In this podcast episode, host Sofia Meisburger and friends talk about what it’s like to be a Third Culture Kid, and some of the struggles and benefits that come along with being a TCK. They also share some of their experiences from times when they lived in different places around the world.
ARI: Hey what’s up My name is Ari and I’m from Mumbai, India.
JORDAN: Hello, my name is Jordan [inaudible] I am a Filipino.
JOE NICK: Hey, I’m Joe Nick. I’ve lived in Indonesia for 18 years.
SAMANTHA THOMAS: Hi, my name is Samantha Thomas. So I guess I’m from California.
ALEX: I’m Alex [inaudible]. Home for me is a interesting question.
SOFIA MEISBURGER, HOST: Hi, my name is Sofia Meisburger and you’re listening to Global Citoyens.
MEISBURGER: When I was born in the metropolitan capital of Jakarta, Indonesia, in 1998. I had no idea who I was. I was a baby, to be fair.
MEISBURGER: I knew I had a light-skinned father and a dark-skinned mother and I had an older brother who was kind of tan. I figured I’d look like him. By the time I was two months old, I had an American passport and I was boarding my first flight overseas on Garuda Airlines, the national airline of Indonesia. The gruta bird is a figure in Hindu mythology, and it holds a central place in the Republic of Indonesia’s coat of arms, along with the national motto “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika.” An old Japanese phrase that means unity in diversity. An appropriate slogan for a nation consisting of over 8,000 inhabited islands. Some 200 ethnolinguistic groups, and a population of about 250 million, and growing. I always liked this about Indonesia. How big it is. How varied. In a way, it represents a kind of macrocosm with my own plural and confusing identity. At three years old I visited my German grandmother living in America for the first time. I only knew how to speak Bahasa Indonesia at this point in my life, but this became a source of shame and disappointment for my grandma who insisted to my mother that I only ever speak English. From that point on, Indonesian was never heard in my house again. My dad worked in the nonprofit and democracy field. So we traveled and moved around a lot. First, it was Cambodia, then Nepal, and Myanmar, and Laos. Eventually, we settled down in Bangkok, Thailand, which is where I graduated high school. There’s always been this internal tension. This tug of war between white and brown, foreigner and local, colonizer and colonized. I have no solid place I call home. No hometown to return to for holidays to reunite with the people I grew up with. I’m a tourist in perpetuity. Thankfully, I’m not unique. And I never thought I’d be saying that sentence but it’s true. My peers and the international schools I attended had identities just as tedious and nuanced as my own. Our high school called us TCKs, or third culture kids, which we resented, but I think still preferred over being called a global citizen. Hence the title of this podcast episode. In university too, I found a tight-knit community of international students who empathize with multicultural upbringing. As an added bonus home-cooked meals are always adventurous and delicious. I’m having one such meal now in my friend Alex’s apartment. One of his roommates, Joe Nick is Indonesian too and he’s preparing a quintessential traditional dish
JOE NICK: Opor Ayam. It’s like chicken in hot curry, but not really like curry. It’s like some yellow sauce. It’s so good. You can normally eat it with rice and fried shallots.
MEISBURGER: Meanwhile, Alex is by the counter putting the final touches on his dish
ALEX: Calmaria would be my favorite Greek dish with a bit of feta cheese always. I was born in Japan Tokyo, and I lived there for a couple years. Around about three years. Lived in Osaka on a farm with my aunt. I then moved in with my mom in the Philippines, at Cavite. After that, I then ended up in Singapore with my entire family where I spent the majority of my time that’s where I spent high school as well and that’s where I came from. Now I’m in LA. So if I had to consider any place I’ve been to be home I’d probably say Singapore because that’s where I spend the majority of my time. The actual way it did affect me though is whenever everyone asked where I’m from, I do have a bit of a hard time saying which country I’m from I occasionally just kind of give a different one. Whenever I’ve used one too much. And I definitely sound the spitting image of a third culture kid maybe even more, just because I don’t really identify with any of my cultures. I’ve never spent too many, too much time with any of them. Needless to say, I also don’t look anything like any of my cousins, because of the amount of things I am. Yeah, got like five nationalities there. I usually just go with Greek Filipino, that’s the ones I look like most. Figured those the ones.
MEISBURGER: Four boys live in this apartment. So my expectations regarding the general cleanliness of their space were already pretty low. But by sheer coincidence, every single resident in this household is of Asian descent, and select cultural cues in their living area clue me in on this. Yogi’s Indian kurta hangs on the coat rack and Joe Nick’s Southeast Asian spices line the cupboards. The most comfortable element in the room is probably the shoes lined neatly by the door, alongside a sign that says “Please take off your shoes were Asians here.”
JOE NICK: Hey, I’m Joe Nick. I’m from Indonesia. I’ve lived there, my whole life until last year where I moved here to the United States to study. At first, it was very intimidating because I’m not used to speaking English on a day to day basis. But now when I came here, um, people don’t even really speak English too. They speak like, they add slang and they’re like, I’m “finna” do this “No cap” “bet” like. It’s just, I have to relearn everything else. Um, which is an example of a culture shock that I faced. But at the same time, not being home. I mean, the idea of not being home doesn’t really exist to me because I strive to, home is not a place it’s, it’s like a mentality. So as long as you create, as long as you create a sense of home anywhere else in the world, wherever you carry, you should be fine. Although I still kind of miss home because like I made a lot of memories there, high school friends. The legal drinking age is 18.
