I have witnessed time and time again throughout my Third Culture Kid upbringing that culture is a word that’s lost to far too many. As a TCK, I see it every single day, in every tiny little thing that every individual person does in every corner of the world, but for some reason I feel that I am often the only one that’s looking. People, many of whom are content being exactly where they are doing exactly what they do, never stepping out of that realm of security, are often the brick and mortar out of which a culture is born. They are constants, developing the world around them because it’s the only world they know.
Why, then, has the idea of culture become so broken and resistant to those that create it? I have been traveling lately, visiting family in the country in which I was born, and as I pass from town-to-town I keep witnessing the same strange phenomenon. As I sit in a pub and talk to complete strangers, I get called “Yank” or “Cowboy” or “American” because of an accent I learned years ago, one that still feels like a stranger on my lips. And I nod and smile and play along until the button is pushed one too many times about me being from America, and then I jokingly say “I’m actually not American. I was born here, raised everywhere, and have created a third culture.” And eyes flash and confusion spreads, and I smile knowing that it really doesn’t matter that they have no idea what I mean, because to them, the world outside of the town they’re in is so large that it’s as incomprehensible as the vastness of the Universe.
Then the questions come about where I’ve lived, which one was the nicest, and all those things we hear a thousand times over when we meet someone new. But when they are prompted in return with the simple question of “do you like to travel?” I find that more often than not, my conversation partner’s eyes will flash with hostility, he’ll transition to the defensive, and say something along the lines of “Why would I want to go anywhere but here?”
But it’s not a love for where they’re from that keeps them planted in the town of their youth. It’s not a sense of belonging or a lack of capital. It’s fear. Fear of that massive world, that endless line of possibilities. Fear of being out of their element, of having to make their way around something new and unique. It’s fear of a change from normality, a transition away from people they know and can predict. It’s fear that maybe, just maybe, there actually is something else out there worth seeing that, and were they to find it, it would fill them with frustration or anger at their inability to fully understand why it moved them so deeply.
That, to me, is what makes us so different. To a TCK, the world isn’t large. It isn’t scary or terrifying or something to fear. It’s just there, full of so many different faces, so many different cultures, all of which are viewing the one they’re a part of as if it’s the center of the universe, all of them with different stories and different loves, but all of them wanting one thing and one thing alone: to keep on living. It’s beautiful to see how much they differ, how much they are the same. It’s exciting to land in a country in which you cannot speak the language, in which just ordering a sandwich is a struggle.
The world is not something to fear. It’s something to love and embrace, to learn from and become better because of. With all those little twists and turns, those little cultural jumps or transitions, it’s something to dive head-first into and learn everything you can. To any TCK, I can think of only one reason and one reason alone why the world could possibly be considered a terrifying place:
What happens to us when we’ve seen it all?