Stop Making Me Choose Between My Nationalities: Confessions of a Third Culture Kid

Whenever a World Cup rolls around and the inevitable France v Australia game comes up, I find myself getting asked the same question over and over again: “Who are you gonna go for?”

Most of the time I avoid the question, and reply that I’m backing whoever wins, but the truth is much more complicated.

Do I support the country where I took my first breath, the country that is the source of my mother tongue and the culture my parents raised me in as well as the receiving end of countless international calls to close and distant relatives since the age of 4?

Or do I back the country I have grown up in, home to some of my best and worst memories, the source of opportunity after opportunity, the ground I’m standing on right now?

I’m a Third Culture Kid (TCK). Coined by American sociologist Ruth Van Reken, the term refers to someone who was raised in a culture outside of their parents’ for a significant part of their development years, building relationships with both their original and host culture without having any real ownership of either.

The resulting third culture, an undefined amalgamation of experiences between two worlds, is one that is becoming increasingly relevant and relatable to young people everywhere due to the onset of globalisation and transnational migration. According to researchers Paradis, Genesee and Crago, there are currently just as many bilingual children in the world as there are monolingual, and I’m sure that among the readers of this very article a significant amount are in the same boat.

This TCK boat is one that is filled with confused loyalties from both sides; loyalties to family and politics as well as to patriotism and pop culture, clashing and coinciding in different ways.

For TCKs with appearances that visibly contrast with the visual expectations of their identified nationality, this is a boat that is equally affected by racism and stereotypes, the question of “Where are you really from” or “Oh I thought you were ______” as well as the occasional surprised exclamation “But you speak such good English for someone from ______!”

It makes you wonder whether national and cultural identity is really a matter of personal choice, or something outside of your control. Where is the line that separates living in France and being French, or the border between being from Australia and Australian?

That said, lacking a clear and collective cultural identity doesn’t make TCKs global nomads or culturally homeless. Every single one will have their own unique story.

In my case, I will always feel nostalgic for my native country, France, but I will equally always crave acceptance and seek to give back to my adopted one, Australia. And sometimes that will mean that I will resent my parents’ decision to move my sister and I out here because it means I have missed out on things like seeing my grandparents more before it was too late, or celebrating Halloween with my friends at school. But it will also mean that I will feel extremely grateful for the experience and opportunity, which has brought me a lot more than meets the eye.

For me, and other TCKs, it has meant becoming more adaptable and open-minded. Being culturally sensitive, and aware of how to navigate the different perspectives and values of others. It has meant not falling into the traps of stereotypes and cultural expectations, because we have no set ones to reference.

And even though I can’t name a single recent French pop hit, and I don’t think I will ever feel comfortable kissing strangers on the cheek instead of shaking their hands, I know that the rush of pride I feel whenever La Marseillaise is played is real. Likewise maybe I will never develop the tastebuds for vegemite or appreciate the Australian delicacy that is fairy bread, but I don’t think I will ever find a place where I am happier than when I am on the sunburnt side of tan and barefoot on a beach.

So please, stop making me choose between my nationalities.
I couldn’t even if I wanted to, and that’s really not the point.

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal and Ngambri people, who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which Woroni, Woroni Radio and Woroni TV are created, edited, published, printed and distributed. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. We acknowledge that the name Woroni was taken from the Wadi Wadi Nation without permission, and we are striving to do better for future reconciliation.