What is TCK Heritage?

I was interviewed recently by a woman doing research on TCK’s* and cross cultural people. There were two things that came up during the interview that particularly struck me.

She asked me if I considered myself a migrant. I said no. I had never thought of using that word to describe my situation. What is the difference between an expat and a migrant? Good question. According to the Oxford English Dictionary a migrant is:

  1. A person who moves from one place to another in order to find work or better living conditions.

When I hear the word migrant, I think of the migrant worker. Somebody who follows the work by season, working in the fields. Migrants migrate from place to place as the need arises and work becomes available. Technically a migrant can be an expat.  People become expats for many reasons but a lot of them go to one place and then go home, most don’t go from place to place to place. A TCK does not choose where they are going and is not seeking work, they have no choice, so I would probably put them in the expat category but not the migrant one. That was my final answer. Care to discuss it?

The other thing she asked me about was heritage. What is heritage to a TCK? Was it formed by the cultures around me, did I make that part of my heritage, or was is something else? I have thought about this a lot since the interview. I found that I wasn’t sure what it meant. I discovered that there are two kinds of heritage. Tangible and Intangible. Tangible heritage includes architecture, archeology, objects, landscapes. Intangible is a bit more complex. The best definition I could find was a UNESCO site:

“…..intangible cultural heritage does not only represent inherited traditions from the past but also contemporary rural and urban practices in which diverse cultural groups take part;”

I always considered my heritage to be my family history. The fact that my family came from Ireland and Scotland to America in the 1700’s and gradually moved from the East coast to the Midwest where they eventually settled. They were immigrants and migrants. They were looking for work and a better life. They brought with them their particular variety of religion and their cultural traditions but I think much of it was lost in the great melting pot that became the USA. My family celebrates Thanksgiving and Christmas but not much else. My father never celebrated Thanksgiving growing up because it was corn picking season. On my grandparent’s farm there was always work to be done, didn’t matter what day it was.

Christmas in Burma with snow backdrop

Growing up TCK I didn’t have a deep connection with most of my extended family. I would see them once a year, if that, and didn’t have time to learn much. My parents tended to live in the moment so we learned about our current home’s history and traditions, wherever that was.  

When I lived in Mexico I knew a girl who went to the American school and lived in a neighborhood with a lot of other Americans. They had a girl scout group and celebrated all the USA holidays. One year she asked me to go over to her house for Halloween. I had dressed up a few times over the years when we lived in New York but it wasn’t really a part of our tradition. I liked getting the candy but to be honest I didn’t have any desire to repeat the experience. If I really thought about it, my life was way too interesting without having to participate in strange American rituals.

My current Christmas decorations

So, what is my heritage? As an adult I spent a long time doing genealogy research on my family. I thought it was fascinating to delve into my history and learn where I came from and how I got here. I ended up making a connection to their lives and mine because of the travel to parts unknown, etc. Something gave them the strength to do what they did and I felt it must be a part of me as well. So that is part of my heritage. Over the years I have learned about and celebrated many traditions from around the world and I have many objects in my home that have become a part of my heritage. Things my parents collected from Asia and Africa are now prominently displayed in my home and will someday probably be in my child’s home. They all have a story behind them and are an important part of who I am today.

What is my heritage?

It’s complicated….

 

*TCK stands for Third Culture Kid: Somebody who has grown up outside their passport country because of their parents’ work.

World Citizen Storycast

I am featured this week on the World Citizen Storycast podcast.

The focus was on the adjustments and challenges of growing up in different cultures as well as reverse culture shock when returning to the passport country.

Check it out.

26: Before I Tell My Story

 

 

My Left Hand

800px-Left_Hand_-_Kolkata_2011-04-20_2349

In Muslim and some Asian cultures the left hand is considered unclean. It is used for sanitation purposes after urinating or defecating. The right hand is reserved for eating and social interactions. It is considered rude to use your left hand for these things.

In parts of Africa it is considered rude to point, gesture, receive things or give things with your left hand.

