Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Global Nomads

While surfing Redenclave blog I came accross her interesting post Third Culture Kid !
She says :

"Third Culture Kids (abbreviated TCKs) is a term for children who have
lived a significant portion of their lives in a country that is not their
passport country [...]TCKs share some common characteristics amongst the sub
categories such as multilingualism, tolerance for other cultures, a never-ending
feeling of homesickness for their adopted country (it is very true) and a desire
to remain in close contact with friends from their adopted country as well as
other TCKs that they have grown up with. (I do still keep in touch with some of

read more here .

I've always suspected that these kids are special and had my own theory about it but I'm pleased to see someone had actually studied this phenomenon. I've met quite a few people like the ones described in Redenclave's post and I always wonder what set them apart from the herd .
A friend of mine who belonged to that 'club' used to complain a lot, and I would tell her you don't know how lucky you are... now I can shove this article in her face .

I think these global nomads or TCK's should be the future leaders, they have the potential for great understanding .

Redenclave concludes :

"Life wasn't easy for me when I got home, I had difficulties speaking and
understand my national language. Mom did take the initiative teaching me Malay
while I was abroad, but we spoke English most of the time at home! Hence, the
problem communicating. My new school friends couldn't understand my simple
Malay. Who cares? I hated my life, I hated that I had to return home. I couldn't
master the language even till now. My friends used to tease me for my accent
(when I speak in my mother tongue). I can't help it and I don't want to change
anything! I am what I am and I am happy to be me! "

YAY - you go Redenclave , TCKs rule!


Non-Blogging said...

redENCLAVE and Highlander, you both rule :-)!

I've often been sad I was never a real TCK myself. I've lived abroad only as an adult and that's somewhat different already.

Sadly enough, however, there's not an automatic link between having lived among other cultures and accepting anything but yours. I only think of such examples as the 9/11 perpetrators and others from other, erm, cultures. Perhaps the three leaders of last century who were the most reclusive, xenophobic and willing to keep any outside influence out of their countries were Kim Il-Sung, Pol Pot and Enver Hoxha (Albania). What links them in addition to their extreme brand of communism is also that they all spent years abroad at a crucial time of their lives, living or studying.

What went wrong with them, I don't know. This is not what living among other cultures should lead to :-(.

removedalready said...

were you one?
Did you know Musharraf is the son of a former diplomat? Look at him now, whatever angle, good or bad!

Highlander said...

Redenclave no I was not but knew a few who were.

I did not know about Musharaff - plonk goes my theory I guess - what went wrong with the guy ?

Hannu said...

Interesting piece, RedEnclave.

HL, don't shove anything on your friend's face. True a TCK has many blessings, but has many hardships along the way; hardships she/he has to live with for all their lives. A TCK's life is much harder than the others'. I am a TCK myself, and I always count my blessings but keep asking: Is it worth it, to be different from everybody I know, everybody. Unfortunately, I never stayed in one country long enough to become my adoptive country, which makes me a real nomad. On the same subject, check what Nura had to say about her experience.

I don't think TCK could become world leaders. They make excellent leaders, but won't be able to survive or rally people and their support around them. They are so different from the "herd", as you said, and that won't qualify them, at least from the herd's perspective. It won't be easy for them to lead the herd, because obstacles will be unending for them. TCK's are always considered outsiders, different, foreigners... wherever they are.

Anonymous said...

Excellent Hanu! I suppose they would be very wise leaders. But wisdom dont cut the cheese with populations, not anywhere on earth. Perhaps some would argue Gandhi, but although he was wise it wasnt the wisdom that won but the message against oppression.

Not technically a TCK myself but I do share that sort of perspective.

LadyCroc said...

Hm, I am a TCk myself and I would not want it otherwise.

There is the many languages, the many friends, having seen so many other cultures, and a bit of "home"-sickness wherever home may be.

There is only one disadvantage and that is the petty-racism that one meets everywhere. Not just being a TCK, but also of mixed "breed" I have found myself to be a stranger no matter where I arrive. It took me years to cope with that!

When in Europe, everything bad about me was "Arab", and when in the Arab world everything bad about me was because of "Europe". And people wonder why I am crazy today!!!

How many fights and insults before people finally understood that I am a human being, not a box with a passport glued on top...

The happiest moment of my life was when my mother finally succumbed to enroll me into an international school with lots of TCK´s. Fighting stopped almost there.

