THE BLOG

Do You Have an Identity?

10/01/2012 05:53 pm ET | Updated Dec 01, 2012

I am a Third Culture Kid, and people with backgrounds like mine are becoming increasingly more common. Whenever I meet new people, they inevitably start with telling me where they're from. They talk about their hometowns, about the cities and countries in which they grew up. They talk about Main Streets and houses full of stored memories. To most of them, their country of birth equates to where they are from. It is where their roots are; it is their identity. To me, it does not. And so, my identity, my definition of self, is a little skewed.

At its heart, being a TCK (as we are called) means that I am confused about who I am. When Dr. Ruth Useem coined the term in the 1950s, she really knew what she was talking about. Whenever I'm asked the question, "Where are you from?" I hesitate. I never have a clear answer for the person asking, because I don't have the clearest picture in my mind. It used to make me uncomfortable. Why couldn't I answer such a simple question? Here's why: I was born in the Middle East, spent most of my formative years in the U.S., but am technically from Bangladesh. Out of these three places, however, I have spent the least amount of time in the country of my citizenship. There are detriments to growing up without a clearly defined idea of who you are. Defining yourself provides a concrete sense of where your place is in this world. Being able to talk about where you're from gives you direction and provides you with the safety and comfort of being able to come back to a place that makes you feel secure. It creates stability.

I don't take my nomadic background as a negative. TCKs are not rootless, even if they lack a sense of permanence. I am fortunate enough to have a broad worldview and exposure to more cultures than I could have ever dreamed about; it's because of my childhood. How many people can say that they saw a camel in real life before seeing a pet dog? Or drank spiced Arabic coffee before tasting Kool-Aid?

I will always be a proponent of a global upbringing. Parents of TCKs are vastly more likely to hold advanced degrees, which, in turn, promotes higher education standards for their children. We are four times more likely to earn at least a Bachelor's degree. TCK parents are less likely to get divorced, and they often come from very close families. Yes, there are times when I find myself craving stability. Yes, there are times when I wish I had gone to high school with the same people I went to elementary school with. But, these times never last long. The benefits, to me, outweigh any supposed negatives.

Being a TCK signifies a malleable identity. It means that my identity is much like the interwoven, interconnected society before us today. It means that adapting to changing times and evolving societal norms is easier. It means change is accepted and, yes, welcomed. It means that I have a sense of insatiable wanderlust. Most of all, however, it means that I am defined by my passions and not where I am (or am not) from. Did your upbringing do that for you?