The question for third culture kids.
I would say that for 22 of the 27 years I have lived, I have actively avoided being asked where I am from. And my deliberate avoidance of this question was magnified when I moved to the states.
For some reason, Americans love to ask this question. Perhaps it is because a feature of being American is the tendency to have origins abroad and being a descendant of a mixture of nationalities, which creates a great set-up for a story. Especially in college when you are meeting and mixing with kids who are literally from all over the world and make up a rainbow of experiences and interests, asking where somebody is from is a great conversation starter.
Having friends who are from exotic places is cool because it makes one look worldly and even sophisticated. So someone who is a mutt like me might be proud of being from overseas; even having lived in several countries and growing up in a bilingual family may make me extra alluring. But I got really tired of being in the spotlight for being so international and alien by the time I was eight years old that I really began to dread being asked the question.
Where am I from?
Going on 27 and realizing that I still do not have the answer is slightly discouraging. I can only really say that I came from my mother and deep down inside, I know I will never have the answer. Growing up in Japan was wholesome. Growing up in New Zealand wasn’t so bad either. And being a kid in Australia offered some solid years of fun. Looking back, I would not change a thing.
Sure, having to leave my friends every one to four years sucked and having to make new ones again was a job, but I always had friends no matter where I was in the world. Today, I am still in contact with my childhood friends who have dispersed across continents. Even though it means that I am not in close proximity with them, it is amusing to watch us all growing up in different countries, cultures and societies with our own trends, languages and climates. It makes me feel like the world is not such a vast expanse after all, and that making marks worldwide is not so unattainable. In fact, it is very doable. Oh yeah, I’ve been doing it all my life.
I wrote my final paper in college on comparing third culture kids with cyborgs. Third culture kids refer to the small but growing population of people whose country of origin is not where they were born or raised and thus living in the “third culture” which is the synthesis of their environments. Like cyborgs, who have a human and robotic make-up, the third culture kid is a hybrid with “enhanced abilities”.
The comparison being that looks say nothing about what is inside.
For example, I am half Korean, quarter Dutch, quarter Indonesian, born in Guam, raised in Japan, Australia and New Zealand, and currently living in Hawaii. I speak English and conversational Japanese. I grew up speaking Japanglish and eating pork and bean soup (a common dish in Holland), krupuk (fried shrimp chimps from Indonesia) and kimchi (Korean pickled cabbage). My parents listened to Rod Stewart, Willie Nelson and Andrea Bocelli. As I grew into my teens and became more independent, I listened to Daft Punk, Oasis, J-pop, Beastie Boys (RIP MCA) and trance music. I am a mess, a complete mess.
A mess in the sense of a Jackson Pollock. I am an explosion of colors randomly splattered, covering the canvas whole, but take a step back and and anyone can see that this mess of colors makes a fine work of art. Take away the red and the composition would fall apart. I need every part of me to make me who I am today. So although I cannot tell you where I am from, I can tell you who I am which is most relevant to the present.
If you care to know.
Upon realizing that there was never going to be a career in psychology, Seychelles Pitton decided to quit her job. While backpacking through southeast Asia where she saw ancient and natural remedies practiced by people in their own homes, she was inspired to train in bodywork and energy work, completed Reiki level 1 and pursues to lead a holistically balanced life. Today she counts swimming with the honu (Hawaiian green sea turtle) as one of her favorite pastimes.
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Editor: Kate Bartolotta