For me, I had grown up in five countries throughout three continents without ever having heard of the term ‘TCK.’ I was in high school when my parents told me about it, but never truly identified with it until college. Until then, I always felt that I belonged wherever I was.
When I moved to Canada for university, it finally occurred to me how unusual my life had been. In my second year, I met a guy who had lived in two houses in one town his entire life. I think my brain exploded a little then. I had never in my life entertained the idea of living in one place for so long.
As I learned more about TCKs, I couldn’t help feeling that there was a certain stereotype attached to the term. Many TCK stories were of Caucasian expat children who had followed their parents in pursuit of business or diplomatic ventures or ministries. There weren’t many stories being told by TCKs of other ethnicities, nor were these groups very big back then. While the Korean students at our ISC schools hold the majority, my experience as a Korean TCK was as a minority. In my nursery class in Pakistan, I was one of two Korean children in attendance. In Kenya, my entire British school from first to seventh grade included only three Korean children. In fact, we may have been the only kids from East Asia there. When I moved to Guangzhou in fourth grade, I was the only Korean kid in my class.
Consequently, whenever I return to Korea, I must suffer through conversations because of my linguistic shortcomings. I must beg forgiveness for looking Korean, but not acting like one. I need to drag a relative with me to get my cell phone set up, because the clerk uses vocabulary beyond my understanding. I often have to explain why my English is better than my mother tongue, and feel a little embarrassed about it. It’s the classic TCK case of being stuck between worlds.
But there are also parts of my experiences that relate to our Korean students all too well: additional studies, whether they be in the form of ‘hagwon,’ tutors, or supplementary math books their mothers hauled over from Korea; getting in trouble for speaking Korean at school as a middle schooler; or struggling to learn a new language and nearly crying out of frustration as a first grader.
Every TCK’s experience is different, and I like hearing their stories. As we cross cultural divides, and as our community grows, so does the diversity of TCKs. I want to see TCKs of all backgrounds and nationalities share their experiences. I particularly want to hear stories from our Korean TCKs, whose experience may differ from mine.
I am a TCK, and this is my story.
Pakistan Swim team in Guangzhou Tribal village in Kenya