The flexible life of a TCK
By Elissa Emoto, staff writer
Third Culture Kids provide their unique definitions of “home.”
If home is where the heart is, then what happens when a heart is attached to more than one place or maybe no place at all? For third culture kids (TCKs) living somewhere temporarily is simply a part of life. Here, three APU students and one staff member share their experiences about living transculturally. It seems the only thing to define home for these four people is the word flexible, when life had them defining their identities in so many different cultures.
“I’m a very extreme situation,” said Hannah Evans, sophomore social work major. “My life is very extreme within the TCK group.”
Evans grew up in Korea as a TCK, but because her father is American, she also spent a significant amount of time living in the United States. The majority of her formative years were spent in Korea with her father, who is an American businessman, as well as her Korean mother and two younger siblings.
Choosing to attend a university thousands of miles away was an independent decision for Evans, since her parents wanted her to stay in Korea where she received most of her education.
“I was home-schooled all of my academic years, except for fourth and fifth grade, when I was in Texas and went to public school,” Evans said. “It was a big transition.”
After moving to Texas for fourth and fifth grade, Evans moved back to Korea and switched between home-schooling and an international Christian school to finish out her high school education.
“When I was there, I felt that even though my passport says I’m an American, I felt like I wasn’t at home,” Evans said.
Living in Korea as an American citizen and taught by an American curriculum, Evans realized she was different. She felt excluded from her peers because she came from an interracial family.
“Especially being half. If you’re full-blooded, [Koreans] think it is so cool, but if you’re half then they kind of think of you as not pure,” Evans said.
Spending her early years in Korea gave her a desire to live in America, a place where she hoped she could be accepted. Still, she found herself excluded from her peers in both countries. Evans never quite knew where to fit in.
“When I did come to America I found that I was really Korean. My whole being was pretty much Korean,” Evans said. “So being ostracized also in America, I wanted to go back, but it’s this whole idea that you can’t really fit in anywhere.”
Other students can relate to Evans in not fitting into the cookie-cutter molds that most cultures expect you to.
Kohei Shimizu, junior liberal arts major, knows he is not the stereotypical studious Japanese student. With a distinct passion for teaching English to third culture kids like himself, Shimizu reminded his mother in Japan that he doesn’t appreciate being compared to others. When he talks to his mother now, he reminds her that he goes to school in America and not Japan where curriculum and education is different.
“My mom is so smart. I’m not. So my mom wanted me to just ace all the tests and do well in school, but I’m not like that,” Shimizu said.
From New York to Japan, Malaysia and then California, he looks back on his journey living in many different “homes” with a smile and gratitude.
“I got cool experiences, and now, thinking back, I appreciate my parents. I really do,” Shimizu said.
Though being a TCK was not the easiest experience, he hopes others can experience what he did.
“If I have my own kids, I probably will do the same thing. I’ll raise my kids like this possibly,” Shimizu said with a laugh. “You know, if I do get married.”
Shimizu might tell his future kids about his experience attending a Christian boarding school in Malaysia, including how it was hard to communicate and make new friends because Japanese was his first language.
“When we went to Malaysia, I pretty much had to relearn English,” Shimizu said. “I couldn’t make a lot of friends because language-wise I wasn’t ready yet I guess.”
Usually Shimizu tells people home is in Malaysia, but now it’s changing. His parents live in Japan and are moving to Mexico next month because of his father’s global company. The more years that pass since living there, the less Malaysia feels like home.
“Now since so many of my friends are not [in Malaysia] anymore and my teachers aren’t there anymore, I can’t really call [Malaysia] my home,” Shimizu said. “And especially because my parents are moving to Mexico, I can’t call Japan home anymore.”
Ayumi Amano, a junior global studies major, also grew up in Japan but in what she calls an “American Bubble.” For those who are not closely listening for an accent, it would be easy to think she lived most of her life in America instead of Japan. However, from kindergarten to senior year, Amano attended a private international school in Japan for TCK students.
“From kindergarten, I spoke perfect English, so my parents wanted me to go to a school that was not a public Japanese school,” Amano said.
Her older brother also experienced education at a private international school, but her younger brother has only attended public Japanese schools. He does not speak a word of English.
“I don’t understand what it is like going to Japanese school,” Amano said. “So it’s pretty hard to understand what he goes through.”
Growing up in what might be described as an Americanized sub-culture in Japan, Amano doesn’t feel like she ever found her place as a Japanese citizen.
“Back home in Japan, all of my friends are people like me,” said Amano about friends who attended international school with her.
Until now, she never thought about returning to Japan but recently she has felt God calling her back to the country she has lived in for most of her life. She wants to teach English and work for a nonprofit.
Choosing to follow her heart, Amano has thought about making Japan her home again after college.
“For me, after the earthquake happened in Japan, I realized I had more of a heart for Japan than I thought I did,” Amano said.
For another TCK, defining an identity and home did not come easy. The experiences Vijay Jacob, the International Student Chaplain, had in his formative years stuck with him through adulthood.
“Home for me has a fluid feel to it, it’s more about the people you’re with,” said Jacob, who is a familiar face to students at International Chapel.
Depending on the situation, he finds it hard to fully identify with just one culture when he has pieces of three. Asking the simple question of, “Where are you from?” may lead to a lengthy explanation if asking a TCK. Vijay usually prefaces his answer before explaining: “Do you want the long answer or the short answer?”
If they ask for the short answer, he typically repeats the same straightforward phrase.
“I will usually say, ‘My parents are Sri Lankan, I was born in Kenya, and then moved to the U.S. in junior high,” Jacob said.
The life of a TCK is similar to a puzzle. You can’t complete the picture if there is a missing piece.
“If someone says, ‘You’re Sri Lankan,’ I say, ‘Well I’m not really Sri Lankan, I grew up in Kenya,” Jacob said. “If someone says, ‘You’re American,’ there is a part of me that revolts against the idea.”
Even after creating a home in California with his wife, who is also a TCK, Jacob continues to learn lessons as a TCK.
“I view my friendships and sense of belonging as seasonal,” Jacob said. “Something I’m learning is sticking with someone across distances and periods of time.”
Evans has also learned that living between two cultures was like playing a card game. Some days she would have to play the American card and other days it would be the Korean card.
“It sounds very weird, but that is how you get further on in the game and not get hurt as much,” Evans said.
Home will always have a flexible meaning for her.
“Where you see the sunset, that is your home,” Evans said. “So wherever you are for the night, that’s where your heart should be, because that is where you are.”