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Rock Street, San Francisco

Catching
the TCK Disease

 “Let me get this straight,” said the
immigration officer at the Seattle- Tacoma International Airport.  “You have an Australian passport, which was
issued in Indonesia, and your F-1 visa for entry into the United States of
America was delivered in China.  Is that
right?”

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He basically
nailed it.  However, what made the
officer even more suspicious was the fact that I sounded so American, without a
trace of a foreign accent.  “Your English
is amazing, how long have you spent in the United States?” he asked. 

“About an hour,”
I replied. 

 “No, but where are you really from?”  This question instantly makes the hairs on
the back of my neck stand up.  I panic,
wondering whether the question refers to what my passport says, where I was
born, or where I am living now. 

Depending on the
person and situation, I have a different answer to that question.  I tend to tell white lies and change my story
as I go.  Sometimes I’ll go for the quick
answer: Australian.  Other times, I’ll
tell the whole story: that I was born in Australia, moved to Indonesia, then to
China and finally to the United States.  Each
time I get asked, I feel like I need to explain my origins and I’ll often find
myself leaving out a few details in order to make my identity seem more
realistic.

I am a “Third
Culture Kid”- a “TCK”.  Some prefer the
expression “Global Nomad,” but both terms refer to a large group of children
who have spent a significant portion of their childhood years overseas.  To many sons and daughters of business
executives, diplomats, military officials, and missionaries, a passport is little
more than a travel document for it does not necessarily state where “home”
is. 

When I first
stumbled across the phrase I thought it sounded a little strange, like a
disease you get from traveling to far off countries, but people assured me it
was nothing scary.  Symptoms tend to
include a tendency to mix and merge their birth culture with their adopted culture,
creating one of their own.  This also
presents a dilemma: Who am I really?  Where
do I truly belong? 

Sometimes I
wonder whether my life would be different had I grown up in one place.  Would I be the same person if I had a house
where there are pencil marks beside a doorframe, documenting each time I had
growth spurts?  Wouldn’t it be nice to
have a friend who has known me since nursery?

The beauty of all those question is that
it doesn’t have an answer, but opens the door to an identity that a normal childhood
could never provide.  While some come to
hate the “Third Culture Kid” disease, I’ve begun to embrace every symptom.  For me, being “sick” with the “TCK” means
having friends from every continent, but still realizing that my best friends
are my brother and sisters.  It means
cursing proficiently in three different languages, but still studying Spanish
to fulfill a language requirement at school. 
I know my heart belongs to the monsoon season in Indonesia and eating Vegemite
for breakfast during a chilly August morning. 
Sometimes I forget how blessed I am to have the opportunity to speak
multiple languages and experience so many cultures. 

Being a “TCK”
has given me a sense of freedom.  I love
being able to choose to be whoever I want, wherever I go.  Throughout my life I’ve gradually built
myself an identity that is a collection of memories, each of which I’ve
handpicked; choosing the best to create a whole culture.  I may not have it all sorted out, but I guess
I’ll never find that one place where I belong one hundred percent.  Growing up in three radically different
countries doesn’t mean I don’t belong anywhere; it means I choose to belong to
many.  

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