Third Culture Kids

Third+Culture+Kids

The term “Third Culture Kid” was coined in the 1950s to describe children who were raised by their parents in a foreign society.

This term can also be used to describe a substantial population of international students. These students are often caught in a gray area, struggling to identify a definitive place as home.

Sayre’s explanation of home is “a place I go during summers and winters, and where my family lives.” He is amongst a population of people who appear as if they grew up in one culture, but live in another, and for him, this has often presented challenges. “People who move around a lot are not used to a set of cultural rules,” he said.

Sayre both experiences and observes the fact that sometimes it is difficult to be accepted by a culture when you are used to different norms.. “When I would go back to America [after living in Japan] I remember I would bow when I [bought] gum at Target,” he added.

As well as creating a cultural identity crisis, moving from place to place can lead to social differences and isolation. Tara Advaney (’15), who has lived in France, Holland and the U.K., has experienced this isolation. “In [the U.S.] people always say, ‘Your accent is so European,’ but when I’m here people ask, ‘Why is your accent so American?” she said.

Advaney has also noticed certain social barriers created by her constant movement. “If you stay in one environment for a long time, you really get to know the people around you, get closer to [the] environment and to being your true self,” she said. “But because I have moved, and been [immersed] in different people often, I can’t show my real self because that would be too time-consuming or difficult.”

While living in Peru, Katja Kukielski (’15), who has also lived in the U.S., Canada, and now the U.K, experienced similar problems. “I don’t think I ever felt Peruvian, I mean I was only there for a year. I was very isolated,” she said. Kukielski also believes that being so used to an American lifestyle prevented her from immersing herself into the Peruvian culture.

Many students have identified that home can be especially hard to place at ASL. Jack DeNoma (’16), was born in Kentucky and has since lived in Singapore, Taiwan, Pennsylvania and now the U.K. However, DeNoma does not view London as his home because of the environment he is immersed in at ASL. “I don’t view it as a home because many of the people here aren’t from London, they are [expatriates] and people who have moved around a lot,” he said.

Similarly, Sayre believes that the frequent movement of ASL students is fosters a different attitude. “I feel people who move around see the world in a different way,” he said. “I want to learn as much as I can, but I don’t feel I am as big a part of the ASL community.”

Counselor Stephanie Oliver underlines frequent movement as a problem in our community. “I think we could do a better job of really creating an inclusive community so that people feel very welcome,” she said. In comparison to other international schools, Oliver has learned from students that ASL has “more of a barrier” which makes it more difficult for new students to become integrated into the community.

For some students, like Caroline Dibble (’16), whose parent’s job has taken her across the globe, there are key factors that help new students assimilate into a community. For Dibble, who has lived in the U.S., Italy, Syria and the U.K., sports have been a constant in her life, and have made her feel more at home in the various places she has lived. “Being in your comfort zone makes you feel at home,” she said. “For me, it’s definitely sports and especially soccer, that have helped to make me feel more comfortable.”

Making connections has been a large part of Dibble’s movement from country to country: creating friendships add to her definition of home. “Home is wherever my friends and family are. I was born in [Washington] D.C. so I consider that a home, but I have friends in Rome and London so they are homes for me as well,” she said.

Kukielski agreed that creating relationships is a defining factor that shapes the places she considers home. One such place for Kukielski is her summer camp, mainly because of the friends she has there. “I feel equally as comfortable and equally as safe and at home [at camp] as I do here,” she said.

When Kukielski moves to a new place it does not feel like home until she makes friends. “I didn’t consider [camp] my home, but when you make friends you become closer with those friends than you do with your friends from the other place,” she said.

However, if students struggle to find their niche and to feel more comfortable in a new environment, it can be disorienting. “If someone can’t identify a sense of community then I think it can leave a hole in them,” Oliver said. “But that does not mean that a person who travels around a lot can’t feel complete in a new community or can’t feel like a past community is [their home].”

Oliver believes one of the most harmful situations for someone’s identity is when they relocate, knowing they will only live in the new country for one year, before moving on again. “If you know you’re only going to be there for a year, you can say, ‘Well, I’m moving here for one year so I don’t care what people think of me, I don’t care if I make friends,’” she said. “You’re setting yourself up for failure.” Oliver is a strong proponent of “making connections” to help avoid this attitude.

As highlighted by Dibble and Oliver, it is connections that often act as home for those who live in ambiguity. Although having a clear definition of home is not seen as that important by Advaney, she believes in living in the moment and embracing the situation at hand. However, she also acknowledged that some can struggle with their identity. “I think a lot of people associate their home with their identity and you can be lost as a person if you don’t know where your home is,” she said.

Kukielski, who has tri-citizenship from the U.S., Canada, and the U.K., was just 2-years-old when she moved from the U.S to Peru. A year later she moved to Canada where she spent her early childhood. Although inwardly confused about which nation to call her home, Kukielski adamantly defined herself as an American to her Canadian friends. “I didn’t know that much about America and I had barely lived there, but I just thought it was cool to be from somewhere else,” she said. “I would always just be like no, I’m American, I don’t need to sing this national anthem, I’m not from here.”

However, after seven years in Canada, Kukielski moved to the U.K. where she has been ever since. In London, her definition of home changed yet again, leaving her in a state of confusion that has continued to plague her and many other third culture kids. “Initially I was really adamant that I was Canadian just because everyone here was American,” she said. “But now I don’t really know. I am sort of in the middle.”

zack_longboy@asl.org

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