How I dreaded this question when I was younger! It always meant going into far too much detail or turning the question around: ‘Do you mean where I was born or where I am living now or…?’
But now I relish it, as I find that more and more of my friends are in a similar position. We are what is known as ‘third culture kids.’
Personally, I don’t like that phrase. First of all, many of us are no longer kids (although we probably were when we first got exposed to foreign cultures). Secondly, many of the people I know are actually fifth or sixth culture individuals, that is, they operate within more than just two cultures (their parents’ culture and the culture of the country they are growing up in). I much prefer the term ‘global nomads’ (although that makes us sound a bit shifty and feckless) or ‘global citizens’.
James Gannon, 13, who has personal experience of growing up in several cultures, argues that it is a very different experience from growing up in a multicultural environment. There has to be more than just some influence from other cultures, it has to be complete immersion in one culture after another to the point where ‘the differences don’t matter any more and what becomes most important are the similarities’.
As I look around at the growing number of second-generation nomads that I am meeting, I think the definition needs to be expanded. First of all, many of these children are growing up in households where the parents were exposed later to different cultures, but have nevertheless wholeheartedly embraced them and can never go back to being monocultural.
What do I mean?
Well, a lot of us went to study abroad and met our life partners there (who were also from a different country). So we got married, settled in the country where we met or perhaps yet another country, and had children who belonged to perhaps 3-4 cultures simply by virtue of their birth.
What do I call the daughter of a French father, Chinese mother, who is growing up in England but spending her summers in France? What about the children of the half-Spanish, half-Australian mother and German father, whose household language is English, but are now living in Greece? Maybe these children are even more immersed in the local culture than the children of diplomats and other expats, because they do not attend expensive international schools and grow up in gated communities. They have that immediate relationship with the local society, warts and all, that only having relatives and friends in that society can confer you. And they spend quite a good portion of the year in other countries as well.
Perhaps the best way to test if someone is a global nomad is by asking the question: ‘Where are you from?’. If they hesitate and launch into lengthy and complicated explanations, then they probably are.
So I tested this on my own children. OK, they are only 4 and 6, but they weren’t sure what to answer, other than their current street and house number. I know they will never view Greece or Romania as tourists, but as insiders. They also feel a special attachment to France and Switzerland, where we lived for nearly two years. They are British citizens and speak English among themselves.
Oh, they may be restless and footloose later on in life… (Then again, they may crave stability and become really conservative.) But they will have choices. They will love several countries and be able to mediate between different cultures. They may be a bit stumped as to which national football team to support in the World Cup. Then again – more choice, less chances of going out in the first round!. But I am pretty sure they won’t be brainwashed by nationalistic rhetoric and will always be able to see the other side in an argument.
That’s got to be worth something, hasn’t it?