“You sound like such a snob when you say you were born in Brazil.”  I wanted to just crawl into a hole and hide.  At best, I found college mixers an exercise in humiliation, but this was too much.  I was probably responding to,  “So, where are you from?”   Such a tricky question, for me at least.  My parents were 100% American.  But I was born in Brazil and grew up in four different countries.  I wasn’t  ‘from’ anywhere.   ‘Home’ was wherever I currently lived.

A third culture kid has been defined as “ a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. ”  TCKs have more in common with each other than with anyone in either their ‘passport’ country or any country they currently live in.  I know because most of my friends are TCKs.  Some, like me, had parents who moved around.  Others are children of immigrants, but who maintain close ties with their ‘native’ countries.  Gail grew up of mixed parents in England and Egypt.  She married a Frenchman and spent most of her adult years in Africa.  She worked for the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa (in former Zaire).  We were very comfortable together, because while we could share the fact that we had no shared experiences.  Mary is married and living an idyllic suburban life in Connecticut, but she still revels in reliving her Brazilian years and talking about her life in Belgium with those of us who ‘understand’.

There were songs I loved as a teenager that I never realized were not originally French or Portuguese.   Movies stars I mooned over that my American friends never even knew existed.  If I had really been ‘foreign’, these lapses might have been exotic or charming.  But I was American, my lack of American-ness at best made me eccentric, at worst weird or even a bit threatening.  After all, things that I took for granted in my life — sights I had seen, people I had met, things I had done — sometimes made my American friends feel provincial.

And this is the TCK experience.  My Japanese TCK friend laughed as she told me how she would be accosted in the train stations in Tokyo and reprimanded for standing “inappropriately”.  A Colombian woman confided that much as she loved visiting friends and family back home, it was always awkward because her life was so different.   We all understood that if we talked about our lives, people’s eyes would ‘glaze over’.  We quickly learned that we were safest saving our ‘life’ stories for other TCKs.  And when we get together, man, do we love it.