Identity and Place, A Reflection

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”
― C.S. Lewis

Undoukai, Field Day: Yuri-chan and I join Tug-of-War Team

The following definition of “third culture kid” (TCK) was coined in the 1950s, but “cross-cultural kid” (CCK)–a term encompassing it, as well as other sub-categories–seems better suited for the 21st century. A 3rd edition of the book from which I’ve taken the following quotation, has recently hit the market. I hope to read it soon, for I wonder if the experiences of today’s “cross-cultural kids” differ from those of my generation, for we had no social media avenues to bridge the distance between ourselves and our friends in the countries in which we grew up, or between the countries to which many of us moved for further education after graduating from high school.

“A Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her development years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”The Third Culture Kid Experience: Growing Up Among Worlds / David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken : Intercultural Press, Inc., c1999.

The “third culture” described here is a virtual one, located solely in the minds of its citizens. It exists wherever the paths of people of varied backgrounds and nationalities cross and who, for whatever reason, discover they have an instant connection with one another simply because they share the common experience of having lived their formative years away from their parents’ homeland. While living in a foreign country of their parents’ choosing, they and their expatriate friends unknowingly become part of a “third culture” with others sharing similar circumstances. At the same time, this culture they belong to is only one small satellite of a world-wide phenomenon.

Traditional Japanese Dance

Japanese Dance Lessons (Odori)

For example, a teen whose parent works for an embassy in Ottawa, would likely grow up attending local schools and sharing a Canadian lifestyle with friends and classmates living in her neighbourhood. Near the end of the diplomat’s contract, the family may talk frequently about returning “home”. But when she actually arrives there, the teen no longer feels a part of her parents’ culture, nor does she feel completely Canadian. She has become a “third culture kid”. It’s possible that the two of us, if we were to meet today, would discover that we have more in common with each other’s emotional landscape than not, even though I was born here in Canada and she was born, say, in India. TCKs and adult TCKs often wonder where they truly belong, or if they do, indeed, belong anywhere.

My own TCK/CCK experience may be depicted as two overlapping circles–my parents’ culture–Canada, and the host culture–Japan. The shaded part where they overlap represents a set of characteristics that I once held in common with many other “third culture kids” returning “home”. Not long ago, it occurred to me that I have a third overlapping one–a culture within a culture–a distinct community of English speaking people who once shared the campus life of an international school within a foreign setting. This falls into the circle labelled “mix of other cultures”. Between the ages of nine and thirteen, I lived with my parents and sister in Tokushima City on Shikoku Island. Japanese became the language my sister and I spoke most often while playing with kids in our neighbourhood, and even between ourselves at home. Because of this immersive experience, when I went to high school in Kobe and lived in residence, I was able to move seamlessly back and forth between the circles of campus life and the city.

Upon my return to Canada and without the benefits of today’s instant means of communication, I felt completely cut-off from my past. This sense of loss included much loved places: Tokushima, where I was home-schooled for four years, and where I became bilingual; Kobe, a bustling, cosmopolitan port city, where panoramic views of the harbour from my high school classroom window contributed to my love of the sea; Lake Nojiri, where I spent my summers at the family cottage, participating in typical summertime activities with other expat kids.

At that time, there was no one word or words to describe the deep sense of loss I was experiencing upon my return; the place I’d always thought about and talked about as “home” when I lived in Japan, no longer felt that way to me. My thoughts were often drawn to Japan, where I’d spent the last half of my eighteen-year-old-life–my “formative years.” The question I always dreaded being asked was “Where are you from?” because I had no idea what to say. My answer would often end up being long and rambling, not to mention boring to the person who’d asked it. It wasn’t until the late 1990s that I first heard the terms “transnational”, “third culture kid” (TCK), “global nomad”, and “cross-cultural kid” (CCK).  I suddenly had a word-rack on which to hang all those mixed-up emotions, which meant I didn’t have to carry them around any more. I could finally let go. Lately, “transcultural” and “hidden immigrant” have also been added to the list of categories in which some of us may find ourselves.

Christmas vacation in the Rupununi, Guyana, South America.  During our hike to Moca Moca Falls with CUSO friends Bill and Heather Gardam and Wes and Selma Berg, we discovered a seven-foot frypan in an Amerindian kitchen hut.

