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Identity and loyalty

Do third culture kids (TCKs) struggle with ideas of personal identity and loyalty?

Have you ever struggled with your personal identity? In feeling like ‘one of us’ in any country?

Most of our group said that they recognised this as true, though some indicated that it was hard to separate this from what everyone experiences when it comes to ‘belonging’ and a sense of identity — especially in our teenage years — it’s in the mix with gender, sexual orientation religion etc. Living within a large expat community of the home nationality reduces this: TCKs feeling more like ‘visitors’ than ‘residents’. While most of our respondents agreed with the statement, they had all given the topic much thought.  

Methee: “I don’t feel like I’m ‘one of us’. I struggled a lot through my teenage years, but it's ok now.”

Alexander: “Early in my teenage years I craved a sense of belonging. I found it in heavy metal [music] which was a life-changer for me.” 

Kim: “It’s hard. I have only ever had a German passport and even though I don’t have a German accent when speaking English [having lived here since I was 12], I have never felt English.

Brexit has had a profound emotional effect. You don't feel like you are wanted in your adopted home and going back to the country you were born doesn’t seem like an option as you won’t belong.”

Tom: “I have been very aware that I have never really been able to say I am ‘from’ somewhere. I often wonder how my life would have been different if I had been born and grown up in a particular town or area, had long-term friendships and felt more ‘part of a community’. I’m not sure it would have been better or worse, just very different.”


Lisa: “I am a by-product of two very different parts of the old British Empire: Hong Kong, a massive success story; and Northern Ireland, a contentious region which has only recently known peace.

“For the first few years after I moved to Belfast I didn't feel — or sound — like I was from there. But as I made friends and settled I began to enjoy my ‘Irishness’ and all that goes with it. I missed — and still do — a lot about Hong Kong.

“It can be hard at times, but I began to embrace it. It can be confusing for people when I say that, in a sense, I am from Hong Kong. Are we ‘from’ where we grew up or where our family is from? I suppose I feel that Belfast is ‘home’ now, as my parents are there.”

Lucy: “I’ve never had an issue with this, but I lived with other Armed Forces families so always had a ready-made expatriate community. I felt more like an outsider being at boarding school in the UK and coming from a different background to other people.”

Alma: “Struggle with personal identity is something we all go through as we're growing up. It used to affect me badly when I was a teenager and well into my 20s. At 41, I've made peace with the fact that I don't belong anywhere, never have, never will. I have no real loyalty to any country. It doesn't matter to me anymore. People who know me, will love me and accept me for who I am. That's all I care about.”

Austeja: “It was a difficult transition when I moved to the UK. When I started school, I struggled to adapt to the cultural environment and was targeted as an outsider. At college, I studied alongside others from different backgrounds. I felt accepted there and have had no issues since.”

Nina: “In short, no: I don't feel like ‘one of us’ anywhere. I only feel like ‘one of us’ when I'm with friends who also have mixed backgrounds and currently live here.

“I struggle with this all the time and Brexit made it worse.

“As a kid and a teenager I just wanted to fit in and be Puerto Rican like everyone else

(this is where I lived for the longest time while growing up). I hated that my parents had different accents from everyone else’s parents and I was taller than everyone thanks to my German genes. I wanted to be like everyone else.

“At university in Boston, this reversed and I made sure I stood out as a Hispanic person because I didn't want to be mistaken for an American.

“In London, I didn't care as much about having to explain my background because more people are from other places. People in London don’t care about anyone else: they don’t stare at people who are ‘different’. This is rife in other places I’ve lived. I felt London welcomed me.

“This all changed last summer [2016] when my London bubble was burst and I realised many people across the country would prefer it if I’d never come here. Or worse, that they considered me a second-class citizen. The concept of ‘home’ is very fluid. London is my home but I'm pretty angry and upset with the rest of the country.

“I also have an identity problem regarding Costa Rica: I always say I'm from there and it’s where I go at Christmas because my parents moved back there. However, any Costa Rican person would know within a second that I'm not really from there. My accent is different and I don't know my way around the capital or country that well.”

Do you wish you knew more about the country where you were born?

Almost all our respondents seemed happy with the amount they knew about the place of their birth. A minority did not agree with the statement.

Kim: “I did when I was growing up, but this is why I studied German literature and philosophy at university.”

Austeja: “Yes, I do.”


Two young women smiling near the sea Two young women smiling near the sea


How has this affected your relationship with your parents?

Nearly everyone said that they either got on well or really well with their parents — some adding that this is down to having a shared experience with them as expats that they don’t share with anyone else.

Lisa: “I’m quite close to my parents. We have this shared sense of history and experience that no one else does.”

Jimmy: “I’m stoked we were brought up abroad and will always thank my parents for being adventurous and doing something totally different. In our part of the world in the 1980s, there were very few folks doing what we were doing.”

Alexander: “We're more friends than anything. I think our shared experience of moving drew us closer together as a family because you don't have that wider network around you, just temporary relationships. You draw in and share in a non-hierarchical way that's probably outside the norm.”

Austeja: “Moving away from my parents has given me independence. My mother lives [here] in the UK and I have a close relationship with her, but I have more of a distant relationship with my father [because he is in Lithuania].”

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