So, a friend loaned me a back issue of JO magazine and I came across a very interesting article. It talks about Third Culture Kids (read it here). These are kids who grow up outside of Mom and Dad’s culture, but not exactly within the culture where they are living either. Imagine Mom and Dad move from the US to Africa for work. These kids grow up outside of the US, but not wholly a part of their adopted home’s culture. As you can imagine, this creates unique types of tension and different problems than those faces by kids in their parent’s home culture. It also can create a feeling of not belonging anywhere.
Looking at it, the Beans can’t be called TCKs. After all, although they are being raised outside of my home culture, they’re being raised in El 3atal’s home culture. So while they aren’t wholly American, they also aren’t wholly Jordanian. They’re that beautiful blend. Seeing the article got me thinking about the TCK situation and about the Beans and some of their friends. And so, I’m wondering… does being raised as a TCK or a MCK (multi culture kid) necessarily leave you feeling the outsider?
One of my college roommates provides an interesting example here. She was one of those very odd TCKs that spent half her life in the third culture. You’re thinking (yes, I know you are) that such a situation isn’t very odd. But hers was. She spent years 1-6 in her parent’s home culture. She spent years 6-12 in little old Alabama. She went back to Mom and Dad’s home for years 12-18 and then returned to the US for college. Finally, she went back to Mom and Dad’s home for law school and then tot he US for law school. And you know what? Somehow this strange hybrid bred a young lady who was wholly of both cultures. As nearly unimaginable as it seems from my perspective now, she spoke English like an American (truly and wholly unaccented). She understood American cultural references. She fit in easily and well with Americans. She was American, just like the rest of us. And yet, she fit in just as easily and completely with people from her parent’s home. Her language skills there were unaccented and her cultural references worked. Rather than always being an outsider, she was always an insider.
I found myself wondering, is it the language? I mean, the US is made up of so many different people from so many different places that if you speak unaccented English, we just consider you “American American.” Take my best friend in high school… her folks were both Chinese. She sounded like a Valley Girl (like, you know, for real). Although Chinese was her home language, no one would assume she wasn’t American in any way. Or my dear friend here who was raised in California. She sounds like your average American. I think of her as American American, even though both her parents are from here. So, is it an accent thing? In some ways, both of these gals were fully American, but not fully of mom and dad’s home. Maybe that’s how the Beans will be. We have them in Arabic education and want them to really understand and be able to function in Arabic. But still, the English wins out. They look and sound like little American kids. So, I wonder, will they fit in here in what is not a third culture, but is a different one?
I also wonder how their relates to El 3atal and me? I mean, I grew up in a very conservative Southern city as a bit of a misfit. I had a single mom at a time when that as unheard of. We didn’t have money in a place where family legacy and cash were king. I never really fit in exactly, but I found my own way. I had friends. I was different, but managed to find the different kids like me. El 3atal was Western in outlook. He loved American movies, he loved American slang. He simply wasn’t very Amman. He had many, many friends, but always had something of the other about him. So I wonder, does that mean my kids will find their way even as the other?
I can’t help but hope that my finding a group of like-minded, like-lived friends helps them see that being the other doesn’t mean you have to do it alone or be lonely. But, I do wonder, how are the issues of MCKs different than those of TCKs? Perhaps that would be an interesting anthropological experiment?