This post is part of a series on learning from diversity called What I Learned. To contribute, contact Rachel.
Today’s What I Learned post comes from Olga Mecking, writing about her discovery of being a Third Culture Kid, specifically a European TCK who remained in Europe and coming to terms with her heritage.
Finding out that I am a TCK was a revelation. While I never minded not fitting anywhere (being socially awkward does that to you eventually), I still thought it would be nice to belong somewhere, anywhere, for a change.
The term TCK resonated with me. I started reading books, blogs, joined TCK groups on Facebook. And again I felt this familiar thud: “You’re not one of us.” I begun to question whether I am really a TCK: after all, as a child, I only moved once- to Germany where we stayed for 2 years. However, I lived in different countries as an adult: Germany (again), France, Canada (the only non-European country where I had lived), and now the Netherlands. I didn’t really have a culture-related identity crisis. The only one I had was when I became a mother and that was, as I’ve come to think, in no way related to my move to the Netherlands.
And this is when I realized that most of the countries I’ve lived in so far were European (with the exception of Canada). Where most TCK’s have lived all over the world, I hardly ever left Europe.
Don’t get me wrong. My experiences are still far beyond the ordinary. I come from a family that is impossible to describe without mentioning multiple countries and languages. I travelled a lot as a child. I see myself as a European, and that already includes multiple countries, cultures and languages. Like many TCK’s, my answer to the question “Where are you from” is never easy, and I know that one can have many homes, or even various ideas of what home actually is.
Compared to someone who has never left Poland, my experiences felt extremely global. They weren’t. I don’t think I would ever become aware of this if I didn’t start a blog- called, of course, The European Mama, and met other bloggers, who were not living in Europe.
I wouldn’t even have considered issues such as being white in a mostly “black” country, facing poverty, or being a woman in a culture that is not entirely woman-friendly. And that’s already the tip of an iceberg of things I am neither familiar, nor entirely comfortable with.
I have always known that I have a nice comfortable life, but haven’t realized how easy it really is. It was blogs such as Djibouti Jones and World Moms Blog that really opened my eyes.
It’s not easy to write these words. I am of course very privileged, even more so in that I live in the Netherlands, a country where a woman has a wide support network of daycares, free check-ups and vaccinations for her children. Women can work part-time (although there is little pressure to work full time), but whatever they decide, the support is there.
My husband has a rather secure, well paid job. I could work if I wanted to, but I don’t have to. On the other hand, I am extremely lucky to be able to send my children to daycare so that they can learn Dutch.
Which brings me back to my multicultural and multilingual family. My children are growing up with three languages: Polish, German and Dutch. My eldest even picks up English from her English-speaking friends. To me, this is nothing unusual; it’s how I was raised as well.
I am constantly being made aware of this richness, each time I’m being asked, “Where are you from?” because this question requires considering what the other person is asking. It could mean: “where were you born?” (Poland), or maybe “where did you live before you came here” (Germany), or maybe sometimes, “where do you live?” (The Hague area, we get asked this when we go to other parts of the Netherlands).
While I know I am privileged in comparison to some, not everyone is tolerant about my home country, Poland. If it hadn’t been for my German husband, I’d be facing stereotypes about Polish people, but with my knowledge of German (the Dutch tell me my accent sounds German), and my German last name, I pass for a German here. Germans are not necessarily the Dutch people’s favourite but they’re still considered higher up on the “cultural ladder” than Polish people (who, in turn, are seen as better than Bulgarians, Rumanians, etc). And yet in Poland I am told that I am not Polish enough.
I guess my heritage, and with that, my identity is at the same time extremely complex, and somewhat limited all at the same time; that I can embrace the complexity and work on the limitations. That being European (or should I say, the right kind of European) comes with a privilege.
But I also can’t deny that Europe has become my home. In fact, it has always been my home, I just wasn’t so aware of this. It’s a big home on one hand and a small home on the other, but it’s just right for me.
Olga Mecking is a Polish woman living with her German husband in The Netherlands where they raise three trilingual children. She blogs about her experiences on The European Mama, a blog about raising multilingual children, living abroad, and parenting. She can be found on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterestand Instagram. She is also a regular contributor to World Moms Blog,BLUNTmoms and Multicultural Kid Blogs.
Hm, I can almost identify with this. I’m a TCK/adult because I grew up constantly moving, all over the US, Canada, briefly Europe, then various study and work-abroad experiences, and now I’m living in Germany, married to a national. There’s something inherently American about me, but I never know what to say when people ask me where I’m from; they’re never satisfied when I simply say the US. And since there’s no hometown/region for me, and since I’ve been living in Germany for nearly a decade, there’s really no easy answer.
I sometimes wonder if I would feel better about things if I were to own, rather than rent my home, or have children. I guess it would be easier if society didn’t generally feel the need to categorize everybody, but that’s not stopping anytime soon! Identity (both self-perceived and that imposed by others) is such an interesting topic.
I love the part when you talk about finding out you are a TCK, yet still feeling this familiar thud of, “I don’t belong.” I always felt that way too, about being a military kid. Yes, technically TCK, yet such a different/more limited experience from other, more globally mobile nomads. It’s so refreshing to hear other TCKs admit to feeling like they don’t belong, even among TCKs. Thank you for discussing this and also the cultural hierarchies in different European countries. Lots of rules in all societies for who measures up, and who doesn’t, and that’s sad to me.