30 (Dis)Advantages Of Being a Third Culture Kid

Whenever I meet new people, there is that one dreaded question that always comes up within the first ten minutes of conversation. “Where are you from?” I’m American by accent, British by bank account and Czech by birth – but answering questions about my cultural identity is not as easy as ABC. 

Third culture kid or TCK is someone who was raised in a different country than the one they were born in. Personally, I only moved once – to Austria at the age of 13 – but many of my old international school classmates, most of whose parents were employed by the UN, moved to a new country every five years or so.

It seems swell, doesn’t it? Your life sounds and looks like a permanent exotic vacation and your Facebook check-ins are full of names most of your friends cannot pronounce. But being a TCK also has its disadvantages. From constantly feeling a little homesick to never quite feeling at home, being a TCK makes you a little different from all of your “normal” peers.

Buzzfeed ran two popular articles about TCKs – one about the things they have in common and the other the hard decisions they have to make. In my article, I want to give a balanced – albeit inevitably subjective – account of what being an international baby jetsetter is like. First, let’s look at the positive things and then delve into the deep dark abyss that is a TCK’s restless soul. Don’t worry, I’ve included gifs to make it less terrifying.

1. You always have the coolest stories.
 
It’d be hard not to seem at least a little bit cool with all your globetrotting adventures. You may be a dime a dozen among your fellow TCKs, but regular mortals will find your stories from abroad oh-so-worldly.

2. You also have the coolest clothes. 
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Whether they’re one of a kind designer items, edgy outfits from local boutiques or cute vintage pieces, you’ll certainly be the only person in the room sporting those shoes.

3. In fact, you’re basically superhuman.

You are immune to jetlag, no longer experience culture shock and you’ve been to places no one’s ever dared visit before (yes, that tiny McDonald’s in Jakarta counts). Face it – you’re basically a real life superhero.
 
4. Foreign lads and lasses are ten times cuter.
 
 
Foreigners with their quirky accents and unfamiliar features just have that je ne sais quoi that makes them at least three times sexier than your average Joe from back home. Jose > Joe. Fact. I’m sorry, Joe.

5. Your passport is a fascinating read.
 
All those stamps tell exciting stories of love, laughter, loss or… something! Your passport is like a little travel diary and is probably more fun to flick through in the queue to border control than the person’s behind you.

6. You quickly get comfortable around new people.
This might not be an advantage for them, but it is for you. From your new university flatmates to the lady who sells bananas on the corner – no one is safe from you and you will make them your BFFs, whether they want it or not.

7. You can impress people with your grasp of foreign languages.
Even if you can only say few unrelated words in them, no one will ever know. Which brings me to…

9. You can swear at people without them knowing.
Grasping even the very basics of a foreign language gives you many liberties. And one of those liberties is being a complete asshole, but instead coming off as well-travelled and educated.

9. Your CV kicks ass.

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Adaptable, flexible, independent – you’re all the things employers look for. Changing high schools faster than most people change their jeans was bound to pay off at some point!
 
10. You are a boss at flying.
Ain’t nobody can pack a carry-on as well as you. Or look as comfortable/stylish/relaxed on a long-haul flight.

11. Someone is always up and ready to talk to you. 
If you need advice on anything from nail polish colours to 3am drunk texting, one of your friends will be awake, somewhere in the world.

12. You can be whoever you want to be.
Is your passport country losing in the Olympics? Well, that’s fine – you’ve got a dozen others you can root for.

13. You get to celebrate all the holidays.
Good luck tryimg to fit All Saints’ Day, Dia de los Muertos and Allhelgonadagen into one November evening while still wearing your skimpy Halloween costume and nursing a logic-defying hangover.

14. You can save on holiday accommodation.
via nymag
Having friends scattered across the globe has many advantages – free international lodging is one of them.

15. You can feel at home pretty much anywhere.
No matter where fate brings you, odds are you’ve already been to a place like it – or at least infinitely worse than it.

16. But you also never quite feel at home anywhere.
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Oh, and now for the more depressing half of this article! Growing up in different locations is cool, yes, but it also leaves you a little confused about your place in this world. You’ll never be British/Russian/Chinese/whatever enough to truly fit in anywhere in the world.

17. Explaining where you’re from takes inappropriately long.
Eh, if you didn’t want to listen to the (drastically shortened) hour-long story of my life, then maybe you shouldn’t have fucking asked. Just saying.

