Third Culture Kids And One Culture Parents


In a way the suggestion that I'm raising third culture kids seems a strange one. Singapore doesn't feel vastly different to any city we've ever lived in. Well, apart from the climate, living in an apartment and having a swimming pool. But in terms of the lifestyle itself, it can feel like a bit of a stretch to say Finn and Clara are third culture kids. Expat brats, sure, but third culture kids? I don't know. A TCK (that's third culture kid to you and I), has been described by sociologist David C Pollock as:

"A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is someone who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents culture. The TCK often builds relationships to all of the cultures whilst not having full ownership in any."

And so when I just look at the definition of third culture kids in that sense, then yes, they are. Buzzfeed (of course) has a funny list of 31 Signs You're A Third Culture Kid which I wouldn't have appreciated before. Before I found myself raising my own pint sized TCKs that is. I literally got as far as number three on the list before laughing aloud. Finn and Clara both pick up accents from their friends here, and Clara's sweet little nickname of "meimei" has only come about since we lived in Singapore. In case you're wondering, it means younger sister in Chinese (Mandarin), so is both accurate, culturally appropriate and also rather endearing.

I grew up in a home of many cultures in a way, with a mix of English, German and Irish family around me. We'd sit down to dinners with combinations of all the cultures in one meal. There would be different languages, accents and nursery rhymes depending on which relatives we were with. But I wasn't a third culture kid. Perhaps because the European cultures can be so similar in many ways. But for Finn and Clara they not only have the same mixed European heritage as I, but they're obviously growing up in an Asian country. And I suppose, regardless of how "western" Singapore can feel, they're soaking up a wildly different childhood. They're dab hands at navigating MRT systems, and negotiating for their dinner at hawker centres, and their calendar year is something between the Gregorian and the Lunar. 

I've been aware of the uniqueness of their childhood for a while, and at times it has worried me. I grew up with only one significant house move (or one that I can remember), and only had to change schools once (from primary to high school). My kids are already on their fourth home and third school / pre-school experience. Our experiences of the world and different cultures could not be more different. To be blunt about it, if I hadn't done world culture badges at Brownies and Guides I would be even more white and wide-eyed than I am now. Cultures, traditions and celebrations that had to be actively included into my education as a child are just day to day for Finn and Clara. How incredible is that? And they don't even have the exposure a local or international school here would give them!

But sometimes I do worry they don't know who they are or where they've come from. As exciting as it is to be able to grow up surrounded by other third culture kids, in among a medley of cultures that is quite unique to Singapore, I don't want to disregard their heritage either. It's important they learn about "home" too. At the very least, and to use some TCK lingo, their passport country. Or, as in their case, countries. So whilst they learn about Divali at the end of October, they'll also be learning about Guy Fawkes. Divali will be all around them here, but Guy Fawkes? I'm quite certain that he's not on the curriculum of most international schools here. And as for the story of Finn's namesake, the Irish legend Finn MacCool (or to be more accurate Fionn mac Cumhaill)? Definitely not.

There's no doubt being third culture kids is giving Finn and Clara the most amazing childhood experience. I mean, the closest I got to it was when I was 14 and a girl joined my class who was moving back after a period time spent living in Cyprus. I cannot tell you how exotic that seemed. It's funny now because she's one of my closest friends, but for a little while she was like an alien species who talked about these friends with unpronounceable names from her international school. So in a way I can't really relate to my kids to be honest. Maybe that's why I'm going over board (?) with drilling into them what their first culture is. Or, was. Or at the very least, what the cultures of their parents and family are.

We're not the first in our family to live overseas by any stretch of the imagination. But the women (on my side) who could have talked me through their experience of raising a family away from home are sadly all dead. As are those who were raised overseas in another culture. And of course when I was younger I didn't ask the questions I'd love to ask now. I'm sure my Omi (my maternal grandmother) would have endless advice about packing up, heading for another country and starting from scratch. She was a German lady, married to an Englishman, headed to a post-war England. A situation that entirely dwarfs my small complaints about life as an expat. And my Granny (my paternal Grandmother) grew up on a tea plantation in Ceylon, a world away from 1920's and 30's Ireland. Apart from a couple of silk robes and of-the-time costume jewelry which she gave my sister and I for dressing up, we really don't know much about her childhood on the plantation. Not first hand accounts anyway.

It is not lost on me that there are such interesting stories of building lives overseas so close to me. And yet I (and my husband) had such very settled childhoods. My husband describes himself as Irish, and I describe myself as European. We've both had - for the most part - a one home, one identity, one culture upbringing. Regardless of all the other relocation's we've coped with so far, Finn and Clara have already spent a quarter of their lives living in Singapore. They are classic third culture kids in many, many ways. But are they citizens of everywhere and nowhere? It remains to be seen...