"Please Don't Ask Where I'm From"

“Please Don’t Ask Where I’m From”

“Please Don’t Ask Where I’m From”

“Melbourne… Australia”

Time paused momentarily as those two words flashed on my phone’s worn-out screen. My friend snatched it out of my hand, nosily wanting to know what text message had grabbed my attention.

I noticed her smile fading away, and then swiftly returning, trying to be optimistic about what she had just read.

“Australia. I’ve always wanted to go there!”

After a few short minutes of enthusiastic conversation, I started to observe the people around me in the school yard: My basketball teammates who were treading up and down the court, my best friends enjoying the sun while sipping on juice boxes, and a teacher scolding the class-clown for having his pants down too low. Once again I’d be leaving this life behind to start another.

This is the life of a Third Culture Kid (TCK). TCK is regularly defined as “a person who has spent a significant part of their developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.”

“Where are you from?” is a question I can never quite answer without using the phrase “Then I moved to…” five times.  A single place that I can call ‘home’ has never existed – the world, and its countless cultures, is where I find solace.

The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

Although lacking a sense of ‘where home is’ occasionally perturbs me, I have always thoughtlessly packed my few belongings – mainly consisting of photographs and clothes – and boarded a plane to my new life. Whenever friends ask, “When will you be back? Will you visit?” John Denver’s lyrics, “I’m leavin’ on a jet plane, don’t know when I’ll be back again,” echo in my mind. These questions would draw on emotions that I have always avoided – apathy and coldness perfectly describe my attitude towards goodbyes.

Luckily, the friends you make as a TCK tend to be fellow TCKs. International schools tend to act as a transit for students. Everyone knows they are there temporarily. The friends you make will either leave before you do, or shortly after.

The experiences I have encountered as a TCK have been breathtaking.  I have celebrated birthdays in Israeli bomb shelters, where gas-masks decorated the walls, stood in the shadow of the Great Pyramid of Giza, which protects you from the scorching summer sun, accidently stumbled upon the Red-Light District in Amsterdam, where the scent of cannabis and cheap perfume lingered, observed astronomic wonders while camping at Jordan’s endless landscape of ancient riverbeds, Wadi-Rum, and sat among tens of thousands of passionate footy fans that deafened me with their chants during the 2010 AFL Grand Final.

More importantly, life as a TCK has exposed me to a diverse range of cultures and traditions.

On Yom Kippur, operating motor-vehicles and electronics was frowned upon in Israel.  I would ride my bicycle on abandoned roads and highways – it evoked feelings of being in an ‘urban’ desert, with all stores tightly locked up as if in expectation of a looming disaster.  The idea that millions of Israelis would voluntarily sacrifice their use of such necessities in respect of tradition and religion was striking.

Petra, Jordan

Tradition was alive in Jordan. Whenever I visited Jordanian families, the mouth-watering aroma of mansaf – a traditional meal made of lamb and cooked in a sauce of boiled goat’s milk covered with almonds and served with rice – would immediately draw me into their homes. Traditionally, mansaf is eaten from a large platter with your right hand. At first, the notion of eating with my hands was quite revolting, but then I realised how bizarrely entertaining it could be: I could indulge in the childhood-joy of eating with my hands without getting in trouble.

Holland’s Zaanse-Schans, Volendam, Delft and countless other small towns, resembled life in another century. These towns were packed with a variety of Dutch icons: from 18th century windmills, narrow-canals, and colorful little houses, to vast rainbow-colored tulip fields, cheese markets, and Delft Blue earthenware painting the windows of every store.  I loved wandering amidst wheels of cheese, and being offered samples by tall, golden-haired girls dressed in traditional Dutch costumes and carefully painted wooden clogs.  Whenever I recall these markets, I can almost taste the soft and slightly sweet taste of Edam cheese.

Yet it wasn’t until Melbourne that I was astounded.  Melbourne is a miniature global community – the perfect example of multiculturalism and globalisation.

Gouda, Holland

It has been amazing to live in a city where almost every culture is represented, and where residents from a diverse range of backgrounds have managed to live harmoniously side-by-side. As a TCK, if there was a place I would want to call ‘home,’ it would be Melbourne.

I am regularly asked, “So do you ever plan on settling down in one country?”

My response is always, “Why would I settle down?”  Being ‘from’ the world and developing a globalised culture has been both rewarding and challenging.  Although leaving friends and family behind on a periodic basis, and not having a single place that I can call home has been difficult, I can’t imagine living otherwise. The reward of developing a connection to various cultures, and understanding their traditions has simply been immeasurable.

In an increasingly globalised world, the opportunity to develop a personal relationship with various cultures and understanding their traditions has simply been extraordinary. Ultimately, global culture is the future. You can be taught how to accept other cultures and you can learn about other cultures from books, but you’ll never truly know other cultures unless you actually experience them. Experiencing the world and its’ multitude of cultures shows that there are more commonalities than differences between people around the world. After all:

“Who lives sees, but who travels sees more.”