I have learned that lesson and have enrolled my kids in an international educational environment right from the beginning of their education. My kids shouldn´t go thru school fighting for their right to be what they are. They can open their lunchboxes with zaatar managish, with shawarma, with mbagbaga, with duck and red cabbage and no one raises an eyebrow. Well, except for the red cabbage, maybe...

Today I really hate nationalism, and I know that manmade borders change. The idea of borders and national states is alien for me; tear down those borders and lets live on our planet - we all have the right to.

removedalready said...

Technically, I don't think I can categorise myself as a TCK, but all those years living abroad somehow have made me more worldly. It is still difficult to adapt to my surroundings (at home) but I manage, people know that you are different and they like that in you!

Highlander, what do you think of musharraf, don't you think he reminds you of someone *hint* besides Castro?

Highlander said...

Hi Hanu , funnily enough I had seen Nura's post and left her redenclave's link just a bit before you posted here , hmm guess great minds think alike and all that eh ;)?

On the other hand I kind of see your point that TCK could not become world leaders - and I mean here positive ones who can do good for humanity (as opposed to Musharaf for ex.).
I think being different is absolutely fine although it does carry a slight pain with it sometimes and days when you long to be part of the herd just to have peace of mind . I think you understand what I mean.

Adam knowing you I think you qualify as a TCK .

Hi Safia, I always knew you were a TCK and also suspected you were a half breed as they say ( by the way this is one of my favourite words how come you are using it lol I need to put a copyright on that ). Am not sure , I think I know you but it is impossible that you are the same person I know, your kids are older than my Safia . :))

Red my dear - we already said you have all the criteria of a TCK . As for musharaf I think he is the biggest hypocrite on earth but maybe he is doing his best for his country in the circumstance... he has impecable timing and flair for events and knows when to jump on the bandwagon ; that should cover your question hint hint ! ;)

programmer craig said...

Hmmm... I'm wondering what the distinction is between a TCK and somebody who immigrates to another country as a child? Is it because they go back hom again after having lived abroad for a long period of time? My ex-wife came to the US from China when she was 14, and is still culturally very "Chinese" although she has assimilated completely into US culture. She retains her original culture nontheless. She seems to feel a lot of nostalgia for China, even though her family sufferred a lot of misfortune at the hands of the communists there. I wonder if she did go back to live in China if she would then miss the US? Is that the difference? Hmmm... I guess I don't have much experience with this, though I have met a lot of TCKs who were the children of diplomats or international businessmen.


I've often been sad I was never a real TCK myself. I've lived abroad only as an adult and that's somewhat different already.

You don't think you could adapt to another culture as an adult? Even a vastly different one? I bet you could and probably would, especially if it was a culture you found appealing. You obviously are very open-minded.

As an extreme example... the 4th Marine Regiment was stationed permanently in China from the late 1800s until they were deployed to the Phillipines in 1941. They were known as the China Marines. They serevd their whole terms of service in China. Many if not most of them went "asiatic" especially the ones who had been there for 10 or 20 years. This was the first experience the US military had with troops "going native" and resulted in modern deployment limits of a year at a time per duty station. That inludes war zones such as Iraq. The troops are never there over a year, even if they are sent back a second or a third time.

I experienced a similar thing the first time I was deployed overseas. When I got back to the US I experienced extreme culture shock. And yes, culture shock happens when you get back to your native culture and things that should seem familiar seem aliean, like you are looking at them through foreign eyes. Peoople are pretty good about adapting to other cultures, it's when their own culture starts seeming foreign that they become so disoriented they can feel physically ill.

Only the first time did I experience this, though. So I guess maybe it's something people can develop an immunity to? In any case, it's very common. I just wish the military would be a bit better about telling people what to do to minimize the impact. Simple things like not watching television and avoiding crowds for a couple weeks.

Hmmmppphhh. I was gonna say a lot more but I already rambled on too much. If anybody is still active in thsi thraed I'll try to get back on track :)

Non-Blogging said...


What I meant is that growing up in a different culture is different from living in one as an adult. Children perhaps are more deeply involved in the "foreign" than adults. For example, learning and mastering a new language as an adult is far more difficult than as a kid.

Of course all this depends also on what you do abroad. If you're a diplomat child going to your embassy school or an international businessman living in an expat compoud, the foreign experience is perhaps quite limited.

I'm very interested in the going native thing for the Marines... what happened exactly? I've understood diplomats, for example, are usually posted in a given location for a few years only because after too many years they'd start not only understanding the receiving country but thinking with the natives' brains. Can the same happen to soldiers as well, I mean, for example, if you're posted in Iraq for too long, you start sympathizing too well with the Iraqis? Very interesting. Tell me more!

programmer craig said...


