Third-Culture Kids

Ashlesha Mishra, Staff Writer

America is full of diversity. It brings together people of several different cultures and ethnicities. People from all around the world have come here for job opportunities and to build strong futures; however, in this kind of shift, children who belong to other cultures struggle to fit in the community, eventually mixing practices. “Where are you from?” is a simple question that stumbles many children that are submerged in cultural diversity and change around them. These kids are called “Third-Culture Kids.” Third-culture kids are people who were raised in a culture other than their parents or the culture of their original nationality. These kids live in a different environment for the majority of their lives. While this is a different experience, it can sometimes cause trouble to the children who are stuck in the middle.

For the children that identify as Third-Culture Kids, certain stereotypes get attached to them or they are questioned simply for being different. Freshmen, Kylah Rajan, stated, “Being an Indian, a question I have gotten often is if I speak ‘Indian.’ This is something that is a stereotype that is very inaccurate because ‘Indian’ is not a language and within the country of India around 30 different languages are spoken.” While many instances are not intentionally meant to be offensive, such statements are assumed because people do not have enough knowledge of these cultures. An article by NY Times states, “The idea that a sense of belonging is challenged by the straddling of cultures is hardly a revelation; nearly every maker whose back story was shaped by more than one place has arrived at some version of that conclusion. But rarely do we hear the stories of so-called “Third-Culture Kids” and the private, nomadic worlds in which they are raised, marked by a certain shared disorientation and the sense that home is everywhere and nowhere at once.” It is uncommon to talk about the mix of the traditions that one must follow which can result in many consequences for the children with stereotypes being one of them. When asked if it would be easier to be a part of one culture instead of multiple, Rajan said, “This is a difficult question because I love the culture(s) I am a part of and I would not want to change that but it would probably be easier for sure.” Sometimes, Third-Culture Kids find it easier to neglect their culture than to be constantly misunderstood. The article also added, “They relocate frequently and enroll their children in international schools, exposing them to miniature realms cultivated by peers from nations far and wide, whose customs, languages and mores coalesce, birthing hybrid or “third” cultures that are globe-spanning, diverse, highly empathic and oftentimes difficult to translate outside these environments.” Facing change so many times makes it difficult for children to change and fit into the community around them.

Being called out at a young age can not only affect one’s self-identity but also affect friendships at school. In an article, BBC writes, “Counsellors note that problems are more likely to emerge around the ages of nine or 10, when friendships become more central to a child’s identity, and especially during teenage years. Kids can become withdrawn, isolating themselves from their classmates, or become angry, lashing out at those around them.” At that age, when there is not much understanding about accepting differences in others, it is very easy to discourage someone from simply following their cultural practices. Senior Zoe Moon states, “When I was little, I remember being judged by other kids for my lunches sometimes, but that doesn’t happen to me anymore.” As children get older, there is a development of maturity which allows them to understand different backgrounds and at the very least, respect that. However, as young kids, it is odd to see something different than what you are taught. Thus, kids have to face others teasing or making fun of them.

The acknowledgment of non-American holidays is not something that is mentioned regularly in schools. Specifically, the Issaquah School District calendar and most other school calendars as well are scheduled in a way in which it lines up with holidays celebrated by Americans in particular. Junior Morgan Gentzen says, “I haven’t experienced this personally, but I do understand that many students face issues with having to miss school to participate in their holidays, causing an unfair disadvantage compared to those whose holidays matchup with breaks,” and Sophomore Riya Agarwal adds, “We have to make out some time during afternoons or evenings to celebrate or sometimes just take a day off.” While teachers are understanding in these situations, missing school days is unfair towards the students and only piles up more work and catch-up to do. As of today’s date, society has definitely progressed and is taking its first steps to welcome these differences. Student clubs such as Issaquah School District Equity Club are attempting to head towards change and spreading knowledge about these differences. During the pandemic, the club and many other groups have used the strength of social media to raise awareness of these cultural events. An article by The Black Expat states, “It was both bizarre and fulfilling to hear these people, these Third Culture Kids, speak of their difficulties with identity and belonging, yet stating how they would not have it any other way. They, like me, were people who spent a significant amount of their childhood outside of their parent’s culture.” Sharing information about the different holidays in the many cultures that are in the world increases a sense of community and helps the student body feel united rather than a bunch of individuals.

Adjusting into new and different situations is difficult but as an article by Home.snu states, “Adults who enter a new culture and are intentional about third culture building usually maintain a solid identification with their own, indigenous culture. As their children grow up, they naturally — and even unconsciously — synthesize elements of the parent and host cultures into a third.” As a part of society, it is crucial to invite other cultures and understand the stories and sentiment behind them to fully respect and include Third-Culture Kids.