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Madrid, The City I Grew Up In (Photograph by Pedro CZC)

I am a ‘Third Culture Kid’.

Even though I am a Kuwaiti, English is my first language and the bulk of my life was spent living abroad: London-born, five years in Rome, eight years in Madrid; two High Schools: New English School in Kuwait and The Oxford Academy, Connecticut.; a Washington DC graduate, who additionally worked abroad for a substantial number of years.

But I am not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of people around the world who have had my kind of life. Third Culture Kids are global citizens: creative, independent, cosmopolitan, multilingual, tolerant, higher than average I.Q., we can live anywhere but we never really belong anywhere.

Here are some characteristics from Wikipedia:

90% feel “out of sync” with their peers

More welcoming of others into their community

Some of them come to terms with the tremendous culture shock and loss that they have experienced. They gain a broader understanding of the world through their varied experiences, while others spend most of their adult life trying to come to terms with those same issues.

Lack a sense of “where home is” but often nationalistic

Depression and suicide are more prominent among TCK’s

TCKs share more in common with one another, regardless of nationality, than they do with non-TCK’s from their own country.

Some of them come to terms with the tremendous culture shock and loss that they have experienced. They gain a broader understanding of the world through their varied experiences, while others spend most of their adult life trying to come to terms with those same issues.

I have many Kuwaiti friends but I also tend to shun those who don’t know where I am coming from, the shallow fixated on the material and social aspect of society, ignoring culture and arts – Third Culture Kids need the intellectual stimulation, if it isn’t there those people might as well talk to a friggin’ wall.

I am positive there are thousands of us in Kuwait and elsewhere; people who went to foreign schools, lived abroad, or lived in Kuwait as expatriates and always seem bound here (the way I feel bound to Madrid or Connecticut or Rome). I have been fortunate, through the miracle of the internet to regain and maintain contact with old friends (some dating back to the early-70s); all my friends stem from different stages in life (elementary, high school, college), all religions (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu et all) and countries, ranging from Brazil, to Egypt, to Australia.

A few years ago I had the opportunity to revisit Madrid for business (‘The Iraq Donor’s Conference’). However, I was unable to revisit old haunts (i.e. school, home) since it was a full schedule: wall-to-wall meetings. I didn’t even have the chance to walk down to the Villa Magna Hotel lobby and just reminisce about the old days.

Later on during a busy day I was standing on the hotel balcony with one of my colleagues, looking down at the beautiful, majestic city of Madrid; an emotional moment for me, I blurted out “You know my family resided here 30 years ago when we moved to Madrid.” He glanced at me, exclaiming “So? What’s the big deal? I stayed here too during the 70s.”

He just didn’t get it.

Most people are born and raised in one city or country. They grow up with the same friends, they watch their city gradually change, they have roots, they are part of their surroundings, and the tentacles of stability and familiarity are embedded in their psyche. However, Third Culture Kids feel like they’ve lived a dozen lifetimes; we are almost always haunted by a childhood memory: an old friend, a city, an old home we no longer live in. Nevertheless, we have the distinct ability to look at a problem from two different perspectives: insider and outcast.

It’s strange isn’t it? We spend half our lifetimes looking forward to living in our home countries; then spend the other half looking back at the past. We don’t belong anywhere.

Are you a Third Culture Kid? Is it a blessing or a burden? How do you feel about life and your purpose in it?

Resources :

Third Culture Kids

TCK World

U.S. State Dept: Third Culture Kids

Interaction International

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