This morning I was telling my teenager (16 years old!) that he was my sun, my rainbow, and that I love him. He wasn't really pleased about all these signs of tenderness but he he did not protest. It was at home (not at school of course ;) and his Dad was the only witness.
But later on, my husband told me: "You know, you were born in Niger, you grew up there, but you do not think like a person from Niger! You are not from there!"
Here again, "with a smile and a fist" I said to him that I am certainly part of Niger since I lived there all my life until I turned 20!
A "part of me says fiercely yes I am" and "a part of me feels no I am not" because "I belong where my parents belonged."
It was obvious that I was sad and my sadness was overshadowed by a sense of regret. For many people, their identity is strongly bound up with their country or where they live. But I have been immersed both in Niger, French, and Arab environments and as a result I have found myself between cultures, not fully identifying with any.
My husband was laughing because I told my son that he was my rainbow. He explained to me that If I was thinking like a Nigerienne, I wouldn't have called him my rainbow! Niger's climate is mainly hot and dry and people are dying of hunger. Rainbows represent the abundance of sun and the lack of rain. Therefore, a Nigerien would never call his child a rainbow!
My parents "moved for some reason you may never understand they move / from their own town / their own land / and I grew up in a place / that is never quite my home."
Pollock and Van Reken (2001) define a Third Culture Kid as a person "who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parent's culture" (p.19). But I have spent all my life outside my parent's culture!!!
The "third" culture refers to a created culture that is neither the "home" culture nor the "host" culture; it is the culture between cultures!
I have experienced multiple cultures which have influenced the development of my identity. I have built relationship to all of the culture, while not having full ownership in any. Although I did assimilate elements from the Nigerien culture, from the Arabic culture, and from the French culture into my life experience, the sense of belonging to a particular culture does not exist.
The poet said "and so you grow up both and neither / and belong everywhere and nowhere much the same / both stronger and weaker for the lack of ground / able to fly but not to rest."
This is my life as a Third Culture Kid who never quite fit in the three cultures yet managed to work all of them.
Therefore, I was a Third Culture Kid's Arab child raised in Niger and I had to deal with growing up between three different and most of the time conflicting cultures and traditions.
Some of you will say that there are many beneficial factors to being Internatioanl but it is very difficult to constantly hold the feeling that you do not belong to any country.
I would define myself as a global citizen who grew up in a culture other that my parents passport cultures. I grew up in a home that had integrated the norms of the three cultures into a new different culture, a blend of cultures which became ME!
I do share membership with all the cultures cited above, yet I also feel that I lack any true membership to one culture. Gordon (1993) said that adults like me may feel culturally separated from their parents' culture and we will seek comfort in others TCK like us, that is because for us "roots are not embedded in a place, but in people" (Gordon, 1993, p. 8).
I have not been able to develop an ethnic identity. According to Spence & Markstrom (1990), an etnic identity implies a "consciousness of self within a particular group."
To Phinney (2003), "ethnic identity is a dynamic, multidimensional construct that refers to one's identity, or sense of self as a member of an ethnic group."
But I have never been able to define an ethnic self-identification based on the perception and conception of myself as belonging to one specific ethnic group. Shannon (1988) said that "identity is not a single image but rather an ever-growing collage, a personalized patterning of multiple cultures."
According to Erikson (1959), adult Third Culture Kids had not resolved the developmental crises as successfully as their mono-cultural counterparts (Wrobbel & Plueddemann, 1990). Indeed, I had struggled with the developmental stages but also the cultural transitions ;)
I have grown up in highly cross cultural and mobile environments and I have developed my own voice which represents my Identity. I would never act the same as people in the home country, and most of the time I always had the feeling of being different. I am totally comfortable switching between three worlds and I am always trying very hard to explore the different cultures and find my place within them!
I have been living in Benin for 21 years and I got a Beninese citizenship after marriage. I have created a safe environment for my two children in order for their "Global Nomad" identity to flourish and grow without too many conflicts or clashes.
Berger, R. (1997). Adolescent Immigrants in search of identity: Clingers, eradicators, vacillators and integrators. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 14 (4), 263-275
Erikson, E. (1968). Identity youth and crisis. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, Inc.
Gillies, W. D. (1998). Children on the move: Third culture kids. Childhood Education, 75 (1), 36-38.
Phinney, J. (2003). Ethnic identity and acculturation. In K. Chun, P. B. Organista, & G. Marin (Eds.), Acculturation: Advances in theory, measurement, and applied research (pp.63- 81). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association
Shannon, G. (1988). Making a home of one’s own: the young in cross- cultural fiction. English Journal, 77 (5), 14-19.
McCaig, N. (1994). Growing up with a worldview: Nomad children develop multicultural skills.
Wrobbel, K.A., & Plueddemann, J.E. (1990). Psychosocial development in adult missionary kids. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 18, 363–374.