Growing up an expat is a part of who I am. I believe the term for us is Third Culture Kids or TCKs. I found it confusing the first time I heard it too, but if I understand correctly, it implies you have been raised in a country other than that of your parent’s origin, for the most part of your formative years. By the time I was 14, I had lived in Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore as an expat, with the annual visit to the motherland, which in my case was my grandparent’s home in Karachi, Pakistan.
My pattern of moving around has gone on well into my adulthood, I have gone on to live in three other cities, and somehow have come full circle to live in Dubai again, the city in which I was born. Growing up a TCK, I felt I was quite unique, but it really isn’t that rare as I had thought. In fact, there are a few very famous TCKs. One in particular you may have heard of is the US President, Barack Obama, yes he too is a TCK. Some others are Christiane Amanpour, Viggo Mortenson, I mean we’re basically everywhere. You can’t get away from us even if you tried. Why would you want to, we’re great!
Growing up an expat has its countless advantages. What stands out most in my mind is the cultural exposure. You are surrounded by different cultures throughout, be it by the other diverse population of expats, or the culture of the city you are living in at the time, or by the travelling you do. Your travels are another major perk, and is indefinitely part of the expat package. Holidays are usually spent either in an exotic or new location or with extended family in your country of origin. TCKs tend to also be very adaptive. Your surroundings will change continuously and new people and experiences are always part of the forecast. This just becomes a way of life for TCKs. You also learn to form relationships very quickly. In my mind, the benefits are countless. It is only now that I am beginning to wonder about the challenges.
I’ve never questioned the way I was raised, I love that I grew up an expat, but in all honesty it is also all I have known. The thought of questioning my upbringing only arose when my daughter came into my life. I also found myself comparing my experiences to that of my husband’s, which were slightly more settled. I think the major difference is the lack of certain constants in my life. This has given rise to several questions that I now ask myself about how I will raise my daughter. Here are a few that some of you in similar situations might be asking yourselves too:
- How strong of a connection do I want her to have to my culture?
- What if I am not able to teach her Urdu, or worse what if she has no interest in our food? How does one raise a child who does not have the same passion for biryani? That is a terrifying thought.
- Will she miss out on special relationships with our extended family? I don’t believe it ever bothered me, but that was only because it was my norm.
- Do I want to teach her how to recover from goodbyes quickly or do I want to teach her to nurture relationships for a lifetime? She will make friends from all over the world, but as expats, most of them will eventually leave. Having lifelong friendships will be near impossible for her.
- If my child is not exposed to my culture, will my culture be forgotten with in a generation? This thought is quite frightening, especially with the rate cultures are disappearing. With that said, the passing on of a whole culture, is a heavy burden to bear.
These questions just scratch the surface of raising an expat child. With all the benefits there are also a few challenges to navigate. Fortunately, children are already very adaptive making the expat lifestyle an easy fit. Quite honestly, I’m very excited to raise an expat child, even with the challenges. In today’s world, I think these kind of open-minded human beings are desperately needed and living in a multi-cultural environment from a young age, nurtures this. So hopefully with enough TCKs in the world, it will become a more peaceful place, with people who are open to accepting differences.