went out while I was doing my math homework, and without even skipping a beat I lit the candle on my desk and kept on working while four of my five flatmates ran around screaming, not knowing what to do. My other flatmate, who was from Kenya, walked in calmly and all she said was “White people…”
“It frustrates me when a lot of people feel sorry for me because I don’t see my parents all the time… [Living away from my parents from a young age actually] forced me to grow up fast, learn so much and meet lifelong friends.”
“Another annoying thing is that I don’t fit in anywhere. I look Asian. As I said before I didn’t fit into the Philippines at all. Everyone looked at me weird and tried to treat me like a princess just because I’m white. My personality is made up of Canadian, Italian and Filipino cultures – I identify mostly with Italy and Canada, but my summers in Canada prove that I am not Canadian. Not even a little bit. At all. But I’m still going to pretend. More than anything I feel Italian, but there’s nothing Italians hate more than a non-Italian pretending to be one, so I’m stuck there.”
Mercedes de Maria Genoveva Pedrero Setzer, 20, sophomore
Majors: Business management and marketing
Countries and cultures I identify with: Mexico, United States, Germany
“After living in the U.S. and Europe and not feeling identified with my Mexican culture, I called myself a child of the world for a while because I didn’t know where I belonged. Now I embrace my Mexican nationality but love that I got to experience other cultures too.”
“Since I have three names, I choose which one to introduce myself with depending on the country I’m in [and] language I’m speaking. Certain names are harder or easier depending on the place.”
Nikhil Sequeira, 19, freshman
Countries and cultures I identify with: United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Australia, Luxembourg, India
“Personally, it’s frustrating to carry an adapter for all my technological items. Also, [even though I get to live] in different countries and [am] able to see different parts of the world, being a TCK is a continuous challenge. It’s definitely great to be a world citizen, yet extremely tough to not be able to comfortably know where you’re from.”
“Almost every person I meet is so surprised I speak English when I tell them I’m from India, even though it’s an official language of India and is the only language I grew up speaking.”
“When I went to school in Luxembourg, my friends were convinced that I was Aboriginal because I was ‘Australian’ and have brown skin.”
Shanele Changoo, 19, sophomore
Countries and cultures I identify with: Caribbean (St. Lucia), United States, China, Italy
“During immigration at the airport, the woman at the desk asked me if I had a Chinese name, I simply replied with no, neither of my parents are from China. She responds, ‘Are you sure you don’t have a Chinese name?’ I found it quite entertaining that she was questioning my own name… All these variety of cultures I’ve been exposed to have shaped the kind of person I am today. I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Photos by Ellen Bauch
A Third Culture Kid is anyone who does not easily identify with one nation, culture or ethnicity because of a mobile childhood, constant exposure to different cultures through immersion schools or exchange programs, and having parents from distinct cultures and nations.
People who move to a different country other than that of their upbringing with the intent of permanently residing and naturalizing into that new country. Immigrant communities usually form a dual identity, such as Polish-American or Mexican-American. A TCK can be an immigrant, but not all immigrants are TCKs.
People whose parents come from different races. Defining the term multiracial can be complex because countries define race differently. A TCK can be multiracial, but not all multiracial people are TCKs.
People who temporarily or permanently reside in a country other than that of their upbringing. Expatriates do not have citizenship of the country where they reside. The term “TCK” was once exclusively used for children of expatriates who ended up adapting the culture of their host country.