Welcome to the fifth issue of Multicultureland and a warm hello to our new subscribers :) This week's issue covers an interview I did for Project Between, a podcast about Third Culture Kids (TCKs). To listen to the conversation, click here (available on Spotify, Apple and Google podcasts).
Last week I was the 19th guest to appear on a podcast exploring the lives and stories of Third Culture Kids (TCKs) around the world. The podcast is by fellow TCK Hana Lee, a Korean marketing professional who grew up in South Africa until she was ten and studied abroad in Hong Kong and New York. Hana reached out after seeing this curious tweet:
At first I was stunned by the request. Was I ready to sit in the hot seat and answer any possible question that came my way? Luckily I warmed to the idea after we jumped on a quick call and hit it off. As a former reporter, Hana has a way of making people feel comfortable opening up. Regardless of what might come up in the interview, all I needed to know was that I would feel safe whilst having a potentially vulnerable conversation in public.
TCK Content Creators
Hana and I coincidentally started our "pandemic passion projects" in May this year. We share an excitement for being part of the first wave of digital content creators in the cross-cultural space. It seems that TCK creators are at the intersection of traditional travel and lifestyle content. Because of our lived experience as anthropologists our interest gravitates towards studying other cultures, values and traditions. Investigating our differences is a means of understanding what brings us together and our humanity.
For example, in the third issue of Multicultureland I explore a model of cultural intelligence (CQ) which was designed for people to assess themselves as part of their organisational learning and development goals i.e. to work effectively in a cross-cultural team. I record a "reaction video" of where my scores fall across ten cultural values, which we can observe, according to the test publisher, statistical variations across ten cultural "regions". As a TCK, the two "regions" I grew up in are called 'Anglo' and 'Confucian Asia'—not surprisingly, my responses reflect a mixture of Eastern and Western values.
In the Project Between podcast Hana asks interviewees a series of questions exploring the countries they grew up in, languages they picked up and cultural preferences they developed. Similar to sexual orientation, we cannot identify where a TCK comes from based on the the way they look or how they sound alone. There is a visible fusion of cultural influences and this is the reason why TCKs are frequently greeted with curiosity—"Where are you from?"—if only we could respond with a noun and a nod! Hana masterfully navigates this delicate topic throughout the interview and saves the trickiest question for last, "Where is home for you?".
I think that many TCK content creators are on a personal quest to find their place in the world. As they go deeper, inevitably, questions of identity and belonging come up. Interviewing is a method of discovering how other TCKs negotiate their complex cultural identities and what mental models they use to make sense of a world with so much cultural contradiction. A mental model is an explanation of someone's thought process about how something works in the real world (Wiki). For example, The Map Is Not The Territory helps us to understand that a map is the best representation of reality but it is not reality itself.
There are certain things that are unique to every generation of TCKs. Early Millennials (born in the 1980s) like Hana and I were the last generation to grow up and go to school without social media and smartphones. It is not uncommon for people in our generation and those generations before us to not be aware of the fact that they are TCKs or how it might have affected them, whereas these days international schools will run workshops on navigating life as a TCK. Many of us stumble upon our hidden identities much later in life. The result is a belated magical awakening from within: "I finally feel understood!". But what I find most interesting is how technology helps us stay connected these days and saying goodbye as a Gen Z TCK is not the same as how a Baby Boomer TCK would have had to say goodbye.
Cross-Cultural Content Creators
A contemporary source of truth for TCKs is watching cross-cultural YouTubers navigate their lives as they move countries and adapt to new cultures. They are documentarians of their own lives, giving the viewer a front row seat to their "exotic" experiences. For example, I hold heartfelt admiration towards Miriam Follin, a Swedish woman who studied Mandarin at university in China, for inviting us to glimpse at her life raising a kid with her Chinese husband. Then there is the endless humour that J Lou (a Eurasian woman born in Hong Kong) and Jared (a Canadian man living in China) create as they find ever-cheeky ways to navigate cross-cultural differences with their loved ones. And I can't help but feel immense pride to be an Asian in the West when I watch skits by actress Anna Akana, a second-generation Japanese immigrant born in the US. (Hashtag representation matters!)
My Podcast Highlights
The main highlight from my interview is that I had a somewhat diluted version of the traditional TCK experience. Most TCKs think in at least two languages and have two sets of cultural values which they 'code-switch' between on a daily basis inside and outside of home. However, I was bizarrely raised in a "strictly British" household by Taiwanese parents whilst living in a Chinese speaking country! I believe that this informed my academic interest to pursue cross-cultural psychology at university. (A slight tangent: I did some whacky thing with an eye-tracking device back in 2008, studying how Eastern and Western philosophers influenced visual perception. I also studied how the language of ancient tribes influenced their perception of the past and future!). You can hear all the details of why I consider my TCK upbringing to be a "fringe case" here (13:04).
Another highlight was having the opportunity to share my take on the question "Where is home for you?". The quote below by writer and poet Maya Angelou summarises the philosophy I follow. You can listen to my explanation here (1:21:28) 😉.
Other Interesting Timestamps
- Major life events that made me become increasingly British—36:12
- How I developed my taste in US indie music whilst living in HK—51:09
- Why a working-class city in England (Portsmouth) is my favourite place—56:29
- The thing that TCKs struggle with the most, myself included—1:09:28
- What I consider to be the ultimate TCK "superpower"—1:16:21
If you are a TCK or know any TCKs that wish to contribute to Project Between, please get in touch! Hana is open to chatting with anyone and she is particularly keen to get some more Gen Z TCK's (people in their early twenties) on the show. Just drop her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks for reading/listening!
About this Newsletter
Multicultureland is a newsletter written by Beccy Lee about modern identities, dedicated to helping you become who you are. Beccy is a Third Culture Kid and Occupational Psychologist specialising in culture & personality.
“Who Am I?” is a deeply introspective question that we all ask at some point in our lives. This newsletter is for people like me who are keen to figure it out. I believe we all have hidden stories to uncover that have the power to transform us and our relationships.
Multicultureland aims to educate and entertain readers—Beccy writes personal stories, shares lessons and exercises that she has found helpful for self-discovery and personal development. Where social science meets wisdom, Beccy is a 'psychologist on a mission' to raise the collective unconscious in the modern world.