Through most cultures, being left handed has bad connotations. My husband was brought up in a Russian family and his father tried to make him right handed when he was clearly left handed. Since the majority of the world is right handed, it can be challenging for left handed people. My son is also left handed and although we did not try to re-teach him, he had trouble in school using simple things like scissors.

A group called Left Handers International designated August 13 as Left Handers Day. Their aim is to educate the world about the 10 percent of the population who have trouble living in a right handed world. Think about it – using a mouse or keyboard, power tools, driving, even writing with a pen can all be challenging for a left handed person.

In some cultures it is considered bad luck to be left handed or even to meet people who are left handed.

The other day I was buying something and I put my money on the counter. The clerk took the money and handed me the change. I had something in my right hand and it was an awkward process but I transferred everything from my right hand to my left hand so I could accept the change with my right hand. As I was doing it I thought, “why am I doing this?” The clerk had to wait and was patient but looked at me like I was a little weird.

At some point in my life it was ingrained into me never to hand anybody anything with my left hand and never to accept anything with my left hand. I just can’t do it. It feels very uncomfortable. I know most people in the US don’t care or understand why I do it. But I still do it.

The TCK Patriot

IITA268

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fourth of July, Nigeria Style

Growing up as a Third Culture Kid, I never really identified with my home country.  I celebrated the holidays of my host country or my school’s country.  I grew up in Mexico City and went to a British school.  I celebrated the Queen’s Birthday, and Mexico’s Independence day on the 16th of September, and of course the Day of the Dead.  I didn’t feel nationalistic about anyplace but was happy to celebrate with everybody.  I don’t ever remember celebrating the 4th of July although I do remember dressing up on Halloween a few times.  I just didn’t have anything to identify with.  I knew very little of US history and even less of its culture.
When I went to live in the US after high school, I was in for a rude awakening and had severe reverse culture shock.  It wasn’t until my Junior year in college that I started to learn about the USA.  I was living in Boston and a friend took me under wing and taught me about the history of the area and the people who lived there.  For the first time I started to feel something for my home country.

The longer I stayed in my home country the more comfortable I became.  As I moved from state to state I leaned new things about its diversity.  I learned about the holidays and what they stood for.  And I learned to criticize what I didn’t like about it.

I continued to travel outside the country with a slightly new perspective.  I started to compare other countries to my own and see what the differences and similarities were.  I started to appreciate things.  I saw that compared to many countries, women in the US were much better off.  I learned how important freedom of speech really was.  Although this country had a lot of problems and I didn’t always agree with what our government did, I  always had the right to express my dissatisfaction openly.

As I grew older, when living overseas, I could be very critical of the US and their foreign policy and many of their actions.  But when Fourth of July came around, I always cried overcome by emotion when I heard the Star Spangled Banner.

Kind of strange how that all turned out.

 

 

African Marriage Proposals

Ibadan-2

Ibadan

One summer I was living in Ibadan, Nigeria, working for my father at an agricultural research institute.  Ibadan was the largest village in Africa and sprawled across the countryside without any particular order.  There were a few hotels and “proper” restaurants but not many and we rarely went to them.

My British and American friends, Simon, Ed, David, Francis, and a couple of others decided to have a night on the town. We went to a rooftop Lebanese restaurant for a filling dinner of kabob and hummus and then on to a proper Nigerian nightclub.  It had a fence around it and a large grass roof and a dirt floor but no walls.  There was a very loud band playing at one end of the room and an area to dance.  We took over a table at the other end of the room and ordered beer all around.

Francis was being very protective of me and it kind of made it look like we were “together”.  Francis was married with five children.  A Nigerian came over to our table and asked Francis if he could dance with me.  Francis, quite embarrassed, told him he would have to ask me himself.  Of course he came right over asked me to dance. I had been in Nigeria long enough to know that this could only lead to trouble.  I was getting ready to say no, thank you very much, when Simon started kicking me under the table and making gestures like I should really go have a dance.  Simon, of course, was a trouble maker himself, but I got up and danced with the guy.  Keeping in form with most of my other white American girl/ black African boy experiences, by the end of the dance he had asked me to marry him.

