It’s a love-hate thing: a brief assessment of my half-year living and working in my home country

home sweet home the odyssey online
Photo credit: CIEE

So I’ve been living and working in Zambia, my country of origin, for over 6 months now and…it’s been (slightly) better than I expected. I wouldn’t say that I’m having an absolute blast here but I can’t say I’m completely miserable either. Since I arrived in Zambia to start work, there have been many times when I’ve felt like a complete stranger in what is supposed to be my ‘home.’ But, surprisingly, there have also been rare occasions when I’ve felt like this is exactly where I belong and need to be at this point in my life. It has been quite frustrating trying to navigate this place that I know very well yet don’t know at all and I haven’t quite gotten used to eating nshima (our staple food) every second day. Plus, my anxiety has sometimes threatened to destroy some of the joy I have experienced since being here. However, with each new day that comes I’m adjusting more to life in Lusaka. I haven’t quite gotten over my reverse culture shock but I have come to view living and working here as a unique opportunity to learn more about myself. And a great deal I have learnt so far.

Growing up outside my country of origin and knowing only my immediate family very well, I’ve been largely out of touch with many of my family’s customs, traditional beliefs and cultural practices. I also haven’t really learnt either of my parents’ languages very well. The cultures of each tribal group in Zambia and the Christian religion are embedded in the country’s national identity. When I think about my own cultural (and religious identity) I go blank. I don’t believe I really developed a solid grasp on one. It’s something I’ve grown up without. I’ve gotten used to the stern warnings from my older relatives to learn a Zambian language, eat more traditional foods and immerse myself more in my parents’ cultures lest I lose touch with my cultural identity. I’ve also grown accustomed to the jokes that friends, family and acquaintances have sometimes made about my inability to speak a Zambian language properly. These days I take it in stride, laugh it off and move on. It doesn’t irritate or sadden me as much as it used to.  Having a greater appreciation of how my upbringing has affected my sense of identity has given me great clarity and peace of mind. I won’t be packing my bags to go ku mushi (to the village) any time soon and I doubt very much that I will be sampling mopane worms but I am, and have always been, open to learning as much about my ‘culture(s)’ as possible. So far, the experience of living here without the immediate family has taught me so much about myself as I continue to embark on this path to self-discovery. I accept myself for who I am and what I have become There is no monopoly on what it means to be a Zambian so I should be allowed to proudly label myself as such even though I can’t speak the languages well, aren’t deeply religious or disagree with some traditional norms and practices.

One thing I’ve always found particularly vexing about living in my home country (a self-proclaimed ‘Christian nation’ according to the Preamble of our  Constitution) is the conservative nature of Zambian society as well as the prejudices, patriarchy and misogyny that sometimes comes with it. Of course, women around the world face many hindrances to our being treated equally, in fact, to men and there are many places in the world that are infinitely more overly religious and culturally conservative than Zambia. However, I’m used to being in a slightly more liberal space where I can, to a greater extent than here, express myself freely without facing judgment, condemnation or even violence for something as mundane as wearing (not too short) short shorts or a mini dress on a scorching hot day or openly stating that all people; gay, straight, trans, bisexual, black or white are entitled to be treated with respect and dignity. Now that I’ve lived and worked here for some time, I’m starting to understand Zambian society more and I’ve been able to adapt accordingly so I can still be myself while being respectful of the values held dear by the majority of Zambian people. Also, having a few friends and family who are more liberal or share my childhood experience  and can thus empathize with some of my frustrations has been of a source of great comfort to me.

While I may sometimes have to grapple with feeling stifled by cultural conservatism and getting used to life here, I’ve also been exposed to another side of Zambia that has given me some hope that this place could actually feel like home someday. I’m hoping that, over time, should I decide to settle here indefinitely, I can continue to meet more like-minded people with whom I really click and perhaps carve out a nice little niche for myself in which I can develop my own business(es) and career as well as build a home.

