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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Third Culture Kids and Identity

A very good video So Where's Home? by Adrian Bautista.  It's about American Third Culture Kids and identity in their own words.

Third Culture Kids, a term coined by Sociologist Ruth Hill Useem, refers to anyone who spent his or her formative years in a country/culture (sometimes more than one) other than that of his parents.

It's an interesting category because these kids are not intentional migrants or expatriates. Nobody gets to choose where he or she is born and children are seldom consulted when the parents made decisions about where to live and work.

The concept of moving the family abroad is something that is likely to meet with general approval.   Broadening every one's horizons! Learning a second language like a native! Multiculturalism and global citizenship education galore!

My experience has been that it starts with more or less every one's approval but when it's years of living outside the parent's home country, a certain ambivalence sets in.

A French child, for example, who was not born in France (or who left at a young age) and has lived in Canada, the US, and Japan, but never actually in France.  What are people in the Hexagon to make of that? Legally, the child is a French citizen and has a French passport (and perhaps a few others) but France's influence on the making of that child and his identity is, well, rather limited to vacations, what the parents transmit and whether or not they send that child to a French or a local school.  Learning about Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité from parents, teachers and books while sitting smack in the middle of another world that doesn't share those values, changes them in subtle ways.

The same is true for American children.  To my knowledge my Frenchlings have never recited the American Pledge of Allegiance.  Now that I think about it, I have to wonder if they even know what that is.

And that leaves those in the home country scratching their heads trying to figure out just how much of a genuine attachment these kids have to "home".  From what I've seen, there is an attempt to push them into a box that says "French" or "American" and then close the lid and pretend that all those other formative experiences don't matter or aren't relevant in the current context.

That generates real frustration and sometimes resentment on the part of both Third Culture Kids and Adults:  Who are you to tell me that I can only be this thing and nothing else?

It's important here to make the distinction between citizenship which is controlled by the home and host countries and identity which isn't.  No government and no people on this planet can control how people feel, and efforts to make a perfect match between identity and citizenship will always fail.

  So Where's Home? A Film About Third Culture Kid Identity from Adrian Bautista on Vimeo.

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