Hello, friends. So as I made clear in a previous post, my answer to the question “Where are you from?” is not simple. I identify as Japanese, Taiwanese, and American, and find that my concept of home is merely that – a concept. My home is not tied to a particular geographic location, but rather to specific people. Specific people being, my family. When my family moves, so does my home: home is where my family is. I am a Third Culture Kid, after all.
I identify with this label, but also realize that the definition of the term itself is not set in stone. Here is a definition of “Third Culture Kid”, as defined by Pollock & Van Reken, which I support: “A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”
In my search for more definitions of the term “Third Culture Kid”, I came across a blog post that discussed the definition of “Third Culture Kid” by defining the three cultures mentioned in the label. These definitions differed from those that I had heard before. Wikipedia, for instance defines the three cultures as such: “The first culture…refers to the culture of the country from which the parents originated, the second culture refers to the culture in which the family currently resides, and the third culture refers to the amalgamation of these two cultures.” The writer, Libby Stephens, meanwhile sectioned the cultures as the following: Legal culture, Geographic culture, and Relational culture. I have briefly paraphrased Stephens’ definitions below:
Legal culture, is the culture(s) to which a person is legally connected. This is the culture or country for which one has a passport, or citizenship that one can prove with other documentation.
In my case, my legal cultures are those of the U.S. and Japan.
Geographic culture, is the compilation of all the cultures and countries a TCK as lived in. In other words, the culture to which a person is geographically connected to. This culture is the main contributor to cultural behaviors adopted by the TCK, and influences both the TCK’s verbal and nonverbal languages, among other things.
In my case, my geographic cultures are again, those of the U.S. and Japan.
Relational Culture, is the most ambiguous one, given that it is ideological and not rooted in any legal standing or geographical location. It is a culture of experience, and is a unique and separate one shared only by those who have lived internationally and multiculturally, although not necessarily in the same countries or cultures.
In Libby’s words, “This is the culture that explains why the Brazilian who has lived in Tanzania and Switzerland can connect with the Canadian who has lived in Singapore and New Zealand”. For TCKs, there is a lack of a comprehensive connection between the Legal and Geographic cultures, and thus they find community and a sense of belonging in this third culture.
I definitely identify with this one. I find kinship with fellow TCKs, and have found that often those whom I have stayed close friends with over the years also identify with this culture.
I greatly prefer Stephens’ definition to the Wikipedia one. I agree that the “Third Culture” is not a combination of the former two, but rather its own distinct one. However, as you may have noticed, Stephens’ definition of the three cultures does not work for me, even though I strongly identify as a TCK. In my case, there seems to be a comprehensive connection between my legal and geographic cultures. Furthermore, one of my ethnic and cultural identities, that of being Taiwanese, remains unaddressed when my identity is looked at through this particular definition.
Although this definition is quite brilliant, it fails to define my identity as a TCK for the following reasons: firstly, it does not address how even if the legal and geographic cultures are one and the same, as long as there are more than one of each, matters are complicated; secondly, it does not address how the actual ethnicity of the TCK comes into play; thirdly, it also does not address how the cultural and ethnic identities of the TCK’s family members, when there are more than one, come into play as well.
My identity is heavily affected by my family, which is multicultural to begin with. It consists of a Taiwanese mother and a Japanese father, both of whom are culturally diverse, and my older brother (also a TCK). Therefore prior to having had more than one Geographic culture, I already identified with multiple cultures. I have two Legal cultures, am ethnically both Japanese and Taiwanese, and was raised in a multicultural household. In addition to being ethnically Taiwanese, my upbringing was most heavily influenced by my Taiwanese mother. Thus, although I have no geographic ties to Taiwan, having never actually lived there, I identify as being Taiwanese.
Identity is a complicated matter. I promise to delve into my identity even further in a future post, but in the mean time, I’ll let you chew on this until then.
So long, friends.