Since I arrived in Zambia, I’ve more often than not had moments where I question my decision to take up work here and at times have felt profoundly homesick even though I haven’t quite been able to figure out exactly what I’m homesick for. Nonetheless, I constantly try to remind myself of the many wonderful things that have happened to me since I came and the opportunities for personal and professional growth that being here has presented to me. I’m in a place that’s so familiar yet so foreign to me which has been thrilling, exhausting, sad, and inspiring, all at the same time. At times, I love it, other times I hate it, but to some extent, I have adjusted to life here and although I don’t think I’ll feel like a proper local by the time my consultancy is over, I’m certainly going to have an even better understanding of who I am and where I could settle down in the future.


How the game Sleeping Dogs inspired a change in my perspective on “coming home” 

So it’s official, the one thing I never imagined I would ever do is happening…I’m living and working in Zambia. After countless unsuccessful job applications and an abundance of frustration with looking for permanent employment, I landed a human rights consultancy gig which will keep me in my passport country until December. Let’s hope the next nine months are kind to me!


Growing up outside my home country, I never once thought I would end up living here and never really felt a strong urge to do so. Of all the places I’ve been in my young life, not one of them ever really felt like home to me, including my country of origin, as strange as that may seem to some. And anyone who is very close to me knows how weird it feels for me to say I’m a Zambian. Not that I feel much like any other particular nationality but I’ve always felt most like a foreigner in Zambia. But here I am. I’ll be here for quite a while and I’m going to try and make the most out of the experience.

You never know until you try really. As a child, I only ever lived in Zambia for very short periods of time and if I’m honest, didn’t always find it particularly enjoyable. However, I might just find that it’s more of an exciting experience living here as a working adult. Living and studying in Kampala – which is a lot livelier, more foreign and more chaotic than Lusaka – for four months last year, may have, to some extent, made me more inclined to give working here a try. If I could adjust to life there, albeit for a short period of time, surely I could adjust to life in Lusaka?

In many ways, I’ve likened my experience to that of Wei Shen, the main protagonist in the 2012 game Sleeping Dogs, which has also changed my perspective on “coming home.” I completed the game just before arriving in Zambia earlier this month and enjoyed it immensely – setting, soundtrack, missions, cast, characters and most of all, the storyline. However, the emotional journey of the main character was one particular aspect of the game that really resonated with me. Officer Wei Shen was born in Hong Kong but moved to the USA with his mother and sister as a pre-teen. He transitioned into an adult while still in the US and became a police officer with the San Francisco PD, graduating top of his class. He returns to Hong Kong after being transferred to the HKPD and is assigned to go undercover to infiltrate and bring down the Sun-on-Yee Triads. While undertaking this assignment Wei is faced with many of the challenges experienced by cultural nomads or third culture kids when it comes to our identity. These challenges are magnified by the fact that he is undercover.

Having spent his adolescence in in the US, Wei grows up to become torn between two different worlds and although some of his friends, acquaintances and fellow gang members are comfortable with his status as an Asian-American others regard him as an untrustworthy outsider, despite his being a Hong Kong native. Adding to their suspicions is the fact that he seems to behave too much like a cop. While Wei adapts quite quickly to his situation, like a typical cultural chameleon, and does well to gain the trust of his Sun-on-Yee brothers (and sisters) through various acts of loyalty, his emotional well-being, from constantly playing two sides (cop vs gangster, Asian-American vs Chinese), is severely tested.

Source: and

Wei’s handlers become concerned that the very same chameleon-like tendencies that make him the perfect candidate for the undercover job also make him the worst as it can happen, as it did in the game, that being embedded within one cultural setting for so long while lacking strong ties to a particular cultural identity occasionally makes him lose his sense of self and forget the true purpose of the mission. One thing I’ve always been good at is adapting and adjusting to very different cultural settings and like Wei it’s happened that I’ve committed so much to acclimatising to one particular setting that I sometimes go through periodic identity crises. I’m interested to see how being in Zambia for ten months, now that I’m self-aware and fully conscious of my multiple ‘cultural personalities’ so to speak, will affect how I see myself and how it may influence the decisions I make about where I would like to settle in the future. I might adapt to life in Lusaka to the point where it finally starts to feel like home or maybe I’ll go back to my physical home in South Africa feeling like just as much of a outsider as I did going into Zambia. Only time will tell but I’m going in with an open mind, eager to discover more about the land of my origin.

