The missing puzzle piece: shaping the identity of a “third culture kid”

“Where are you from? Where is home? Who are you?” Questions that should have a simple answer for most people, can actually have a straining effect on others, especially for Third Culture Kids. The term implies children who have spent most of their developmental stages in a country other than their parents’. The term TCK seemed silly to me at first along with the stereotypes that came with it. But I have often found myself able to identify with most of it.

My mom is from Brazil and my dad is from Germany, and I was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Shanghai for the first 14 years of my life. When you are a small kid, you are oblivious to your surroundings. You accept that where you are is where you’re from. But at a certain age, you come to realize that something is out of place. Shanghai was my home. But I was not like the people around me. I looked and felt different. It was my home, yet I felt like an intruder, an outsider.

I didn’t have a conventional childhood. I lived 7 years in the hotel my dad worked at as the General Manager. I took my first steps in the hotel lobby. I was coddled by the staff and learned how to ride my bike on a rooftop parking lot that overlooked a busy highway with screeching motor sounds. For me it was normal, knowing it wasn’t for others.

I moved to 3 different countries, each on a different continent, and in the course of 18 years I lived in China, Brazil and Germany. I underwent major changes during the most crucial period of my life, which was shaping my identity. Undergoing constant changes of leaving friends, meeting new friends, learning about a new culture, we go through them without forming a complete identity of our own. Instead we are composed of bits and pieces of the places that have left their mark on us, while seeking the missing puzzle pieces as we go along.

This is a reality for many people like me. We have more than one passport and speak more than one language. We belong to more than one culture, but not to any one of them entirely. While it gives us always the longing for something new, and the ability to adapt to the unknown, we don’t always know ourselves or where we belong.

The question is, will we ever know?

Leave a Reply

Please Login to comment
2 Comment threads
0 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
2 Comment authors
Richard Recent comment authors
newest oldest most voted
Notify of

Great content!

Richard Story
Richard Story

Will we ever know? Will we ever know ourselves or where we belong? I grew up as a “third culture kid” although I did not know it until I attended a presentation to hear about the topic in the interests of my daughter, who is also a “third culture kid”. I always knew that I lacked the national identity that others have. Most of my life I viewed my birth country as home, and that lasted until I moved back. I quickly realised that, to those that had never left, I sound a little foreign, and in turn they seem… Read more »