I was born in Kiev, Ukraine and moved to Prague, Czech Republic when I was three years old. I spent a few months in a Czech preschool, than a British one and finally found my home at the International School of Prague. I spoke Ukrainian, Russian, Czech and English by the time I was five.
For 13 years I went to a school where my teachers were travelers, my classes were taught in English (except in German and Spanish class) and where my peers were from literally all over the world. Basically, my upbringing was a wonderful chaos of cultures, languages and international travel.
Today I live in China and have two passports; Ukrainian and Czech. Although I love both countries, I am considered a foreigner when I visit them. There is an official term for someone like me and everyone I went to school with: we are third culture children.
The definition of TCK is someone who spent a significant part of their early development years in a culture other than their parents (or the country of their passport). I don’t really like this definition because it doesn’t include people like my husband.
Isaac is an American who studied German from a young age, lived in Prague for three years for work and then moved to China with his Ukrainian/Czech wife. He experiences culture shock when he returns home. Is there a label to put on people like him to?
Speaking of labels, I don’t like the word “foreigner” either. Even when it’s not being used in a derogatory way, it still implies that we are somehow different from everyone around us. How long does one need to live in a country before they are considered an expat? Is an expat different from an immigrant? Or a refugee?
Before I go off on a tangent, let me explain what it’s like to be a perpetual foreigner, TCK or whatever else you want to call me. We feel patriotic about the many places we’ve called home, despite locals calling us “foreigners”. We feel at ease traveling and adapt quickly to local customs, foods and cultures.
We learn to love culture shock, it’s our version of adrenaline. Except we don’t need to jump off a plane to feel it, we just need to master finding cheap flights to satisfy our travel addiction. I’m not sure what the exact statistics are, but the world we live in is changing because of globalization. My British friend, whom I met in Hawaii, recently married a man from Micronesia. How awesome is that?
Globalization is normalizing transnational marriages, dual citizenships and being a third culture child. We are lucky to live in a time where travel is easy and you can bump into people from other cultures in almost every city. Hopefully it will only get easier. 2016 was a difficult year that saw the return of forgotten boarders, prejudice and the rise of destructive nationalism.
Is it too cheesy for me to say that I honestly believe that together, we can get past this and make the world a better place? Can you imagine a world without “foreigners”? Where anyone can live anywhere they want without being persecuted? I can.