When a TCK puts down roots, such as when one establishes a career and/or family, he or she may self-identify as an “adult third culture kid”. And although the feeling of being “at home” deepens, a strange sensation of dislocation may arise from time to time, reminding the person of her other culture–a suppressed or buried part of her identity, perhaps revealed and celebrated briefly, but often relegated for years on end to the locked trunk of her mind. (I know…cut the melodrama!) Indeed, sometimes it takes a period of living abroad in another, completely different culture (as in my own case, Caribbean and South American), for TCKs to fully realize–upon their latest return–that their parents’ country of origin has once again become their true home.

June 5, 2013

Recently, someone in a reply to my blog used the word “saudade”, one that I was unfamiliar with, in relation to the inexpressible feelings we sometimes experience as adult “third culture kids”.  Here are two explanations for this word that I found during an online search:

“The famous saudade [my italics] of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.” (Bell, AFG. In Portugal, 1912)

“Saudade: A Portugese word for a feeling, or longing for something, or some event that one is fond of, which is gone, but might return in a distant future…often carries a fatalistic tone and repressed knowledge that the object of longing may never return.”  (Wikipedia)

January 27, 2014

“Third culture kid” (TCK) is interchangeable today with “cross-cultural kid” (CCK), but many other terms exist including the following:”adult cross-cultural kid” (ACCK) ; “adult third culture kid” (ATCK) and “global nomad”. In case anyone would like to learn more about this topic, here are links to six website/blogs related to this subject that I’ve visited recently: http://crossculturalkid.org ; http://denizenmag.com  ; http://www.libbystephens.com/blog ; http://thedisplacednation.com ; http://www.tckworld.com/ An article in Wikipedia sums up the benefits and challenges of being a “third culture kid” very well: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_culture_kid

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Life Before Screens

Participating in a tug-of-war with my Japanese playmates.

As someone who frequently needs to be torn away from my laptop or iPad at all hours of the day and night, I’ve been thinking back to my “life before screens” childhood, and wondering if kids today are getting enough playtime of the non-video game variety. TVs were readily available and in many homes at the time, but my parents chose not to have one. Did I have any less fun than friends with screens? I don’t think so. With so much time to fill after finishing my daily assignments (correspondence courses provided by the Ontario Dept. of Education), reading and physical activities that called on the use of my imagination became a big part my life.

For example, the characters in many of the books I read as a young girl, such as Louisa May Alcott’s Jo and L.M. Montgomery’s Emily, not only sparked my desire to write, but also influenced the types of games I created for entertainment when I was a child. If you were to go back in time and choose any one of my treasured books from a shelf, you would find a neatly cut, half-envelope glued inside the back cover. There would be a lined card protruding from it, one upon which I’d recorded the exact dates the item had been checked in and out at the “front desk”. I even went so far as to prepare my parents’ detective novels for circulation, in addition to altering their “important” non-fiction titles, much to their chagrin.

Of course, it takes two to play this game, and my sister, who shares my fondness for books, was a willing participant. It’s not surprising that as adults, we both chose to work full-time in libraries—an ideal place of employment for anyone possessing an insatiable curiosity about the world and the universe we inhabit. (In another imagined scenario with the uninspired name of “playing restaurant”, I used to make and serve real Waldorf Salad, but did I ever want to become a chef? Not for a minute!)

On a slightly different note, I still remember a day from my childhood when my sister and I spontaneously created a new form of entertainment to amuse ourselves. We were curled up with a book at the opposite ends of a sofa. I don’t know what got us started, but we began to take turns at reading a sentence aloud from the page we each had open before us. The results were belly aching hilarious at times, or even uncanny in the way the sentences would sometimes relate to one another, so much so that a totally different plot from those of the original texts would sometimes develop like invisible ink becoming visible on a page. You could say we’d been “playing with words”—the words of published authors. (Whether those authors would have approved of that, or not, is another matter!)

Looking back on those years, I’m grateful that the home environment of my childhood encouraged creative play and the development of my imagination. To read about how my mind responds to the challenge of creating stories from word prompts, click the Playing with Words tab on the Menu above, or click here: https://peggypilkey.ca/playing-with-words/ Thanks for reading!

