Tag Archives: immigration

Identity and the Third Culture Kid (TCK) experience

TCK Image for blog post

How would you identify yourself if you grew up in several different places? This is the first in a series of posts about the TCK experience. Third Culture Kids spend part of their childhood outside their parent or home culture. In this post, I’ll take a look at how young adults who grew up as TCKs, understand their identity construction.

“I moved to three different schools and in each one I actively changed my identity. Not to fit in, but to make the transition easier.”

 

We identify ourselves in a way that is complex and fluid. We like to take comfort in the security of defining ourselves and others in absolutes; but it’s really not easy to pin down essentialist ideas. We are multifaceted and don’t always fit into confined pigeonholes. We change over time and in different social environments. The way that we now exist as part of a globalised world, adds layers of complexity to identity construction.

“… identities are never unified and, in late modern times, increasingly fragmented and fractured; never singular but multiply across different, often intersecting and antagonistic, discourses, practices and positions.”

Stuart Hall

I interviewed three young adults who have migrated across nations and cultures as children- A Danish national, an Australian and a Dutch citizen of mixed Dutch and Mexican ethnicity. They grew up as Third Culture Kids (TCKs), young people who followed their parents as they worked in different countries. I wondered how these former TCKs, now adults, identity themselves. Did they change themselves as they changed their perception of ‘home’?

Screen Shot 2017-08-08 at 9.23.41 PM

Pablo Picasso: Girl before a Mirror

The interviewees made it clear that defining themselves is complicated. “It’s not simple”, a former TCK stated, “I would be a completely different person if I had grown up in one place”. And when asked if it is more difficult to work out your identity as a TCK, the interviewees answered yes, “It’s harder than the average person. I know what I’m not and I know what I am, but it’s not so clear-cut” and “I’ve changed a lot in different countries”. The TCK adults agreed that they created their own identity and this self-construction occurred in different contexts, “I moved to three different schools and in each one I actively changed my identity. Not to fit in, but to make the transition easier.”

 

I was also interested in how their identity relates to nations. In 1916, Dewey stated that the late 19th Century emphasis on nationalism and nation building passed onto education. This tendency has been maintained in education systems, where children are taught to be good national citizens. What about Third Culture Kids who grow up in several nations?

 

“I can still feel Australian but I think a lot of that is just because I held onto it. ”

 

There was an acknowledgement from the interviewees that nation and identity are consciously manipulated, “ Yeah I’m Australian. Not fully Australian… but it is the part of my identity that I wanted to cling onto… I made an effort to make contact with other Australians. I can still feel Australian but I think a lot of that is just because I held onto it”. The Danish TCK adult felt very connected to the nation, attributed to spending a longer significant period of childhood in Denmark, but at the same time questioned the essentialism of national identity, “I still feel like I’m 100% Danish…. I don’t know what it means to be Danish…Are you Danish because you like Danish food? It really depends on where you are from in Denmark”. And when it comes to choosing a passport identity, it’s a pragmatic decision “I have a Dutch passport because it’s easier.”

 

Identity is evidently something that happens discursively, in flux, and can happen in different ways, even while identifying others. We tell stories about ourselves in forming our ever-shifting identity. These narratives are multiple, stitched together and altered in different contexts. For the adult TCKs interviewed, their identities have moved and narratives changed in their many contexts.

References:

Dewey, J. (2004). Democracy and Education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York, N.Y.: Dover Publications.

Hall, S & Du Gay, P. (Eds.). (2015). Questions of Cultural Identity. London: Sage.

 

 

 

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Global Citizenship and the Language of Immigration

This post is dedicated to International Migrants Day, observed on the 18th December. My parents were migrants. I am a migrant now, though mostly living with the more respectable middle class, yet often colonial, badge of ‘expatriate’. I have always insisted that immigrants are among the hardest working people on the planet. Migrants are global citizens.

