It’s Our World: TCKs Make Your Life Look Boring

Normally, I would refrain from writing a preface in first person. But I have to say that I was touched by these young people and their youthful spirit. Few among us could resist the vicarious energy of being surrounded by teenagers, especially when they have their head on straight with a respect for their elders and the outside world. Following is an account of six young people who have added-privilege and extra stress piled high on their plate of development.

Directing the photo shoot that produced the images laid out before you, and leading up to it, there were a few specific moments that won my respect for these students—the kindness in their interactions, the ambition in Anoushka’s story pitch—but what made me take this moment to write a note, is a quote that you will find below. It was an outlandish, almost fictional claim, but these kids made me believe. And folding that dream into the fabric of my own beliefs lent me one of those beautiful moments that tell you, maybe the world will be OK.

Stephen O. Roberts

p.s. “In the future, he plans to pilot the first ship that can travel at the speed of light.”

0715_cover-story1smallWhat is a TCK? At this point, there is no doubt that this question brings complete confusion, with a splash of curiosity. So let me settle this issue once and for all. TCK, an abbreviation for Third Culture Kid (a.k.a. Global Nomad), is a young person who has spent the majority of his or her developmental years outside of the parents’ culture. Dr. Useems, who first coined the term TCK, defined the first culture as the ‘passport’ culture and second culture as the ‘host’ culture where the family resides. He named TCKs as the members of a “culture within cultures,” the Global Kids. Some famous examples of adult-TCKs are President Barack Obama, Christiane Amanpour (leading news correspondent for CNN), and Viggo Mortensen (actor who portrayed Aragon from The Lord of The Rings).

I was born in India, and I spent my early childhood in my native country. Eight years ago, I moved to China because of my father’s occupation. I was welcomed in China with open arms. Even though the language for me was more than perplexing, the overwhelming amount of love, warmth, and friendliness was extremely clear. It was really fun for me to communicate with Chinese using theatrical hand gestures and dramatic facial expressions. I almost felt like China was my new home.

Joining an international school escalated my joy in China, since I was introduced to two amazing things: jovial teachers and a creative curriculum. However, blending with the student body was quite enigmatic because I was surrounded by people who were aliens to me. Outside class, I was bounded by students who talked in their own language, which made things very uneasy. This was my first culture shock. There were some other students who were awkward, frustrated and even offensive, which just traumatized my experience. This led to a small episode of isolation, depression and loneliness, which still haunts me.

0715_coverstory3After a while new students arrived, including Connie and Adair (my best friends), who helped me start my ideal TCK journey with their curiosity and optimistic nature. I learned to see the multicultural world, to be flexible with different people and to become a ‘cultural chameleon.’ Later on, I moved to an international school. Even though I bitterly missed my old friends, I quickly made new, adorable ones. We share everything: food, ideas, thoughts. Our teachers enrich our worldly knowledge and we openly criticize and analyze the pros and cons of any culture, society or country, without getting too attached to it. We found a new world, where we belong to everywhere and nowhere.

Sadly, there is the other side of TCK life. On a yearly basis, I say goodbye to my fondest teachers and friends, something before I had gotten used to them. For me, the most uncomfortable part of every year is when I go to India for my holidays. I feel like I am a tourist temporarily visiting a foreign country. Even though the younger generation approaches me with interest, the older generation diligently quizzes me on my knowledge of Hindi, my local language or on Sanskrit prayers. I was even asked if I ate snakes or worms in China. Even though I love my home town and culture, sometimes the skepticism doesn’t seem to make the relationship very mutual.

I feel like I was really lucky to have this opportunity because the TCK life has changed my personality by making it more flexible and adaptable to a new world. I want my future education to add more insight to my perception of the world. In the future, I hope I can use my world knowledge and grow to be an ideal adult-TCK who tend to think “outside the box” and offer a global perspective to the mobile yet diverse world.

0715_cover story6Francesca Lattanzi

An Italian-born TCK, Francesca, has plenty of room for China in her heart. Just like every other TCK, her arrival in China (when she was 11) was made possible because of her father’s occupation. Coming to a foreign country during her developmental years drastically changed her upbringing. One of the obstacles she faces is the contrast in mentality or beliefs in China. “It takes me longer to explain something to Chinese, when Italians might understand it in the first try,” she said.