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Fly Me to the Moon (Weekly Photo Challenge: Boundaries)

When I was a child, I would look up at the night sky and imagine myself to be in the company of Peter Pan, Wendy, John and Michael, escaping to Neverland with arms outstretched, as if flying were the most natural form of transportation in the world. After several trial flights off the edge of a barn loft into a pile of hay, I had to accept reality. There have been times in my life, though, when I experienced “flying dreams”–ones in which I felt detached from my physical body, yet was fully aware that I was soaring above the earth, elated by my freedom, no longer bound by the limits of space and time. Even upon waking, the feelings associated with being at peace and in a state of wonder would remain with me long afterwards. While watching the lunar eclipse on September 27, 2015, I marvelled, again, at nature’s awesome display.  As I watched the moon pass through earth’s shadow–our home planet temporarily blocking the rays of the sun–the moonscape took on a mysterious blood red glow. Lovely!  These are a few of the photos I took that night from our deck in the city.

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Rainbow Colours of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia (WPC-Roy G. Biv)

When I first read the subject of this Weekly Photo Challenge, I knew that my pictures of Lunenburg, NS would provide all but one of the colours of the rainbow required to appear in this assignment. For violet, the “v” in the mnemonic “Roy G. Biv”, the irises now blooming in my garden fit the bill. The first photo in the mosaic was taken in Peggy’s Cove, NS, and I chose to include it because the yellows are more visible and vibrant than those of the potted flowers to the right of the mural.  Enjoy.

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Bohemians of Spring

March 23, 2015

For those of us living in Nova Scotia, these last two months have been unusual in that we’ve had several major snowstorms.  As I wrote in an earlier post, “remedies for winter blues” often arrive unannounced and unexpected; I can now count my first sightings ever of Bohemian Waxwings among them.  Harbingers of spring?  Let’s hope so!

Harbingers of Spring
(Oh, no!  Not more snow!)

Tipsy as they land,
Bohemian Waxwings flock
To my apple tree;
Feasting on fermented fruit,
Flaunting yellow-banded wings.

 

 

Crab Apple Boughs in Spring

 

 

The Buds of May

Pink pearls, now in bloom,
Hang in drifts of snowy white–
Wafting spring’s sweet scent.

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Fisherman’s Monument (Weekly Photo Challenge: Wall)

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This one hundred foot, granite rock face in Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, honours both the living and those lost at sea.  Sculpted by William Edward deGarthe (1907-1983), it incorporates thirty-two fishermen, their wives and children, enveloped by the wings of a guardian angel.

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Lunenburg Characters

Waterfront Diner, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

Waterfront Diner, Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

I was quite taken by the number of life-sized, wood carvings of seafaring characters in the town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia (Canada)–a UNESCO World Heritage Site–one of five designated as such in this beautiful Canadian coastal province.  Although this photo was taken a few years ago, it’s one that still speaks to me of Scale, a recent Weekly Photo Challenge.  The people on the upper balcony and at ground level are folk art representations, of course, while those on the middle balcony are for real!

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Butterflies in Flight (Weekly Photo Challenge: Shadowed)

Butterflies in Flight

Late afternoon sun coming from the direction of my patio doors, passed through a glass plate on top of my bookcase and created a shadow-image of a butterfly on the wall behind it.  This was an unexpected, but lovely coincidence relating to a recent Weekly Photo Challenge theme, so I grabbed my camera!

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The Yellow House (Weekly Photo Challenge: Yellow)

The Yellow House

The Yellow House

I had written about this yellow house for a post in January of 2014 entitled Remedies for Winter Blues, and this is the second time I’ve been unable to dismiss an earlier Weekly Photo Challenge from my mind, succumbing, at last, to “dealing with it” in my own belated way. You guessed it! The theme for the assignment that I missed weeks ago, in December, was “Yellow”, and there’s no denying that this image fulfills that criteria. To learn more about why I first chose to describe this home across the street from where I live, please read my earlier entry, and tell me what you think.  (The black bear standing on its hind legs–a sculpture positioned between the two marine blue doors of the duplex–holds a basket filled with flowers in its front paws during the summer months.  It gave me a scare when I first noticed it as night was falling, but I appreciate the zany sense of humour expressed by the wonderful couple who own the building.)

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Gone, But Not Forgotten (Weekly Photo Challenge)

Gone, But Not Forgotten

Gone, But Not Forgotten

This photograph was taken a decade or so ago, before it became necessary for Betty–my mom–to move to a senior’s care residence, and before our beloved pet “Bud” passed away from complications of hemophilia within two and a half years of her death.  This image came to mind when I first saw the weekly challenge on this theme in early December.  Over the intervening weeks, prior to my decision to post their photograph, I have experienced such warm memories of them both that I could not help but share their love with you, as they gently cared for one another, and for all our family.  Gone, but not forgotten.  Ever.

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