For me, another very interesting aspect of the Sleeping Dogs storyline was the fact that Wei doesn’t speak Cantonese throughout the game even when it’s spoken directly to him. Whether this was done to cater to an international audience or was a deliberate move on the part of the writers to add more depth to the character, I think it was a good additional layer to Wei’s personality which speaks to the experience of many people who share his childhood experience. It is clear, through his interactions with various characters who converse with him in the vernacular or mix it with English, that Wei can understand Cantonese very well. However, conversations with characters like Mrs. Chu, for example, who only speak in Chinese often appear awkward and stilted as Wei simply responds in English. This has been my typical experience of visits home. It’s not for want of trying but I struggle to speak my mother’s language, Bemba, despite my being able to understand it quite well. In spite of mum’s infrequent Bemba lessons, I never picked it up as a child. Usually when someone speaks to me in Bemba I’ll try respond with one or two phrases but often find myself reverting to English. Some of my family members have given up and accept that that’s how I am, others are neither sympathetic nor patient and a few can’t speak English at all. My reluctance to communicate in Bemba was further heightened by some of my relatives and friends mocking my heavily accented attempts at speaking the language. It was never really part of my plan to become fluent in Bemba, Nyanja or any other Zambian language this year but I might give it whirl. There’s never any harm in picking up an extra language or two.

A wise family member told me that there are times when you may be positioned in exactly the right station of your life in order to accomplish your goals in the future, even if it doesn’t feel that way in the present. So although I never saw myself living and working in Zambia, taking this job just felt like the right move to make at this point in time. It’s a short-term contract and could very well help me get to where I want to be career-wise. I might just find that life in Lusaka is not as daunting or alien as I thought. I’m about 3 weeks into my work here and so far, so good. I’m not on a mission to become inculcated with any particular cultural norms and values or become fluent in any local language in an attempt to be “more” Zambian. But I am embracing this work opportunity for what it can give me – good work experience, a chance to get to know my extended family, a better understanding of my home country, an opportunity to learn my parents’ languages and the ability to make a contribution to helping my home country fulfil some of her human rights obligations.

Master class: how studying towards a masters helped me discover my identity

In 2016 I accomplished one of my career goals – earning a masters degree in law. While I gained a wealth of knowledge  and practical skills that will no doubt be invaluable to me in my professional endeavours going forward, the life lessons I learned inside and outside the classroom in Pretoria and Kampala have enriched my existence immensely and for me, are the biggest gains from studying towards this degree.

I expounded on these sentiments in the piece I submitted for the Dean’s Essay Competition for 2016. Every year, the Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Pretoria invites students from the LLM in Human Rights and Democratisation in Africa class to submit essays in which they reflect on their experiences during the programme. At graduation, a  prize is awarded for the top three essays. I didn’t expect it at all, but I was placed first in the competition.  Considering I was up against two brilliant creative minds, I’m pretty darn chuffed that I managed to scoop first. I thought I’d share the piece below especially as it pertains to the central theme of this blog. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I loved writing it…



I’ve always believed that there is great value in education, particularly higher education which is a privilege granted only to a lucky few. I don’t value my legal education for the monetary gains or prestige that it can bring but rather, for the skills it has equipped me with to make a career out of ‘making a difference’  as well as the lessons it has taught me about life, love, sexuality, spirituality, relationships, family, careers and human behaviour. 


After roughly two years of seemingly never-ending masters and scholarship applications and taking the time to get some ‘real world’ experience, I was finally set to embark on my 1-year LLM journey. While my real world experience provided  me with a great deal of perspective and insight into where I see myself in the near future, the last ten months have had the most profound impact on me in a way that I could not have possibly imagined.

