3rd Culture Kid

Have you ever had the feeling that you are from everywhere yet belong nowhere?

Well I have. The fact that I travelled all over Asia when I was growing up affects me everytime I have to answer the simple question, “Where are you from?” For some people where they are from is simple its where they are born. For some people they say the place where they grew up, the house that they lived in for years, the place where their well.. from. For me its different. My passport states: US Citizen. Born in Florida. So there you go, I guess I’m from Florida even though I lived there till I was 2 and remember nothing, I suppose logicially I’m from Florida.

No. You see when people ask you where your from they automatically have formed some type of judgement of the type of person you are. Its not a big deal its just a slight judgement based on things they have heard in the past about that place. I just feel like where your from defines a part of you. It makes up you. So when you say your from somewhere you should feel like you belong there, connections. What connects me to Florida? Absolutely nothing. So must I really say I’m from Flordia?

I moved to Texas when I was  2 and grew up there till I was 10. My little brother was born there and we lived in the same house for 10 years. So I guess Im from Texas right? Well honestly this is where I get confused. If I didnt think so much about it then yes, I’d say I’m from Texas. However when I go back to texas to visit my relatives, I lost most connections with childhood friends, I dont remember the neighborhood which I once lived in, and now I find I have nothing in common with the people I used to call my friends. Nothing. Once you’ve seen the world you can’t even make conversation with small town folk who never leave the country. It just doesnt feel right. This is why I say have nothing connecting me to Texas except those 10 years, of my childhood. This is why I am confused, I start to question if that is all it means to be from somewhere and then start to think about Singapore.

I moved to Singapore in 2004 when I was 10. Now these are the years I actually remember. The years that made a significant impact on the person I am today. These are the years that I experienced diversity, suffering, wealth, poverty, and all sorts of things you learn from a diverse culture, one which Singapore is famously known for. By moving to Singapore I was given the chance of a lifetime, the opportunity to expand my knowledge and understand the world for what treasures it truely holds. In Singapore I understood people, I could connect. 

I knew how to get around, in Singapore public transportation became my best friend. I knew and still know downtown by heart. I know where to go to get cheap sales (every singaporean loves a good sale, as they would say), the best food, and the best spots to just sit and relax. I knew how to roam. Singapore is a big city on a small island so well, its really crowded! Walking downtown for most people is a struggle, everyone has got somewhere to be so if your alone in Singapore its easy to get lost in the average rush. When I first moved there I was actually quite overwhelmed but over time I began to understand the flow. When you walk down Orchard Rd, which is the main shopping street downtown in the shopping district. You see a diverse range of people. Indians, Malay, Singaporean, Japanese, Chinese, Thai, etc and caucasians. Everyone was so different it made me feel like I belonged. I could walk down the street at night with my friends and no exactly where we were going, I knew how to push through crowds and not let snippy women push me around. I became apart of the modern city life, I was apart of the crowd. Usually when you think of the phrase “just one in the crowd” you think thats bad as in your not standing out and being an individual, but thats just the thing in Singapore the people that walk around are all individuals. I honestly, cant think of any other way to phrase that. But the diversity I experienced in Singapore makes up who I am today, I understood the flow and the way society works and therefore it became a part of me. I have connections to Singapore which make me think its where, “I’m From”.

Even in Singapore in the 6 years I lived there I moved 3 times, luckily they were all in the same neighborhood so I was able to know my neighbors at each house, and still to this day remember all of them. In our first house every week night an ice cream man on an bike with a rainbow umbrella came to our neighborhood ringing his little bell, his name was Anthony, he was your classic hardworking Singaporean. Every night I’d switch off between strawberry or rasberry and cream, make casual conversation with him, and follow him down to the end of the street as he collected orders from my neighbors, all of them whom I knew and played with. Then, when we reached the end of the street he would offer me a ride back up to my house. I’d sit on the cold side buggy which contained the ice cream as we drove back to my house.

I remember this small memory but I remember nothing about Texas, nothing but sports and elementary school. So doesnt that mean something?

I remember walking to the 711 in the Woodlands Town Center, (Woodlands is the main american neighborhood in Singapore) everyday passing the man in the wheelchair who lost his legs who’d sit around the entrance and talk to random people that passed. He would just wink at me and smile. At first I was disturbed as I was in middle school and didnt know how to interpret such actions from an older foreign man. However after a while I realized it was just his way of acknowledging me. Everyday, everytime, in the same place, same man, same smile. I remembered.

The Auntie (proper singlish term for a woman older than you) at the Hawker Center (public cafeteria) through her broken English, or should I say Singlish. Knew my name, knew my brothers, knew my age and various bits of information about me. But best of all, and on a sidenote, she knew my order. Delicious Singapore Chicken Rice. Truely one of Singapore’s most delightful foods. Anyways although she has no relationship to me she is part of my connection to Singapore. She is a great memory, one of many.

These people these memories, they are apart of me and make up who I am. So back to the question. When asked the question where I am from I want to say Singapore. But I logically can’t. The facts dont match up and in the past when I have tried saying I’m from Singapore, typically one of these statements come up. 1. Im not asian. 2. I dont speak chinese and 3. I wasnt born there.

Ok, so now let me just re-state this. To me the word “from” means somewhere you can connect to somewhere where you feel you belong, it doesnt matter if your born there or if your the same race as most of the citizens, or if you speak their language you just have to feel the pull that this, this is your home and the place you connect to the most. And to me that is what Singapore is its my home.

So is it wrong, wrong for me to say I am from Singapore? Or must I continue saying “well its complicated I’m from Florida, but Texas is where I lived for the longest time, however I moved to Singapore and did most of my growing up there”, because honestly Im getting tired of saying that. Its not my fault I moved a lot and wasnt able to live in a small town, know my neighbors and watch them grow over the years, have my relatives live near by and get together with, own a house where you and all your siblings were born, and have a wall in that house where you can mark it up over time to measure your growth. Or thats how I imagine a stereotypical normal growing up would be. Im from everywhere yet belong no where. Everywhere I’ve lived has formed who I am today, yet looking back at them individually there is no place that fully takes credit for being my true home or that of which I imagine in my stereotypical thoughts above.

Wikipedia state in the article ‘Third Culture Kid’ that

“A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of 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.”

This is me and this is my life. I’d like to say I’m from Singapore but underneath all my memories and all my connections I’ll always know that its not truely where I belong and thats just something. I belong with people whom have experienced this same growing up abroad lifestyle, I’m from no where. I’m an international.

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Emma Macleod's Blog

This hangs up in our studio…always makes me smile


Thanks for all the comments, which now means I know the source of this brilliant list! Thanks Kerri, your list seems to ring true with a lot of people!

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A skill I wish to learn

Scribe Doll

I am sitting on a wooden bench, by the red-brick wall of a small Elizabethan palace.  I am leaning against the arm-rest.  My legs, stretched out before me, take up two thirds of the seat, and my bare toes are wriggling with the pleasure of sunshine.  Behind the bench, a few sprigs of lavender nod to the breeze, and express their soothing fragrance.  The self-satisfied gurgle of the Tudor courtyard fountain is caressing my soul.  Somewhere in the vicinity, a crow is cawing.  I sense mockery in his or her tone.  On my lap, is my usual A4 spiral notebook; in my hand, my usual fountain pen.

A gentleman and his wife stop to ask me directions for the café in the park.  Before I have a chance to point, he exclaims, “Oh, my goodness – you’re writing! And with a proper pen! It’s ages since I’ve seen anyone…

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