Born from a Scottish Mum and an Italian father in Paris, I am what is termed a third culture kid (TCK) – a child living with his parents outside of their country of origin. Here is an insight for all anxious expat parents, on how I feel today.
The main difficulty is identity
The classic difficult question is “where are you from?” In my case an embarrassed pause or “mmhh” follows as I think what to answer. Often, I will just randomly pick one of my three countries, or just say Paris (as I lived my childhood there) to avoid complication. Other times I will go for all three countries quickly explaining “My Mum is Scottish, my Dad is Italian but I grew up in Paris”. But behind this answer lies a real dilemma “where am I really from?”
A third culture kid is between cultures. You will never really be recognised to be part of a country, you will always be seen as or feel different. I was born and lived most of my childhood in France. Despite this, I don’t really feel French. How could I? My parents never cooked French food, their cultural references were different from those of my friends, and my grandparents lived abroad and did not speak French. Every evening after school, I would leave France for my little cultural island where I would watch the BBC and eat pasta. But then if I went to Britain or Italy, the people would notice my different accent and the fact I did not know the latest number one single.
When I went to study in Britain, I thought I was going “home”, having spent many a holiday watching the Scottish TV show the Singing Kettle. However, in the three years I lived there, I never really felt at home. Of course, I had many cultural references and was considered partly British, but I was always seen as and felt different. I could not down ten pints and loved to cook and drink red wine ; I was a continental.
A cultural advantage
But then again, even if I was a different, I was also a part of my three cultures. I can understand British humour and at the same time laugh at Italian jokes. Paris is my city and I can get around without problems and get served in a Bistrot without being treated as a foreigner. Being a third culture kid is a great wealth. Not only because of the languages it gives you, but because of the way it forms your mind. I can see one of my cultures from within and then observe it from outside. I am not surrounded by a way of thought or tradition. The identity problem is real, but if you are able to accept your difference it becomes a great advantage.
Funnily enough the persons you will feel closest to are others like you. While in England, one of my closest friends was half-French, half-Austrian and had lived five years in the US. He could understand how I felt and could look at cultures from outside with the same exterior/interior look. But then I was also pushed towards people from different cultures. Now, having finished my degree, I did not go back to Paris or to Italy, but I am off working in Spain. An Italian-Scottish-French lad has found a bella Spanish chica, who’s showing him a whole new culture! ¡Olé!