In a little over a week I will be welcoming new students, parents, and colleagues into my classroom. Inevitably, after brief greetings and smiles comes the inadvertent side drop of the head, the look, and then “so … where are you from?”
To which I usually reply, “What do you mean by from? Do you mean the country that issues my passport? Do you mean the country I last lived in? Do you mean where I go back to in the summers?”
At this point the conversation gets awkward. And so to ease the tension I eventually reply “Canada.” The person I am talking to appears relieved. It works. The implicit “racial profiling” fits the bill – appearance, language, social conventions. Now the small talk can continue. Except it isn’t the truth. I am not from Canada.
When told the truth of where I think I am from many I speak to state, “Ah, so you’re a TCK.” The acronym meaning Third Culture Kid, a term coined by John and Ruth Useem to describe individuals who have spent a significant amount of time outside of their parent’s home culture.
However, to me the term Third Culture Kid (TCK) and many of the other politically correct variants that have sprung up in the intervening years are mere labels to appease those that need an answer. It’s another checkbox that we can tick within our mental schema.
I have come to the realization that we are all unique individuals. We come with a lot of baggage. A lot of history. A lot of experiences. This is what defines us and makes us who we are.
So when you really think about it “Where are you from?” is the wrong question.
The question we should be asking is …
What’s your story?
We all have one. It’s what makes us who we are.
So … What’s my story?
That will have to wait until after next week when I will write it out with my students.
July 29, 2017 at 9:10 am
I get this a lot, and strange looks when I say I’m British (& Canadian). Most people are confused by my accent. I was born in Canada to British parents and was raised in the Middle East. My accent is a little British, a little Canadian and a little American (left over from going to school with kids from the US). I lived in the UK from the age of 16. My story is an interesting one but people are generally just looking for a simple straightforward answer. I think life would be more interesting if people asked questions and we’re genuinely interested in the answer.
July 29, 2017 at 9:29 am
Agreed! I totally forgot about the accent part. It’s like you are neither here nor there but have your own special dialect made up of all the languages you know, places you have been, and influences you have had. Thanks for commenting!