The worst question that anyone can ask me is “where are you from?” or “where is home for you?” These are loaded questions that never seem to have a brief answer no matter how hard I try to give one. The time it takes to define and proverbially word vomit my entire life history in a span of a few seconds to someone asking a simple question is exhausting. In the last year I have come to find that I am not the only one with a fearful condition of being asked these questions. I discovered thanks to my wife a book that has helped me work through answering this question internally and externally to those I am in community with. Actually, what is really neat is there is an entire community of people all over the world who share in this same misery.
David Pollack and Ruth E. Van Reken published a book entitled “Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds”. After reading this book I came to understand a subculture of wandering nomads that I now subscribe to and maybe you do now too called: Third Culture Kids.
So what is a “Third Culture Kid”? by definition Pollack describes a TCK as child who was raised in a culture outside of their parents’ culture for a significant part of their development years. Ultimately, your parents home culture is defined as the “first culture”. The host country, state or territory where you are being raised outside of your parents home culture becomes the “second culture”. Then the shared lifestyle of merging your home and your host country together is known as the interstitial culture or your “third culture”.
According to Pollack and Van Reken there are many types of TCKs from many different categories and they’re not all defined as children. One can meet the criteria in so many ways as a foreign service kid, military brat, corporate brat, or a missionary kid. Chances are if you are a TCK or a TCA (adult version sometimes called ATCK) you fall within one of those four models. Within these four models, an individual can add on even more complexity by the way they immerse themselves into their current host culture. Typically TCK’s are Chameleons, Screamers or Wallflowers.
Chameleons are those who try to find a “same as” identity. They hide their time lived in other places and try to conform externally through clothes, language, or attitudes to whatever environment they are in.
Screamers are those who try to find a “different from” identity. They will let other people around them know that they are different and have no plans to assimilate.
Wallflowers are those who try to find a “nonidentity”. Rather that risk being exposed as someone who doesn’t know the local culture rules, they prefer to sit on the sidelines and watch, at least for an extended amount of time before they participate.
Erin has assured me that I am a chameleon and I can’t say I disagree either. This explains the pain I must endure whenever someone asks me where I’m from. On the outside it forces me to break the illusion that I am from the host culture. Once the question has been answered my camouflage fails and I am being seen for the first time. I begin to feel like an outsider exposed to all within the host culture as if they are saying “You don’t belong”.
In recent times I have begun to understand and adapt to this awkward exchange and come to terms with the fact that home is not a physical place. If you are reading this and feel the same whenever someone ask you where home is, then I strongly recommend you buy the book with an embedded link above. So the next time you ask someone where home is make sure you give us TCKers a little grace when we answer….That question is the worst.