Filipino Third Culture Kid: Perspectives of TCKs in an Increasingly Xenophobic World

Filipino Third Culture Kid: Perspectives of TCKs in an Increasingly Xenophobic World

by Marie Chantal Marauta

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Recent years have seen a steady increase in media coverage on Third Culture Kids, otherwise known as TCKs. These are kids who spent most, if not all, of their formative years being raised in a culture that was completely different from that of either of their parents. As a result, most TCKs end up no longer truly identifying with one specific country or culture. Sure, when they are abroad, they can easily – and confidently – answer the question “where are you from?” with the name of their parents’ home country (or countries). But once TCKs set foot in these aforementioned “home countries”, this confidence slowly withers away. For many TCKs who are of mixed ethnicities, other people’s questioning stares and the general assumption that they are tourists is what reminds them that they do not fully belong. Couple this with the ambiguous accent undoubtedly acquired thanks to years of attending an international school abroad, and they realize just how different they are to people they consider their compatriots. This struggle is exemplified by Tina Wang, a teenager of Chinese descent born in Finland and raised in Singapore. “Although I’m Finnish by nationality, the assumptions made by others purely based on my Asian ethnicity has definitely affected my conviction of being a ‘real Finn’” she says. And even if a TCK doesn’t look physically different, the changes, even subtle, in their accents when speaking their native language are enough to warrant quizzical looks or laughter.

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Still, the alienation from one’s own country doesn’t stop there. A TCK’s taste in clothes, music, movies or what they perceive as “cool” behavior is most of the time a far cry from that of kids of their same age in their home town. For example, while a Filipino TCK raised in Italy grows up assuming that greeting friends with a kiss on both cheeks is standard practice, they get heavily judged for initiating this same behavior when back in the Philippines. 

Sometimes, a TCK’s “difference” is applauded, and even celebrated, by people who are in awe of how “exotic” and worldly they are. But, in times in which certain populations are getting increasingly more xenophobic (for reasons too vast to discuss in this article), being different can be frustrating. So how do TCKs define themselves?

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“I think about this [topic] every day,” says Kim Yan, a nineteen-year-old Asian American who identifies with Chinese culture but was raised in the United States. For Yan, who considers herself very loyal to the U.S. (a patriotism seen in her eager support for American sports teams), the struggle lays in trying to explain her background to people who tend to assume that she identifies with one sole culture. “I don’t exactly know where my identity lies, but I’ve pretty much given up on figuring it out,” she says with a laugh.  

Similar strong patriotism for a country he now considers his own is felt by Louis Wei, a nineteen-year-old student and musician who identifies as Chinese-Canadian. “I’ve been fiercely protective of being a Canadian for as long as I can remember,” he states, attributing his love for Canada to the fact that it is a “mosaic” of different cultures, and so, “no matter how different I was, Canada always had a place for me.” Wei further claims that though his personal values do not align with typical Chinese values, he still considers himself “definitely Chinese,” showing how, though he is fiercely loyal to his acquired home town, he still feels tied to his roots.  

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Filipino Third Culture Kid: Perspectives of TCKs in an Increasingly Xenophobic World

While TCKs such as Yan and Wei have found their “home” on the other side of the world, some TCKs feel less grounded in a specific country, as exemplified by Felix Merk, a citizen of both Germany and Finland who was born in Sweden and currently lives in the U.S. “Drawing lines [defining my identity] is a bit easier since I have a slight accent in English and so people pre-draw them for me. Yet, outside the U.S., people usually presume I’m American…which isn’t entirely inaccurate,” he says, showing how he is perceived differently depending on where in the world he is. Merk goes on to state how for him, “home” is not an entire country or culture, but instead it is where he grew up, and where his parents and siblings are. It is “specific people, specific houses, specific towns and cities” that, cheesy as it may sound, hold his heart more than an entire nation could.

The utmost struggle of a TCK is stated by Jack Karafotas, a teenager who is German and American but grew up in the Czech Republic, who states: “Whenever I am in a country where I may consider myself from, I always feel foreign.” He continues, saying that he “only [identifies] as certain nationalities when [he’s] asked to do so,” in order to avoid the awkwardness of saying “I don’t really identify with anywhere fully.”

Perspectives of TCKs living in an increasingly xenophobic world

So if some TCKs don’t feel like they really belong in any particular place, then why do they feel the need to classify themselves? “Belonging to a certain country or group brings a sense of comfort, of stability,” says Divya Santhanam, a nineteen-year-old who was raised in Canada, but who’s family originated from India. Yet, as she grows older, Santhanam has begun to appreciate not having a simple, straightforward answer to the question “where are you from?” Living in Toronto, which she claims is “one of the most multicultural cities in the world,” has allowed her to have an incredibly international friend group that opens her eyes and her mind to different mentalities and cultures that she otherwise wouldn’t understand. “Our conversations reflect the diversity and cross-cultural dialogue that our increasingly globalized world needs,” she says proudly. “The complexity my identity brings, then, is my greatest strength.”

As seen from the myriad of responses from TCKs worldwide, defining a TCK’s identity is a very arduous task. They have lived lives that are more complicated and exciting than your average Joe’s, and while some feel like they “belong” to their acquired home country, others still feel a little bit like an outsider wherever they go.

But in the end, does the whole question of identity truly matter? After all, states Santhanam, “what are nations, but mere borders drawn by humans? Perhaps, the answer to the question ‘Where are you from?’ is rather simple: Planet Earth.”

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CHANTAL  MARAUTA

is a half-Filipina, half-Italian Third Culture Kid who was raised in Dubai and who currently studies International Relations at Brown University in the U.S. When she’s not studying, she’s an actress, a cheerleader, a regular writer for the online magazine “Post-”, and living up to her label as a self-proclaimed foodie, indulging in tasty food all over the world. Her food adventures are documented in her Instagram blog, @chantalscravings (follow follow follow!). She is in an exclusive relationship with chocolate lava cake.

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Author: Illustrado

From the Middle East to the rest of the world, IllustradoLife shares the stories of Filipinos expats from around the world, providing a global venue championing the world class Filipino. IllustradoLife features articles on fashion and beauty, travel, lifestyle, business, events and other topics of interest to the international Filipino community from its mother publication, Illustrado Magazine.

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