Even though Francesca faces these problems, she openly admits that China’s hospitality outweighs Italy’s. It is no secret that being a TCK heavily influenced her future decision since she plans on applying for a good university (preferably U.S.) and graduating a year early, and she also aims to pursue her future career under journalism or management.

She reveals her personal philosophy when she claims that there are more opportunities and diversity outside anyone’s home country. For example, recently when she was on a plane to Moscow, she was able to communicate to a woman in Chinese, and she understood her. Many barriers (i.e. language learning) decrease when one travels or becomes a TCK.

First Hand

Q: What problems do you face in your home country?
A: I have problems with the language, but also the mentality. Unlike Chinese or Asians in general, Italians are mean. For example, when I go into a shop in China, people are happy and ready to assist you, but in Italy I get all nervous when I am in a shop. There is less hospitality, and it feels like I am doing them a favor, instead of them helping me. Also, I’ve traveled and seen many places while the people in my hometown did not go further than Italy, so we see things much differently.

Q: How are Third Culture Kids different?
A: In Italy my friends like being part of the crowd, so they always try to do the same thing. But when I look at China, people aren’t afraid to be different.

Q: Movie quote or lyric that is secretly TCK.
A: “I am not going home, not really” -Harry Potter.

Byung Ju Park

0715_cover story5A global vagrant, Byung Ju is Korean and has spent four years in Slovakia and four years in China. Due to his father’s continuous change in occupation, he has managed to have the opportunity to meet a lot of different people, and has been exposed to many things. “Being a TCK helped me improve a lot of things, like language, adaptation skills, flexibility in behaviors, etc.” With such a global exposure, Byung Ju believes that one will start to see that every ethnicity or society has a completely different set of manners, social rules and status levels. However, sometimes he feels like so much moving around has distorted his sense of identity. “I have seen so many different settings, cultures and people, that it is very hard to decide where I come from or my origin,” he said. After graduating, he plans to go to a university and then join the military. “Even though I don’t zealously promote joining the military, I have to join it because it is mandatory.” In his opinion, it is a little too much pressure on young Koreans (both TCK and non-TCK) to all join the army to express two years of jingoism style patriotism.

First Hand

Q: What problems or misunderstanding do you face when you go back to your home country?
A: There are several things that I face. First, the language, for sure, I’m slower than the ones in my home country when it comes to Korean. I am a little bit slow to grasp Korean, because I am not that exposed to it. Sometimes people look at me different when they know that I lived outside of the country. It can be unpleasant.

Q: What is one quality you believe few non-TCKs have?
A: I feel like I belong to a lot of places because I just miss them. The definition of home for TCK is quite different. Instead of being a particular place or a country, it’s actually the people. I feel like home at places where I have the happiest memories or where I have close friends, which are a lot of places.

Q: Your TCK life in one quote/ line or a song lyric?
A: “Privately divided by a world so undecided and there’s nowhere to go”- Red Hot Chili Peppers

Alejandra Vargas

0715_cover story2A lejandra, born in Bolivia, has spent seven years in Argentina and one and a half years in China. She had to move to China because of her father’s job, which soon gave her TCK experience a new story. It is obvious that one of the biggest challenges she came across is the language. Since she had just come out of South America, her English wasn’t fluent, and Chinese was a completely different language. Alejandra suffered from the consternation of saying something wrong and making a mistake.

However, as time went by and being surrounded by a group of understanding (and experienced friends), she realized that mistakes aren’t that mortifying, and one can learn from them to be a better person. Being a TCK offers her so many opportunities for the future, which makes it harder for her to come with a structured plan. “I don’t have a definite plan. I have so many options. I may go study in the U.S. or go back to South America, or even stay in China,” she said.

First Hand

Q: Do you think you’ve been a TCK for a long time, or just recently?
A: I think I have been a TCK for a while, but sometimes I get comfortable at a place so at times I don’t really feel like one.

Q: What problems do you face in your home country?
A: Language. Usually I forget some Spanish words, so I randomly throw in some English words, which is very weird to my friends at home.

Bryan Magnaye

0715_cover story4Bryan is a true Filipino at heart who has spent three years in Thailand, and twelve years in China. After living in China for a while (due to his parents’ jobs), he has managed to develop into an adaptable TCK. He reveals that studying as a foreigner in a Chinese school in his childhood has pushed him to possess assertive qualities.

