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Two sides to every story

Do third culture kids (TCKs) understand that there is more than one way to look at situations that they experience?

Do you feel more able to see different sides of a situation from your non-TCK friends or family?

Most of our respondents agreed with the statement. They identified themselves as being more empathetic and understanding than their friends and colleagues. They believe there are many ways to see something and that arguments often don’t have a right or wrong answer. Some hinted that this made life difficult.

Here they describe those effects, how they came to be and how they have affected their lives.

Alexander: “Feeling like a cultural outsider definitely gives you an ability to appreciate different perspectives, and perhaps a greater empathy for those who are perceived to be different.

“I remember being chastised and bullied for everything from the way my mother dressed me to the kind of bread I had at lunch, as neither fit the norm of what American schoolkids expected. And so your social group becomes other outsiders. Kids are cruel and they frequently ostracise those who are not exactly like them. I think all kids with anything different about them tend to see the best and the worst very early on.” 

Kim: “I have always been told that I am empathetic but have never thought it was because of how I grew up. What I would say is that I feel like I can appreciate that there are many different sides to a story. Nothing is black and white. I have been in leadership roles professionally and I feel that I can communicate with a variety of people.”

Nina: “Sometimes things like living conditions, social expectations and traditions are talked about as a homogeneous subject in the UK and US. I feel as though I'm always the one saying: ‘It’s actually really different in other places’.”

Lisa: “Moving from a truly international, modern city [Hong Kong], to a place that had very entrenched sectarian views [Belfast] was definitely a bit strange to me.

“I’m able to take a more rounded view of things than some other people. It’s noticeable when travelling with friends: when things are a bit shocking or go a bit wrong, I take it in my stride more.”

Teenage boys playing basketball Teenage boys playing basketball

“Experiencing so many cultures and ethnicities, and seeing the grinding poverty and extraordinary wealth of the Middle East opened my eyes at a very impressionable age to a huge amount of diversity — including expats from all over the world.

“Looking back, I took so much for granted at the time: blind to the fact that my friends had different skin colours, accents, religions and backgrounds. I am still very open-minded when it comes to humanity and feel I am generally more empathetic and understanding when it comes to other cultures than some of my peers.”

Jimmy: “Understanding there is more than one way to look at a situation makes life easier: understanding that situations are happening all over the world at any given time and knowing this makes the current situation less stressful.”

Alma: “I sometimes feel my head is about to explode because I can see too many sides and everyone's points of view! Although my non-TCK friends are very open, many can't relate to the different points of view I have and struggle to understand how I could come to these viewpoints in the first place.

“I can feel isolated/alienated from friends for not being able to relate my thoughts to them - them just not ‘getting it’. In the end, I feel remaining quiet and listening is the best form of conduct with a better outcome.”

“Having more than one point of view means I don't feel strongly about anything. When I was younger I had TOO many very strong opinions about EVERYTHING. Now I’m older, I find it harder to make definitive decisions or feel strongly about a lot of things. It’s as though I've seen too much and experienced too much, so most issues — jobs, education, people - seem small compared to the bigger picture.

“I've become an advocate for other nationalities if I feel any kind of racism or discrimination is being expressed. I get defensive if someone speaks ill of another culture they know nothing about.

“I feel I need to be a shining example of how cultures CAN co-exist, religions CAN co-exist — united as human beings.”

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