18. You always miss someone.
Platonic or romantic, long distance relationships suck. And, unfortunately for you, the majority of your friends live on the opposite side of the globe, miles away. That is why…

19. You live half your life online. 
The Internet is a mysterious land with no borders where you and all your international friends can live happily ever after. Unfortunately, living online makes you slightly antisocial and requires you be glued to a screen of some kind 24/7.

20. You are more likely to become depressed. 
TCKs are more likely to suffer from depression, because their lives are filled with constant loss and unfamiliarity. Moving to a new place is always exciting – saying goodbye to your temporary home and all the people you met there less so.

21. Your stories can make you come off as pretentious.

It’s not your fault you have to preface most of your stories with “when I was living in xyz”. No, that doesn’t mean you’re a spoilt heir(ess) or that you exfoliate with crisp dollar bills. Not that you’d particularly mind either.

22. #FOMO, that’s the motto.
via gurl
No matter how good a time you are having at home, moving around makes you realise how many exciting events you are constantly missing out on.

23. People don’t get half your jokes.
Many of your jokes fall flat because they require knowledge of location-specific trivia and, perhaps, a different sense of humour altogether. Either that, or it really is just me and I’m just not as funny as I’d like to believe. But obviously, that’s nonsense. Right?

24. In fact, people don’t really get you half the time.
With all the foreign slang and foreign concepts coming out of your mouth, sometimes people look at you like you’re a different species altogether.

25. Getting your favourite food is almost impossible.
Fancy a plate of authentic Indian fish curry or Sichuan dan-dan noodles? No problem – just pack a bag, shell out hundreds of dollars on a plane ticket, spend half a day criss-crossing the sky and… voilà!

26. Nothing surprises you anymore. 
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Baby monkey going backwards on a pig? Yawn. When you were living in Lesotho, you saw… Yeah, we get it.

27. People can never guess where you’re from based on your accent.
Your strange accent and foreign lingo are confusing enough, but the fact that you pronounce certain words differently based on who you’re talking to just takes it to a whole new level of weird. On the bright side, you’re kind of like an undercover spy. If only you could figure out which country to work for, that is.

28. You constantly have to do math. 
From converting currencies to calculating time differences, math is more of a presence in your everyday life than it should be.

29. You can’t stay in one place for too long. 
No matter how much you like the city you’re currently in, after a while you always get restless. There’s a whole world out there and you have to explore it! This also means that…

30. You don’t know which country to settle down in.
With so many places to choose from, how could you ever just pick one?

But why settle down at all?
.
Oh no! You just keep doing you, you fabulous little creature. Keep trotting that globe and just doing you. You can bet I will – and you can continue to follow my adventures right here, on Girl vs Globe.

  • Holly Robertson

    Love the use of the gifs, Sabina! I can totally see where you’re coming from. I grew up on a Girl Scout camp, and we had international staff come every year to live with us. This was totally awesome for me because it fueled my passion for travel at a young age. But, every year, my favorites left, and new people came. So sad! Still does help to have contacts all over the world though!

  • Anya Hogan

    This is perfect! Couldn’t have said it better myself <3

  • Dannielle

    I’m not even an international kid, and these gifs cracked me up!

  • MagicTravelTanya

    We have been traveling full-time for a few years now. Recently our daughter turned our traveling duo into a traveling trip so we have been thinking a lot about what her childhood will look like. Thanks for the post. Food for thought.

  • Love this post! Like I love all of your posts. You’re the girl everyone wishes they were best friends with. Definitely add that to the list. <3

  • miky

    I didnt know we had met,you know me so well.

  • I absolutely loved this list – I laughed so hard scrolling down and nodded in agreement like the screw on my neck was loose. It’s great to know that we’re not alone in experiencing these things!

    Somin // TCK Goes Home

  • Nidhi Alberti

    This is a fantastic post! As a TCK myself, I felt like you were reading my mind. And the gifs are awesome!!

  • Kay

    Love this – I’m currently teaching at an International School, and am LOVING the TCKs. You’re right – they’re everything you said they are, and more! 🙂

  • Syahirah Sulastri As

    A little sense of arrogance when I read “superman”. Not all TCKs end up successful as their parents unless it’s inherited which is not. In fact most TCKs (most from diplomat families including the UN) I came across (myself as a TCK even) were very humble despite the extravagance in comparison to those who “converted” to a TCK at a latter stage (often flaunting everything they have when given the chance).

    Most of us would be thrilled in going to developing countries and making a change doing social work, thus it makes us a little uncomfortable to just ‘put it all out there’ if seem unnecessary.