For TCK Generation, ‘Where is home’ is a dreaded, ambiguous question

The author with fellow ‘third culture kid’ Lorenzo Capinpin: ‘Our ethnic homeland draws us back’

The author with fellow ‘third culture kid’ Lorenzo Capinpin: ‘Our ethnic homeland draws us back’

By Maribelle Biscocho-Omar

Identity is a concept that sounds simple enough, usually defined by name, ethnicity, hometown, or sexuality. When it comes to cultural identity, a certain ambiguity emerges. One is never just from his or her birth country. A strong sense of belonging, especially for the youth, becomes just as important.

There is a group of young individuals who tend to feel conflicted with their cultural identity while also questioning where they really belong. Known as the third culture kid (TCK) generation, these young adults were raised in two or more countries that are different from their ethnic roots.

One of the reasons behind this phenomenon is the parents’ job assignment which usually requires them to bring their families along. This causes TCKs to have to confront the dreaded question: Where are you from?

The term is believed to have originated in the 1950s when sociologists John and Ruth Useem visited India to study overseas Americans who were living there. While conducting their study, they also brought their children with them.

While the term originally identified Americans who grew up in different countries, the definition began to apply to almost anyone who grew up in different countries other than their passport or ethnic country throughout their development years. While TCKs may be unique, they are also quite common especially with the increasing number of careers that require living overseas. Children of expatriates or diplomats are often TCK kids.

TCKs all: From top, Barack Obama, Uma Thurman and Kobe Bryant

TCKs all: From top, Barack Obama, Uma Thurman and Kobe Bryant

President Barack Obama is a third culture kid. He lived in Indonesia when his mother remarried to an Indonesian man. Obama also has Kenyan roots since his father was Kenyan. Other famous TCKs are actress Uma Thurman, athlete Kobe Bryant and Secretary of State John Kerry.

As a third culture kid myself, I can say that there are numerous challenges that we face. Racial discrimination was a hurdle I had to overcome when I moved to Australia when I was 12 years old. As an Asian, I was often taunted for being brown or being told to go back to my country by bus or boat. Eventually, I was able to overcome this cultural barrier. As time went on, I was able to immerse myself in the Australian culture to the point wherein the country became a part of my home.

Some Filipino TCKs find it difficult to move back to the Philippines. Lorenzo Capinpin was one in the beginning. Growing up in the United Kingdom, Vietnam, and the United States, he saw himself constantly trying to synchronize himself with the Filipino way of life due to the vast differences in culture and attitudes.

“My family and I moved to the United Kingdom when I was 3 years old, and though as expatriates we didn’t face many of the challenges that immigrant families do, we too went through many changes. I had to adjust to a society that was polite, organized, and disciplined – traits I could not say for my own society. Although I also lived in Vietnam and the United States I could not identify myself to any one culture,” he said.

Culturally, Asian and Western countries have significant perceptional differences towards the concepts of authority and hierarchy. In Western countries, people usually vision respect and authority on an equal basis wherein regardless of how old you are or where you are from, respect should be given. On the other hand, Asian countries perceive that respect and authority are usually given to the elderly or adults since they are known for their profound wisdom.

For Lorenzo, the Western mindset he had was a challenge when he moved back to the Philippines.

“I often clashed with people in the Philippines personally and professionally because I would disregard hierarchy and groupthink in favor of individualism and knowing my own worth. In many ways I lived outside what was the norm because I had a strong sense of self and a worldview beyond just the Philippines,” he explained further.

“When I moved back to the Philippines for college, I felt an ironic feeling of being lost in your own homeland. My college freshman year consisted of adjusting to a different social landscape and getting used to speaking Tagalog on a daily basis. However, it saddened me how whenever I spoke with my fresh Australian accent back in the day, I would usually get intense stares that left a lingering feeling of alienation.”

Despite all these challenges, third culture kids like Lorenzo and myself end up longing for our ethnic homeland. Even with the constant misunderstandings and tensions towards our own ethnic society, we always long to come back and be part of the change that will improve our country.

“Growing up outside of my homeland allowed me to see that the world is full of self-made success stories, that I was only limited by the size of my dreams, and change is natural and shouldn’t be feared. Like many of the Ilustrados, I want to push the Philippines further, yet for me and others like me the frustration is very real. The temptation to leave is very real. The urge to give up on myself and settle is very real. Yet while I don’t feel at home in other countries, I still feel the call to make a difference in my own country, if not the world,” Lorenzo continued.

At the end of the day, third culture kids still dread the question: Where are you from? However, we feel that no matter where we end up, our ethnic homeland draws us back to where it all started.

Lorenzo now works in the IT industry, recently having spent half a year working around Silicon Valley. He is passionate about culture and technology, hoping to use his knowledge for the good of the Philippines.

Born in the Philippines, Maribelle Biscocho-Omar was raised in Australia and the United States throughout her childhood and teenage years. An aspiring journalist, she is currently discovering an interest in working for the fashion/garment industry. She is also a youth activist for good governance, human rights and women empowerment. She is pursuing a Master’s Degree in Media Studies at Queens College.

She is a writing intern for The FilAm.

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