The Tales of a Third Culture Kid

Ramble on... | Colin Bouchard | March 31, 2016

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They say home is where the heart is. It’s not always that simple, though. Some people are born in one country, grow up in another and fit into neither countries’ culture. Those people are called third culture kids, and I’m one of them.

I was born in Washington, D.C. Both my parents came from immigrant families. Their parents came to America for the opportunities. My parents worked hard to have good lives here in the States, and when I was seven we moved to Zurich, Switzerland. Yeah. The place with the banks and the chocolate and the cheese.

I spent eight out of the next ten years in Switzerland, growing up and becoming who I am today. I’ve seen things most people only dream of seeing, been places most people couldn’t even point to on a map and done things that would astonish most of my friends. I’ve stood on the Pyramids in Egypt, hiked through the mountains of Oman and was even offered a child-bride in rural Ghana. But something I’m missing is an identity. A sense of home. Where am I from?

The short answer I tell people is D.C. It’s where I was born and where I would go back to each summer after school ended. It’s also where my parents moved to this summer. It’s where my favorite sports team is from. But I don’t really know D.C. I still get lost when I walk around myself. I still feel like a tourist there. I wouldn’t really consider myself completely American.

I missed out on a lot of the major American things while living abroad. My high school sports games never had a lot of fans. I never had a homecoming and my prom served wine during dinner. I can’t even drive. My grammar is a strange mix of American and British English. I still need to ask people about the rules while watching basketball.

The long answer I tell people is Switzerland. I tell people I was born in D.C. but spent my formative years abroad. I mean the years zero through seven are a hell of a lot less important than eight through eighteen. I grew up traveling through Europe, learning the local language (although I’ve since forgotten it) and embracing life across the pond. But I never considered myself European.

I don’t have a European accent, but rather an odd twang when I say certain words, and many countries’ nationalism will forever view me as an outsider. They view me as an outsider because I was one. I went to an International School where we spoke English and all but ignored Swiss culture except for a few days out of the year. We had students from 55 different countries at the school, which meant all of our cultures meshed into this Third culture. Our own culture.

So that’s the predicament I’m in. When I’m in America, people think I’m European. When I’m in Europe, people think I’m American. It’s a strange concept to try and explain to people. I guess if I had to come up with a phrase to sum it all together, it would go something like this: I’m American, but I’m from Switzerland. I feel pride towards America and it is ultimately the country in which I identify, but Switzerland has shaped who I am more. My personality, morals and ideas were shaped much more by where I grew up than where I hailed from.

We third culture kids aren’t alone, either. We’re scattered around Syracuse and around the world. I’ve met other third culture kids in Syracuse from Ethiopia, Hong Kong and China and they all feel the same way.
So maybe home is where your heart is isn’t the best saying. Maybe not everyone needs a home. Because I wouldn’t trade what I’ve done for anything. Not even a home.