Friday, 2 September 2011

Third culture kids learning to be themselves

Today it's all about the word "LEARN". You may have seen the 3 short films called MOVE, EAT, and LEARN. Well I am writing a post on each word. The first post was Global nomads on the move en second post was the palettes of the global nomad, all about food. I am writing about these three words because the words capture the life of third culture kids well.

Third culture kids are sometimes called chameleons. Recently Libby Stephens had a transition seminar with 36 third culture kids (TCKs) and the kids were asked to write a list of charateristics of TCKs. One of the words on the list was chameleons. Chameleons adapt well to their environment. They can change colour. The changing of the colour is for social signalling and for purpose of camouflage. Third culture kids, just like chameleons are experts in adapting to their environment. It is something they have had to learn. It is something I had to learn. The Dutch girl with blond hair and blue eyes growing up in Africa. Every time I was placed in a new situation I had to observe, watch and learn:

  • What are the rules here? 
  • What is "normal"? 
  • What do they expect me to do? 
  • What am I not meant to do?
  • How can I pretend not to be different?

The observing, watching and learning was tiring. Adapting again and again and again and again. Usually it happened unconsciously. Trying to mix into the new environment. Even when I came to the Netherlands to study, I looked just like all the other Dutch students but I felt so different. It was so confusing. I felt so lost. How could I learn to be just like them? Would it be possible? Recently I discovered that there is a word that describes me "a hidden immigrant", I look the same but think differently due to my experiences growing up abroad. Something I have been thinking about is: could it be possible to adapt too much to my environment and thus loose a little of myself in the process? I think that could be possible and it is a little scary.

Have you read the poem by Whitni Thomas called "Colors". It is written by a missionary kid (MK). It is about growing up in a Yellow country and having Blue parents. Living in the Blue land there is still something Yellow deep inside and living in the Yellow land the person wants to be Blue. This is the ending:

"Why can't I be both?
A place where I can be me.
A place where I can be green.
I just want to be green." 

I want to learn to be green. To accept and learn just to be myself. To adapt and adjust when necessary but not to lose a part of myself. Growing up in another culture has made me different. What about you? How is your learning process? Have you learned to be green? Have you accepted yourself just as you are? Please share your thoughts with us on this topic.

Here you can watch the short film "Learn". All about learning in other cultures...

Read my post about Cultural identity confusion and third culture kids.

Image thanks to Pablogv2004 Morgue file.


  1. Hallo Drie Culturen,

    Ik las dat je wat had geschreven op mijn! Wat fijn dat ik op jouw blog informatie kan lezen van een (a)TCK. Dat kan ik heel zeker gebruiken! Bedankt hiervoor,

    Groetjes Lizzytraineeship

  2. Hoi Lizzy, bedankt voor je reactie. Oh, je kunt ook Nederlands! Ik wil je succes wensen met je onderzoek over "third culture kids". Als het af is zou ik graag een kopie willen ontvangen, kan dat? Mocht ik je ergens mee kunnen helpen dan hoor ik het graag. Ben je zelf een TCK? Groetjes.

  3. Hi Drie Culturen, I'm a new blogger and really like your posts! I'm a expat-since-birth. My parents are german but I grew up in Italy, then lived in Switzerland and Italy before moving to NL. I didn't experience a non-european culture (only during holidays but this doesn't count that much). I think the main problem is to find people who are green like you, maybe in another shade, and lean back. I think I can adapt, adjust without loosing part of myself. Maybe I "hide" a little bit of myself when being with "one-culture-people"? But surely I don't erase this part. And when I feel more comfortable, I show this hidden part too.

  4. Thanks Ute. Welcome to the world of bloggers. I hope you enjoy blogging as much as I do! Where´s your blog? I could not find it. I did find you on Pinterest! It´s so true what you your say, that when you feel more comfortable with people you can show the hidden part too. That´s true for me too. Hope to meet you again in cyberspace...