I am a TCK. When people ask me what that means, I like to tell them that it stands for ‘The Cool Kids,’ and you’ll find out why in a moment.
A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is someone who grows up in a culture that is different from their parents’ culture during their developmental years. The first culture is their parents’ culture at home, the second culture is the one they are immersed in and the third one becomes the unique blend of both together.
For example, I am a half Lebanese, half Russian who was born and raised in Cairo, Egypt and has now spent the last four years in beautiful Upland, Indiana. I can start a sentence in Arabic, continue it in English and end it in Russian. I can pack for an international flight in less than an hour. I can haggle down a price at a market just as any other Middle Easterner. I automatically take my shoes off at the door before I enter an Eastern European home, and I know that when offering food to my Arab friends, I need to ask several times before they finally say ‘yes.’
Adjectives that you could use to describe a TCK would be flexible, adaptable and curious. A TCK needs to be flexible, because plans are constantly changing. One moment your flight gets canceled, the next you’re on another plane going to a different city to reach your final destination.
You need to be adaptable because that is your only way to survive and flourish when you are constantly switching between different cultures. In fact, TCKs are often described as chameleons, because when they enter into a new environment, they first observe their surroundings: the way people talk, dress and behave — which they then imitate.
And finally, being a TCK makes you curious about the people, culture and religion of the environment that you’re in, but also globally.
I always thought I knew what ‘home’ meant. Growing up, it was always Egypt. Egypt was where my family was and all my belongings. It was where I first learned how to speak, where I scraped my knees learning how to rollerblade, where I got salt in my eyes snorkeling in the Red Sea, where I became master of navigating the metro system in Cairo and where I first learned how to cross a four-lane road without any traffic lights.
I then came to Taylor, and my definition of home stayed the same for my first two years here. Then, the Pandemic hit the spring semester of my sophomore year, and I had to become flexible, adaptable and curious. Thankfully, for a TCK, these are always in your backpack.
The airports in Egypt shut down, and I found myself house-hopping for six months in the U.S., living out of a single suitcase. I wasn’t with my family, nor did I have all of my ‘stuff’ with me. I wrestled with the idea of ‘home.’ My story isn’t unique. There are so many international and TCK students on campus with similar stories, ones that deserve to be heard.
It wasn’t until I processed my junior and senior year that I realized that to me, home became the place where I know others the most and where I feel that I am known the most.
We throw around the term “to know and be known” so much that I think it sometimes loses its value, but there is so much truth, goodness and beauty to it. Friends and professors know my life story, who I am, what I am passionate about, what my likes and dislikes are, and I know theirs. Time, energy and trust have gone into developing those friendships.
I graduate in three weeks, and I think this is the hardest thing that I will have to let go of. All these people in the same place doing the everyday mundane things together — this is home, and I will miss it.
For Angela Loh, a fellow TCK senior who is Singaporean but was born and raised in Japan, the idea of ‘home’ went from a birthplace to saying that God is home.
“He is everywhere and anywhere,” Loh said. “Someone can look different and be in a completely different country but could call that very country home.”
For senior Josh Zeidan, who is half British and half Chilean, but grew up in Bolivia, home is where one has treasured memories.
“It is not bound to one place, but rather the people that made you feel such a way,” said Zeidan.
The concept of home will change over the periods of our lives, but similar to Loh and Zeidan, I think it essentially comes down to our relationships — with both God and others. I am grateful to have called Taylor University home.