“Third culture kid (TCK) is a term used to refer to children who were raised in a culture outside of their parents’ culture for a significant part of their development years.”
When meeting new people especially while traveling, one of the most common questions being thrown around is usually about where you’re from. It’s easy, it’s inviting, and it’s a basic information people don’t mind sharing to strangers. I, on the other hand dread the hell out of this question the most. It’s not because I think it’s unsubstantial, because as generic as it is, it’s a pretty essential piece of information that could be vital to someone’s identity. And THAT is exactly why I find it difficult to answer.
I’m Filipino by birth certificate (natural born citizen), Spanish by last name (thanks to the colonial history of the Philippines…and well, my ancestors are pretty OG Spaniards too), American by accent (raised in the US), but my heart and soul is scattered everywhere else. I’ve lived in different cities, but never long enough in one spot for me to call it home. I could simply tell someone I’m from the Philippines, especially now that I’ve lived here long enough since returning, but that tends to be confusing to some not only because of my accent, but apparently, my disposition and the way I carry myself just doesn’t clarify that I’m originally from here. To be fair, growing up in the States in a multi-cultural household was bound to give me a westernized state of mind which is completely different from the traditional Filipino culture.
During my teenage years, you know, the hating the world phase we all went through, I resented the idea that I had to succumb to a culture other than my own. Everyone was all about asian pride at that time, and because I have a multi-cultural family, I couldn’t really properly represent. Fast forward to many years and little did I know that I have already been molded based on every culture I was exposed to whether I liked it or not. Having grown up of course, I’m not only laughing at myself, but I’m also a little annoyed that I was so dumb and close-minded to reject such a cool concept of being multi-cultural.
It wasn’t easy coming back to the Philippines to study. In fact, adjusting back to this culture was a lot harder than it was for me to adapt in America. But I guess it was easier then because those were my developmental years so my acculturation just happened very smoothly and I adapted to the western values like they were my own. Naturally, coming back here with an already established set of values and beliefs was bound to take me on the biggest culture shock. Culture shock may even be an understatement. Because to be completely honest, I don’t feel like I belong here at all. And it got me wondering, where exactly did I belong? Home wasn’t Vegas, and neither are those other cities I lived in. So where is it exactly?
Stepping out of my comfort zone was the first step I took to embrace a life full of experience and to gain a larger perspective. That means not only accepting the new culture I’m now forced to get to know, but to also learn and understand every bit of it. Why do they eat this way, and why do they joke like that? Why believe a certain thing when clearly it doesn’t make sense? Many of the things I’ve learned, of course, I do not agree with. But that doesn’t mean it’ll stop me from wanting to learn more about the culture.
I like to believe the idea that there is at least ONE thing you can learn from anyone that crosses your path. Being here, I’ve met so many people from different groups– the rich ones, the middle class, the foreigners, the expats, the poorer than poor, etc. But, guess who I learned a lot from? Yup, the ones outside my own social class. Sure, it’s always easier to let the conversation flow with my friends who are also from the states and are studying in the Philippines. However, the most life changing talks were mostly with those that I had nothing in common with. Some from a completely different age group, others with those who speak zero english. And more often than not, they were with strangers.
So back to being a third culture kid and not knowing where I’m really from, I guess it’s safe to say that I prefer it this way. I prefer not having one location to call home, because in all honesty, I feel more at home when I’m moving around. I no longer envy the idea of having one city to define who I am as a person, because building a personality based on moving around so much is just as sentimental. I’m okay that I don’t fully agree with some of the concepts of the cultures I was brought in. It just makes me want to travel and learn more about the other cultures I know nothing about yet. And most importantly, I’m absolutely okay not belonging anywhere. My cosmopolitan heart feels more at ease that way.