Never in my life have I experienced anything as academically stimulating, highly demanding and mentally-challenging as this academic programme. I knew doing a masters degree would be tough but I must have taken for granted just how much. After the intensity of the first semester subsided and we made it through relatively unscathed, I had time to reflect on the half-year that was and revisit some of the hobbies I’d neglected in order to get through it. It’s been exceptionally taxing but I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything because it’s helped me reshape my professional and personal goals and understand exactly what I’d like my legacy to be.

Last year, I started two blogs: one on fashion and the other on the theme of identity, but more specifically on how growing up away from my ancestral culture has affected my developing a sense of identity in my teens and early adulthood. I was born in the UK to Zambian parents, I hold a Zambian passport and have spent my formative years between Australia, Swaziland, Zambia and South Africa (where I’ve completed the bulk of my education and have been permanently resident for the past ten years or so).It’s not a particularly novel thing to go through a bit of an identity crisis when you’ve spent a significant portion of your developmental years outside your country of origin but it’s a subject that’s very personal to me and, as I came to discover, something that affects many people across the world. A surprising consequence of my LLM studies is that I’ve once again become hyper-aware of my cultural identity (or lack thereof). In a programme that emphasises acquiring skills and knowledge to improve the human rights situation in one’s ‘home’ country, feeling like I don’t have a home makes for a great opportunity to learn from my classmates but at the same time makes me feel disconnected from my passport country and the African continent generally.

My classmates and I introduced ourselves countless times while attending short courses, lectures and some special events. The introductions have been rather exhausting for the entire class but I came to regard the exercise as a bit of anathema because I was constantly confronted with a question that I do not particularly enjoy answering: ‘where do you come from?’ Initially, I would give my go-to responses: ‘I’m Zambian but I live in South Africa’ or ‘I’m ‘originally’ Zambian’ but five introductory speeches in, I grew tired of adding the qualification to my answer and would simply respond ‘I’m Zambian.’ I would then pray to my creator that I wouldn’t be called upon to educate the class about the political, legal or human rights situation in Zambia of which I had very limited knowledge when I first started the programme. It may seem strange or even comical that a question as simple as ‘any Zambians in the class?’ could make my palms clammy and my heart start racing for fear of being exposed as a ‘fake’ Zambian but it made me incredibly anxious until I decided to steer into the skid and focus on my studies. The wonderful thing about human rights issues is that they affect all people the world over regardless of background, age, race, status, religious affiliation or orientation. Moreover, there are so many different capacities in which every person on the planet can contribute to the advancement of human rights. I believe this is what drew me to the field in the first place, especially being someone who comes from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.


Linked to my identity, for the longest time the ‘feminist’ label bothered me immensely. The programme has, however, led to a change within me and I now wear the badge with great pride. While I’m more inclined to the business and human rights side of things – a passion which the programme helped me nurture through clinic work, a short course and my dissertation – I developed a deep interest in women’s rights advocacy. Two or three years ago, if someone had asked me if I consider myself a feminist I would most likely have said no. Painfully ironic considering I strongly believe in equal rights and opportunities for all people, staunchly advocate women’s empowerment and fiercely defend women’s rights. I’m ashamed to admit that I naively bought into ridiculous feminist stereotypes of the radical, man-hating, bra-burning, perpetual spinsters and felt unworthy to put myself in the same class as distinguished and seemingly elitist Germaine Greer-type feminist scholars and philosophers. But I believe I rejected the label primarily because I used to be uncomfortable with the inherently divisive nature of labelling people. This discomfort also stems from my inability to develop a firm grasp on a linguistic and cultural identity connected to my country of origin.

My opinions on feminism were altered during the thematic week on Gender, particularly when I attended a lecture delivered by Professor Sylvia Tamale. I immediately took a liking to her. It’s incredible how another human being can make such an impression on you at your first-ever meeting but this is the effect Prof. Tamale had on me and part of the reason I chose Makerere University as my second semester destination. As a Zambian woman who has lived amongst a range of different cultural groupings for most of her life but whose parents continually imbued her with some of their cultural values and did not wholly abandon many of their cultures’ practices, I straddle different sides like many African women my age. I try as much as possible to harmonise all facets of my cultural identity but they are often at odds with each other. In some measure, Prof. Tamale’s teaching and writings taught me that I don’t necessarily have to break one down in favour of the other as they are all-encompassing of my identity. I had the privilege of attending her inaugural lecture, Nudity, Protests and the Law, in which she reflected upon the internal moral dilemmas she wrestled with when her friend and colleague Dr. Stella Nyanzi carried out a nude protest earlier this year. Her openness and honesty about fighting to retain her feminist identity in the wake of such a shocking event so close to home and what it said about the objectification and sexualisation of the female form further ignited my new-found passion for feminist activism. 


