Have you ever heard of the term “Third Culture Kid”?
American sociologist, David Pollock defines Third Culture Kid (TCK, or 3CK) as “a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any… Lacks a sense of where home is but often nationalistic.”
Urban Dictionary: Third Culture Kids are often multilingual, very accepting and understanding of other cultures and good at adapting to new environments.
While I don’t fit into the formal definition of a TCK by Pollock and am probably closer to Urban Dic’s desciption, of late, I’ve been struggling with where I call home.
Born and raised in Singapore, and completely Chinese, I wouldn’t say I’ve had the most traditionally Asian of upbringing. Apart from Chinese New Year and Christmas, my parents have never been big on customs or traditions. At home, English was the primary language of choice with occasional dashes of Cantonese thrown in. Mandarin was hardly spoken. Fork and spoon were used in place of chopsticks and my TV diet consisted mainly of Sesame Street, Care Bears and Smurfs. As kids, we also travelled frequently, so my brother and I were exposed to a multitude of cities and cultures at a young age. Additionally, Singapore, by default, is a multi-racial society, where English is taught as the first language in school. Therefore, exposure to a somewhat western kind of world was inculcated from young.
When it came to higher education, I didn’t want a “predictable” education in a “predictable” environment. Instead, I opted to finish my Bachelor’s in Australia after one semester at the local university. Even though I hadn’t been to Sydney before, I still remember vividly the sense of exhilaration and excitement of the unknown that filled me when I first set foot at the airport.
Armed with a degree in Marketing and Economics, I returned to Singapore kicking and screaming. My life of freedom and adventure was only just beginning. But I had to do the right thing, and it was to go home and pay my dues. I landed a job in advertising, which I thrived on, because the international culture made for a diverse working environment that allowed me to meet people from various backgrounds and cities. But that sensibility didn’t last long. Five years later, restlessness seeped in and I took off again. This time, it was New York with my then boyfriend now husband, in search of new adventures and experiences.
But what hit home (pun intended) was a recent visit to Singapore. While my physical self was in Singapore, my head space was in the empire state of mind. I was restless. I was in limbo. Truth is, I was neither here nor there. Friends from New York who asked when I was coming “home” felt momentarily strange, but weirdly satisfying at the same time.
Let me be clear that I have and will always identify myself as Singaporean. Singapore is where my family and close friends are. It is where I’m from. But ask me if New York is home, and I’d be inclined to say yes. We have a good base of like-minded friends here who are also transplants. We share many similar world views and experiences on most matters. We have an apartment and a good living space here. Our gym is no more than a minute away. Our favourite shops and cafes are down the block. All of our life’s conveniences and comforts are right here in New York.
Perhaps it is always this outwardly perspective and subconscious need for new experiences that fuel my inner wanderlust. Thankfully, the hubs, a true TCK himself (New Zealander, Kenya-born, Asia-raised and now New York-based), revels in this nomadic view with me.
Who knows where the next pit stop will be? Ask, and most likely our response will be “We’ll see.” 😉