Global Nomad VS. Glorified Gypsy: Third Culture Kids

For many in the international community, having numerous ties to various countries around the world is the norm. The ability to speak a number of languages, returning to more than one home over the holidays, having an affiliation with a number of cultures and an unbelievably broad global spectrum of friends is anything but unusual. If this sounds familiar, read on.

Typical to human nature, even the abnormal can be categorized. We are the third culture kids. Coined in the 50’s by the sociologist and anthropologist Ruth Hill Useem then furthered by Norma McCaig to the ‘global nomad’, the definition follows that a large proportion of one’s childhood and experience was time spent outside of their parent’s home country.

Questions like where are you from? Where is home? Where did you grow up? can’t be satisfied with a simple one-word answer. Often, the reply is made easier when choosing one: whether it’s the country your passport was issued, where you have spent the majority of your life or where your parent’s are from. Where things like this become interesting are when you look at it all, your very identity, objectively and what this means for you.

The Norweigan philosopher Lars F.H. Svendson wrote that “Self-identity is inextricably bound up with the identity of the surroundings.” So what does that make people like us? We are everything, our identity is a patchwork of countries, homes, friends, cities all separate but uniquely combined in to one thing – you. So while the global nomad is a special category of human, the diversity within is endless – the cause, the countries, the ties that have stayed, the habits you have maintained over the years. But we are united in our uniqueness, the details become almost irrelevant between us because our overall experiences is shared.

Rather than just a label, how does this apply and what does it mean? Those that fall into this category tend to have a chameleon-like ability to adapt and adopt any culture in which they find themselves, bilingualism becomes trilingualism and so on, families tend to be more tight-knit, there is even a higher probability of having a college degree or a highly-skilled profession in the future.

But as is always the case, there’s a flipside. Often, there are feelings of alienation and an inability to fully integrate, identity crises can occur and reverse culture shock upon return to one’s ‘home’ country. Not to mention the reaction by people who are unfamiliar with such a lifestyle, the majority who can’t seem to fathom what it’s like or how to relate to such a person. One particularly drunk and ignorant man from Bolton’s only response to a brief summary of my life was that I must be a ‘glorified gypsy’. It’s not always easy. For every person that says to me, ‘I can’t imagine that at all, I’ve lived in the same place my whole life’, I can’t help but echo their same disbelief but reversed.

So if you sometimes feel a bit ‘home’ sick or if you occasionally have a panic that you don’t belong anywhere, remember that there are a lot of people like you: I have still yet to meet a person who hasn’t enjoyed their global experience. If you spend the rest of your life travelling or if you settle someplace once and for all, you will always be a global nomad at heart. We are more than just one of a kind, we are one of many kinds.