Sunday, May 29, 2011

Johnny C: TCK Article (Excerpts)

"So You've Just Discovered You're a TCK"
Posted by: Johnny C | 28 May 2011

For the longest time, I was shunned by other people, whose (mis-)judgment of me destroyed any confidence, self-respect, and self-love that I had. From being accused of lying about where I’m from (the mind-killer question), being weird, or stupid for not doing things “normal” people do within their society and community’s value system, I was a pariah, I was ostracized, I was alienated, but worst of all, I felt there was something terribly wrong with me, and I was all alone. What could I do to be “normal” like everyone else so that I could feel some love or acceptance and belonging? If I did “normal things normal people did” then I wouldn’t be different and I could make good friends who would understand me and be happier.

After changing my behavior, I still couldn’t fit in. So I tried to do this with a different group of people who didn’t know me before I made these changes. Still, I was shunned because they thought I was trying too hard. Repeat this a few times, and eventually, being myself or trying to be what they wanted didn’t get me what I wanted.

My next phase was to assume that there was nothing wrong with me, everyone else was just rotten except for a few people like me... There may have been others who had similar upbringings traveling the world, but we didn’t connect because something kept us apart no matter how much we shared in common. Then I realized the problem wasn’t other people, and the problem wasn’t me: it was the questions I was asking and the attitude I was carrying.

Long before I learned the term that best describes me, my upbringing, my social group, and attitude, I thought there was something seriously wrong with me. The end result was that I tried to please other people to accept me and I ended up being even more unhappy because I felt a different isolation since I wasn’t myself. The next approach of blaming other people instead of myself was that I couldn’t foster quality relationships, and I alienated more people than before, furthering the negative image of myself. When I later realized that it was the questions and attitude, I saw the proverbial light and finally understood.

What’s wrong with me? Nothing! Why do other people not like me or understand me? Because they don’t understand, and if they don’t understand something, usually they don’t have a good reason to like it! What can I do to make them like me? Nothing, because if I have to do something to make someone like me, that’s not being true to myself. “Don’t sell yourself, only prostitutes sell themselves, just be yourself,” as my old professor once said.

So am I better than everyone else? Nope. I’m different, not better. Should I be with a good crowd of people who understand me? Well, it’s a two-way street. I didn’t understand why they found me so strange, and I always jumped to the conclusion that something was definitely wrong with me–or them. Actually, the key there is to try to understand what makes them think that way, which involves compassion and empathy–imagining myself in their position as part of a community and society with a defined identity as American or Asian-American, then they meet some guy who is an American citizen who grew up in several different countries but still doesn’t say he’s American when he clearly has a passport, so that’s where he’s from. If I try to understand what they’re thinking even if I know it’s very limited compared to what I know, I then know that it’s difficult for them to fathom my situation.

As I realized it’s difficult to meet others or make them understand, my expectations of others changed, as well as my interaction with them... I’d be careful of how I shared myself because I was self-aware of how talking about riding elephants and surviving mall bombings could make them see me as a boastful and arrogant rich kid; in their eyes, only those with money can afford to do all those strange things and travel a lot. And I didn’t look down upon them either, I saw them as people who grew up under very different circumstances. From this interaction, I could connect to fellow Third Culture People and non-Third Culture People. Some I could connect with better than I could with others too. Then I began to be more comfortable with myself, because my self-awareness increased.

Why then do I believe that it is our responsibility to understand before making others understand us? Because we’ve been through many things others haven’t, and it’s quite different growing up in countries some people never even heard of, let alone people who think they understand us and the countries we’ve lived in because they’ve learned it all in high school or saw it on television.

Don’t be the colonialist who forces ideals down people’s throats and gets angry at them for not understanding them, then pulls a gun and shoots them for not understanding. Don’t be the tragic artist who drinks hemlock to die because nobody can understand him or her. Be the self-aware, educated, patient, open-minded individual who doesn’t elevate oneself or please everyone. Be the individual who listens and tries to understand first, which we had to learn growing up amongst different people and different cultures.

There’s no need to share my life story unless someone actually wants to hear it. There’s also no need to get frustrated that very few can understand it. Not everyone will like me, but I can limit the number of enemies I make by being careful of how I talk about myself. I may not be boasting, but speaking about growing up overseas and how I fit the label of a TCK might sound boastful to others, and won’t win me any respect. It’s not about them being closed-minded, it’s about me having no self-awareness or patience and understanding for others...

No comments: