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The life of a Third Culture Kid

I was 5 years old when I first moved, and whilst I remember very little of the move itself, crossing countries in the search of a new home is an incredibly familiar feeling.


Since then, I have lived in 6 places across Europe and have called 12 houses my home. 

 

Moving has become part of my identity. Through it, I have accumulated languages, cultures, and ways of living, and today, at 23, I see myself as a diary of experiences. I am, as they say, a ‘Third Culture Kid’.


Being “the friend that always moves” is part of my identity. There is something so freeing about never being attached.

 

I believe that being an expat is an opportunity that not many are lucky enough to experience. However, the truth is, it’s a very two-faced experience.

 

The thrill of being knee deep in boxes and ready for new adventures, is a familiar feeling that I often chased. Whilst many people fear change and live the ‘small town life’, I could never understand the commitment. In my mind, it came hand-in-hand with boredom and a sea of deja-vues. I have family that never left the street they grew up on, and friends who moved back home after their studies. Yet, whilst growing up, I often found myself thinking about my next discovery, the next place I would call home. And to this day, I still remember asking my parents about the details of our next move, once everything started becoming a little too familiar.

 

On one hand, being a TCK (Third Culture Kid) means that new experiences and adventures always await you. It’s a great time for personal growth. Kids like me often grow up studying at international schools, where we make lifelong friends that understand the feeling of not really belonging anywhere, and who are all part of that narrative. It’s at international schools that the campus becomes a little island of likeminded individuals who create a community without attachment. People come and go, and at the end of the day, everyone is welcome to our safe space. It’s actually because of the other TCK’s I met, that my mind has developed in a unique way.


Today, I still mostly listen to German songs, I still do my multiplications table rhymes in Italian, I talk to myself in English, and I mostly dream in French. This is quite a common phenomenon for international kids, as we are not bound to a specific culture, or language. Some of us even use a multitude of languages to express ourselves differently. For example, I tend to use the German language when I am describing something that has upset me, whereas I am more likely to use French words when I am happy. This has nothing to do with my upbringing, and rather to do with the fact that some languages are more emotional and expressive than others, so we use them differently, to fully express our range of emotions.

 

Just like the various languages I speak; I like to believe that my playlists are the perfect representation of who I am. The blend of cultures, emotions, and thoughts portray my passport of experiences, which give me a great advantage at winning the in geography-category at trivia nights!


On the other hand, however, being a TCK can be really challenging. The feeling that you never really belong anywhere is a hard one to overcome. This feeling can take various forms, but for me it went a little like this: in Switzerland, I never felt Swiss enough because I couldn’t speak the jargon, in France I didn’t fully resonate with the lifestyle; Germany felt like my home, but I am not German. And Italy has always been somewhere in-between.

 

Similar to what Kristi Ferguson wrote in her article, I have experienced the dilemma of ‘becoming one with the host country’, and share Camila Ribiero’s anxiety of losing a mother tongue. With this also comes culture shock and cultural identity. Many TCKs, like myself, don’t feel like they belong to one single group, and we often find ourselves performing balancing acts between what we know best, making us internalise a new identity. In all this change, the mundane daily routines can start becoming desirable again and I have often found myself clinging on to very specific things that remind me of where I last was, maybe in the form of food, like a perfectly baked loaf of bread or songs that bring memories back to life. Think about your favourite bakery, maybe a cafe you go to often, that park you love to walk through. Having to build a new life at every move can be incredibly daunting and takes a lot of effort. It’s often overwhelming to create a new routine, find new hangout spots and meet new people.

 

The never-ending goodbyes and the guilt of ‘being the one that left’ can make the overseas life a challenging one at times, as there are moments I wish I didn’t have to feel emotions as strongly as I do.


The bittersweet feeling of an airport goodbye is a sensation I know all too well. Excited for my friends to greet me on the other side, but sad about the current “goodbye” of missing milestones and watching your siblings move on and grow older without you.

I am lucky enough to have been able to spread my wings, but part of being a TCK is living with the tiniest bit of guilt, hoping parents, grandparents and cousins don’t blame you for missing family events and holiday meet-ups, and letting them know that you are always just a FaceTime away.

 

There are also some repercussions that come with moving so often. Lately, I have been asking myself questions like: where will I live next? What language will I speak to my children? What lifestyle will I teach them? What cultural traditions will I follow? And, after all the anxiety that comes with making these decisions, my answer often lands on: “The ones I choose to”; and I hope it will make a beautiful blend.

 

So, all in all, where is home? Well, I like to think that home is where you belong and where you feel comfortable enough to be your true self.  So, for me, I choose to belong with my family, with my friends, and with my partner. I might not have a long-term place to call home just yet, but I have a great entourage, and to me that’s just as meaningful as an old building, because at the end of the day… they are all my versions of 'home'.


So home or no home, I belong with the people that make my life a great one.

 

“Home, the story of who we are and a collection of all that we love” - Nate Berkus


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