expat kids identity questions

But Mummy! Where Am I From?

Author: Dominique Lummus

When he was six years old my son asked me, “Mummy, where do I come from?” and instead of reaching for the anatomy book, I pulled out the atlas instead. I knew his question was triggered by the school’s impending international day and not by the birds or the bees. “Well,” I explained, “I’m half Irish and half Italian, your Daddy is English and you and your sister were born here in Dubai.”

“Yes OK Mummy, but where am I from?”

My son is part of an increasing community of nomadic kids who are growing up internationally. Some child psychologists refer to such children as third-culture kids, or TCKs for short. The official definition of a TCK, also known as Trans-Culture Kid, is "an individual who, having spent a significant part of the developmental years in a culture other than the parents' culture, develops a sense of relationship to all of the cultures while not having full ownership in any. Elements from each culture are incorporated into the life experience, but the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar experience."

TCKs are usually the children of diplomats, military personnel, journalists, aid workers, academics or business executives who are being raised in a culture that lies somewhere between their parents’ native one (the first culture) and that of the country where they are living (the second culture). Many TCKs live in privileged situations, with subsidized housing and private schooling and this usually creates a space between them and the neighbourhood’s children. As a result, TCKs tend to integrate well with each other, but never fully penetrate the local culture.

Unlike immigrant children, TCKs know that their parents have no intention of staying long in the host nation and are therefore aware of their transience. Most even know precisely the time remaining on their parent’s contracts and whether these will be renewed. TCKs therefore don’t put roots down in a country, but in people and are attracted to, and easily form relationships with, others who have a similar experience.

Forging an identity when you are growing up in such circumstances can be quite complicated. When you ask expat children where they are from, they usually answer with a question, or several of them. “Do you mean where I was born or where I live now? Or do you mean where my parents are from or where my passport is from?”

Experts believe that a TCK cannot become or change back into a monocultural person. Parents of TCKs can return ‘home’ to their country of origin, but the children, enhanced by having shared life in their formative years with another people, will find the characteristics of many cultures in their very being. Acceptance of this fact frees TCKs to be uniquely themselves.

A website dedicated to helping TCKs and their parents states that, despite their lack of a ‘conventional’ background, TCKs are among the most adaptable, compassionate group of people around, but that parents are critical to helping them feel grounded. So, what can parents do to help? Tckinteract.net advises the following:-

ü Accept your TCK for who he or she is. Recognize that by your choice of career and location, you have made your child a TCK. Know that this is a good thing, and the benefits are numerous.

ü Understand that your child’s culture will be a Third Culture. Both you and your TCK will be frustrated if you attempt to make your TCK as American or German or English as you are.

ü Accept and embrace your child’s TCK experience. Help your child appreciate his or her passport culture but also the host culture(s).

Steven Rudder, an ex-TCK says, “Third Culture can be confused with multicultural and bicultural - but shouldn't. Multicultural is when somebody has been influenced by more than two cultures and uses parts of those cultures together. Bicultural is the same as multicultural, except the influence is from only two cultures. Both of these are very different from Third Culture. Third Culture is when a child and it has to be a child, lives in several foreign cultures. As TCKs grow up, they adapt and blend with one culture after another to the point where they have seen so many differences, that differences don’t matter any more, and what becomes most important are the similarities.”

TCKs are increasingly finding comfort in numbers. Global changes, an increase in humanitarian/aid programs, the growth of multinational corporations, larger embassy staff and ongoing military activity - are steadily increasing the number of expatriate families.

TCKs are truly exceptional individuals who bring valuable talents and insights to a world attempting to manage diversity peacefully.

Article Source: http://www.articlesbase.com/parenting-articles/but-mummy-where-am-i-from-493906.html

About the Author:

Dominique has been writing for over a decade and contributes to various newspapers and magazines worldwide as well as online.

Dominique, who is an Anglo-Italian hybrid, has lived in Italy, England, the USA and spent twelve years in Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates before emigrating to Australia in 2002.

She lives with her architect husband Bryn and their two teenage children and thoroughly enjoys her life Down Under in their home among the gum trees.

Writing, the Internet, travel and the theatre are all pursuits that bring her joy while her dislikes include cruelty, offal, rudeness and all of Australia’s deadly fauna!

Dominique's quirky blog can be found at www.pomsinoz.blogspot.com.

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