Written by Tuisku ‘Snow’ Kolu
The world is more interconnected than ever before, and while most still have some sense of home that is tied to a singular location – a family home, a city, a nation – this growing interconnectedness has created new groups and waves of people whose idea of home can be more convoluted.
Expatriate communities have been growing at an exponential level in recent years, leading to a new phenomenon of home identity. In 2017 there were an estimated 258 million people living outside their nation of origin according to UN statistics, compared to the 154 million in 1990. This is more than three and a half times larger than the population of the United Kingdom and about half the population size of the EU. While it is accurate that many of those living abroad may still have a sense of home tied to their origin nation, there is one particular group resulting from such migration trends that illustrate how the changing nature of global society has altered the concept of home – Third Culture Kids (TCKs).
TCKs are individuals who spent some or all of their formative years in one or more countries outside their parents’ home country. The name comes from the idea that such a child would have three cultures – their parent’s native culture, the culture of the country they partially grew up in, and finally a combination of the two. This combination is a mixed identity that combines their parents’ culture and the culture(s) they grew up in. Many who feel an affinity with this definition have lived in several different nations by the time they are adults, allowing their cultural identity to include ideals and values of different origins. TCKs can develop into adults with a sense of global citizenship, belonging everywhere and nowhere all at once.
Many TCKs can find the traditional concept of home with its ties to a location unfamiliar, perhaps even uncomfortable. TCKs often experience discomfort with their identity on return to their nation of origin. Some psychologists discuss this as ‘cultural homelessness’, as many TCKs find it difficult to associate with a singular culture. There is a sense of otherness that develops from this. Personally, I found returning to my native country to be more confusing and alienating than when moving somewhere unfamiliar. To an extent, this often comes from an experience of ‘otherness,’ feeling foreign and disconnected. While I still felt some affinity with certain cultural elements, much was at odds with my identity. As such for many TCKs the concept of a singular location as a home can be inconceivable. There is an abundant amount of memes online attempting to put words to this experience – from the question ‘where are you from?’ setting off a full-blown identity crisis, to the confusing attempts at explaining why your accent seems to fluctuate between 3 or 4 different vocations.
However, much of this discomfort may come from the pressure to feel an affinity with the traditional concept of home. In a childhood where your head is cracked open beyond this notion – allowing the creation of an identity which attempts to compile an understanding and relationship to completely different sets of histories and peoples – this concept of home has to be explored in a different way. Because, once it is cracked, returning to a familiar national identity is easier said than done.
When releasing the concept of home from nationality, one can begin to assess the less tangible elements associated with it. This can be explored in how we discuss home. The idiom “in the comforts of one’s own home” suggests that people tend to associate home with a feeling of comfort; of familiarity. Moreover the saying “home is where the heart is” suggests a need for loved ones and community. I would also argue that this ties in a sense with our traditional understanding of home being tied to a nation, as home appears to be seeking the feeling of being understood.
Attempting to understand comfort and familiarity in relation to the life of a TCK can feel inherently flawed. There is not a lot of stability/consistency in the life of a TCK due to the often changing environment. However, life is change. Change is now one of the most familiar and comfortable feelings I experience in adulthood. This feeling of excitement for the unknown and the approaching change is wonderful. Arguably many TCKs are accustomed to change, understand it better than most, and are generally considered highly effective at assimilating to new situations and cultures. Hence many of us feel most comfortable in a migrating lifestyle and continue to do so into adulthood. As such, change is home because it feels consistent due to its inherently inconsistent nature.
By understanding home in relation to community and loved ones, constant movement can once again feel at odds with such a development. As I discussed earlier, TCKs can find a considerable feeling of foreignness in relation to the country of their origin. Studies show that TCKs are often quick at developing friendships and creating a community in new surroundings, due to their ability to assimilate. As such much of the feeling of a sense of belonging can come from these ties with friends and family. However, I would argue that there is a further level understanding of your friends and community that is needed to feel ‘home’. Beyond your own assimilation, it is the feeling that someone else fully understands your identity. Arguably many TCKs struggle to find this as adults due to a migrating lifestyle and being surrounded by those who identify closely with nationality.
To an extent, TCKs have found new ways of achieving this with the help of technology and increasingly cheaper travel. TCKs have developed a considerable web presence, allowing individuals with similar childhoods to come together online and share their common experience. This includes discussion and advice forums, blogs, and a heavily dedicated meme culture. As such, there is a sense of a community of people who can come together due to a common set of TCK experiences. Occasionally you also get the joy of running into another TCK in real life and connect over the similarities in lifestyle. As such I would argue there is a similar bond between TCKs as there are between those that derive their sense of home from nationality. This is due to both groups sharing a common set of experiences. Cheap travel and social media also allow the TCKs of today to stay better connected to their friends and family.
I have been incredibly fortunate, meeting marvelous people throughout my travels that have given me a sense of community and understanding over time that has succeeded to allow a sense of home.
With regard to the changing nature of our society, it may be time to reassess our traditional conception of ‘home’. An exploration of the ideas related to home can allow those that may not seem as connected to feel more comfortable with their sense of identity, and less lost within such a concept. In taking time to reassess seemingly uncomplicated ideas such as ‘home’ in light of the changing nature of society, it may allow us to better understand and feel comfortable in this change. Although at first, it can feel at odds with what we traditionally consider home, it is arguably more similar than we may give it credit, in its seeking of comfort and community. There is some power in the ability to find home beyond a single nation, in seeking it in the large scale of fluidity of the modern global society. Being comfortable with such an identity can allow an exploration of ideas from several different perspectives – some call it a “three-dimensional” worldview.