A contradiction that is difficult to understand is how educational institutions and international organizations aim to create global citizens, yet the real world restricts these internationally minded 21st century citizens from moving. Migrants are vulnerable to exploitation. They become political scapegoats. And in senseless restrictions, governments prevent their own citizens from engaging with difference- inhibiting their economic cultural competence. And in curbing international students, strangle the power of cosmopolitan education.

A dehumanized language of exclusion is used to describe migrants. The mass media and political rhetoric reduces humans to numbers or refers to them as “illegal” and “scroungers”. The Migration Observatory at The University of Oxford analyzed more than 40 million words used by British newspapers to describe migrants. The analysis showed that words with connotations of water were used across print media, such as “influx”, “wave” and “flood”. The use of this metaphor is powerful in shaping public perception- it dehumanizes people and creates an imminent catastrophic threat.

<http://www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk/press-releases/migrants-newspapers-influx-illegal-failed-economic-terrorists>

Juxtaposing the aggressive media immigration fervor, we have the cute popular culture icon of Paddington Bear representing the sanitized, yet still not human, migrant experience. Immigration lawyer, Colin Yeo, exposed the pretense of the popular fantasy in a brilliant review of the new film, making it clear that poor Paddington wouldn’t stand a chance of overcoming the legal hurdles.

<https://www.freemovement.org.uk/an-immigration-lawyer-reviews-paddington/>

So how do educators, particularly literacy educators who promote human rights and global citizenship, inject the humanity into a study of immigration? I suggest a primary focus on the language of migrants- real people with stories and feelings. This humanizes students’ production of knowledge.

Making contact with migrants in students’ families and communities strengthens understanding of commonality and transnational values. Students can compile oral histories from migrants. The language of these commentaries can be analyzed, student reflections can be made in journals and the histories even dramatized to encourage empathy.

Poetry provides an accessible exploration of the language of immigration through the eyes of people who have lived it. I have listed and described some useful poems about migration that could be used in the upper primary and secondary classroom. If you have any other recommended poetry by migrants, please leave a comment below the post.

Antigone Kefala’s The Alien expresses the fear and powerless isolation of the migrant experience, “I am naked, engulfed in tentacles of emptiness”.

<http://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/kefala-antigone/the-alien-0059011>

Uyen Nhu Loewald’s ironic Be good, little migrants highlights the exploitation of immigrants.The poem conveys the frustration of knowing one’s place- that to be allowed into a country is not equal to inclusion.

“Give us your faithful service

sweep factories, clean mansions

prepare cheap exotic food

pay taxes, feed the mainstream”

<http://identities.asiaeducation.edu.au/resources/resources_landing.html?resourceId=2970>

Ruth Paddel’s collection The Mara Crossing unifies human movement with animal migration, making both a part of the ebb and flow of the Earth and history. In Time to fly natural images are listed next to human needs and hopes. Comparing humans to animals illustrates the natural order of movement “you go because you need a place to shed your skin in safety”.

<https://soundcloud.com/new-networks-for-nature/ruth-padel-time-to-fly>

James Berry uses the simile of a bird to describe migration in Black kids in a new place, “I’m like a migrant bird who will not return from here.” The tension of the trapped bird then shifts to permanence and hope with the metaphor of a tree “I am a transplanted sapling, here, blossoming”.

Peter Skrzynecki’s Migrant hostel also draws on images of birds to describe the migration experience, “We lived like birds of passage”. The theme of exclusion is expressed through images of obstructions, “barrier” and “gate”.

<http://www.poetryinternationalweb.net/pi/site/poem/item/17859/auto/MIGRANT-HOSTEL>

There is also an impeding image of the door in Adrienne Rich’s Prospective Immigrants Please Note. When a migrant goes through the door, a symbol of cultural assimilation, an identity struggle occurs “there is always the risk of remembering your name”.

<http://vimeo.com/39836802>

 

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Filed under 21st Century education, global citizenship, language analysis, poetry