Third Culture Kid (TCK)
The question “where’s home?” has a very simple answer for a lot of people, but I am not one those people. Before I was a teenager I’d already lived in three different countries – none of which I was a citizen of. These days they call this being a “third culture kid” or “TCK”. Back then it just meant that I’d lived in about eight different houses, been to five different schools, was an expert at saying goodbye, and thought all of this was totally normal.
When I was 14, my family moved to country number four (enter school number six) with the intention of “settling down” and “building roots”.
The idea was nice in theory, but it didn’t play out like that in practice. After all, how does a third culture kid build roots when they’ve never been shown how? For context, I’m a third generation expat. Both my parents travelled the world and lived in multiple countries, and my grandparents spent over twenty years living overseas before returning to Scotland. Where exactly were my role models for settling down?
A Citizen of the World
At 22 I moved to the UK and, for the very first time, I was living in a country I had a passport for. At that point I was technically not an expat anymore, but culturally I didn’t fully belong either. My accent was different, I didn’t know who any of the ‘celebrities’ were, I didn’t have a plethora of childhood friends around me, and I got lost all the time on unfamiliar streets.
So if the places I’d lived before as a passing expat (third culture kid) weren’t home, and the country represented on my passport wasn’t home, then.. where was home?
And what defines “home” anyway? Is it the address on your official documents? Where you sleep? Is it a place where you’re recognised on the street? Where your postie knows your name? Is it made up of daily routines and familiarity? Found in the mundane? Or is it a feeling? A choice?
Like many other third culture kids who are no longer kids, I’ve spent my adult life trying to figure “home” out.
I was tentatively putting down roots, but the settling down bit still alluded me. And those tentative roots were ones I knew I could pick up and move, or leave, whenever I needed to. There was no permanence in any of my decisions.
Despite loving Edinburgh, I kept myself slightly detached, never willing to commit entirely. I’ve lived one foot in, one foot out, thoughts of “where next?” swirling around in my head. I went on secondment to London for 6 months to try something new, I bought a property on the understanding it could be rented out if I ever needed to flee, and I only dated men who could feasibly pick up their lives and move abroad.
I looked at people who didn’t spend their life questioning whether they lived in the right place with a kind of admiring confusion. Some people only have to figure out what to do with their lives, without also wondering where to do it. What does that feel like?
About six months ago I found myself in a position where I was untethered from any particular location. I was physically in Edinburgh, having returned from some travels, but I wasn’t working, and was living in temporary accommodation. There wasn’t anything tying me to Edinburgh at that moment in time. I leapt on this perfect opportunity to head to Brisbane for a few months to check out what life would be like over there. I had had an Australia shaped question mark in the back of my mind for years and it needed answering once and for all.
I started the process of building a life in Brisbane – I applied for jobs, was getting asked to interviews, started making friends, joined a gym. But, in the end, it dawned on me that I didn’t actually want to start all over again, again. It takes a lot of effort to set up a whole new life in a new city. You have to really want it. Turns out what I really wanted was to be in Edinburgh among the friends I’d already made, the flat I love, the cat I adore, and the city that feels like home.
The city that feels like… home!
Eureka! Cue the celebratory soundtrack and the glitter cannons.
I was finally ready to admit to myself that although there are lots of lovely places in the World where I could live lots of lovely lives, I only needed one of those places. And I’d already found it.
Turns out settling down is just choosing. Knowing there are other options but choosing one and committing to it.
Although I didn’t stay long, I’m so grateful I took that perfect opportunity to go to Australia. Without having tried it, I wouldn’t have been able to get this clarity. It’s like 14 years of doubt and uncertainty have just -poof- gone.
This third culture kid grew up and chose home. For now. (Hey, commitment issues run deep!)
If you were a third culture kid growing up and have had similar struggles with finding home then I would LOVE to hear your story. Get in touch. If you were not a third culture kid but have a unique perspective about the concept of “home” then also get in touch.