A comment left by The Snow Melts Somewhere just now made me dash out this quick post. Because her comment drove home an interesting point. And this does not concern Snow but the people (in school, at work, in daily life) who use these labels and act accordingly, if you’re going to slap labels on something, if you’re going to stick me in a category, I need to make sure it actually fits. Which may sound arrogant, but think of how (many times) you bristle when people mispronounce your name or use the wrong nationality. This is very similar.
So, without further ado, here’s the distinction I need people to make. Not because I’m such a stickler to any sort of rule, but because it matters. Because there is a huge difference between what is labeled a Third Culture and Cross Culture / Cross-Cultural Kid. And I’d like to be known as the latter. It’s like my last name, which could easily pass for Spanish. I could make that claim, attest to some non-existent Spanish ancestry, though I forgot all my Spanish but it would be a lie. Names matter, they give us identity, and if you label me the wrong way (where a label is absolutely necessary), you are taking away (a significant part of) my identity, and we cannot be friends.
The Term Third Culture Kid came in vogue less than a generation back. You can read up on it in more detail, but the gist of it is a child who grew up in a culture its parents are not from. Technically each parent is also from yet another culture, but that’s been fluid in recent times. It’s basically a label stuck on kids of expats, those people who are sent abroad by corporations and eventually come home. Because these days the term is just used to cover that experience. Both parents have grown up in Country A, take the family to Country B (maybe also C,D,and E), then move back. The children attend international schools, because in most cases there’s never enough time to fit into and absorb the host culture. There is a whiff of glamour to the whole thing, evoking images of exotic locations with servants and warm weather a requisite image of the whole experience.
Cross-Cultural Kids are a whole other breed. Our parents themselves come from four different backgrounds. Our mothers have two different cultures and ethnicities, as do our fathers. Frequently, religion also comes into play. We were raised in the same environment as everyone else, international schools rarely factor in. The language of our host country/ countries becomes our own, whether we like it or not. On the surface we belong, though our facial features may look different, our color may be “off.” On the phone we sound like everyone else who is local. But when people come face-to-face with us it’s a different game. We get praised for language skills we acquired in kindergarten with the wonderment in the voice of the speaker making it very clear how amazed they are that we managed to master such speech. We are the immigrant kids, the first generation children, the ones who had to translate for our parents, who grew up extremely fast and then – in our twenties – regressed. Our rebellion occurred not as teenagers but during and after college, because it would have been too much for our parents to learn.
A Cross-Cultural Kid can easily be a Third Culture Kid, but a TCK can never become a CCK. It’s not a competition, just a fact.