Painting Pictures: An Open Letter To My Third Culture Kid Identity

painting1Today’s Painting Pictures post is brought to you by the lovely Mary Bassey. Mary is a Twitter and blog friend with great hair and a fabulous sense of humor. Here she shares with you, and her TCK identity, about the process of discovering there is a name for all those experiences, for all that depth and joy and pain and confusion, about finding out who she is. And about settling down into it. I love the freshness of her journey and her vulnerability in sharing the process.


An Open Letter to my Third Culture Kid Identity

Dear Third Culture Kid (TCK) Identity,

It’s almost like you have been stalking me for the past 20 years of my life. And I just realized that you existed 7 months ago. Way to go on concealing your identity for two decades! That’s actually very impressive…and makes me feel a bit confused. And frustrated. And weird, especially since you’ve been stalking me. Yet I have chosen to embrace you anyway. This is actually a bit concerning considering that my parents taught me not to talk to strangers. And here I am, doing the exact opposite of that. I blame you for my rebellion.

I blame you for a lot of things, actually.

You’ve made me do really strange things, TCK Identity, even when I didn’t know who you were. For instance, that blasted “From” section on Facebook never seemed to stay the same. For a few months, it would be Ilorin, Nigeria because that’s where I was born. Then, it would be Calabar, Nigeria because my Nigerian culture suggests that my hometown is my Father’s hometown. Other times, it’d be Canada. Or Kentucky. Or California. And then it would be blank out of frustration because you made the task of saying where I was from more difficult than it needed to be. And as if that internal conflict wasn’t enough, Facebook would mock me, asking me in that blank from section, “Where did you grow up?” So, I entered all of those aforementioned places BECAUSE I GREW UP IN ALL OF THEM, DANGIT! Facebook would not let me enter where I grew up. I repeat: Facebook would not let me enter where I grew up.

So there you have it, folks; Facebook discriminates against TCKs (please don’t take that statement seriously). But because I do not have the time or energy to lead a revolution and express my grievances against such a sad part of my Facebook experience, I answered Facebook’s, “Where are you from” question with “Elephant Island, Antarctica.” Again, I blame you, TCK identity.

I also blame you for my reaction when people tell me to “say something in African”.

You’re the reason why I feel slightly un-American because of my Nigerian and Canadian identities. You’re also the reason I feel like an outsider every time I visit Nigeria because of my Western identities.

IMG_0599Me trying not to look like a foreigner and/or heathen by covering my head in church with my Aunt’s sparkly hat.

You’re the reason for my sudden interest in Australia and Australian culture. You’re the reason I fantasize about living and schooling there after my undergraduate education. I’m possibly the only non-Aussie in Southern California who has been keeping up with The Voice Australia (don’t tell me who goes on to the final round; I’m trying to catch up).

You’re the reason why I vent to my first culture kid friends about how much easier they have it since they don’t have to deal with cultures that are so opposite from each other. All they could do was feel sorry for me.

You’re the reason why their feeling sorry for me was not cutting it for me. I desired to be understood, not pitied.

Then I met you.

I signed up for that “Anthropology for Everyday Life” having no idea it was a clever nickname for “Cultural Anthropology.” I had no idea that the last day of class would leave me in tears because I finally understood the inner struggle I was having with my cultures.

Dr. Ayers, my professor, said I was a third culture kid. 

It was at that moment I knew that there was a name for you.

Sure enough, I Googled that term and videos of other TCKs came up. I’m surprised I didn’t suffer whiplash at that moment because I found myself nodding to the experiences I had been saying all of my life. Except this time, those experiences weren’t being spoken by me. They were being spoken by other TCKs.

About a week after that instance, I ran into Rachel’s blog, Djibouti Jones, my first encounter with a blog mentioning TCKs. As I explored more, I discovered that there are more people who are expats and TCKs. And more. And even more.

Whoa, TCK identity. We are going way too fast. We need to take it slow. The amount of TCKs and expats I have met through social media is too overwhelming for me.

Have we been taking it slow, though? Well, the desire to meet more TCKs and expats always increases and I go with it so I guess not. Look at you being rebellious!

I didn’t know I was a TCK until I met you in that class. And to be honest, I hate you. But I also love you. And I couldn’t imagine my life making more sense without you.

Thank you for showing me I’m not the only one going through this identity crisis. Thank you for the support group of TCKs and expats I have encountered thus far and the ones I will encounter in the future.  Thank you for giving me the courage to speak out what I have kept silent for many years and for making me feel okay for being different. You’re not too shabby, mate. Not too shabby. 🙂

Yours truly,


What would you write to your third culture kid identity? Do you remember your reaction when you first heard the term?

Official VMM BannerMary Bassey is a Nigerian-born third culture kid living in America. She is currently a fourth year Pre-med university student studying Biochemistry with hopes of participating in global healthcare.

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