Four Stages to Becoming a Third Culture Kid Globalist

Being a Third Culture Kid to me meant a lot of different things at different times of my life, and one of the most consistent qualities I’ve associated with the label is that I wear it like a badge of pride, and a name brand. At the time of this writing, I’ve spent years reflecting on label, the identity, the experience, and now the opportunities and potential being a TCK offers.

To that end, I’ve created a four phase chronology of what I think all Third Culture Kids should follow toward eventually becoming globalists, based off of my own experience. I don’t speak for everyone, but I do know that there are definitely going to be many parallels with each other in similar experiences. I believe the simplest definition of a globalist is to be someone who thinks in terms of “we, we, we” instead of “me, me, me”, who looks at the world’s issues as his or her own issues too, and who strives to use their potential to give more instead of taking more.

Phase I: Before discovering the TCK identity – We feel lonely and ostracized, our identity and our homes usually aren’t coincident. It is easy to feel lonely because we are different, our experience and our worldview usually starkly contrasts with many people we encounter. Some accuse us of having some sort of problem and give us labels. “He’s abnormal”, or “He must still be in the closet because he’s afraid of being a faggot”, or “He just wants attention” are some of many different explanations people used to interpret who I am.

What I learned about this is that people can say whatever they want, and I don’t have to agree with them, because then that’s letting them define me, and ultimately, that’s a big blow to self-esteem. So during this phase, it’s hard to know who you are and where you’re going, because you don’t know where you’re from. The good news is, you don’t need to know where you’re from when you realize who you are and where you want to go.

Phase II: Discovering you are a Third Culture Kid – You’ve met some people with similar experiences, you’ve come across an article that sounds like it could be you, and then a magical term comes that makes you realize you are not alone. Your life is full of excitement, you integrate into a community of people (usually through the online groups like my.tckid.com or Denizen Magazine), and you feel that your experiences don’t mean you have problems, they just make you different.

A problem that arises during this phase is the potential for becoming elitist. Some people feel that everyone else who did not have those experiences as a Third Culture Kid are “un-worldly”, “un-cultured”, “sheltered”, or “closed-minded”. It is at this point where we realize that just because we understand our own experiences, we project unrealistic expectations onto others. A label and explanation of our experience does not usually help people without our TCK experience to understand, but many times can further confuse them. Worse, we appear to be “rich, spoiled brats who got to live all over the world unlike ‘normal’ people” and we subject ourselves to more unfair categorization.

This unfair categorization is actually a natural response to our own unfair labeling non-TCKs as below us for not sharing the experience or having the mindset of seeing a world that exists beyond their hometown, their province, their country, their continent. The worst part: by separating ourselves into an “us-versus-them” worldview, we end up being the un-worldly and closed-minded people we believe others to be for not understanding or accepting us.

Phase III: Synthesizing the TCK experience – One of the seven habits of highly successful people is to first try to understand before being understood. After significant time is spent, sometimes a sudden realization comes, or a friend points out that having a global perspective comes from being understanding, acceptance, and appreciation of everyone.

What I noticed was that I was trying to get people in the United States to be more global, having unfair expectations that they were more inclined to in their professed society of diversity, when in actuality, anyone and everyone from anywhere and everywhere can all be parochial in their own ways. So I look at the typical Los Angeleno college graduate the same way I would see the Manila jeep driver, not with judgmental eyes for their inability to understand or lack of perspective, but as people who simply have different perspectives, just as my own is different compared to others.

In that sense, I don’t have higher expectations for people in diverse societies and communities–if anything, I have to constantly remind myself that they have different standards, interpretations, and definitions of diversity than I do. I hold myself to the standard of trying to appreciate who they are and what they have, and it is this attitude and value of being a universal gentleman to all that finally helps me settle in. I offer my respect and attempt to understand and appreciate, while knowing they may not want or be able to reciprocate. This is making use of my movement between cultures and global perspective: by making use of the attitude to help myself be a better individual and representative of a globalist.

Phase IV: Using your potential – This is the final phase where the Third Culture Kid experience and the label almost completely fall away. It is where we have found our community of people with similar experiences in the form of our fellow TCKs, then we find people who share similar values, regardless of their worldliness or travel experience from their willingness to be open, and then try to be the best individuals we can be. Our community then is not bound by place, culture, nationality, or religion, our home is the world and our community is the world.

With this, we suddenly want to give to the world, to make it a safer, cleaner, and happier place. No country, nationality, ethnicity,  religion, or profession is better than another, for a human being is a human being, not a North Korean, a Catholic, or corporate executive. A genocide in Darfur is not Sudan’s problem, it is a world problem when refugees become displaced worldwide; a tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan is an economical and environmental problem, for radiation affects as far as the American west coast and kills off the sea life and much of the world’s food supply.

This is our world, and we have seen enough to know that we can not move to another country and turn our backs on the rest of the world, for an ostrich that buries its head in the sand to hide from the problems following it will never get away from them. Though many times it seems futile to communicate ideas to those who refuse to understand that this is one world we all live in, we continue to give back: in seeing the different cultures, continents, and communities, we already see more of the world than others do, and we are more able to appreciate the beauty of life and the world, and feel we should give more than receive, since our worldliness is a gift, not a curse.

The best part of being a globalist: one doesn’t have to be a Third Culture Kid.

Being a Third Culture Kid simply makes it easier to want to be a globalist, and with our experiences and insights, we become more inspired and motivated since there is no turning a blind eye anywhere, or abandoning others, for there are no people who are more deserving or less deserving of the basic promise of the United Nations Universal Declaration of  Human Rights. So while everyone can be a globalist, I strongly believe it is important for Third Culture Kids to use the depth of our experiences and insight to be globalists.

My own journey has taken me to a few places as a Third Culture Kid, but my desire to be a globalist will take me further.

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2 responses to “Four Stages to Becoming a Third Culture Kid Globalist

  1. Thanks for this interesting post! It would have been interesting to add your age at each phase…Did you read the book “Third Culture Kids: Growing up among Worlds” by David Pollock and Ruth van Reken? Reading that book was my “ah-ha moment”. I was somewhere in my late twenties when I read it (I think) and I really wished I had read it earlier. We need to keep shouting it out: what a third culture kid (TCK) is or global nomad. Let’s keep telling our stories. I’m now in phase IV: it’s true we want to do something good for this world.

  2. Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed my article. I will be posting a follow-up for my own four phases soon actually. And yes, I did read Ruth’s book and am going to her colloquium in Indiana this October. If you can make it over, it might be a good event to be at, otherwise, I plan to cover it and post my experience there as well.

    I will keep on sharing my story as a TCK, I’ve made many friends through here, my.tckid.com, and more just by ignoring the fear and putting my story out there for people to see, relate to, or be inspired by.

    As for my own phase iv, check out the “Johnny C Rocks The Planet!” Project blog linked at the top to see what I will be doing to make a difference with the gift of the TCK experience and the globalist in me that was born out of it.

    Thanks gain!

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