Can the same happen to soldiers as well, I mean, for example, if you're posted in Iraq for too long, you start sympathizing too well with the Iraqis? Very interesting. Tell me more!

Yes, that's essentially it. Troops who "go native" have, at best, mixed loyalties. At worst, they feel more loyalty to their adopted country than to the country they serve. I imagine it's an age old problem, and it may be why empires have historically used to troops recruited locally to garrison the far reaches of their domains.

It's a sad story, the eventual fate of the 4th Marines. They defended the international compound during the Boxer Rebellion. Gunnery Sergeant Dan Daly, who lead the counter-attack into Belleau Wood during WW I, won his second Medal of Honor defending the gate at the international compund single handed in Shangai. They didn't give him a third in at Belleau Wood, but he remains one of only two Marines to ever earn the award twice. Well, that's beside the point. The sad part of the story is that the 4th Marines were deployed to the Phillipines shortly before the Japanese invaded, where they lead the defense of the island fortress of Corregidor. After they were ordered to surrender (the last time I believe that US Marines have ever surrendered) the survivors went into captivity via the infamous Bataan Death March.

programmer craig said...

Oh! By the way - an excellent "worst case" scenario of a military officer going native is portrayed by Marlon Brando in the movie Apocalypse Now, if you ever saw that.

Highlander said...

I love troops who go native :)

Non-Blogging said...

Highlander, should you add looks like Marlon Brando to your wish list ;-)?

Craig, thanks a lot for the explanation. That's interesting. If I may ask for more (no military secrets of course ;-)), how did they instruct you about relations with the natives and did it differ a lot regarding going to "friendly" places or places at war? I mean, are normal relations (and I don't mean, erm, physical relations only) between Marines posted abroad and the locals discouraged, if one has something more than a casual relationship with a native, at what point does he need to report that and have her vetted etc.?

And how is it then if somebody who's is just a naturalized US citizen joins the Marines or other sections of the armed forces, do you think their loyalties are questioned more than that of those born US citizens (if not officially, unofficially)?

This topic is very interesting to me and this is why I'd like to hear how it really is from a first-hand source.

Highlander said...

NBA - Brando had eyes and lips to die for hmmmmmmmm don't remind me...
I'm interested too in what Craig has to say?

programmer craig said...

Hi NBA, sorry for the late reply! Better late then never I guess, though.

I mean, are normal relations (and I don't mean, erm, physical relations only) between Marines posted abroad and the locals discouraged

No, not usually. Not unless it's a highly sensitive posting, such as embassy duty in Moscow used to be during the Cold War. Unless there's a security risk involved, troops are generally permitted to do as they wish on their own time, as long as they don't get into trouble.

if one has something more than a casual relationship with a native, at what point does he need to report that and have her vetted etc.?

When you want to get married :)

And how is it then if somebody who's is just a naturalized US citizen joins the Marines or other sections of the armed forces, do you think their loyalties are questioned more than that of those born US citizens (if not officially, unofficially)?

No. Their loyalties are not questioned more. Some of the best Marines I ever knew weren't even citizens. You only need permanent residency status (a green card) to join the military. Many people do service in order to fast track the citizenship process, and also because military service puts you at the front of the line for many jobs in the US, especially government jobs.

Most the non-citizens who join the Marines are from countries where US Marines have a big rep, like the Phillipines, South Korea, Guam, Somoa, etc. And the Caribeean! Jamaica, Barbados, Haiti, and so forth. Weird, isn't it? Because those countries are not where most of our immigrants come from! Anyway, they tend to join the Marines for the same reason that americans do. To prove themselves. If they wanted it easy, they'd join the army instead. So, no, it's not a problem. At least in the Marines.

Non-Blogging said...

Thanks, Craig, for the thorough reply!

It's somewhat different from our system. I guess the main differences are that we are based on universal male conscription, have no troops abroad (except for peacekeeping) and there's no way a non-citizen could do the military service, even voluntarily.

programmer craig said...

Conscription would change the equation I guess. The US hasn't drafted a conscript since the Vietnam War, long before my time. And the Marine Corps has always been an all-volunteer service, refusing to draft even in WWII when some 13 million Americans were drafted into the other services. The USMC has always been small though, and goes to war with the same sized force it maintains in peace time. The Army trdaitionally expands dramatically during war time (except this time!) so they can't always go the all-volunteer route I guess. I'm sure loyalty would be more of an issue if there was a sizeable portion of the military that was serving involuntarily.