Maya Rose Fernandes
A friend of mine was recently complaining that her grandkids, who are being raised in Kuwait, have no sense of Goan values. I asked her what she meant and she said, “They don’t enjoy Goa when they visit on holiday. They talk badly about it. And, they don’t like mingling with any Goan people. Plus, their friends in Kuwait are all non-Goan.”
I had to restrict myself from laughing, and patiently asked my friend where these expectations had come from. “Aren’t they Goan? Where are their roots?” she retorted.
I then asked my friend to keep an open mind, while I proceeded to explain to her what Third Culture Kids (TCKs) are and why it is important to understand that they are completely different from their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.
As a person with born-and-raised Goan parents, who raised me in Kuwait, where my father worked for over four decades, I understood implicitly that her grandkids were TCKs and needed to be perceived differently.
A Third Culture Kid is someone who has spent many months or years of their childhood development stage living in a country that is different to the country of their parent’s birth.
On page four of their book, Third Culture Kids: Growing up Among Worlds, Pollock and Reken say, “TCKs are raised in a neither/nor world. It is neither fully the world of their parents’ culture (or cultures) nor fully the world of the other culture (or cultures) in which they were raised.”
Then they add, “…TCKs develop their own life patterns different from those who are basically born and bred in one place.”
It doesn’t matter whether your parents raise you to be a Goan, expose you to other Goans and Goan culture, and spend every vacation back in the state of your birth, or not. A third culture kid is being educated and is growing up in a cultural environment that is vastly different to that of their parents.
The danger is that their primary care-givers teach them only what they know without also understanding that they have to provide a much wider and broader context of the culture of the host country that their kids are being raised in.
TCKs tend to have similar upbringings and contexts, the longer they stay outside the country of their birth. For instance, they speak and/or can understand multiple languages, feel at ease with people coming from a variety of religious and cultural backgrounds, are extremely adaptive to their immediate environments and tend to have excellent people-skills.
They grow into adults who are highly mobile, very adaptable, and at ease with travelling and living in different countries and cultures than their peers who are not TCKs. They also tend to struggle with rootlessness, belonging, identity, restlessness and the idea of ‘home.’
They have different relational patterns, personal characteristics and practical skills that, when understood, make them highly attractive as employees, entrepreneurs and even partners.
But, when developing as children, they can become highly misunderstood and trapped in a pervasive sense of loneliness if these qualities are not appreciated or directed appropriately.
For instance, pressuring TCKs to fit into a mould that doesn’t suit them can create an enduring sense of fragmentation of their selves and make them feel even more deeply misunderstood and underappreciated than the rest of their peers who have a deeper sense of belonging.
The reason I think it’s important to understand and appreciate this distinction is because Goans, as we know, have a strong history of migration and mobility.
And, we need to fully appreciate that we cannot expect TCKs to conform to the same standards that were expected from their non-TCK parents, nor teach our TCKs to be rooted in Goan heritage in the same way, without appreciating that they are growing up under completely different circumstances and influences to those of their parents.
There is also an ever-growing number of third culture kids out there, who turn into adult TCKs who are still feeling lost and underappreciated because they don’t understand this particular and crucial distinction made by circumstances beyond their control.
As far as my conversation with my friend went, I was happy she had an open mind and listened, but realised from her subsequent questions that, having had no context of what I’d just said, she wasn’t able to let go of her expectations of wanting her grandkids to turn into something they would never be.
On a much more personal note, reading the book I mentioned above created a series of epiphanies that became very empowering in my ability to understand who I was in the world, and the added value I brought to every engagement with another person, event or life situation.
If anything I’ve written here resonates, then I highly recommend reading this book to help you understand your own child more, so that you can be a more understanding parent to them.
Adult TCKs reading this book will probably feel relief when they realise they’re not as alone as they’d originally thought, and might come to a deeper understanding of their own selves.