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  • Didn’t know the forum rules allowed such brilliant posts.

  • Love.love this tribute. I think where I began to cry was the end where you say It’s hard to nroarw down what Dave did for those of us TCKs who grew up before all the variety of help there is now, the understanding, the seminars. Dave was the pioneer. For so many of us, he was the first one who helped us find our name. We could accept being TCKs as a rich gift, while at the same time acknowledging the losses it had brought us. Sorry for reposting all of this in the comment .but I have a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Yes that’s it. Thank you.

  • TCK since I was in utero!!! Born in Australia, to Irish parents who had just emigrated. Then they ‘unemigrated’ back to Ireland, to the countryside. Thenwe moved up to Dublin and lived with Father and his new Danish wife, then moved to spain with Mother,she married a Swiss-Australian, then I went back to Ireland, then to the UK, then back to Ireland, then back to the UK and now live in Egypt!
    But I always feel Irish. Its where I feel my roots are planted, no matter where or how many times I move. But this movement between cultures certainly teaches one how to adapt and accept cultural differences without too much struggle.
    I too love your articles. Its good to see how many people are actually TCK.s. I always felt like the odd one out because my experiences were not shared with others. My therapist always called my past ‘colourful’. Hmm…

  • Never stop writing and passing along observations from your heart. Becoming a neutral global traveler/writer/observer unifies you with the whole world as it is unfolding. Unity is the trail up the mountain for our species not to affect more harm on Earth and each other. Good works and peace as a worldwide goal embraced with no agenda is rare. You give me hope.

  • Wow. I didn’t become a TCK until I was 41! lol lol I joke about living out of two suitcases, and while it’s true that I have now spent six years in Egypt, I wouldn’t trade in my worn-out, stamp-filled passport for much of anything else in this world. Indeed, “Who lives sees, but who travels sees more.”

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  • Hello Egyptianstreets,

    It’s crazy, since I’ve started to read your post, I find more and more similarities. Now with this Third Culture Kid (TCK) idea, well it definitely seems like I know why I enjoy your post’s so much. It seems like being one of these TCK’s creates qualities in one’s personality that are more oriented toward tolerance, the pursuit of knowledge, openness and the likes. I don’t know about you but I would say that I lack that whole idea of pride in relation to nation or culture.

    Basically I live in Canada, for about 20 years now. While on the other hand, I’m Egyptian, born in Central African Republic. It has been very difficult for me to identify with one culture or group of peoples and find myself, at many times, not really picking a side. Although, there is something that I noticed about this. I was no longer blinded by the effects of nationalism or religion. When I say blinded I mean, I was very neutral about who is Canada, what is it’s history, etc… In the same manner, I learned about other countries.

    I’m just blabbering off here, but really I do think that a globalization culture is better than one single culture. It can incorporate all the positive qualities of all the varying cultures into one super-culture, while simultaneously supplementing any ambiguous areas with totally novel cultural qualities, to even further improve the quality of our species relations.

    Anyway’s keep up the great posts!


    • Hey Rafik,

      When I found out about the existence of the term TCK a few years ago I stumbled upon heaps of articles and videos by fellow TCK’s (or atleast research about them) and was astounded to see how similar I felt to what was being written. Over a while, I have come to believe that TCKs make connections with other TCKs much faster than with ‘regular’ people: country, the ‘nation’, or a single culture becomes difficult to relate to – instead, you relate to an ‘idea’ of “globality”/”globalization” (and as you mentioned, tolerance).

      You are definitely not alone when you feel “blinded” and are definitely not alone with the lack of ability to identify with a single culture! It is always great to talk about it with fellow TCKs – everyone has an experience to share (yours seems very interesting – being born in CAR, living in Canada, but originally being Egyptian!)

      I am glad you enjoyed my article. If you ever want to get in touch again, don’t hesitate to contact me on [email protected]. Also, I recently stumbled upon a TCK ‘subreddit/group’ on Reddit (you may have found this article from there – not sure). If you want to read more about the lives of others/see posts related to TCKs visit http://www.reddit.com/r/TCK/

  • Anne Hamamen

    Great writing you remind me of my life with so many cultured involved

  • You are a very expressive writer and I am always looking forward to read what you have to say. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. You often give a voice to many experiences I have in common with you despite the age difference. I geuss some things dont change however your expressions are very eloquent. Thank you.

    • Thank you very much :). I am glad you are enjoying my articles – it’s always good that someone is!

"Please Don't Ask Where I'm From"

Mohamed Khairat is the Founder of Egyptian Streets.

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Egyptian Streets is an independent, young, and grass roots news media organization aimed at providing readers with an alternate depiction of events that occur on Egyptian and Middle Eastern streets, and to establish an engaging social platform for readers to discover and discuss the various issues that impact the region.

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