How discovering the concept of TCK made sense of all the feelings I have had throughout my life

When we think about cultural diversity, the concept of TCK (Third Culture Kid)  inevitably comes to mind. One may wonder what it is that characterises these people? Instead of quoting findings from sociological studies, I would rather share my experience.

My name is Salwa, I was born and raised in Paris. My parents were born and raised in Morocco, and that, makes me a TCK. 

Indeed, I spent all my early years in a multicultural environment and particularly in a country whose dominant culture is totally different from that of my parents. At home I was Moroccan, I spoke Arabic, ate Moroccan food, and outside, I lived a French life. I was educated by the French national school system, my friends and teachers were French, the meals in the canteen were French. Growing up in a cosmopolitan city, I would say that the cultural mix went even beyond France and Morocco. I was friends with French people, but also Arabs, Sub-Saharan Africans, Caribeans, Gypsies, Asians, Yugoslavs (at the time it was still Yugoslavia :-)), Muslims, Christians, Jews, basically the whole world.

An Extraordinary Sense of Adaptation and Interest in Other Cultures

These different experiences have shaped my personality and allowed me to develop certain mechanisms, such as an incredible capacity for adaptation. I had to constantly juggle my different languages and the different habits and customs. Some things that were acceptable in the French culture were not necessarily acceptable in the Moroccan one and vice versa. I was mainly brought up by my grandmother who speaks very little French, so I would switch from French to Arabic without even realising it. Currently, I work as a translator, and I sometimes tell myself that it was totally predictable, since very early on I had to translate things for my grandmother. The fact that I grew up with two languages served me a lot, especially when I started learning other languages. This greatly simplified my learning process. I learned much faster than my monolingual classmates, and I am fortunate to have developed a very keen ear for accents.

My childhood in a multicultural environment gave me a thirst for discovery of others. I love to travel and like to know how other people live, how they eat, their customs. When I visit a new country, I must always taste all the dishes and desserts. That’s my greedy greedy side! 

One of the characteristics that emerges in the studies of TCKs is that they find it hard to settle in one place and constantly feel like they are looking for something. When I discovered the concept of TCKs, I was totally amazed. I recognized myself in so many ways that almost all of the feelings I had felt throughout my life finally made sense. For example, I have a constant need for change. Just moving the furniture in my room brings me comfort. I can’t imagine myself in one place for the rest of my life and an interesting fact about me is that I never wanted to have a permanent contract, because I cannot consider having an indefinite routine.

A Confused Sense of Belonging

There are different types of TCK depending on the appearance (for more info, you can see a book: Third Culture Kids : The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds, by David C. Pollock, Ruth E. Van Reken). As far as I’m concerned, I think that I can qualify as the Foreign type, as I do not have a typical French physique, but I am in my element in the French culture. However, I totally feel like I belong to a third culture, because I feel foreign to my two cultures of origin. Don’t get me wrong, I love France and I love Morocco. I feel French and Moroccan, but I don’t feel like I am a 100% either of them. Nonetheless, I can say that I feel 100% French-Moroccan if that makes sense (a third culture after all :-)).

When I would travel and people asked where I came from, I would always answer, “I come from France”. Which is true, I literally come from France :-), but people would always give me that look that says “but, French people don’t look like that”. So now my answer is “I was born and raised in France but my parents are Moroccan”.  

A few years ago, I was living in London and a good friend of mine from South Africa said to me, “Why do you always say that? You have to choose. You are either French or Moroccan.” And I replied “I’m just trying to explain why I don’t look French” :-).

Photo credit: Salwa

I have often been asked which of my origins I would choose if I had to. Well, I cannot choose between one or the other because that would be like asking me to choose between my father and my mother. Deep down, I feel more a citizen of the world, and as strange as it may sound, I have never felt more at home than when I was living abroad. Now, I understand that it is because when I am neither in France nor in Morocco, I have a unique status. I’m an exotic foreigner, and that’s fine. Very often, in France, some people make us feel as if we were some kind of second-class French and the same applies in Morocco. So when I am in another country, I feel like I know exactly what I am.

I wouldn’t change it for the world!

There are some challenges in being a TCK, but honestly, I think growing up in a multicultural environment is really amazing. I find that there are so much more positive aspects than negative ones. Being a TCK gave me the ability to adapt in a lot of situations. It was easier for me to learn other languages. I am clearly very emphatic – which is not always easy to handle :-), but it’s still a positive thing – and I like to think of myself as an open-minded person thanks to my experiences.

A couple of years ago, my sisters and I did a DNA test to see what our genetic background was and we were surprised to see that we have more origins than we thought. I think a lot of people would be very surprised if they knew more about their genetics and I sincerely believe that everyone should do this type of test to have a different approach to the world, and realise that in reality, in a way, we are all TCKs!

What about you, do you recognise yourself in these descriptions?

Share your experiences with us, we would love to read about your stories.

Cover photo: Daniele Colucci

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