OPINION: Living as a third culture kid means not knowing where you belong

A wave of people are divided in half, one side red, the other side blue.
(Waverly Wang • The Student Life)

“Third culture kid” is a term I first learned at my international school in Singapore. We were taught that it meant growing up in a culture different from your parents’. During my school days, I just nodded along in class, not really grasping the gravity of its meaning in my life. 

Trips to my city in India were often reluctant. I wasn’t fond of the unfortunately familiar scent of manure and fried food that constantly hung heavy in the air. 

Since I was a toddler, I would grudgingly leave my city life to retire to rural living. I had to go from my clean Singaporean rain shower to those iconic bucket baths taken in full view of toilet rats. The adjustment was difficult and only seemed to get harder as I grew older and realized how to complain.

The inevitable diarrhea would hit hard, perhaps from drinking milk straight from a cow that I was forced to watch being milked you know, in case there is an apocalypse and I needed to know how to milk a cow at the ripe age of three. 

I got to visit beautiful traditional temples to learn about my heritage. There, I stepped in actual warm cow poo barefooted, had my slippers stolen and almost left with another Indian family I thought was my own.

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I got to play with cute and friendly animals, but then I got bitten by a dog. (Never pet the “family dog” that apparently hates you and was picked up from the road last week; many injections will follow.) 

Despite my clumsiness and constant food poisoning, it was only in Cuttack, India where I could feel the love of a big family. I was surrounded by an abundant amount of cousins and relatives. There were cultural differences, but when the Amul cheese and Hide & Seek biscuits came out, I knew it was home.

Back in Singapore, I had my nuclear family and other TCK friends from all over the world. Despite my passport saying I am Singaporean, I felt confused inside.

Coming to Claremont, I initially felt the same disjointed routine but weird sense of belonging. I couldn’t quite fit in with all the incredible-sounding mentor programs because I wasn’t sure where I identified myself. 

I guess my school teacher was right; it’s difficult to know what is home when home doesn’t really exist for you. The BBC describes TCKs as “citizens of everywhere and nowhere.”

Talking about my experiences occasionally makes me feel like I’m talking too much. It’s difficult for me to try to insert my experiences into conversations that often focus around America, where I have chosen to submerge myself into yet another new cultural environment. 

It was only after leaving my actual home country that I started to feel truly Singaporean. In Singapore, most people originate from other Asian countries, so we get an interesting melting pot of cultures.

I have felt my identity becoming more salient while I am amongst people who mostly identify as Americans, who have comfort in where they belong. However, I still don’t feel true to myself; it feels like I am camouflaging based on only one of my cultural identities. 

Although it can be isolating to not have a sense of unity with your peers or a singular home country you feel attached to, it has been found that most TCKs have useful skills, such as speaking at least two languages, being more interculturally sensitive and entering adulthood armed to handle change

Due to globalization, third culture children are becoming increasingly common. For example, Barack Obama was a TCK. His father was Kenyan and his mother American, but he moved to Jakarta after his mother married an Indonesian man. 

Therefore, it is a phenomenon that we must familiarize ourselves with so that we can better support the community around us. We should try to better facilitate a discussion of our cultural experiences and also recognize that where someone appears to come from is not necessarily the place they call home. 

In our diverse community at the 5Cs, this is our chance to expose ourselves to new experiences and learn from those around us.  

Part of my nuclear family has now been relocated to Turkey, which means new adventures, experiences and another place I get to call home. I may never truly fit in, but to me that’s part of growing up and becoming an adult. You have to find confidence and comfort in yourself and the people you love. 

Avika Jindel PO ’23 is from Singapore. She has a self-deprecating sense of humor which extends to the hometown that she actually loves.

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