I started reading a new book this weekend, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. I’ve been familiar with the TCK terminology since childhood and was heavily involved in a TCK group in college but it’s been awhile since I’ve made it a priority to explore the subject. To my surprise, I was in tears by Chapter 2.

As I read through the TCK definition and all the factors that affect kids with cross-cultural upbringings, I found my heart sinking with familiar insecurity. Maybe it’s all in my head but I feel like TCKs have an unspoken ranking system determined with questions like, “How many countries have you lived in? How old were you when you first moved? How many languages do you speak?” I’m not a super-TCK because I only lived in one country and culture other than my passport country (-5). But I did arrive when I was a toddler (+3) and we were often the only foreigners in our rural area (+4). I also speak Thai better than many of the international school kids (+2) but not as well as the kids who went to public school (-1). Once again, I find myself looking for reasons why I’m not enough.

The more I read, the more I stooped under the regret I’ve been carrying since childhood. Would my Thai be better if I had been bold enough to venture outside the house more often? Would I have more of a Thai mindset and culture if I had made more friends? I did my best to savor what I knew was a unique childhood but shame still whispers in the back of my mind when I stumble over words. I was immersed. Shouldn’t I be fluent by now?

I broke down when I realized I was reading a book about childhood development. The subjects are kids with an unusual background, yes, but kids just the same. I was me back then, but I was still a child. In that moment, I felt compassion wash over me instead of shame and regret. Why wouldn’t I be a shy little thing, painfully self-conscious, when people stared at me every time I went outside? Why wouldn’t I feel socially anxious, even around my friends, when I always felt left out of some big inside joke? Of course I did my best! Of course I did. I cried it out, a grief I didn’t know I carried. And so I begin to shrug off the burden.

Adrian PatenaudeComment