I am an Adult Third Culture Kid (ATCK). I spent the first eighteen years of my life in Austria, moved to the United States for the next thirteen years, and am now living in China raising three Third Culture Kids (TCK’s). During one of my job interviews for China, I was plagued with a nagging thought in the back of my mind. Do I really want to choose a life for my kids, in which they know the pain of the transient TCK culture? I am convinced that even the pain of frequent goodbyes does not outweigh the benefits of growing up as a TCK.
I found my experiences as a TCK very enriching. After kindergarten and four years in the public schools, I was fluent in the German language. Most of the language acquisition was painlessly completed while playing with other kids. I remember a bus ride home in third grade, when an Austrian classmate voiced his surprise when he heard that I was not also an Austrian citizen. This second language became the reason for my first teaching job. I also got to travel extensively, having already been to more than 25 countries. My graduating class enjoyed a senior class trip on the Turkish Mediterranean Sea. I fell in love with mountains, getting to hike and ski in the majestic Austrian Alps. I have gotten to know some incredible individuals, hearing and being inspired by their stories. I have also learned to understand, appreciate, and communicate with people of experiences, views, and beliefs that are greatly different than mine. In short, my rich TCK experiences have helped define who I am, even impacting how I interact with others and the jobs I have received.
Growing up overseas also has challenges. Most noticeable are the constant goodbyes and the difficulty answering the question, “where are you from?” I found that while in Austria, I answered “America”. Once I moved to America, I responded with “Austria”. I have learned to embrace that I am a Third Culture Kid who loves how I grew up. I would not give those rich experiences up, just to have an easier time answering that question. Although most of the experiences were good, having people you love leave frequently was incredibly painful.
I can still remembering spending most of a summer in the United States, before or after my freshmen year of high school. I remember being all excited about returning to school in Austria and making Jon my best friend. Yet, when I returned, he was already gone, for his parents had moved out of the country. Not only had I lost my best friend, I did so without an opportunity to say goodbye. One of the next times I would see him, was eight or nine years later in the United States at my wedding. Like many other TCK’s, I have learned to build relationships quickly. Yet, I am also cautious not to let people too close, trying to protect myself from the imminent pain of saying goodbye. Yes, it is important to protect your heart; yet, we must never forget how wonderful and essential good friends are. We need people in our lives that truly know us, understand us, and enjoy living life with us. I always need a couple of people in my life that I trust completely.
Although being a TCK means knowing painful goodbyes, it is a wonderful and rich life that I cherish having had and gladly offer my own children.
Returning with my wife to Vienna, Austria, and meeting up with one of my old classmates, the best man in our wedding.