I now realise that it is incumbent upon me as an African human rights defender from a privileged background to become actively involved in combating the many injustices that myself and my sisters on the continent face daily. Not only will I be doing this in my professional life but in my creative endeavours as well. Blogging is my art and a medium through which I have found my voice. I’ve truly been inspired by our lectures on art and human rights taught  by the quirky Marissa Gutièrrez and those on human rights advocacy by the brilliant Professor Liz Griffin to transform my blogging into a platform for pushing my activist agenda. My fashion blog has already been a platform for me to discuss a variety of subjects including history, race, art, sexuality, culture and feminism to some extent. I have come up with a variety of new pieces and ideas for both of my blogs, stimulated by my LLM studies, for my audience to enjoy, be inspired by and reflect critically on pressing human rights issues. I will continue in this spirit going forward.


It’s a bittersweet moment for me as my long and difficult LLM journey comes to an end but it’s been the most enriching experience, allowing me to forge wonderful friendships, hone important professional skills, travel and learn two new languages. Most importantly, the programme has helped me discover the identity I’ve been searching for since adolescence. I’m no longer afraid to label myself. I’m Zambian, African, feminist, activist, a blogger and significantly, I’m a graduate of the LLM in HRDA programme 2016.


Thanks for reading!


TCKs and transitional trauma: exploring the causes of depression and anxiety in third culture kids

We all go through the occasional bouts of depression. Some people can be depressed for a couple of days, others for serval months or even years at a time. Whether it be as a result of having experienced a death in the family, the loss of a job, mental disorder or a terrible accident that leaves you with both emotional and physical scars, depression is something that affects all people regardless of social status, race, background or age. Ordinarily, anxiety and depression can be linked to a specific incident or event that results in long lasting trauma. But sometimes one may suffer from depression for seemingly no reason at all.

In my research on what it means to be a third culture kid (TCK), I came across a Google search result entitled ‘tck depression’ which piqued my curiosity. This appears to be a popular subject in a great deal of the literature on the third culture kid phenomenon. It seems that the nomadic lifestyle of some TCKs during their childhood can cause mild to severe forms of depression in their late teens and early twenties. I was sceptical at first but after reading further and thinking back to my own experiences, these claims may not be completely unfounded.

Although the word ‘depression’ is used infrequently in many of the testimonies I have read what came through clearly was the fact that there is some unexplained sadness and/or anxiety underlying what could be a very rich experience of growing up in many different locations throughout one’s childhood. However, like most aspects of the TCK lifestyle, there is not, as yet, much scholarly attention given to this subject matter. There are very few formal research findings, precise statistics or in-depth studies on TCK depression but what has been documented is the fact that it is something that is not an uncommon occurrence for many TCKs.

Why are TCKs such a depressed lot?

First, for readers who don’t know what a TCK is, it’s a term referring to someone who has grown up outside their country of origin and develops a third cultural identity which is an amalgamation of their parent’s culture as well as the culture of the new places they reside in. A number of reasons have been advanced as to why TCKs seem to be susceptible to depression. I’ll explore a few below:

• The constant cycle of unacknowledged and unaddressed grief

One of the main suppositions advanced on the issue is that TCKs, particularly ones who moved very often growing up, constantly suffer loss. This mobility often comes with the sacrifice of opportunities to grieve the continual loss of friends, family, homes, schools, pets, hometowns etc. It also doesn’t help to be confronted with the sometimes mammoth task of trying to adapt to a new environment every so often. These compounded losses can eventually culminate in depression in adolescence and early adulthood. As you get older your subconscious forces you to recollect some of the experiences that your childhood mind could not fully comprehend and you become aware of all the ‘normal’ life experiences you missed out on. Such as, the ability to call one particular place in the world your home.