MEISBURGER: Samantha, one of my oldest friends is here as well, along with her flatmate Jordan.
THOMAS: Hi, it’s me. My name is Sam, Sammy, Samantha Thomas. I, where do I start. So I guess I’m from California I was born here. My parents are both from here but when I was six years old I actually moved to Bangkok, Thailand. When you’re six you really don’t remember anything beforehand, I mean you can remember blowing out birthday candles, but you don’t really know where you are geographically. So a lot of what home means to me, starts in Thailand, despite being American. And yeah, I moved there when I was six. All of my formative years in middle school, high school everything happened in Thailand and I graduated there and repatriated and move back to the US. It was really shocking actually being American living in America and not feeling connected at all to the culture or the place. It was a big adjustment because even just the first week of orientation at college everyone asks, Hey, what’s your name, where you from, and I didn’t know how to answer that question because obviously I’m blonde hair blue eyed white girl from California, but I just spent the last 11 years growing up in Thailand so there’s definitely a lot of culture shock and confusion about what home meant to me and what identity I aligned myself with. I guess home to me now is, I mean it’s always been more the people than the place, given that I just grew up in a place where I wasn’t from. So it’s really about like the family and friends that are your family that make a place feel like home. That being said, I still obviously like feel so much love and care for Thailand. Knowing how much it gave me growing up. My favorite dish, should we talk about my favorite dish. Um, it’s actually really bad because I did, I live there for 11 years and I still don’t really know what it’s called. I know mu is pork so there’s something involved in pork in there. But um, it’s like this street food that it’s like grilled pork with sticky rice on these skewers and my, my house, one of my housekeeper used to pick them up for me and bring them home she knew I love them so much and that was like the best after school snack, and always so delicious. Probably clogged my arteries with all the fat in the skewers but I’m for it. Give me more.
JORDAN: Hello, my name is Jorden [inaudible]. I am a Filipino who grew up in the Philippines. I was born and raised there, and I moved to California, in 2016 for college. Now I’m a senior and I’ve been living in Orange County for four years, almost four years. Moving to California was really interesting, mostly because it was my first time living on my own. I wouldn’t say it was so much like a culture shock I always, I’ve always thought of myself as like an easily adaptable person, but definitely living on my own away from family members like a thousand miles away, that was like, kind of difficult especially like on the weekends when I wouldn’t you know like I used to go to the beach all the time with my family and that was something that I really missed. I know there are beaches in California, but it’s just very different from Filipino beaches. One thing about Filipino food is that it’s very like meat and seafood-based and I’m a vegan. So, whenever I’m here I actually like make a lot of traditional Filipino food with tofu and tempeh so that’s really good. In terms of like sauce and everything I really like Sisig like which is like a hot pot kind of thing so I like making mushrooms Sisig. It’s like traditionally done with pork. Yeah, it’s really interesting, I think I was mostly shocked by how welcoming everyone was I feel like when I was in high school and I had some friends who were seniors who went off to college. They came back and they were like telling me a lot about like how their community wasn’t like as welcoming to the international community and I don’t know if it’s just my school or just like the organizations that I involve myself with but I’ve always like, I’ve never felt like my international students status has ever like hindered anything. It is hard like in terms of internships and jobs and like you know like the logistics of like getting a car and like having to have a license, you know, and everything. But, you know, it’s just like extra barriers that you just have to like jump through, but it kind of just makes like, when you do get the things you want like more rewarding. I guess one thing that was really interesting was kind of getting like reverse culture shock when I went back to the Philippines, especially my first summer back after my freshman year in college. I definitely feel like especially like college is like it’s such a formative time in your life like you’re really getting to know yourself and especially being all on your own you really get to like decide what kind of person you want to be out of the boundaries of like what your family expects and what your like, culture and society expects being an international student. So that was really interesting I kind of got to like form my own path like more than like what I thought that I like, more than the past that I was forming in high school. And so it was really interesting going back home and kind of like face those like expectations of family members with like who I was in high school and like not being that kind of person anymore.
MEISBURGER: I can’t really remember how any of us met or became friends. In any case, kids like us always seem to naturally drift towards each other. To fill in our cultural gaps where we otherwise lapse. This podcast is titled Global Citoyens because I grew up speaking predominantly English and French in the schools I attended. I was also taught Thai, Russian, Japanese, and Arabic, though, very little of it seems to have retained. I’m grateful for my upbringing and the privilege it has granted me and understanding, a wide scope of worldview, and cultural difference. It’s impacted the way that I adapt to each new situation I’m in, and how I acclimate to entirely new environments. I’m proud of who I am and I’m proud, even more, that home doesn’t have to be a fixed static place, but rather the people that I’ve found and the family that I’ve chosen, and the family that I’ve been given. It’s not always easy being Intranational, more so than it is being International. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.