A TCK’s Journey at a Crossroads

This time, our blog doesn’t talk about exploring the world through running, but rather about metaphorical crossroads and personal journeys. Guest blogger Joyce describes growing up as a Third Culture Kid (TCK) and searching for her own identity.

For all the TCKs that I have met and known out there, it is never a journey that has been easy for any of us. Out of all the various reasons that have led us to life as a TCK, I am here to share with you all a story of mine: growing up as a TCK and where it has brought me today, my current life as an expat in in Germany.

Ever since I started to form my own memories, I considered myself Singaporean. I had my first fun education in Singapore as a Kindergartener, who was reprimanded by the teacher when I handed in a colored apple in black, and during my primary school years when dentists were my biggest fear.

I woke up as early as possible in the morning just so that my sisters and I could be in school on time to sing the Singapore National Anthem, our pledge. All those times, I sang and enjoyed it with pride. I had a strong Singlish accent, and I was tanned like a Malaysian. I never had thought about my own identity and how come my parents were different than us kids.

All these identities issues first came to mind when we moved back to Taiwan, our home country, after seven fruitful and exciting years in Singapore. Our lifestyle changed dramatically, from living in a comfortable condominium with a big swimming pool to a small apartment in the heart of Taipei. Then I knew I was not a Singaporean after all.

I started going to school in Taiwan, and quickly learned how to sing our so-called National Anthem. This time, however, I didn’t sing it with joy, and I joined only not to be left out, with all the classmates who had known how to sing it since they were little.

When I entered adolescence at around the age of 14, I was living a life in unknown territory, so to speak. We relocated to Latvia, an Eastern European country that was once part of the Soviet Union. My family and I are Chinese; we have dark black hair and tiny Asian eyes. The locals looked at us as if we were aliens, people from another planet. My siblings and I hated it, hated feeling so different and odd. We started to show our frustrations, our anger, at our father’s lifestyle and our family’s frequent moving.

Now, at the age of 25, whenever someone asks me which country I have enjoyed the most out of all the places where I used to live, my diplomatic, yet honest answer is always the same: I cherish and like them all. All of these journeys did really have a meaning. But the trickiest thing in life is that we never know that when we are busy living our lives; the meaning only comes much later. We often live with unnecessary regrets, regardless of how hard we tell ourselves not to.

I am currently residing in Germany, and I hope that this is the country where I can stay forever. I often look back at my childhood and at myself and ask, “What has made me who I am today?”

My parents have influenced me tremendously, despite the international background and education I have had. I see my family’s influence in little things like my eating habits, e.g. how I always crave a warm meal for dinner; or in my habit of always saying “no” to anything I’m offered, since they taught me to be polite like that.

Back in university, a professor once said to me that a person’s own identity will become more obvious as you grow older. I am still waiting for this – perhaps I am a bit slow. But at the moment when I’m standing at a crossroads in my life, I am pretty confident that my own identity will come fairly soon.

And what has defined your identity – TCK or not? Your family, your experience of living abroad, etc.?

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Joyce Yeh is a young blog writer residing in Germany. As a Third Culture Kid, she has lived in Singapore, Latvia, Australia, and now in Germany. She started writing a blog to find out her own identity. She is the principal writer of the blog The Cultural Frontier, where she talks about and discusses Chinese cultural misunderstandings and intercultural issues.

(Photo credits: Joyce Yeh)

One Response to “A TCK’s Journey at a Crossroads”

  1. Hi Joyce,

    Thanks for sharing

    I grew up as a TCK myself in 8 countries and lived as an expat in 2 others before finally settling in my passport country.

    Although my background felt like a burden for many years I would not have it any other way. After exploring the outer world I started exploring my inner world in order to integrate all my experiences. The result is an ever growing insight into my-self and an acceptance that identity is rather a flexible perception of self that changes not only according to culture but also age.

    As nothing is perfect in life I accept that I will always feel different and think differently … it’s OK
    more than anything I experience it as a precious gift, not only in developing qualities which enrich me as a human being but also as a source of continuus wonder into the essence of life.

    May your life be a work of art.
    Kind regards,
    Astrid

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