Updated: Oct 14, 2019
“Where are you from?” is probably the hardest question for Third Culture Kids/Cross-Cultural Kids to answer.
In Between – a TCK Documentary gives an insight into this.
Tayie Selasi has an interesting take on it and encourages us in her Ted Talk to ask the question “Where are you local?”
I wonder: is asking “Where are you from?” actually asking “Who are you?” and THAT is what contributes to making it an awkward question?
When someone has a conversation with someone else about where they are from, they get a mental picture of what that person might be like. As the conversation continues, they adjust this preconception.
It may go something like this:
-“Hi! Where are you from?”
-“I’m from France.”
-“France, that is a beautiful country! I heard the French love to spend lots of time at the meal table. Is that true? Do you like that?”
But when like me, your dad is British, you were raised in France, your mum is from two middle eastern countries, and you’ve moved around as an adult, your interlocutor doesn’t know where to start!
It can raise an awareness of our own uncertainty about our identity.
Identity is the first challenge Ruth van Reken identifies for a TCK. Scroll down her page on 'Who are TCKs?' and you can read why those of us who have more than one culture in our lives tend to struggle with Identity.
The question has to go further than WHY.
The question is HOW.
When you have grown up in multiple cultures and
- the lines between what is acceptable and what is not change constantly
- things aren’t necessarily done the same way from one day to another
- different family members sometimes believe radically different things
How do we figure out who we are?
‘The sense of identity provides the ability to experience one's self as something
that has continuity and sameness, and to act accordingly.’
Identity is made of:
-your philosophy of life
-your current roles
-your talents, your abilities
Christian Counselling, A Comprehensive Guide, by Gary R. Collins has a great definition:
‘Identity is a fairly stable mental picture of who you are, a picture that seems to be shared by others who know you and whom you consider to be significant.’ p263
‘As they reflect on their goals, interests, beliefs, hopes, personality traits, strengths, aptitudes, and abilities, most people begin to get a clearer picture of who they are.’ p263
I’ll just pick a few from the list to look at in more detail.
-Choose 3-5 people who know you well and who can help you identify your skills and abilities. Share with them that you are working on pinning down your identity.
-Ask them to list what they think you are good at.
-Ask them to share with you what makes you UNIQUE.
-Ask them for examples of situations where they have seen you display those skills/abilities.
-Compile the list and look at where skills and abilities come up more than once.
Spending some time reviewing your past can be valuable. Even though the past doesn’t have to define who you can become, it has had a contribution in shaping you, including mistakes and events that were out of your control. Accepting, rejecting or reinterpreting your past is in fact contributing to your identity.
Answer the following questions:
-where was I born? Were there special circumstances?
-what is my birth order? Siblings?
-what were my parents like?
-Were my grandparents present? Did they have an influence on me? How?
-Where were my grandparents born? What cultures influenced their lives? Ask those two same questions about your parents.
-where did I grow up (including multiple countries!)
-was there a place growing up that was significant? How?
-were there significant events that affected me positively and/or negatively? Describe them, including the feelings they raised.
-where did I go to school? Was it a good experience? A negative experience?
-How did my education evolve through the years? What subjects did I enjoy most?
These not only cover religious beliefs but also what we believe to be true about ourselves and how the world works.
-What do I believe about a higher power?
-Where do I get my knowledge from?
-How convinced am I?
-Do I need to search deeper in order to get a firmer belief?
Dr Bobby Hoffman defines these as tacit beliefs we have about ourselves. He identifies the 5 most powerful self-beliefs that ignite human behavior as how much control we believe we have on our life, how competent we believe we are for a task, the value we assign a task outcome, how we set goals and why we choose the ones we do and the nature of knowledge acquisition and intelligence itself.
The following are questions you may find useful on your journey of self-discovery:
-How much control do I believe I have on my life? In which areas? Has this belief stemmed from my past and does it need to be altered?
-Do I believe I am competent to do the tasks I have set myself to do?
-Make a list of tasks you have set yourself. For each one, ask yourself what your motive was to set it?
Beliefs can be difficult to decipher and it may be useful to seek help, either from a Life Coach or from a Counsellor.
I will end with the words from Dr Seuss’s book Happy Birthday to You:
‘If we didn’t have birthdays, you wouldn’t be you.
If you’d never been born, well then what would you do?
If you’d never been born, well then what would you be?
You might be a fish! Or a toad in a tree!
You might be a doorknob! Or three baked potatoes!
You might be a bag full of hard green tomatoes.
…But you… You ARE YOU! And now isn’t that pleasant!!'
If you have been impacted by anything in this blog and would like to comment, or if you would like to discover more about your identity, contact me via my Facebook page ‘amulticulturallife’ or on my contact page!