Home from the perspective of third culture kids

Many consider “home” four walls and a roof; the place where one grows up and lives. But, what happens when you spend your childhood in different countries? Each place leaves its imprint on you, creating an emotional bond between you and that locality, making it impossible to identify a single place as your “home”, as you associate certain stages of your life with the locations where you have lived them. 

What is the “the third culture”?

Generally, children who grow up in this situation are known as “third culture kids”.

Being a cosmopolitan person, I find it almost impossible to answer a simple question such as “what do you consider your home”. Born in Barcelona; Hong Kong has been my city of residence for the last five years, but before that it was Shanghai. 

Having lived in three different cities makes you realise that home is much more than just walls and a roof. Home is where your loved ones are and where your happiness is at its maximum splendour. Nevertheless, this brings us back to the initial problem:  when you grow up as an international child, you end up having loved ones on every continent in the world. 

Unlike Barcelona – my city of birth; Hong Kong and Shanghai are transit cities, in schools it is not unusual to have friends come and go; which consequently leads local people to refer to us as “third culture kids”. As having spent so many years away from your home country and in different places, we cannot fully identify with a single culture. 

While belonging to the third culture community has great advantages such as being more adaptable, accepting change more easily and speaking more than one language. The biggest disadvantage is that when you return to your “home country”, you realise that you are different from the people there and you will never fully and completely identify as part of that culture. This is something that I personally have not experienced yet, however having interviewed my high school classmates, the most common response was that they experienced a cultural shock when they returned to their home country to pursue their tertiary education. Which made it difficult to adopt a culture that they once thought to be their own.

Cultural Shocks

According to some Hong Kong locals, we, the third culture kids are too Westernised to be part of the Asian culture – even if someone has lived here their entire life. This perspective contributes to the fact that most young people that have grown up in Hong Kong cannot identify with one culture because, having grown up in Asia, they have adopted some of the mannerisms of the Asian culture; leaving them in limbo between East and West. This void gives place to the creation of the international culture, one which represents all children who cannot identify with a single one. On the other hand, locals who have attended international schools and have grown up in the same environment as expatriate children can also find themselves in the same situation as the rest of the international students: having an identity crisis due to a lack of a sense of belonging. That is, until they realise that everyone else around them also shares the same sentiment; making way for the creation of the international community. This shows that it is also possible to experience the third culture phenomenon without necessarily having to leave one’s country.

Citizens of the world:

From the perspective of a young person who belongs to the third culture community, I can identify home as “anywhere and nowhere”. Third culture kids are citizens of this world, rather than of a particular country; and that is the beauty of international culture. Home is everywhere, Hong Kong is my home, Shanghai is my home, and Barcelona is also my home. Being a citizen of the world guarantees that no matter where you go, you will always feel at home and that is the biggest advantage of being a third culture kid.

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