Last week, I was in Colombo Sri Lanka attending the 12th International Microinsurance Conference. The event gathered more than 400 experts from around the world to discuss and identify ways of accelerating growth and economic viability in microinsurance. One of the most frequently asked question at a conference like such is one which I have a love-hate relationship with: “Where are you from?”
Whilst this question may appear so simple, it has often been a challenging question for me which requires an in-depth explanation of my life story. It is particularly exhausting when my parents are from one country, I have grown up in another and am currently living in an entirely different one. It seems almost absurd if my answer to this question was Kenya.Whilst my Kenyan housemates often joke to say that I am their adopted cousin giving me a local Kenyan name – the follow-up question would certainly be: “but you look Chinese!?”.
Being born in Hong Kong and grown up amongst a community of “Hongkonger”, the cultural identity of being Chinese has also been questionable to me. Whilst I speak fluent Cantonese and Mandarin, my Chinese cultural identity has always been foreign to me. I generally like to then deduct my answer to where most of my family and friends are – Australia, and continue onto explain that Australia is indeed a multi-cultural country. However, when the conversation continues onto cricket and footy for which are topics I have no clue about, I am again out-of-place.
Recently, I lived with a Chinese housemate from Beijing amongst Kenyans, French and American. Similar to my many past experiences living abroad, the interaction with my Chinese housemate utterly challenged my cultural identity. It further confronted my proud identity as a Chinese-Australian. Instead, I came to realize perhaps my cultural identify fits into another bucket and that I am considered a Third Cultural Kid (TCK).
According to sociologist David Pollock: TCK are people who have spent a significant of their formative childhood years in a culture different than their parents. Perhaps with the further hands-on experiences in multiple cultures (Hong Kong, Australia, France, Mexico, Togo), my expanded worldview often suggests that there is more than one way to look at an exposed situation. Yet as a TCK interacting with a culture with homogeneous belief system, my expanded worldview is almost perceived as offensive, particularly when we have similar physical appearances. It is argued that TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background. Perhaps I have always been wrong in attempting to fit myself into any cultural bucket. Instead, I own the cultural identity of being a global citizen, an international nomad and a wanderlust?