Is a third culture kid more likely to succeed or fail in an intercultural relationship?

in Culture, Intercultural dating, Intercultural Marriage


Teen Angst
I wouldn’t forget the night which defined my hidden crisis, a detachment disorder if you would call it as such, through a very intellectual woman whom I met for only a few days with personality that mirrored mine. “You’re a third culture kid, just like me.” she declared. That name stuck, TCK finally defined me.

What is a third culture kid?

“If you hate being asked “Where are you from?” chances are, you’re a Third Culture Kid. You’re a global nomad, an international traveler, a wanderlust.” This is a direct yet beautiful definition provided by Denizen, a web created for all Third Culture Kids.

A third culture kid (TCK, 3CK) or trans-culture kid is “someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more culture(s) other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture.” ~ Wikipedia

Am I a third culture kid or simply a woman with a crisis?

When I had to move to a new place and a new job, or when I had to move out from my country of birth to see what was there for me in the horizon, I had to leave people behind. I had to say goodbye to the very ones that I hold most dear such as friends, colleagues and most importantly – family. But whenever I say goodbye, there are no tears. Why? What is wrong with me? That baffled me for a long time.

When I was younger, especially in my teenage life up to young adulthood, I was too prone to crushes – admiration towards the opposite sex. But if I felt that the guy that I liked wasn’t into me, I always had a way of getting over him quick with no sweats. It applies even to my romantic relationships. If I break up with a boyfriend, I would think of all the ugly things about him and would work to discover more of turn offs in him. That way, my mind demotes him from the most adorable to the most unwanted creature that I would never ever wish to touch. I’m glad he couldn’t probe my mind, or else, he would never forgive me. I lose my feelings fast.

If I’m working on a certain goal, I work hard to achieve it and give more than a hundred percent to reach it. But at the same time, my mind tells me that if I don’t get it, it’s okay because it’s not a very big thing and it’s not really worth it. So if I fail, there’s no pain. In other words, I use a lot of sourgraping.

If I know that I have to leave or move to a new place and that a day of goodbyes to very close friends is coming, I gradually detach emotionally and physically even before I leave. That way, when I do say good bye, there are no tears on my side.

The moment I step my foot on the new place, I don’t think behind. I delete the memories and any emotional attachments I’ve had to the people and things that I left behind. That includes my family. I rarely call my parents and very seldom do I speak with my siblings. That doesn’t mean we aren’t close. In fact, we are very close that there’s so much joy and happiness when we’re reunited. But if I’m away, my emotional processing works by default. It makes me forget homesickness and allows me to focus on surviving the current environment where I’m in.

So why am I like this? Why do I have this very powerful defense mechanism inside me against pain and frustrations? Am I really the woman that my friends describe as someone with a stone heart? If I am, was I born with it or was it made?

What made me a third culture kid?

I used to call myself a “nomad’ kid. As far as I can remember, my family had moved from place to place for at least eighteen times (all within the Philippines archipelago) throughout my childhood to high school years. I studied in four schools for primary grades and in four schools for high school, moving to a new school every academic year. I spoke four languages (English, Filipino, Cebuano and Ilongo) and later learned to comprehend yet another local language – Kuyonon. After I moved abroad, two more languages were added to my system – Thai and German.

For the records, I may not classify as an international nomad because as a kid, my family did not move around internationally, but the Philippines is an archipelago with a total of 7107 islands and about 175 individual languages. Therefore when I say “moved”, that includes crossing the oceans for days with all our packed belongings and furniture. Each island has several languages and cultures therefore a move of about 900 km can mean a new language and new culture.

We were nomads. It always took me two to three months to adjust to a new environment, learn the new language and make friends, but before I got to enjoy the new circle of friends, my parents would just announce “we’re moving, time to pack up” without even giving me chance to say good bye to friends. Every first day in a new school was always a disaster. I would always end up the center of bullying, a new student always is. I had to be tough and to prove myself academically in order to gain respect and friends.

Is being a third culture kid an advantage or a disadvantage in an intercultural relationship?

For someone like me who grew up a nomad and continues to live a nomad life even at adulthood, an intercultural relationship seems a good fit. I don’t see myself putting down roots in my birth country and I always feel like I belong in an international society.

Since immigration and language barrier are one of the biggest challenges of an intercultural marriage, a third culture kid has already won half the battle. A TCK is able to adapt to a new environment, new system, new language and new culture quite easier than someone who grew up in a very established environment – attending the same school where their parents attended, graduated and worked in the same place where they were born. Travelling and exploring new things also make a third culture kid but the ability to adapt is the greatest gift of a TCK.

However, Marla Alupoaicei in her book “Your Intercultural Marriage” argued that “differences in values and world views from culture to culture can cause a TCK crisis because of being forced to constantly adjust his/her value system to fit that of a new culture. Often, these individuals feel that they don’t really fit into anyone’s culture or value system.”

This is true to the friend I met that night who first introduced me the term “third culture kid”. Her parents were missionaries who moved from country to country. She was home schooled since primary to high school. She said that regardless of her ability to adapt to a society, she always feels that she doesn’t fully belong there. And yet, when she comes home to her birth country and be surrounded with relatives, she realizes that she’s no longer like them. Her being a TCK makes her different and unable to fully relate.

Marla Alupoaicei shared in her book a beautiful poem written by a third culture kid:

I am a confusion of cultures.
Uniquely me.
I think this is good because I can understand
The traveler, sojourner, foreigner,
The homesickness that comes.
I think this is also bad because I cannot be understood
by the person who has sown and grown on one place.
They know not the real meaning of homesickness
that hits me now and then.
Sometimes I despair of understanding them.
I am an island and a United Nations.
Who can recognize either in me but God?

Does the crisis that a third culture kid suffers will greatly affect his/her intercultural relationship?

What are your thoughts? Do you know of any TCK who are in an intercultural relationship? Do you think a TCK is more likely to succeed or fail in this relationship?

photo courtesy: Nathan Csonka Photography

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