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Life as a Third Culture Kid (TCK)

A Linden Series on Teen Perspectives & Experiences

By Sophia Grand

When I hear adults talking about TCKs or "Third Culture Kids", often the conversation revolves around the difficulty of kids leaving and finding new friends, or going to a new, scarier place. For me personally, neither of these things have ever been much of a struggle.

I have moved 6 times in 17 years and each time it gets easier for me. I find myself repeating patterns of finding people, making friends and getting into the rhythm of my new home.

New places don’t feel scary anymore, they feel like an opportunity. New people seem more like friends than strangers. I’ve learned to create relationships with family continents away. Third culture kids are incredible at adapting to new situations and environments that arise in their lives, without ever having a say so.

Where I (and others) struggle is different. I often find myself feeling lost and confused. I’m too American to be French, too French to be American, and rejected by some Germans as a foreigner. Even though I am surrounded by like-minded friends and an accepting school community, I find myself feeling lost, without a community of my own. When I speak about my culture or places I have lived, I am dismissed as "less than". I never want to speak French around my peers because I’m told it’s pretentious. People tell me how Americans act, how Americans think, and what it means to be American. I can never be enough, a whole individual with more than one defining culture.

The phrase I hear the most often is “You’re only half”.

I have also used this phrase in the past in describing myself and others, but stopped when I watched a TedTalk by Jassa Ahluwalia. In this TEDTalk, Jassa talks about mixed heritage casting, and how one aspect of his heritage often outweighs the other. He speaks on the word “half”, and its implications of being less than a whole. I had never thought of that before: I am fully American and also fully French. Typically, because of my accent, I am thought of primarily as American before French. If I try to speak about my culture or family, people laugh, or tell me to stop putting on an accent because it’s pompous.

I think it’s difficult for a lot of kids with mixed cultures, trying to explain their own internalized confusion, even without the pressures of others trying to tell them who they are.

I’m trying to work on telling myself and others that I am enough, that my opinion is valid, and that my identity is my own to create. I think that it’s incredibly important to teach young kids their heritage, to show them that they can have multiple cultures, and each one is just as valid as the other. Culture and heritage shape the very essence of who we are, and as such, change as we do.

The same way we learn our parents' cultures, we form our own. A culture that isn’t half of one, or the other, but both.

Sophie interned at Linden Global Learning. She is currently in 12th grade and dreams of becoming a marine biologist one day.

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