My Take On Being a Third Culture Kid
Updated: Apr 8, 2018
During the Easter break, I went home to Zug, a small town in Switzerland. I know Zug like the back of my own hand, and walking through the town floods my head with memories. The Mexican restaurant where my high school friends and I drank too many margaritas and adios muchachos, the steps at the train station where everyone hung out after school, the food shops I frequented with my mum and the people who have worked there for years. While I was home, I was at the local doctors in the small village I grew up in. As I sat in the waiting room, I noted that barely anything has changed since I moved there in February 1995. The little burgundy table with matching stools, in the corner, has been there since my family and I first arrived. My big sister, little brother and I have sat there many times drawing childish scribbles and playing with the lego. The majority of my life has taken place in Zug. This little Swiss oasis is home, however, I am not Swiss.
My mum is Danish and my father is Swedish, but I was born in Germany, as was my little brother. My big sister was born in London. Despite not being born in either of our parents’ native countries, we’ve been brought up in a Danish speaking household and we all have Danish passports. When I was four, my family and I moved from Germany to Switzerland. Originally, my parents thought we’d only be in Switzerland for two years, so they sent us to an international school to learn English, in case we had to move to another country again. However, we never moved, and we continued to go to the international school. We officially became Third Culture Kids (TCKs).
International school is a cultural hub. Here, we were taught how to adapt to other cultures, and became comfortable with diversity. This is also where I met all my closest friends; none of them sharing the same nationality as me or being local. Of my five closest friends, only two of them live in Switzerland today, which serves as an indication of the international environment I grew up in. Despite the cultural “know-how” we were taught, the Swiss were hard to get to know. While certain Swiss customs; such as being punctual; rubbed off on my siblings and I, I didn’t get close to the locals. My mother enrolled my siblings and I in local sports activities, but we would always quit because the kids bullied us for being foreign. As a sensitive child, my patience to make the badminton girls like me, wore thin after a few attendances, and so I abandoned the idea of making local friends.
Once might assume that I would feel Swiss after spending 16 consecutive years there, and being there on and off the past 7 years, but I don’t. I’ve always identified as Danish; enthusiastically telling my friends about the food in Denmark and our traditions. But upon visits to see family, I’d always feel a little disconnected. It was as if, in Switzerland I was Danish, but in Denmark I wasn’t. These factors in mind, my cultural identity always felt blurred. As I got older, and moved around, my need to fit in somewhere became more prominent and so I decided it was time to connect with my passport country for good.
After my high school graduation, I shortly studied in London and New York, bouncing back to Switzerland after each stint, before deciding to finish my bachelor online. Online studies gave me the luxury of working from any internet connected location. I figured the internet connection in Copenhagen was above par, so in the summer of 2015 I packed my bags and my mum drove me to my new home in Copenhagen. I’d always loved Copenhagen when visiting, but I became even more smitten with the city upon moving there. Copenhagen is charming, and the people are kind. During my two years there, I immersed myself in the café culture, became a bike extraordinaire (but not really), marvelled at the architecture, people’s style, and the amazing restaurants. I visited my grandparents often, got my first job there, and kick started my music career for good. A lot of positive things came from moving to Denmark, but the one thing I thought for sure would happen, didn’t: Living in Denmark didn’t make me feel more Danish. If anything, it made me feel more alien. I became acutely aware of how “un-Danish” I am. All my family, and many of the Danes I met, had their whole life there; while mine is scattered across a few countries: My parents live in Switzerland, my sister is in Berlin, my brother is in Toronto and my best friends are all abroad as well. I realized that my lack of localness in Switzerland also translated to Denmark.
I read a BBC article titled “Third Culture Kids: Citizens of Everywhere and Nowhere” and it really resonated. I feel like international school taught me how to dance between cultures, but I might never really belong to one. I’m incredibly grateful for my upbringing, and I wouldn’t change it for the world; it’s led me on many exciting paths and I’m constantly on the move. I’m lucky that I get to experience so much and interact with so many different cultures, but sometimes I wish my anchor to one place was a little heavier. I often wonder what life is like for those who attended a local school, have local friends and have a clear idea of where exactly they are from; it must be really nice. When people ask me where I’m from I say Denmark. When they say “where in Denmark?,” I draw a blank, and my long-winded (often confusing) explanation occurs.
I’m currently living in London for the second time, to do my masters. The school I attend is full of students from across the globe, and thus has a very international feel. For the first time since leaving the international school in Zug, I feel like I belong somewhere again. Amidst this cultural mess, is where I feel good. But come August, it will all be over and what then? Maybe I’ll return to Copenhagen, maybe it’ll be Switzerland? Maybe somewhere completely new? I’m not blind to the fact that my constant moving around over the past 7 years, has made it difficult to deeply connect with one place. However, my TCK upbringing, for all its beauty, creates some restlessness. I’m not quite sure how to answer the questions yet about where I’m from, but I’m getting more comfortable with not really knowing the answer.