Any Third-Culture Kid Literature?

My students are learning the different lens of literary criticism. I teach most of my English classes from a Cultural Studies bent. To me, it makes the most logical sense as I believe it connects to our cultural values and identity. Having the space to figure out the world was provided to me by many books of various genres. While reviewing the topics pertaining to Cultural Studies that I learned in college and figuring out how to scaffold the content to the intellectual and developmental maturity of high school students, I had a thought. There seems to be little or no literature representing the international Third Culture Kid experience or identity.

The only thing that comes close is fiction capturing the immigrant experience of usually adults or late teens. The experience of moving to a new country is not the same at the age of ten versus transitioning as an adult. Most immigrant fiction talks about trying to find identity and longing for the past. But, what if you are a person who does not particularly feel attached to any one particular national identity? What if your sense of identity transcends national borders?

I am a person who paradoxically don’t fit in anywhere, yet I can easily fit in an international-minded big city almost anywhere in the world, whether it be Dubai, Singapore, New York, Buenos Aires (if I spoke Spanish that is). I love Singapore for the fact that I can interact with anyone from almost anywhere in the world. There seems to be a global minded attitude that lacked in Portland. I felt that I was suffocating in Portland. I didn’t find much in common with insular-minded people with limited knowledge of the world that’s usually stereotypical or shallow. For example, there is more to Holland than drugs that you cannot get in the USA. What a trashy attitude? There’s a huge history, culture, and much more in Holland. I can’t stand it when people have extremely narrow, stereotypical attitudes towards other countries. With Portland I find that most people pretend to be open-minded but in reality being patronizing and not much different. Here in Singapore it’s refreshing to meet people who seem more globally aware of the bigger world. Let me just say that I am sometimes glad to leave America.

Maybe my attitude reflects the third-culture kid mentality. Only when I took a training that discussed the TCK, I felt that I understood myself. I have not heard of this term until my late 20s. Most school counselors and administrators in a mostly white school and latte-town Portland didn’t know what to tell me when I said that I’m having a hard time fitting in. There’s the typical teenage phase but ethnic minorities, immigrants, and TCKs have another distinctiveness to them. I am glad to know that I am not alone. Now that I am a grown woman, my perspective of life is different.

Whether a TCK or not, I can address the growing pessimistic attitudes young Americans have towards our country. Just look at our current events and government shutdown. I had to leave the supposed land of opportunity to find a full-time job with benefits. Working 2-3 jobs and not having health insurance was exhausting. And not too long ago, in India it was the trend to immigrate to America for opportunity. I wonder how would contemporary concerns reflect in contemporary literature.

American literature has always been concerned with the quest of freedom and individual identity, but the motifs and symbols of freedom evolve over time.  The Transcendentalists and Romantics’ motifs were nature representing the place to find freedom, and 20th century American writers were about looking into oneself to find freedom. Most contemporary topics would be what would travel or being an American expat represent in terms of freedom and individual identity? From popular fiction, Eat, Love, Pray comes to mind. I don’t particularly recommend this book but it is the unsatisfied woman traveling abroad for identity.

Maybe the extreme pessimistic view would be TCK experience as post-America. The image that comes to mind is in a Doctor Who episode, futuristic Britain was in a satellite. I remember a satellite with the British flag. So with that in mind, what would a futuristic “post-America” look like? I don’t write sci-fi. But, I’m looking at reasons why Americans travel or live abroad. And carrying the ideals of individual identity with themselves outside the borders in a sense is “post-America.”

Now that I have these ideas, the challenge is to turn into into a tangible piece of writing. I may hopefully fit these ideas somewhere in my novel.


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