Although I claim to be a Hoosier (someone from the great state of Indiana), I’m really a mixed bag. Much of my childhood was spent in central Indiana, but I was born in a naval hospital in Guam, lived in Bangkok, Thailand before moving to Indiana at the age of four, started playing soccer as a second grader in Brazil, could often be found snorkeling or scuba diving as a high school student in Puerto Rico, and spent many summer months in my mother’s hometown of Kyoto, Japan. It’s fair to say each one of these places is a part of me now. I am a Hoosier, just a TCK Hoosier.
Living in various locations overseas was a great experience that exposed me to some unique cultures. I thoroughly enjoyed attending a small international school in Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil. My classmates came from Brazil, Japan, India, France, and the United States, and racial discrimination wasn’t something that I experienced from my classmates. We were all one happy family. The high school I attended in Puerto Rico also contained a great deal of diversity. I was quite surprised to not only have biracial classmates at Roosevelt Roads Junior-Senior High, but a few classmates were half Japanese and half white American like me. This was drastically different from the public school I attended in Indiana whose student population was more than 99% Caucasian.
While my experiences overseas were overall rewarding and enjoyable, they weren’t always easy-peasy. Occasionally I got in scuffles with Brazilian students in my apartment complex. This was largely the result of not looking and acting like your typical Brazilian boy. Having weak Portuguese language skills certainly didn’t help me either. When I moved to Puerto Rico as a high school sophomore, I once again felt different, however this time it wasn’t because of my giant stature (5’5”/165 centimeters) or ethnicity; it was because of my accent. My new classmates immediately pointed out that I sounded like someone who grew up in a cornfield. That was partly true, but I thought I spoke standard American English. Who’d a thunk it?
Despite the challenges I faced as a TCK (a term I didn’t learn until being asked to sit on a TCK panel), I’m thankful for the variety of cultures I experienced growing up. Being a TCK has had a profound impact on me and helped make my moves to Korea in 2002 and to Tianjin, China the next year much easier. Today I’m grateful to be in a position to help TCKS better understand who they are and who they can become. We’re on an amazing journey that I am absolutely enjoying sharing with others.
Mark Wickersham with his family