5 Sep
2006

Is Cultural Identity Your National Identity at the Same Time?

children

A lot of research must have been done regarding the topic of cultural identity and national identity, but in reality there are practical issues surrounding the Third Cultural Kids (TCKs), as indicated in a very recent news article entitled Canadian Third Culture Kids struggle to find their identities on Yahoo Canada. The story of Khan in the article gives us a live example.

“I always struggle with that question,” says Khan, who was born in Toronto. “It’s very hard because I carry a Canadian passport, but does that identify who I am, do I identify with this culture, and is cultural identity your national identity at the same time?”

Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds [3RD CULTURE KIDS]The term Third Cultural Kids (TCKs), sometimes referred to as Trans-Cultural Kids (TCKs), was created 40 years ago by American sociologist Ruth Hill Useem, who studied the children of expatriates in India. She found that TCKs cope, rather than adjust, and become both a part of and apart from the situations they are in.

Citing Ms Robin Pascoe, “an expat expert, is an author and speaker based in Vancouver who has written several books on the challenges faced by expatriate families and TCKs when they come home”, the article points out that TCKs can have some real issues related to the question of identity.

Unresolved grief issues, trouble forming deep friendships, difficulty settling down, inner restlessness and even reverse culture shock are tough to manage, especially for those who have lived away from their home country for many years, she says.

However, she also points out that “the advantages of being a TCK definitely outweigh the negatives”.

“These are kids who are well-travelled, open-minded, can speak different languages, are culturally sensitive, flexible and open to change, and endowed with a deep sense of empathy for the world around them.”

More can be found in this article which talks about the strengths that TCKs might possess. It says:

What strengths might TCKs possess? Based on the results of a long-term study of students in an international school in Japan, Willis (1994) suggests that TCKs exhibit characteristics of a transcultural / transnational identity that is needed for the world to transcend untranationalism and ethnocentrism. He concludes that these students have the skills needs to create community from diversity. Gerner et al. (1992) also noted positive characteristics of TCKs in two large international schools. In their study, TCKs reported having a high level of interest in travel and learning languages, and they rated themselves as being culturally accepting and having developed a high level of acceptance of diversity. In addition, Iwama (1990) found that in comparison of Japanese TCKs with students who have lived only in Japan, the TCKs were more self-confident, had more flexible minds, were more active and curious, and had a higher bilingual ability. He noted that these students can “swim in two cultural oceans.” Because of their varied experiences, the students can see life in terms greater than one cultural boundary and can explain and express themselves in more than one culture.

In the news article, the author recommended that more intercultural training programs should be developed to help the TCKs to overcome the problems.

According to Foreign Affairs, there are over two million Canadians living or working abroad. Many of these expatriates are diplomats, businessmen, aid workers or in the military. The Canadian government offers intercultural training programs for Canadians going overseas, but there are no programs for helping Canadians resettle when their return.

I think the recommendation has boarder implications, particularly when globalization is taken into consideration. If we look at the fast developing countries like China, the rapid economic development has made it a reality that more and more people are moving in and out. While intercultural learning and training is just at its very early stage of development, it is definitely true in China that more intercultural programs both for people going out of the country and coming back are needed, and needed to be adapted naturally into the mainstream education.

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