Evan and Gordon Talk: TCKs and Other Cultural Stuff

GORDON: Well people, we did, at long last and after many a tearful plea, get suggestions for this week’s topic.

It was all of a whoppin’ two, but hey- progress is progress.

EVAN: That being said, today we are going to turn our sights on a topic presented by Hannah, one that all three of us in particular can relate to:

I’d like to hear your take on what it’s like to be a TCK, whether it’s possible to really be a “global citizen”, and how you make judgements (if you can) across cultures.

For those of you who didn’t know, “TCK” stands for “third culture kid,” a little something we know about seeing as a) we were from one culture before b) being implanted into another culture and c) not finding ourselves fitting fully into either created a third.

That’s sort of the dictionary definition of things, anyway.

GORDON: Now Evan and I are both TCKs- in fact, it’s how we met. The college we attended had an extensive TCK “entry” program, and the man who did a lot of the research on TCKs was (correct me if I’m wrong) a professor there for quite some time.

EVAN: I honestly could not tell you.

GORDON: David Pollock, I believe was his name.

Anyways, Evan, as he himself has brought up, is an ethnically mixed Canadian national who grew up in Thailand-

EVAN: And the Philippines.

GORDON: -while yours truly spent the vast majority of his life in Syria and other Middle Eastern countries.

Needless to say, getting a grip on exactly who you are and where you’re from is… complicated.

EVAN: And now that they know all that, let’s get down to business.

Is it possible, Gordon Brown, to be a “global citizen”?

GORDON: It’s a question every TCK wrestles with- on one hand, we’ve got conflicting cultures all over the place: Southerners, hipsters, conservatives, trekkies, you name it. Each and every day, we all have to deal with being outside of our comfort zone to some degree.

Some more than others…

On the other hand, even all of those cultures share a similar background.

EVAN: I guess what we should be dealing with first is the question of what exactly a “global citizen” is. Is it simply someone who is culturally well-rounded, if I can say that without having to explain it.

GORDON: I’m not sure “well-rounded” exists.

I mean, there’s so much in the world, who can really even begin to be representative of even a tenth of what’s out there? I think the best we can hope for is someone who’s got a decent grasp of their home and adopted culture, and maybe another for good measure.

EVAN: I think it’s not so much someone who is representative of all corners of the world, which is, as you say, impossible, but someone who is . . . somewhat accustomed to other cultures.

No shoes on inside the house? That’s fine, whatever. Fork and spoon at the dinner table? Not a big deal. You want to hug me good-bye? Eh, I guess that’s okay.

GORDON: That’s certainly fair, though I’ll admit, it’s not the first thing that springs to my mind when the subject of TCKs is brought up. “Home”, or the lack thereof, is what I usually think about. Speaking for yourself, do you know where “home” is?

EVAN: Eh. Over the years I’ve told people Canada, or more specifically Toronto, but as I’ve grown older I realize how dumb that was. For me at this moment home is wherever I feel most settled and comfortable, and that’s really in a constant state of flux.

Right now I’m living in grandfather’s house, where I hunch over the piano bench my laptop is perched on, sitting on the futon I will sleep on later tonight in the back room. I certainly wouldn’t call this home, but it’s as much home as anything else right now, I suppose.

GORDON: Heh, I know the feeling.

I mean, I’m getting more and more used to dubbing myself an “American”, but even so, there’s still so much I simply don’t understand about the place where I live. I guess that’s not made any easier by the fact that this generation we’re a part of is so nostalgic for their 90s childhoods- an experience I simply have no way of relating to.

This happens on a daily basis.

EVAN: I’m going to abruptly cap that discussion by stating that we are naught but paper sailboats lost and adrift at sea, no harbour in sight, or something something purple prose blah blah blah.

Being a TCK can be difficult, readers, but it’s certainly not without its benefits, which should be readily apparent in answering Hannah’s last question of: “How do you make judgements across cultures?”

GORDON: Ah, the old issue of cultural relativism.

Like I brought up in my post on biblical inerrancy, I’m a fan of enlightenment thinking. Universal human rights, the rule of logic and reason, and so on and so forth.

Most all cultures have good and bad, but not all cultures (or subcultures) are equal. Basing off of a common concept of what’s right and wrong, I’d probably make my judgments from there.

EVAN: To present the answer I wanted to get from you but didn’t, I think that having had so much interaction with other cultures allows us a broader perspective that, going back to what you said, then gives us the ability to see what is positive and negative from culture to culture.

In less words: since we’ve seen our fair share we can also see the pros and cons of each.

As a bit of a personal tidbit, I’ve always been surprised by the Western trend of putting the elderly in old folks homes, which runs counter in every way to the Eastern way of thinking.

GORDON: That certainly is true.

And on that note, I’m curious as to how you resolve the two. Certainly there’s no small amount of conflict between Western and Eastern culture and values- how do you resolve the two within yourself?