“It’s going to be impossible to make any friends unless you initiate the attempt,” he said. There are several obstacles Bryan faces when he goes back to his home country. One of the problems that he faces, which is slightly amusing, is that he is unable to relate to popular culture when he goes back to his home town. He also claims to have survived the ‘trial of patience’ in his hometown. “I have survived months with incredibly slow internet—worse than no internet,” he said. In the future, he plans to pilot the first ship that can travel at the speed of light.


First Hand

Q: Do you think you’ve been a TCK for a long time, or just recently?
A: I think that I’ve been a TCK for a long time. Even though I am quite similar from all my friends in my home country because my parents always stressed the importance of knowing my roots, I am more open-minded and aware of the diversity in the world.

Q: What social obstacles do you have in China?
A: Driving manners (everybody has issues with this). Sometimes it is also hard to get used to a few things like random people spitting and littering, but that’s the thing about diversity. Filipinos carry guns around, so I think random spitting is manageable.

Q: Movie quote or lyric that is secretly TCK.
A: Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes “Home is whenever I’m with you.”

Guy Grinvald

0715_cover story7Guy Grinvald is from Israel and has spent two years in Thailand and seven years in China. Because of the change of his parents’ workplace, he had the chance to be a TCK in China at an extremely young age. Guy firmly believes that the TCK lifestyle has made it possible to understand other cultures.

“I think I could have a conversation with anyone who can speak English—including countries that my home country is in war with—while other Israelis might have difficulties,” he said. Guy also gives credit to his TCK life which helps him to get used to all the moving around, and constant change in accents (changes depending on who he’s talking to).

Guy’s plan for the future is to get high grades, graduate and go to a university or a college. Since he has lived in China for so long (and considers it a home country), he intends to come back to China later in life.

First Hand

Q: What social obstacles do you have in China?
A: While I strongly favor China, there are a lot of social obstacles. The biggest one for me is friends that come and ago.

Q: What problems or misunderstanding do you face when you go back to your home country?
A: My two biggest problems in my home country are one that I have difficulty understanding others when they talk fast, and not understanding the mentality and culture of the other kids.

Q: Your TCK life in one quote/ line or a song lyric?
A: “I have no country to fight for; my country is the Earth, and I am a citizen of the world.”- Eugene V. Debs

JenJen Teoh

0715_cove story8JenJen Teoh, a TCK social butterfly, is a Malaysian who has lived in China for nine years. She moved constantly between Shanghai and Hong Kong, until her family settled in Dongguan. JenJen credits international school to changing her personality from a shy girl to an outgoing student. She remembers her first day in international school as ‘memorable and shocking’ since she didn’t expect a welcoming and humble atmosphere.

From her close friend, Selina, who is also a TCK, she learned to not be afraid of any sort of added attention “I am truly thankful to my father for moving here and all of my friends in QSI who dramatically changed my personality,” she said. Being a TCK and studying in international school helped her to fluently communicate in multiple foreign languages, which boosted her self-confidence. However, in the future, JenJen plans on studying abroad and settling in a single place, since leaving friends for a new place isn’t ideal for her.

First Hand

Q: What social obstacles do you have in China?
A: Sometimes I have to try to get used to the Chinese culture and customs. For example: It is hard for me to grasp the part where if a girl is married, she needs to live in the male side’s family in order to pay her respects. Sometimes, women have less right to speak up—less than men—and their ideas and thoughts wouldn’t be as prioritized as the men of the family.

Q: What problems or misunderstanding do you face when you go back to your home country?
A: It is not easy since I’m away from my hometown for most of the time so I’m not that good at my native language compare to my friends back in Malaysia.

Q: What is one quality or a thing that you believe very few people have?
A: I can curse convincingly (and understand) in at least five different languages.


10. You’ve been a trilingual translator since you learned speak.
9. Luggage allowance is a real thing … at times, very important.
8. You have BFFs scattered around the globe.
7. As a child, your passport was more valuable than a teddy bear.
6. You’re too comfortable with racist jokes … way too comfortable.
5. Most hated film … In Flight Safety.
4. Asking yourself, “Which festivals should I celebrate this year?” is a norm.
3. Teachers mispronounce your name every year.
2. Getting over the metric system and foot-pound-second system goes both ways.

And the No. 1 Signs You’re a Third Culture Kid is …

You can differentiate most countries in the world by smell alone!