The question I hate the most is ‘where are you from?’ TCK Story

Jay the TCK
5 min readJun 16, 2020

The question I hate the most is ‘where are you from?’ #thirdculturekid

For some reason, I’m a bit shy about having lived in China for 15 years. At the time I was 3 years old, I basically grew up there, so why wouldn’t I want to share my story?

I think it has to do with having told people in the past where I grew up and being called a showoff or a liar. Perhaps it’s because they got jealous or sceptical and didn’t believe me.

It’s a particular look on persons face that I am tired of seeing and having to explain that I’m not trying to brag, I’m just telling the truth.

Or maybe, it’s because I told the same story so many times, I just can’t listen to myself telling it again.

I actually never use the phrase ‘third culture kid’, although it perfectly describes who I am and why I act the way I do. The question I hate the most is ‘where are you from?’.

Yes, I am from the Netherlands, having lived here now for 5 years and completing my Bachelors, I feel I have become acquainted with the Dutch culture and I’m proud to call myself Dutch. But I still struggle with this question ‘where are you from?’.

I feel an obligation to add, ‘… But I lived in China for 15 years’. When I used to tell people this ten years ago, they went crazy thinking ‘how the hell did you move to China when you were 3 years old??’.

Yes, my parents decided to move the family to Beijing for my dad’s work, and I couldn’t be more proud of my parents for making this life-changing decision for me. When I tell people these days that I lived in China for 15 years, the reactions are different.

It is more common now to come across people who grew up in another country. Whether we like it or not, we HAVE travelled the world, and there is something inside us that makes us want to share it with the world.

Having lived in a country other than the one on your passport changes you. YOU have to adapt to the culture of where you are, and YOU have to change your mindset; no one else can do that for you.

My whole life I have been surrounded by other cultures. I grew up in old Beijing with hutongs, Chinese people staring at the foreigners, a dirty and hectic busy city.

These things all became normal to me, I adjusted, and I went with the flow. When the Olympics came around to Beijing in 2008, they cleaned up the city, tourists started rolling in, skyscrapers were being built.

Once again, I adjusted and just went along with whatever was happening around me. The friends I had in high school didn’t look at nationalities. No one was Dutch, or American, or English, we are all international.

This is what I liked most about living in an international community in Beijing.

We were all living in the same environment and adjusting to the changes happening around us,

therefore we stopped focusing on trying to understand the backgrounds and habits of the other people,

we just accepted others as they were and moved on.

We accepted being international. We accepted our environment, the tourists, the locals, the language, the culture, the buildings, the pollution, the food. This sense of acceptance and open-mindedness is what I love about TCKs.

I feel that people who have not travelled around the world will never be able to understand TCKs. There will always be an awkward moment or missing connection when getting to know someone who is not a TCK.

The wanderlust as many people call it. I could talk for ages about my travels, but how frustrating would it be to just sit there and listen and not be able to add to the conversation.

Once you have experienced another culture and told yourself to just let go, adjust to the culture, get out of your comfort zone, and see what happens, only then can you fully appreciate what it means to travel.

I would call my experience as a TCK and living abroad life-changing. It’s nothing like a holiday abroad where you merely catch a glimpse of another culture.

Then you are not living the culture, you’re getting a taste, but not digesting it. There is a difference.

It was hard for me to live in a country where I am technically from, according to my passport, because I was still stuck in the habits and norms of the [chinese-international] culture where I lived my whole life.

I realized from living in Holland for 5 years now, that when I came back to my home country, Dutch people saw me as just another Dutch girl.

I accepted this, after all that’s the reason why I returned to the Netherlands… to go back to my roots. But the more that Dutch people tried to talk or hang out with me, the more they realized that I wasn’t really one of them.

I didn’t really fit in, I was different, and they didn’t understand me. There was a language barrier as I struggled with the Dutch language. They tried to work with me but I couldn’t handle their direct nature.

I wanted to hang out with them on the weekends but they all returned home to their parents on these days.

We just never clicked as I did with the international kids- the third culture kids.

We were all living without our parents in the same country, we were all doing chores our parents would have done for us, and we were all learning to cook for ourselves and keep a balanced life.

Even though at times we might fail, TCKs understand that there’s pressure coming from everywhere to grow up and to figure out who you are.

The most important thing I have learned from being a TCK is to learn to enjoy the environment around you.

People spend so much time complaining about their surroundings and doing nothing about it.

There’s nothing worse than finding all the negatives in something than leaving it and finding out that you never knew what you had till it was gone.

Learn to appreciate the nature, the people, their habits and cultures. Another thing I learned is that you are never alone.

Never let the stress and pressure of travelling, studying or working in another country over-burden you. Find tranquillity where ever you are.

Whether it be talking to someone else about it, taking a bike ride, or walking along the beach. Free your mind and go with the flow.

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Jay the TCK

My mission is to give hundreds of third culture kids a wifi home and a sense of belonging online.