Today I got asked an interesting question. It is a question I get asked enough times and hate answering, but it is interesting this time because it is from my mother.
In the middle of trying to convince me I should speak Cantonese (I should, but it’s difficult!) she said “Where are you from?” Well actually she asked something more along the lines of “Which place person are you?” which is usually translated to “Where are you from?” but is an interesting phrase for the purposes of this post.
It is difficult for me to place myself to be from anywhere, and generally when someone I have just met asks me that question I try to answer in the best way possible from the context of their question (although it usually ends up with me, somehow or other, listing the places I’ve lived in and pointing out that my accent is from an international school).
But since it was my mother asking, and she has in a way created my history, I merely answered, “The world”. Well, my mother was a bit taken back by my answer, despite the fact that when I tell people I’m Malaysian she says “But you’re not” and goes on to say that I’m more British as I’ve spent more of my time here. Following my answer, she said that it was not good for people to feel like they don’t belong anywhere, and went on to recount how a woman she knows was given away whe she was a baby by her mother and has spent the rest of her life trying to make up for it and to belong somewhere.
But I do feel like I belong. It may sound a bit cheesy but I’m a citizen of the earth and a proud member of the human race. I call multiple countries home and I have happily embraced the term ‘Third Culture Kid’ when attempting to put a name to my culture. This is something I worked out when I was a teenager (who stuck out like a sore thumb at school) and have been comfortable with since.
Most of the people I feel an immediate affinity with turn out to be third culture kids and I sometimes think we represent a placeless ‘race’ of TCKs – by which I mean a collection of people who have the same culture which enables us to connect and understand each other on a very basic level in a way that people from the same culture do.
And while I sometimes think and feel this way of claiming other TCKs as part of my culture and to whom I ‘belong’ with, at the very most basic level I do feel I am a citizen of this earth, the same way that a scottish man will claim that he is Scottish and a chinese girl will claim she is Chinese.
So at the end of this short conversation with my mother and slightly longer deliberation on my part I had a revelation – perhaps my chosen career in the environmental sector stems in part from my feeling of belonging to the world. I have never been a patriot of any nation, but my concern (and pride) is for all.