Did you grow up in one culture, your parents came from another, and you are now living in a totally different country? Then you are a third-culture kid! Yet being a third-culture kid is not always easy; in fact many hardships may arise from this culture-hopping phenomenon.
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.
The country my parents grew up in simply does not exist anymore. When I was thirteen we witnessed a chunk of East Germany’s population simply running away from a country that had been created by the Allied Forces in an attempt to keep Germany from ever trying to play a major role in world politics by dividing it into four parts. One part was given to the Russians without the population having any say in it. My hometown was originally part of West Germany, the part controlled by USA, France and Britain. Then, as if in an aftertought, it was decided to give this little region to the Russians in an exchange for a part of Berlin, later known as West Berlin, to make sure the Allied Forces have a foothold in Eastern Germany too, so that this devided nation could serve as a “buffer nation” in the cold war.
East Germans suffered a lot of injustice and worked their butts of for Russia, while West Germany experienced the economic miracle and showed the world what intelligence and hard work could accomplish 🙂
Fourty years later, mentalities had become very different and then, out of a sudden (exciting story for another blog one day maybe) the country became one.
From one day to the other our schooling system changed and we found ourselves in a world totally different than the one our parents knew. I remember the week all our beloved products disappeared from the shops, and the shelves were empty and we got worried. Then a week later the shelves were full of things we had never seen before. This bankrupted our local industries and gave West Germany an immediate marked expansion.
When we started to visit churches across the former border 20 km away from us, what a culture shock. Although we spoke the same language, you could tell by our clothes we are from a different country. The children thought us strange because we didn’t know the same TV programs and hadn’t watched the same movies. We tried to catch up on our education by dutifully watching Mac Gyver and the A Team every day after school.
But a general sense of lostness set in nevertheless. I quickly learned to speak immaculate high German so that nobody could tell my East German Origins by my accent.
Interactions obviously vary from culture to culture. The way we interacted in East Germany was totally different from what was important to West Germans back then. What used to shock me most were the totally old fashioned concepts people seemed to live by compared to the mindset we grew up in.
Now, many years later, having lived in different nations, I regret that the country of my childhood simply does not exist anymore. People had to adapt or get lost, adapt to new laws, new job descriptions, new ins and outs, new entertainment and foods for goodness sakes.
Coming to South Africa was like being put on a bus to school 5 days after school started-
Imagine that! Arriving at your new school, nobody telling you even where your classroom or what your schedule is. All the other kids know each other and have their seats. There you stand, everyone staring. You open your mouth and your strange accents immediately makes all the other kids put up a huge barrier. You are strange. And then you don’t know the next classroom to go to after break, are late, and get reprimanded for it. At the end of the day you do not even know which bus to take home.
That’s, in truth, how I felt when coming to SA. As a pastors wife in along established church where my husband had been the pastor for 8 years before me, there was not much I could do right. Nobody ever explained to me the ins and outs of the ministry, nor the local etiquette as in what was expected. I asked my in laws who all live in the same small town, toexplain me what they expect, since they let me know how much I did not do right.
Speak our language, cook our food, I was told!
8 years down the line it has become simpler, but not easier at all.
The hardest part, to raise my two little boys as confident as possible.
I am trying to make that extra effort to be as sparkly as I can, for every time their mom introduces herself, people emphasise on her differentness. Different accent, different name, etc. Afrikaaners aren’t exactly known to be the most open minded people there are.
I do not want my boys to ever feel they are the odd ones out.
My sons are very fast learners. Steven, 3, speaks German with the vocabulary and understanding of an adult, plus Afrikaans fluently and English all necessary basics.
Samuel, 15months, knows more than 30words in 3 languages already.
I myself was reading big novels by the age of 8 and try to carry over mylove of languages to my boys. But where do we belong?
I am,overtime, losing a lot of my old friends from overseas. It’s hard to keep in touch when you are so far away and your life differs so drastically.
Culture Shock in my native country
While I am always regarded as a stranger, a foreigner when in South Africa or elsewhere, people back in Germany expected me to behave the same way and know the same things as they do. Fact is, our value systems are very different in South Africa and Germany. When back in Germany, I so want to just fit in whats going on and happening, but I do not know anything about current TV shows, fashion trends or the latest German pop hits nor the current political affairs or insider jokes.
When I am asking my siblings and parents to update me on this, they think I am shallow. How can you want to watch a TV Show when we want to talk about our personal problems, they ask. Simply because I need to catch up with the country as a whole, before I can truly place what you are telling me into proper context!
My children have to relate very different to their two sets of grandparents. South African grandparents want to be greeted with a kiss on the mouth which would be seen as a degree of child abuse in Germany, especially if its forced. South African grandparents can not be adressed directly as in”you” but must always be addressed as “Oupa” or “Ouma” – “does Ouma want to see this picture I made” you have to ask. Generelly, in South Africa families meet to eat and share unrelated anecdotes over generous amounts of meat.
In Germany, relationships are much more on equal footing, and Grandparents want to see you sing a song or perform on an instrument, and do some activities like hiking,board games or going to concert together. Food does not play a main role.
My parents feel offended if my husband tries to feed them too much, his parents do not know what I want if I arrive with a board game and think it would be real fun if we play together.
While a third-culture kid must let go of their identity as foreigner when he/she returns, the home country can prove to be more foreign than anything encountered before. The peer group a third-culture kid faces does not match the idealized image children have of “home”. This often makes it hard for a third-culture kid to form their own identity.
Airports. Traveling. I wished we as a family could go to a completely different nation where none of us gets to say how this is done, but we do as we feel is right.
The experiences our kids get are awesome. My children have played with lion cubs, swam in 3 oceans, crossed the world 4 times before the age of 4, played soccer with African children in the dirt, watched musicals in Germany and danced in Botswana, are really happy to meet new people and smile at every stranger introducing themselves with “Hi my name is Steven” or a friendly hug. I remember how confused Steven was in Germany when strangers did not talk back to him (you do not small talk with people you never met) while in South Africa you can not even buy bread without talking and joking with the cashier.
My kids are unafraid. I want it to stay that way. So I am really trying not to be odd in my forever strangeness. The world is not my home, heaven is. So I am exercising my ability to make myself at home anywhere I am at the moment. Sorry for those who don’t get it.
If I make mistakes, it is not because I want to offend you, it is because I didn’t get a handbook on your way of life. I really do try to find the jokes funny … But please, let my kids feel accepted!
I also am not quick to give answers to problems, simply because my global experience shows me that there are no quick answers.
Sometimes it discourages me that intelligent people are so insecure while the ignorant walk around basking in confidence.
Here is a great video on third Culture children
They are the most awesome people you might ever meet!