EVAN: Everything in moderation, I suppose.

I believe that the Eastern mentality of respecting elders is extremely important, and is something I want to instill in my own children. That in mind, I don’t want it to be like in Korea and other places, where the simple fact that you’re older allows you a certain amount of authority regardless of whether or not you deserve it.

GORDON: Compromise, eh? Fair enough.

EVAN: Let’s talk about Middle Eastern culture, though, something that I know very little about.

The things you find on the internet…

What is one of its strengths that you think we can and should see more of here in the West?

GORDON: Hospitality, without a doubt. Honor, too, leaps to mind.

Back in Syria, I could get invited into a home by total strangers for tea. People off the street would go out of their way to make you feel welcome. That sense of societal obligation, of pride- it seems nonexistent in this country.

EVAN: I don’t mean to harp on the West, or maybe we do, the both of us, but the rest of the world does seem to prioritize some stuff that Canada and the States do not.

Hospitality is a pretty big deal around the world, especially giving the best to any guests you might have, even if it means you’re worse off for it later.

GORDON: Like you said, not to start bashing the West (as is a temptation for many Western-born TCKs), but there are some who might argue that the West isn’t so much of a culture as an anti-culture.

I’d probably take issue with that, but it’s hard to deny that Capitalism kinda despoils other cultures for what’s marketable and discards anything that’s not. I can sell kung-fu movies, but not respect for the elderly, y’know?

Bruce Lee does not approve of your treatment of the elderly…

EVAN: Huh.

It brings to mind the age-old “melting pot” illustration, and also the counterpoint I’ve heard where in a melting pot everything loses its individuality and becomes kind of gross and standard.

GORDON: Considering the faux-Irish and faux-Itallian cultures we have in the US, I’m not sure if I can agree or disagree with that.

EVAN: Heh. Are you talking about the people who become that much more tapped into their heritage when, say, St. Patrick’s Day rolls around?

GORDON: The very same.

EVAN: To be fair, you should see how Chinese I get when the lunar new year comes around.

That was a joke. I really do not get any more Chinese than usual.

GORDON: So in sum total, we’re cursed and blessed with our rootlessness. Able to appreciate aspects of all cultures, though perhaps never able to truly tap into any single one.

Sound about right?

EVAN: Seems like a pretty accurate description to me.

It also seems like we are out of time.

GORDON: That we are.

Once again, please leave a comment below with a suggestion for next week’s topic. And check out this tumblr blog, offering some pretty funny (to me) insight on what it’s like to be a TCK

EVAN: Ladies, gentlemen, unspeakable eldritch horrors who have found their way onto the internet, please enjoy Gordon’s humorous link and acknowledge the fact that we will discuss literally almost anything you suggest.

So thanks for reading, and have a good rest of the day, night, or eternal unimaginable madness.

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One response to “Evan and Gordon Talk: TCKs and Other Cultural Stuff

  1. I really enjoyed this post. As a TCK myself and also having twice worked as a transition leader for the “entry program” Gordon refers to, TCK identity and its implications is something I have given a lot of thought to.

    I think you nailed it. What this really boils down to is the elusive concept of “home.” My wife, a non-TCK American, identifies home as the geography of Maine. The pine forests and hills make sense to her as a sense of home. But I can’t think of home in a geographical sense. I have at one time felt at home in Tallinn, Estonia. I do currently in some ways feel at home in Portland, Maine.

    But in my mind home is wherever I happen to unpack my suitcase. Right now I have a dresser where I can put away my t-shirts. So that makes this home. But if I were to move to a new city or country and get a new dresser that would be home in pretty much the same way.

    I mean, home is obviously more than just where I store my stuff. Home is also a place where I can connect with people. Normal human relationships are a prized delicacy for me and one I rarely am able to indulge. I think part of the downside of being a TCK is just how rarely I feel fully comfortable with people. But the few times in my life where I have had friends (largely other TCKs) I really could connect with were the times I most felt at home.

    In short for me home is both a place I can nest and a place I can connect to people. I think both aspects of “home” need to be present for it to really feel like home. I feel very physically comfortable where I currently live. I know my way around, I know the history, I know the people, and I love the city. But I don’t feel connected to any people or persons in particular. I understand the place intellectually, but I’m more an observer than an active member. So this is a lot less home than other places have been.

    I often wonder if “home” is really something that I as a TCK am still capable of attaining. The few times I have been able to connect with people it has been because we could attain some sort of mutual cultural understand of each other, even if that understanding was that we didn’t understand each other. But how often outside of the TCK community do people try to understand other people culturally?

    I think that is the ultimate double-edged sword of being a TCK. I can be sort of home anywhere, but I am fully home nowhere. And that is exhausting.

    This comment turned out way longer than I intended it to, and for that I apologize. I really, really liked this post. But now I’m all pensive and melancholy and rambling. I guess I should stop typing.

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