There’s no place like home
There's no place like home #thirdculturekid
“We’re moving to Beijing,” my father announced back in 2006. As a 12-year-old girl, it took little to irritate me, but the prospect of moving from Stavanger, Norway to China was particularly displeasing.
Although my first year in Beijing was a relatively traumatic time involving English lessons, adjusting to a new country, and trying to make friends in a language I didn’t speak, I would come to find that my next 6 years living in China were pretty fantastic.
“So where are you from?” Cliché, but this truly is my least favorite question, and one that I’ve been asked many times since I came to Edinburgh University after graduating from the Western Academy of Beijing in 2013. The easy answer is I’m half Norwegian and half Danish.
I speak both languages fluently, although I speak a different language to each of my parents. Yes, they are still married, and no, it’s not weird that my mom speaks Danish and my dad replies in Norwegian. I often leave this part out, and just go by my passport and place of birth: Norway.
More often that not, this response will only lead to the question: “Why do you sound American?” The majority of third culture kids are asked this question, although most (including myself) would
protest that we do not sound American. In my experience, people who attend international schools tend to come out with a generic accent that is a mix of many different accents, but is often interpreted as simply “American”.
When I explain that I lived in China from age 12 to 18, and went to international school, this only raises more questions, such as: “So you speak Chinese?” Yes and no.
While I learned Mandarin
at school, all other classes were taught in English, and by no means do I speak Mandarin fluently. Truth is the majority of students at my school were not Chinese. My friends came from all over the world including Australia, the United States, Sweden, the Netherlands, Korea, South Africa, Singapore, the list goes on – but we all spoke in English to each other.
As a result, my friends are from and now live in countries all around the globe. My parents often warned me that this would result in some sort of identity crisis, which I was completely in denial of until I left Beijing to get my degree in Scotland. Edinburgh is home to many international students, but it doesn’t make things any less confusing.
Considering I lived in China for so many years, some would assume I’d relate to the Chinese students at the university, but unfortunately, my Mandarin is not up to that standard.
Since I’ve been living out of Norway for almost 10 years now, I often find myself feeling “not Norwegian enough”, and even though I speak Danish fluently, the fact that I never lived there also means I’m “not Danish enough” either.
On bad days, I feel pretty down for not really belonging to any of these groups, but I’ve been very fortunate to find the friends I have now, and am happily living with 6 English and Scottish students. I’ve settled for identifying as a “third culture kid”, a term coined by Ruth Useem referring to individuals raised in a different culture from that of their parents or passport.
My initial outline for this piece mainly focused on the challenges of being a third culture kid, but the more I think about it, there are also so many privileges: the languages I’ve learned, my adaptability to different cultures, and all the amazing places it’s taken me – all the aspects of my life I treasure the most.
Beijing may no longer be my ‘official home’, going home to my parents in Norway doesn’t feel quite like home anymore, and until I live in Denmark I may never feel like I’m really from there either – but for the past 4 years, Edinburgh has been a home to me. I may never feel “Scottish”, but from now on, hearing the accent will always remind me of a place where I felt local.
My conclusion is this: third culture kids may never fully identify with their birth culture or their adopted culture, but we can identify with our own, merged, third culture.
Truth is, many people want to make friendships across cultures, because it makes life interesting. Not feeling at home anywhere paradoxically also means we can feel at home everywhere.
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