We are in the midst of the Winter School Holidays here in the Southern Hemisphere and our family has just returned from a visit to our nation’s capital – Canberra, Australia. At every turn, I was reminded of the legacy of a globally mobile childhood.
For my husband and I, the visit provided a re-acquaintance opportunity. My husband had spent much time there in his youth visiting friends…and a girlfriend, whilst for years, as a teacher, I had taken groups of students there annually. For my children, however, our visit was their first acquaintance. They have spent a significant number of their developmental years outside of their passport culture so they missed the rite of passage experienced by many Australian students of “The Year 6 Excursion”(final grade of elementary school). This field trip is to the home of our Federal Parliament and so many more iconic landmarks that symbolize the “Australian” journey and culture. Reminder 1: What is “home” to us as parents may not be “home” to our Third Culture Kids (TCKs). It is important to allow our TCKs to forge their own cultural identity.
My TCKs know about the parliamentary systems of many other countries; here was an opportunity to learn about another – their “passport” country. Our first stop was Parliament House…and that dreaded question. We joined two other families for our “Behind the Scenes” tour and the Guide began by asking, “Where are you from?” One family’s children quickly replied “Adelaide” whilst the other, our friends, replied “Melbourne.” I noticed a momentary pause before my children replied “Sydney.” With their answer came many assumptions, the most obvious of which was the Guide’s assumption that my TCKs knew how the process of parliament worked in Australia. They don’t! They look Australian, they sound Australian when they speak but their experiences and understandings are different from many Australian kids. Reminder 2: When asked “the dreaded question,” that momentary pause indicated the cognitive juggle so common in TCKs. Where am I actually from? Where do I belong? Where is “home?”
The teacher in me insisted on a whirlwind tour of the National Art Gallery to view some of Australia’s iconic artwork and art purchases – Aboriginal pieces both modern and traditional, Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles (a controversial purchase and one that creates much discussion even today), Sydney Nolan’s representation of Australia’s Bushranger past, Albert Namatjira’s Australian landscapes and more. I say whirlwind because there did not seem to be any connection being made between my children and the depiction of Australian history/geography/culture so, much to my horror, we raced through at a rapid rate. On the way out, however, we had to walk through the South East Asia exhibition. Every family member stopped! We looked intently at the carvings, paintings and sculptures and the descriptions that accompanied them. There was an almost tangible connection. Reminder 3: Growing up amongst other cultures provides amazing opportunities to connect with them and bring them into our TCKs’ cultural identity (and ours as adults too). TCKs can be a cultural bridge between worlds.
The impetus for our trip to Canberra was actually to catch up with treasured friends who reside more than 1000km away. From the children playing soccer with a makeshift ball (aka a crumpled can) to enjoying the flavours of fresh produce over lunch, it was wonderful to spend time with people who understood our journey as they had visited us during our time living abroad on multiple occasions. Not having to explain ourselves in their company made the time together one of refreshment and enjoyment. Reminder 4: Encouraging friends and family to visit us in our “host” country makes spending time with them a pleasure and negates the need to answer those same old questions about our life abroad many times over.
The TCK experience is a beautiful gift but it alone does not define who my children are. They are human beings first who have the same relational, emotional, physical, spiritual and intellectual needs as every other child. In the words of Taylor Murray, a TCK, globally mobile children are “just everyday kids with a not-so-everyday background…their differences are unique but never better.” The legacy of a globally mobile childhood has shaped them just as everyone else’s experiences have done. What great stepping-stones upon which to build.
Photo Credit: Doha Family