“Home” is defined as a household. A family unit. A place where one lives. For third-culture-kids, these are things that fluctuate constantly. We jump from country to country and are exposed to many different cultures. How are we supposed to label one specific place that represents our cultural identity?
The abundance of cultural diversity in the lives of TCKs, while wonderful, also restricts their ability to identify with a single place, culture or ethnicity. It’s not necessary to have lived in six different countries to be considered a TCK. All it means is that you have lived in and cultivated most of your beliefs from a place outside of your parents’ culture. TCKs have different ideas and cultures instilled in them. They know people from all over the world, they break social barriers, they understand and perceive the world openly.
Most TCKs don’t have an answer to the question, “Where are you from?” Or rather, they have to differentiate between that and the question, “Where is home?” Identity crisis is one of our biggest problems, and while we may not acknowledge it completely, it exists for most of us. I have always been clear that I’m Indian. I have an American passport, and I’ve never lived in India. But it is the origin of both my parents, and it is the culture they have instilled in me.
Because we are rootless and because our perception of home and identity is ever fluctuating, our ability to be bound to something concrete is lacking. That doesn’t mean many third-culture-kids don’t have homes – it just means some of us more than others have struggled with this gap in our identity.
There are, of course, remarkable benefits to being a TCK. Those haven’t been overlooked, they will always be there. I could talk about how open we are to the world, to people, to breaking social barriers. But that doesn’t change the fact that we feel like we are drifting without anything to grasp on to. This is what I will always carry with me, and no amount of cultural diversity can make up for the fact that I don’t have a place of belonging.
I grew up thinking that my home was where I live. That it meant my 5th floor apartment near the East River in New York City. That, after I moved across the globe, it meant Singapore. But I then realized that the idea of home can’t be something forced. It can’t be something systematic, something that can be proven with a signed lease.
I then reached age 14 and began to see home in a different light. It isn’t just a place to live, but it’s a feeling of belonging. And realizing that difference is one of the biggest moments in a TCK’s life. If home meant the latter, our homes would constantly be changing. For people like us, it’s important to find an alternate meaning in the word “home”.
“I think wherever my parents were was home,” said dance teacher Tracy Van der Linden. “As a kid that moves around a lot, I think you always have two homes. Home was a different country for me every year of college, because my parents moved every year. Even now, I’m going home to Australia, but I’m always coming home to Singapore.”
So home can be anything. It can be a state of mind, it can be a person, it can be a song, maybe a sport. “I think it’s people that ground you,” said Ms. Van der Linden. It can’t just be a single physical space – it can, but it’s hard to find. For TCKs, home should be a feeling. Something that reminds us of who we are. That’s how we will find a place for ourselves in the crazy world of fluctuating cultures that we live in.