When the question is asked, “where are you from?”
Most people give a straightforward answer. TCKs tell really long winded stories involving our parents’ career choices with boring political/historical details.
Then one of two things happen:
1) The person reacts with strong interest and curiosity and fires lots of questions. In my case, people often say,
“Oh, so you’re from Taiwan, your English is so good! I never knew people in Taiwan spoke such fluent English.”
Then, I’d have to explain that yes, lots of people in Taiwan speak good English, but I grew up in an American school environment where everyone spoke English. Local Taiwanese people speak Mandarin, or their dialect. And yes, I speak it as well, but I have better Mandarin than Taiwanese even though my parents exclusively speak Taiwanese to me growing up. Clear as mud, right? It drains me of energy to explain my complex background, often to the result of my conversation partner being more confused than informed. I end up feeling hurt, confused, and misunderstood.
Or, the other possibility,
2) The person is disinterested in my story. Their eyes glaze over and you see them subtly finger their smartphone, eager to turn the subject away from the story that IS MY LIFE. They’re either self absorbed or simply too ignorant and lazy to make the effort to hear my story. This leads me to feel hurt, confused, and misunderstood.
In order to cope with the above two scenarios, when encountering the question, “where are you from?”, we often resort to twisting the truth, giving an alternative concise, simple answer just to avoid the longwinded story. We begin to live the closeted life, carrying the burden of a secret identity, which over time, leads to feeling hurt, confused, and misunderstood.
To sum up, TCKs bruise easily. You can’t tell, because we seem so sophisticated and culturally savvy. We know how to pack a suitcase and know all the international flying tips. We are strong and resilient to change; always ready for the next adventure. But underneath that confident demeanor is a wound inflicted by tired conversations.
We need people to give us grace. We need to figure out how to get past the tired conversations into deeper relationships where our stories no longer become “conversations”. People who have tried to wade past the complexities allow us to have a respite from all the explaining. When instead of being caught up in the exotic growing-up stories so many of us have, they are focused on who we have become. TCKs come in all different shapes and sizes, it is hard to speak, literally and figuratively, a universal language when it comes to describing us. We want to be known for our specific interests, passions and dreams.
If there is an opportunity, observe a TCK when they meet one of their kind from childhood. You will notice exuberance from seeing an old friend, yes, but also a palpable relief from the tired conversations. Theres is a liberty which comes from being understood, known.
TCKs, how do you answer the question, “where are you from?”