Where is home? At 43, you’d think one would know the answer to that question, but I still don’t. I was born in Idaho, lived in Illinois as a youngster, moved overseas, then returned to the USA for my college days, living both in North Carolina for a few years, then transferring back to Idaho. Since graduating from college, I’ve lived in Utah, Texas, China and again, back to Utah. I’ve moved a lot. The easiest answer I give is that I’m from Idaho being I was indeed born just outside of Boise and graduated from Boise State University. I still have a handful of close college buddies that I travel up to see and could see living back in the City of Trees (Boise) one of these days. I’ve also claimed to be from Chicago, in that a lot of firsts happened to me there, especially falling in love with sports, the city, and the Chicago Cubs. If you ask my fiancé, I’m from Utah being it’s the place I’ve lived the longest overall and it’s where she is. Utah is where I spent summers as a kid and have worked for years, but it’s not where I grew up. Asia, of all places, feels like it should be home, but I’m not technically Asian. I was seven when I moved to Hong Kong, ten when I moved to Taiwan, seventeen when I came back to the USA for college and returned internationally in 2015 to do a two-year professional stint at an international school in Shanghai, China. So again, where is home?
Labeled a “Business Brat” (my dad was in the corporate side of the McDonald’s), my parents made sure my brother and I learned to respect the people, places, laws, and cultures of everywhere we lived and/or visited. There was never an opportunity of being a “Brat” and I am thankful for that. I’ve never regretted growing up the way I did, as I saw things globally at such an early age most people only get to see in movies or read about in books. To this day, I feel relaxed on long airplane flights and unlike most, I get quality sleep in hotels. It wasn’t until a few years back that I even heard the term “TCK” (Third Culture Kid), but personality traits and qualities that go along with being a TCK make total sense to me. I’ve spent most of my life (especially my adult life) wondering where I fit in and who exactly I am (a theme often associated with the TCK lifestyle). In a nutshell, TCK’s are those that grow up outside of their parent’s nationality or passport country. TCK’s often develop a sense of two or more cultures and are often known to blend their own national identity into the countries in which they’ve lived. Confused yet? Welcome to my world. Let me simplify this a bit more in that I am American by birth, but my formative years were spent in Asia to which I feel a real kinship. While a six-foot-two white guy who looks the part of an everyday American man, I tend to feel more comfortable outside my birth country. But that’s not to say I’m Asian either, as I am indeed a proud American, yet I feel more connected to the overseas expat lifestyle.
Like other TCK’s, especially during my initial repatriation back to the States, I felt incredibly insecure being back stateside and worried about fitting in. I remember wanting to simply be a wallflower and not cause too much attention to myself believing no one would understand me. I learned real quick that once people heard my story, they were either fascinated (“that’s so cool!”), confused (“but you don’t look Chinese?”), or had zero interest wanting to know more (“yeah, I’ve been to California too.”). Ironically, I rarely brought the topic up, especially during my early college days as a member of a collegiate baseball team, because again, all I wanted was to fit in. For the most part, I kept my head down and tried my best to simply be in the moment and re-learn my “native” culture. This was a huge change for me, as I was very social in high school. I got along with all cliques and nationalities while living in Taiwan and going to Taipei American School. I was class president, played sports, had friends that were athletes, musicians, writers, artsy types, and even the school rebels. I liked everyone and respected them not because I felt obligated, but because I felt empathy towards their own stories. Growing up a TCK, no matter where your passport says you are from, you bond quickly with those you go to school with because those kids, for the most part, are in the exact same situation as you are. No explanation is needed, as there are instant connections and understandings towards each other that cross all political, religious, and creed lines. You become a united front and ironically, over thirty years after having first moved overseas, I still consider many of my childhood friends my best friends to this day. We still meet up, spend vacations together, have been in each other’s weddings, and often text and call each other on a weekly basis. While technology has helped in connecting, I have a feeling we’d still find a way to remain in a part of each other even if Facebook or Instagram were never created. It goes without saying, that these people I met so long ago, in such a unique way, are indeed family more than friends. Even those I haven’t seen or heard from in years, we tend to pick up right where we left off when we do get around each other.
I’ve never viewed myself as better or worse for growing up a TCK, it just happens to be my narrative. I still get a bit of anxiety when having to explain my “home” status and upbringing, but the older I get, the more appreciative I am for the opportunities I had. There are days I wish I knew what it meant to be from one town, to have grown up in one house, and to have roots attached to one place. But then again, without being a TCK, I would never have known what it was like to see Chinese New Year celebrations on “junk” boats in the middle of Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong watching a plethora of fireworks shoot off from every angle and reflect of the city buildings, travel to six different countries while competing in high school sports, live in a housing complex with those of over ten different nationalities and form lifelong friendships, hear Mickey and Minnie speak Japanese while visiting Tokyo Disneyland, fall in love with authentic Chinese food, have a view of the South China Sea from my bedroom, and vacation at resorts in Thailand, Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, and Macau. I’ve been to the Great Wall of China, camped on the beaches of Okinawa, ridden on the Star Ferry more times that I can remember, and even attended a Hindu wedding in Singapore. Lucky cannot even begin to explain those memories.
But with the excitement of travel and all that comes with living in a foreign country, there’s an intrinsic complication of certain insecurities that remain even into the adult years. While I can’t speak for every TCK, I have found it a true struggle to let people in that don’t understand my background. I know a ton of people around the globe, but I have been very selective with who I drop my guard around. I don’t say that with pride, as I am a work in progress, but I do believe the walls I tend to put up stem from growing up overseas. I’d say the biggest downfall of being a TCK or even being an adult living abroad, is the constant necessity of saying goodbye. Expat living is rarely permanent. People come and go, yet life goes on. But it’s not all bad, as those same lessons learned in adolescents habitually help speed up the adaptation traits of adulthood. TCK’s tend to be more private as they progress in life, something I can relate to very well. Studies have shown that TCK’s are highly adaptive, tend to be more compassionate, are bilingual, can interact and get along with those of different backgrounds and beliefs, travel more, get married later in life and are better overall communicators. We also tend to think globally instead of domestically, are college educated, and get antsy staying in one place for very long (which can be both good and bad, I guess). Former US President Barack Obama, US politician John Kerry, actress Uma Thurmon, former NBA player Kobe Bryant, late musician Freddie Mercury, actor Scott Foley, NBA coach Steve Kerr, actor Viggo Mortenson, actor Greg Kinnear, actress Christina Chang (another Taipei American School graduate) and CNN journalist Christiane Amanpour are all members of the TCK comradeship.
In short, while home will likely always be a tricky concept for me, I don’t regret a second growing up the way I did. Over the years, I’ve learned that home is where you want it to be. Home is where you are loved and love right back. Home is where life makes sense and completes you. In my opinion, home is ongoing and changes as we change and grow as individuals. These days, home is where my soon to be wife and dog are. That’s not to say the current house and state we live in will be a forever home, but for now, it works. Being a TCK opened my mind and perception of people and values at such a young age, that I believe I came equipped into the professional world with an understanding of how to bridge cultural gaps among my peers and students. While at times a complicated upbringing, I still get excited at the thought of overseas living. I also know how incredibly blessed I was and still am. I still want to see more, as that need, and addiction of travel will likely never go away with me. While life and travel are very different now than thirty years ago, I still believe in the idea that the world is a good place that needs to be explored.