It’s a bit hard to fit a model to your own life, but it’s also hard to transform your own experiences into a model without being too general. Based on some of the responses from my previous entry, I thought it would be good to clarify first that I’m not speaking for everyone, but I am making an idealized structure to model the process of growing into maturity as I see it. In other words, it’s an opinion and ideal, not a fact. Hit the jump to see my own experience and how I based the four stages of growth on that.
Stage I – Most of my life, I know that even before going through the Third Culture Kid, I was always known as an oddball to people. Even before moving around, people always thought I wasn’t from their community, that I must have been some sort of foreigner or some alien because of my weirdness. In this respect, I attribute it to the fact I’m of mixed heritage, and my last name is comprised of two Chinese characters; a common happening for Chinese immigrants to the Philippines between the 19th century up to World War II when a full Chinese name would become contracted and nationalized into a new surname. For example, if your name was Mao Zedong, your new family name would be Hispanicized into Maozedong and you may adopt a Spanish name, and you would be Jose Maozedong, your daughter would be Isabella Maozedong, and her daughter would be Rosalia Maozedong.
Other things people would do was reveal how bigoted they were, whether it was attributing my uniqueness to foreignness (as not many people encounter Chinese-Filipinos), assuming that I must be gay (as if thinking that gays must be weird), or that I had some sort of mental health problem (because apparently, people with unique cultural heritage all have problems).
It destroyed my sense of self because I constantly thought I had to correct myself to be like everyone else. However, you can act, dress, and talk like them, but even when you force yourself to be “normal”, there is a certain energy they feel that still makes them ostracize you, as it happened in my experience. So for years, my sense of self was based off of trying to “normalize” myself.
Stage II – I had heard the label many times in high school and early on in college, but I barely understood what it meant, nor did I feel like I was a true Third Culture Kid because I didn’t really “live” in Hong Kong, as my growing up there was just going back and forth between there and Manila often for years and the many times I wasn’t there I felt a sense of being “homesick”. So I felt “Maybe I can sort of be a Third Culture Kid by making Hong Kong my third culture, added to American and Philippine culture, so I guess I am a TCK” as though it were some sort of club to be part of.
It was eventually after being involved with the online community that Brice Royer had just established and reading Ruth Van Reken’s book did I finally understand that it’s not about the adding of more cultures to be a “legitimate” Third Culture Kid, that the third culture is born out of the experience of movement between cultures, or the lack of association with one over others, whether it’s because of different ethnicity, passport, upbringing, or more.
When I realized whom I thought I was, I made every effort to let people know I was unique and better than them because they were unworldly and didn’t understand. That their inability to be open to diversity was a fault of theirs, and they should be jealous of me. This pompous attitude did nothing to improve my relations with other people, and it developed a chip on my shoulder that alienated me from people further and strained many of my friendships.
I eventually dropped this perspective and realized that although I am a Third Culture Kid, I am a person whose experience is merely different, not better than others, something that I only understood when I was out of college for a couple years after my childish attitude affected my ability to understand or accept life for what it was.
Stage III – A part of me after I turned 26 felt that I was no longer a Third Culture Kid, but a simple human being who had the Third Culture Kid experience. I didn’t want to elevate myself above people, but I also wasn’t ashamed of sharing it with them if they inquired about my background. Admittedly, I did tone it down so I would not appear to be boasting.
I made every effort to let people that it’s a unique experience, but neither something to be envious of or to pity me for with the difficulties that came with it. Instead of looking for differences with people, I looked for more commonalities, and it was from my experiences that I found wherever I went, I could find people who enjoyed music I did, food I loved, or shared values and ideals with me. Those experiences shaped me in a way that they taught me my values and ideals, and introduced me to many hobbies I enjoy, and that which I loved was something others inadvertently discovered too, even without having the Third Culture Kid experience.
Stage IV – After turning 27 and enduring the most difficult year of my life when my father passed and life turned upside down, living homeless on the streets and losing friends and family, when I eventually came out of it and found even strangers from the Third Culture Kid community and strangers on the street truly cared. Not because I was a TCK, not because I deserved help, but because we all shared at least one thing in common: we are all human beings who have the power of compassion. To see someone sleeping on the streets with no hope or friends, with potential to be much more with a little support; imagine yourself in his shoes. That was me, and that was what made a few people decide they wanted to help me out.
It was from realizing that all over the world, there are truly good people, just like there are truly misguided or “bad” people. A year later, seeing how much I have accomplished, I have regrets I didn’t do this sooner, but I have much to celebrate because I have already done it and can do so much more. I know I can do a lot for myself and that this world is beautiful, it is worth preserving, saving, and improving. When I look at my friends I’ve met online who share my experience and values as Third Culture Kids or as global-minded people, I know I can achieve my goals and accomplish whatever we put our hearts to.
With this second chance at life I’ve been given and a few people who support me, even in my difficult times, I am willing to dedicate my life to being a humanitarian and giving back to the world. I have a few friends now, and there are many people in the world whom I have yet to meet who could be future friends or more. I don’t need more enemies, but I’m always happy to make more friends.
Just a few months shy of turning 28, I believe we have hope. I will share my story, and I will have more experiences to learn from and grow. I will use these lessons to help others and to be the best me I can be. When I am the best me I can be, I will dedicate myself to improving the world, being a good man, a perfect gentleman, a beloved friend, a big brother, a loyal partner, and more.
There will be bumps in the road, and there will be setbacks, but there will also be that interphase between bumps and setbacks that I will be enjoying myself and laughing at what I’ve overcome. As I’m laughing, I’ll be warning other people about those bumps and obstacles, not so that they may avoid them, but so they may better prepare themselves to deal with them. This is where I am now as a Third Culture Kid, a globalist, a gentleman, and a passionate young man.