You may have just read the title of my blog and thought to yourself… what on earth is a TCK? Well, for those of you who don’t know, TCKs are Third Culture Kids. TCKs by definition are kids who grow up in a culture other than the culture of their own parents (eg: a Japanese kid who lives in China; an American high schooler raised in various countries in Asia). I just want to give you a glimpse into who I serve at the school I teach at. Every single one of my students are TCKs. They are all kids from various countries, being raised in China, who move frequently to places outside of the culture their parents were born into. Being a TCK is incredibly challenging and my experience with them has taught me so much. I’ve been exposed to TCKs for longer than most people, which has been a blessing as I’ve gone through this first year of teaching.
My first exposure to TCKs came as a young child… actually, as a baby. One of the first pairs of hands that held me was a TCK that grew up into a TCA (Third Culture Adult). My dad was born in Saigon, Vietnam and lived abroad with his family as an MK. He went to a boarding school for part of his schooling years and lived in both Vietnam and Hong Kong. He then moved to the United States for college and then took a job in South Dakota where he met my mom and I guess the rest is history. I never really understood my dad to a major extent until I traveled abroad with him to Russia between my sophomore and junior year of high school. It was there I saw a totally different side of my dad… and I began to understand a bit of what a TCK is.
I moved to college and befriended a girl in my first class of my freshman year — Critical Thinking and Writing. We bonded over the difficulty of the class and over the fact that she had grown up near where my dad had lived. Carissa is a TCK-now a TCA, and someone who helped open my eyes to what struggles TCKs face. Several of my friends from college were TCKs who grew up in places far from the state of Minnesota where we all went to school. I soon realized that TCKs saw the world differently than I did, but in some ways, I had an advantage. Being raised by a TCK-TCA had given me more of a global perspective on the world.
When I went to visit Carissa and her family in Hong Kong over Christmas break this past year, I got to explore a bit of Hong Kong and where my dad lived for a few years of his life. He excitedly told me all the places I needed to find and visit. I walked the paths he walked over 25 years ago. I found the church my grandparents pastored in. I found the apartment complex my dad lived in and the site of the old home my dad used to live in. I rode the Number 6 bus to Stanley Market and hopped off to enjoy the view at Repulse Bay. For me, I caught a glimpse into the world my dad grew up in and I began to understand my dad and the world he lived in long ago. In reality, I also caught a glimpse of the world Carissa grew up in for a few years.
For TCKs, home is not a location. I remember having a conversation with Carissa about what the word “home” meant to her. “Where are you from?” is the most dreaded question of any TCK. It’s a confusing convoluted question. Home could be where mom and dad were living at the time. Home could be where their roots were planted at the time. Home could be Japan, Korea, Australia, or any of their assorted passport countries. For some, “home is where the heart is” makes more sense than home being an actual place. For my friend Carissa, “home is where the heart is” doesn’t always work, because her heart has been left in so many places. For my dad, he’s been rooted in the middle of the United States for the last 20-some odd years, so home now is connected to a place and a family.
For TCKs, the question of who they are is also one of the most difficult questions to answer. Who am I? Where do I come from? Where do I belong? I see these questions and hear them every day as my students wrestle through them. It is my hope as a teacher I can instill in them that the question is not WHO they are, but rather WHOSE they are. They are children of the King and their “passport country” is a heavenly country. While it doesn’t fix all the questions here on this earth, it can make the struggle a bit easier in the light of eternity.
To my dad and to Carissa, this post is dedicated to you and to your impact on my life as TCKs who are now Third Culture Adults. This post is also dedicated to the students I serve here in China. May you discover WHOSE you are.