About half way through the evening I really had to go to the toilet.  Everybody said I should just forget about it.  I said, “no really, I gotta go”.  So David escorted me to the ladies’ toilet. We went through a beaded doorway where women were just hanging around and inside there were two stalls with holes in the floor.  There were no doors to the stalls.  I went in and squatted and David stood guard.  It wasn’t that terrible, partly I’m sure because I was a little tipsy by this time, but it was interesting.  The women were obviously just waiting for business.  I didn’t get a chance to look around but I assume there were other rooms in the back for other activities.  David seemed very nervous about the whole thing and said I was not allowed to drink any more beer.  I think David might have been back there before.

Back at the table my dance partner had re-appeared, apparently not finding any other takers for his marriage proposal.  I was the only white girl in the place.  He insisted that he would be a good husband and would have no problem accompanying me back to the United States.  When we got up to go home, he said he could come with us.  He had no plans for the night and was happy to stay with us.  He followed us all the way out to the car and the guys acted like they were going to let him in.  I was totally appalled.  How could they be so mean?  Finally they got tired of him and kicked him out.

lagos232

Friendly me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later that summer I had a stalker show up at my office.  He knew who I was and all about me and said he worked in the building.  I asked around but nobody seemed to know him.  For a couple of weeks he was standing at my door at the end of the day and wanted to walk me home.  I never led him on or agreed to anything.  He kept asking to take me for a drink or to walk me home.  Finally I said I would have a drink with him.

He said he wanted to marry me and he had it all planned out.  We would be married and he would return to the United States with me and he would go to school with me and we would always be together.  I told him politely all the reasons why it was just not possible, the least of which was that we did not know each other at all and I was leaving the country shortly. And he had a counter proposal for every one of my reasons.  Finally I just became quite rude and told him to leave me alone.

I was sad to see the summer end but I was very happy to leave that situation behind when I returned to college in the fall.  Nigerian women were very blunt and straight forward.  They didn’t care if they hurt men’s feelings, they gave it to them like it was.  I think Western women had difficulty being so cold about it and in turn perhaps were more approachable.  On my next trip to Africa, I was much more Nigerian than Western when dealing with African men.  Its all about adapting to new cultures.

 

TCK/Expat Film

I have updated my TCK/Expat page to include films as well as some additional books.  Check it out.

I recently watched The Road Home.  It is a short film – 24 minutes.  I watched it twice.  It is about a boy with Indian roots who has lived around the world.  His father sends him to boarding school in India and everybody thinks he is Indian but he only speaks English and says he is English.  So, confused about who he is, where he is from, not feeling Indian but looking Indian.  Sound familiar to anybody?

The director is currently working on expanding the film into a longer version with plot twists and adventure.  I think it might lose some of its intimate charm, but we will have to see.  In the meantime, have a look.  You can rent this film and watch it on-line here.

Another one that is currently airing at Film Festivals around the country is Shanghai Calling.  I have watched the trailer and it looks like a good comedy.  A man with Chinese roots who grew up in New York City finds himself sent to live in China for work.  He knows nothing about Chinese culture or language but people think he does because he looks Chinese.  I look forward to seeing it.  You can see the trailer here.

My First Review!

 

 

 

 

A huge thank you to Linda at Adventures in Expat Land for taking the time to read and review my book Expat Alien.

Riveting Expat Reading: Expat Alien

August 17, 2012 by LAJ

Last week I was away spending some well deserved time alone with Husband, Son and Daughter. After the hectic and emotionally draining summer we’ve had, it was nice to enjoy the sun, surf and sand on Captiva Island in southern Florida.

It was good for us to reconnect as a family, relaxing individually and collectively as one day slipped into the next. We also made sure to store up the sunlight for colder, darker days ahead back home in Nederland, but we needn’t address that at the moment.

One thing I did do while relaxing was to catch up on some expat reading.

Continue reading…