Further exacerbating the problem is the fact that this loss often goes unaddressed by TCKs themselves and their loved ones. The lack of attention given to the experience of TCK depression is primarily because the generic and overt triggers of depressive episodes such as a death in the family or some other traumatic event appear to be absent or not as apparent. The cause of depression in a TCK may not be so obvious unless linked to some other trauma they have experienced in their life. Therefore, the psychological effects of the highly mobile lifestyle of TCKs, which comes with a series of constant and abrupt losses receives very little attention and leads many TCKs to believe that their depression isn’t worth seeking help for.

• The desire for a sense of belonging

Another major source of depression for TCKs is their longing for a strong connection to a particular nation or culture. While most TCKs have the ability to adapt easily to different cultural and social settings and some are capable of developing a sense of identity linked to one particular country, many struggle with getting a solid grasp on their identity. It can sometimes feel as if a part of you is missing, a feeling that is often very hard to shake as you become more conscious of the differences between yourself and others. From my own personal experience, I’ve generally come to terms with the fact that I’m many different things, culturally, and none of them all at the same time but I sometimes feel like something is missing. Not being able to fill this void can be very disheartening and although it’s something that one can learn to live with, it could be source of sadness and despair without one realising it.

• The tension between the parental culture and the new culture

TCKs have a hybrid cultural identity that could be at odds with their parent’s cultural identity. This is particularly acute in instances where a parent puts pressure on his or her child to adhere, without question, to the cultural norms, beliefs and values of their country of origin but the family resides in a slightly more liberal environment. The resultant tension between the new cultural identity and the parental one can elicit two reactions – either pushing further away from the parent culture or pulling closer to it. In any case, the lack of acceptance of their unique cultural identity can make a TCK feel very alone in their struggle to develop their identity. It is also difficult for some parents to empathise with the identity crisis that their TCKs might face. They may not understand why their children don’t accept their cultural values outright or don’t take to learning their language as they hope and may see this as a sign of defiance due to being “influenced” by Western values, as is the case for some TCKs of African descent

Further exacerbating the problem, some parents come from cultures, where candidly expressing yourself or opening up about your feelings is not welcome. Moreover, the stigma attached to mental illness and depression may add to the difficulties of dealing with the problem as many African and apparently some Asian TCKs experience. It may also mean that your parents are more reluctant to acknowledge that you suffer from depression.

Growing up, there were times when I resented my parents for trying to ‘impose’ what I perceived to be repressive cultural values on me or for their failure to make enough effort to teach me their language or about their cultural practices. Although my parents were always willing to try and let my brother and I open up to them about what we were going through, I don’t believe they could ever truly empathise. Sometimes, I deliberately defied them by not learning their language or rejecting their culture as a means of punishing them for the monster they created and failing to be more accepting of the fact that I could never be like them. Now that I’m older and more comfortable with my identity, I don’t blame them for at least trying to pass on some parts of their cultural identity to their children. Plus, getting to know more about them and where they come from has allowed me to get closer to them.

Your ancestral culture will always remain a big part of your identity, even when you’ve grown up outside your country of origin, but it can clash with your own hybrid identity which you develop as you grow. The absence of a support system that enables a TCK to address their identity issues can lead to a very lonely existence which could further result in depression and anxiety.

• The difficulty of establishing meaningful relationships

Another difficulty facing many highly mobile TCKs is establishing genuine and solid friendships with their peers. TCKs often feel closest to those who share their childhood experiences. Therefore, some may struggle to maintain long-term friendships with people who do not necessarily relate to them in same way. Although a TCK may be highly sociable and make friends very easily, their friendships may be superficial or last for short periods of time if they’re constantly on the move. He or she could be surrounded by tons of friends but still feel very much alone in his or her struggle to develop a sense of identity. It may seem as if there is no point in maintaining close friendship ties if moving to a new city or country every so often is always on the cards. Social media has made it a lot easier for TCKs to keep in contact with old childhood friends but this may prevent them from seeking out genuine friendships with new people. Also, video calls, IMs and the like are unfortunately not an adequate substitute for regular face-to-face contact IRL.

