Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Interview with graphic design student Jessica Wen on her Third Culture Kid Book Project

Let me introduce you to Jessica Wen. She is the creative inspiration behind the "Third culture kids- Self Identity Accordion Books".
I came across the project on the internet and I am really enthusiastic about it. I am so glad Jessica agreed to tell us more about herself and her project.

1. I really love your TCK project. Each little book contains a unique story just as each third culture kid has a unique story. Please tell us about your project and how you came up with this idea?
Thank you very much for your encouragement. It really means a lot to me! I'm a junior graphic design student at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), Baltimore, Maryland, United States. I started my TCK book project for a artist book class with Laurie Snyder— it was my final project for the semester, and I really wanted to make a project that speaks for my identity and my background; then... obviously, the TCK idea came to mind. 

I started the project by surveying myself and 4 other TCK friends regarding to each of our unique background. (Lived in how many countries/ speaks how many languages/ definition for being a TCK/ most belonged to which culture...etc.) 

And then, each person's story was individually made into their own mini accordion book. This set of 5 books were meant to view individually as well as together as a whole set. Each book's color, font, and layout were carefully considered base on each individual's personality. The cover for all books were hand cut (debossed) with the characters "TCK". The idea is that each TCK, on the surface level, looks just like an ordinary person with ordinary background. However, once the audience open the book— you started to see the unique international perspective and value. 
2. You are a third culture kid too. In which countries did you live and where are you now?
Yes, I am a TCK! I was born in Taipei, Taiwan (a lovely little subtropical island). My family moved to Germany when I was 3 &4, and then we moved to China when I was 5 &6. Then, I came to the United States for education by myself when I was 16 years old. Now I am still living in the US (Baltimore, Maryland). I am sure I will most likely move to a new country again in a few years, but I just dont know where just yet.... I am keeping my options open. 
3. What do you consider to be the advantages of growing up as a TCK?
This is actually a question on my TCK books, too.  
Personally, I think the absolute advantage of being a TCK is: Maturity, Independence, Understanding of others, world perspective, and being able to speak more than one language. 

4. What about the disadvantages? Have you experienced those?
Difficult to fit in different social expectation; lack of sense of belonging; culture-shock whenever going 'home'... Also, I call this an 'invisible mental switch' — it is like having multiple separate language system/ culture/ social value/ expectation in the back of the mind, and with one switch/ one plane ride... we, the TCKs, need to be able to change into a whole another person in order to 'fit in' with the locals.

5. When and how did you discover that you are a TCK?
The Book "Third Culture Kids, The Experience of Growing up Among Worlds" by David Pollock and Ruth van Reken was certainly one strong force to help me discover myself being a TCK. It is such a wonderful book— I remember I ordered the book from amazon, and as soon as I start reading the first few sentences on the first page... I told me friend who was sitting right next to me at the time "I think I am going to really enjoy this book...", and then, yes, I absolutely loved it.

6. What advice would you give to other TCKs?
Always remember— that there are many MANY of us out there! You are not alone! 
For my own experience, I never knew about term TCK until last year... and surprising, I then realized most of my friends are also TCKs (including my suite mates).

7. "The TCK is part of our identity. And there's def space for more art/ design!" these were the words you twittered to me. I agree completely but please share your ideas on this topic.
I think art/ design is all about expressing the artist's own special voice. 
With our current globalization trends, more and more children are raised as TCKs. Therefore, I think this will soon become a topic with higher awareness— which means, more people will want to express their own special voice through art/ design/ writing/ blogging/ or simply the daily conversations. 

However, I don't think any of these actions is about emphasizing the how special/ different the TCKs are... but rather, a simple act of sharing and exchanging ideas.

8. On Facebook I saw that expat parents wanted to have a nice little accordion book made for their child. I would actually like one too telling my unique story too. It's would be a great treasure. Will this just stay a project or will you expand on this idea? What do you think?
With all honestly, I never thought of expending this project beyond classroom before this interview… 
However, the more I think about it... I'm certainly interested in producing more TCK books based on each individual's unique story. I think its going to be a wonderful experience to meet new people, share my design skills, and even potentially bring in some income. I think its going to be great!! 

For those of you who are interested... send me an email at, and let's discuss!

9. Are there new projects that you are working on at the moment?
At this point, I have about 5 projects going on at the same time, but nothing is directly TCK related... 
It is certainly a busy life style, but I love what I do, and its awesome! 

If you are interested in what I do as a designer, you can find me at the following places: 
Twitter: @JWenDesign

10. Do you have any last words of encouragement? Or can you recommend interesting websites or books for third culture kids?
hmm, interesting TCK websites... 
I personally think Denizen Magazine is amazing (but I am sure everyone else knows it too). 

In terms of some last words... 
I just want to thank Janneke again for giving me this wonderful experience to talk about my work. I am deeply honored! :) 
Thanks again Jessica.
Would you like the story of your life in a small accordion book? Do you have any encouraging words for Jessica?


  1. These are amazing Jessica. As a parent to very young Third Culture Kids, you have given me a lot of food for thought. Thank you for sharing your lovely books and yes - if you do ever decide to sell them I would be interested when my kids are a little older.

    1. Hi Jody, thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. How interesting I see your third culture kids are growing up in Malawi! I lived in Blantyre and Lilongwe when I was a kid. We travelled all around Malawi. In which game park are you? Your blog looks nice.
      The books Jessica made are really lovely :)

  2. Hi Jody— I am so glad to hear you like my project! that's a great encouragement for me!! I'd certainly be happy to design more TCK books, whenever you have the need, just email me at, I would love to talk and share my design work/ plus, meet new people! :)

  3. There was another comment this morning but I tried to publish it using an ipad and by mistake it was deleted. I am so sorry for the person who commented and I felt really frustrated with myself. The worst is that this has happened to me before, so from now on I will not edit my comments using an ipad!
    Jessica there was another person enthusiastic about your books!

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  6. Great informative and useful information. A big thanks for sharing with us !!

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  8. It is extremely helpful for me. Thank you for taking the time to discuss this. I feel strongly about it and love learning more on this topic. If possible, as you gain expertise, would you mind updating your blog with more information.