Fitting In… Finding Your Way Across Cultures

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?

Happy Otherness!


7 thoughts on “Fitting In… Finding Your Way Across Cultures

  1. 1. I still think Jr bean has a slight Arabic accent. Time will tell. But he also is truly good at Arabic, no problem, huh!!!!
    2. Almost as important as appearing to belong where you are even with the heritage, is the ability to get along with people without being defensive about where you are from. I grew up in the south. At the time that Civil Rights was breaking hard in the south, I was sometimes embarrassed to travel in a car with an Alabama tag. It made me be not as friendly when out of the region, thinking everyone was looking and saying “Look at that person from there. They are really redneck (etc.)” So that can affect that fitting in as well!

    • Interesting perspective, Mimi. Shelby thanks. Having a number of friends whose kids fit the TCK mold to a T, I definitely get the challenges and think that many are still valid. At least, if you aren’t keeping them in an international bubble in your new home. Mind you, our bubble is much more international than many, but we do have the kids at local schools. In that way, they can stand out and could, depending on personality, have real trouble fitting in. Hope things are going well in Tbilisi ;).

  2. You know how you come across a post on a blog that hits you at just the right time? This was that for me. Thank you! While we didn’t move to Jordan as was one of the potential options (thank you again for your wonderful insights and thoughts on what life could be like there!) and as I’m sitting in my new home in Tbilisi still in the very early settling in days, I’ve been seeing post after post and article after article on TCK. In fact, so much so, that I even purchased a book and gave it a read so that I could be better informed as I look at my children (who fit the definition of TCK). You know, I think some of your shared observations are very accurate. Time will tell, but I must say I’m not really seeing or buying into the behaviors and the feelings that TCK are described with. Perhaps as our world grows more globally aware and it becomes more natural for children to be in tune with what is happening outside of their own home town, the traits that seem to be negatively associated with TCK’s will seem to not make the sense that they once did. (Love your new blog ‘home’ by the way and glad to now be getting a bit settled and have time to browse/read your stories again….) 🙂

  3. May the benefits of multi-cultural living, loving them well, always be the signature of your kids lives. But for those who do struggle, I just got this email from an author on the subject, concerning a conference to research the topic:

    “These young people are part of the “new normal” in today’s globalizing world. Unlike those of past generations who grew up in monocultural environments, these young people interact with two or more different cultural worlds during their developmental years.

    “Sociologists, anthropologists, educators, psychologists, and other academicians often study these groups as distinct entities. Today’s changing world brings up new questions: are there common themes these researchers are finding among children who have been raised cross-culturally for any reason? What about those growing up in multiple cross-cultural categories at the same time? How does this growing cultural complexity factor into today’s research?

    “This symposium will offer an opportunity for researchers and practitioners to explore these questions through presentations, panels, a short film, and small group discussions. Finally, participants will identify potential research needed to explore how growing up cross-culturally is impacting children from all backgrounds.

    “We invite all interested people to come, particularly academicians and practitioners in the fields of sociology, anthropology, psychology, education, child and adolescent development, and intercultural studies. Also those involved with immigrants, refugees, minorities, ethnicities, expatriates, international adoptees and other related areas, are welcome.

    • How interesting. And what a bonus that they’re really starting to look at this in a more global and modern context. I can’t wait to see what the figure out!

  4. I believe the challenges your kids might face, if handled well, can only make them more open-minded and mature. Challenges breed growth, afterall. All the best luck.

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