It seems rather strange that a person who has had the privilege of growing up in different towns, cities and countries would feel anything remotely close to depression as a result of it. The stigma that attaches to depression in our society may also make it difficult for anyone to truly understand why a person with seemingly no good reason to feel depressed suffers from this mental disorder. Moreover, it can mean that a lot of third culture teens and adults may not feel they have good enough reason to seek help for the anxiousness, prolonged sadness and despair they may feel. Any person who is suffering from depression deserves to be heard without judgment. More attention needs to be directed towards understanding why highly mobile children may experience anxiety and depression in adulthood and discovering the best possible ways to help them help themselves.


  1. Third Culture ‘Depression and TCKs’ (11 July 2015) <;
  2. Nina Sichel ‘The trouble with third culture kids’ (20 June 2014) Morning Zen <;
  3. Carol Lin ‘Dealing with depression as a TCK student’ (14 June 2011) Denizen <;

5 things that parents of third culture kids should understand


The world gets smaller everyday so the likelihood of hearing a variety of different accents in random parts of the world is quite high. This, of course, means that the number of so-called third culture kids (TCKs) has increased dramatically over the last half a century or so. I touched on this briefly in a previous post. According to Dr. Ruth Useem, who coined the term in the 1950s, third culture kids are children and adults (adult TCKs) who are/were raised in a different culture or cultures to their parent culture during the developmental stages of their lives. Consequently, they develop and adopt a third, hybrid culture which is effectively a combination of these constituent cultures.

Extensive research has been done into how such an upbringing impacts on a child psychologically, spiritually and even economically as they transition into adulthood. The pros of growing up a TCK generally outweigh the cons but, in terms of linguistic and cultural identity, the experience can be perplexing and challenging for TCKs and their parents. In some cases, it can be somewhat depressing. As an adult TCK myself, I can strongly identify with the tensions that sometimes arise between TCKs and their parents with regards to issues of identity.

For some parents, feelings of guilt or sadness are common because they lament moving their children all over the world and long for them to appreciate their home culture. On the other hand, there are some parents of TCKs who would prefer to forget their culture completely. Whatever the case may be, there are a few things parents should bear in mind when it comes to raising their TCKs and helping them forge a sense of identity.

  • Home for you cannot be home for us

Some people may still possess strong feelings of loyalty and devotion to their home country when they emigrate. That’s a wonderful thing but it isn’t something that their TCKs can relate to. TCKs spend most of their lives living outside the countries where their parents were raised and may only ever visit briefly for the occasional weddings, funerals, Christmases and holidays. In some cases, family trips back ‘home’ may grow tiresome and feel like a chore due to vast differences in culture and perspective. Despite TCKs being treated like locals by friends and family in their countries of origin many still feel like outsiders. Our parent culture is foreign to us and it’s therefore difficult for us to accept it outright as our own. So as much as our parents would like us to be – or believe us to be – patriots of their home country, the reality is, we’re not. Parents shouldn’t feel hurt or offended if their children do not consider their passport country to be home. One can hardly return to a place that was never really home to begin with.

  • It’s important to know our heritage – even if it doesn’t mean much to you anymore

This is for the parents who would prefer to forget their home country. Knowing where one comes from is essential in shaping one’s identity going forward. Although negative experiences of their home country may be something some immigrant parents wish to share with their trans-culture kids, they should share the positives as well. It’s essential to instil a sense of pride in our heritage without forcibly imposing it on us. It’s quite disheartening to sometimes feel like you don’t really belong anywhere. In contrast to friends who have grown up surrounded by extended family and childhood friends, TCKs do not always have the same experience of intimately knowing grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles or retaining long-term friendships. Learning more about our parents’ origins is a good way for TCKs to better understand our parents and their beliefs and feel more attached to the family.

