Saturday, May 21, 2005

I'm a Third Culture Kid

I have always wondered why I've found it difficult to fit in. I don't see myself as anti-social, or as particularly unfriendly. But for most of my life, except for interactions with my nuclear family, I've found it much easier to be aloof. It doesn't mean that I like being aloof or alone. It doesn't meant that I don't crave for companionship and some place to "fit in". I just find it "easier" to just not "fit in". Now that I have my wife, it is just another way of interacting only with my family. For instance, no matter how welcome I am in the home of my in-laws, at the work place or in school, places where I should be at ease, I am not. There is always this need for personal space.

For a while, I thought that my twin and I were the only ones who had this condition, and that our super-social youngest brother didn't have this unease to be with other people. I was wrong. He would socialize as a way of coping, but he too wanted his "Fortress of Solitude". And he was only able to be at ease with his wife's brother only because they live near each other enough to be included as the nuclear family. All Pastor's/Preacher's Kids or PKs I have talked to craved this personal space, this place that is uniquely theirs and no one else's.

I had, of course, assumed (wrongly, as I later found out) that the reason why we PKs long for such places was because, being in the ministry, we had no house. Oh, the church provided free lodging for us, of course. But, it wasn't ours; we were temporary boarders. Frequently, the free lodging was too small, even for small families. But it didn't explain why those PKs who stayed at at a particular church practically their entire lives, or who had their own houses, or (especially those Bishops' or District Superindents' kids) who had really large and spacious lodgings, also felt the same way. Almost immediately, a PK who grows up will try to find a place to settle down, a house (if it can be afforded), and a group of people to belong to. Still, this assumption was good enough to explain a lot of things.

Until I came across this article on my research on what Boarding Schools were like. It is about what is called a Third Culture Kid (click here). I quote it below, with my emphases in italics and in a different color:

Third Culture Kids (TCKs) is a term for children whose families move frequently, usually because of work obligations, and who have grown up in so many cultures that they don't consider any one of them to be their "home" culture. These include military brats, the children of diplomats and Missionary Kids. The term can also be expanded to cover children in other circumstances, such as those sent to boarding schools or the children of immigrants.

The term was coined by Ruth Hill Useem in the early 1960s. According to her, a Third Culture Kid learns to cope with a new culture rather than adjust to it, becoming part of a situation and yet remaining apart from it in a certain sense. Their experiences among different cultures and various relationships makes it difficult for them to have indepth communication with those who have not experienced similar conditions.

While Third Culture Kids usually grow up to be independent and cosmopolitan, they also often have trouble "fitting in" with anyone who hasn't had the same combination of cultures that they have. Some of them come to terms with the tremendous culture shock and loss that they have experienced. They gain a broader understanding of the world through their varied experiences, while others spend their adult life trying to come to terms with those issues.

The term is sometimes also used to describe autistic kids and people with Asperger syndrome who grow up in their childhood in considerable isolation and without much social relationship, largely in a conceptual world.

All this time, I had been searching for a "home" and although I have found it in my wife I think I am still coming to terms with it. At least I know now, and so does my wife. One thing I am sure of: I do not want my own children to be a Third Culture Kid. Oh, I know the experience may bring wisdom and a broader understanding, and I may change my mind about this years from now... but right now, I find it extremely debilitating.

One more reason for me to wish that my wife and I had a life in the Philippines rather than in Australia. I want my kids to grow up in the Philippines, not Australia.