Since the Apple iOS9 software update, which includes the flags of all the countries of the world in its emoji keyboard, I have seen several social media account bios and Whatsapp display names proudly sporting the flags of the users’ countries of origin. In the case of my fellow TCKs, two or three flags have been put on display at a time. This just goes to show that many of us are quite proud to make known that we are cultural chameleons and take pride in the constituents of our cultural identity.

  • Don’t feel bad about raising us in another country. We often admire you for it and are grateful to you in the long run

TCKs spend a significant amount of time away from extended family and are constantly leaving friends behind. We feel closest to our immediate family with whom we share many momentous life experiences in different locations. It’s something many of us are grateful for because it has made us more open-minded and willing to embrace many people of different backgrounds. The example our parents have set for us by stepping out of their comfort zones and travelling abroad for work or study has instilled in us a thirst to know more about, and explore, the world.

We’ve had to give up friends, family, schools and childhood homes as we’ve followed you across the globe but it’s been the most amazing learning experience. As much as being the new kid at school sucks, you’ve helped us get through it all.

  • We’re not in a hurry to assimilate to our ancestral culture

We’ve grown accustomed to either a nomadic lifestyle or an entirely different culture to your own. TCKs may sometimes regard their parents’ views, cultural practices and traditions as antiquated, irrational or unnecessary so we may find it difficult to accept their culture. We may also feel no desire to settle in our country of origin. This is the case for a number of reasons.

First, we’re not often given a proper opportunity to learn much about our parent culture in the time when we’re trying to assimilate to a new one. Learning more about the parent culture takes a back seat to the need to fit in and feel like a part of the society we actually live in.

Second, learning a language also comes with its own challenges and issues. In an article I read last year, the author documented his experiences of trying to teach Hebrew (his mother’s language) to his young daughter. Through this exercise, he came to realise his daughter showed very little interest in learning the language because he only ever spoke to her in Hebrew when he was giving her commands or scolding her. She thus came to associate the language with discipline and negative emotions. A number of TCKs have had the experience of our parents reprimanding us while speaking their mother tongue. That, amongst other things, can cause us to drift further away from our parent culture. Plus, when you’re learning a language that doesn’t have a bearing on making new friends or your future career plans, it doesn’t seem worthwhile.

Last, many parents expect their children to readily accept their cultural practices without question simply because that’s what their people do. It is essential that parents endeavour to explain these practices and traditions as much as possible. With a few competing cultures to deal with, a TCK’s third culture takes precedence and if a parent of a TCK has any hope of their child accepting theirs, they need to properly explain why things are the way they are. A TCK is very unlikely to want to take these on and preserve their ancestral culture without understanding the purpose of these practices.

  • Our peers may not always understand our unique circumstances. We don’t need that from our parents as well.

For a lot of trans-culture kids, identity cannot necessarily be linked to one specific geographical location. TCKs may feel we don’t belong to our parent culture because we seem to be on a completely different wavelength. But, at the same time, we also feel misunderstood by our peers. I’ve always been most comfortable around my fellow TCKs with whom I share the same quirky traits and experiences.  Parents should be prepared for their TCKs to, at times, be very different to how they might have hoped. They should also try as much as possible to accept their children for who they are in spite of the fact that they may not speak their mother tongue or feel compelled to observe the traditions of their ancestral culture. That’s not to say that parents should totally give up on helping their children familiarise themselves with the many great aspects of their culture. On the contrary, this is encouraged. However, we also need to feel heard. It can’t be easy for a parent to have something they care about so deeply being lost on their children but parents should be wary of forcing this upon their TCKs.

I’m not a parent and I can’t even begin to imagine what it must be like to raise a child but being an adult third culture kid, I have an acute understanding of the struggles a lot of TCKs go through in forging an identity. While this is difficult for a child to have deal with, it can be just as challenging for their parent who has also given up friends, family and some aspects of their own cultural identity while adapting to life outside their native country. It is thus essential for parents and their TCKs to find common ground. TCKs need parental guidance and support in order to figure out exactly where they belong in today’s world, especially when it seems that no one understands them.