What is home?
This is a question I’ve been wrestling with a lot with over the last few years. I don’t say this in the literal sense of course. The idea of home is such a challenging concept for a third culture kid, and, frankly, I’m not quite sure I have the answer to this one.
What is a third culture kid?
For those of you who don’t know, a third culture kid refers to “children who were raised in a culture outside of their parents’ culture for a significant part of their developmental years.” The complicated answer to where I’m from: I was born in Ireland, my parents are Egyptian and Sudanese, and I’ve lived in the U.S. since I was four years old.
One thing I realized growing up is that most third culture kids find comfort with people who are just like them. More often than not, you’ll find that folks tend to hang out with people of their own race. It’s not a conscious, purposeful, or racist thing. They’re simply seeking out the comfort of spending time with people they perceive to be similar to them; many times these similarities are racial.
Through a series of circumstances, I was never one of the kids who hung out with other Arabs in the U.S. I had moved 7 times by the time I turned 15, and found myself in predominantly African-American, Hispanic, and Asian cities respectively. There were a brief few years when I happened upon a group of Arabs, but I was always a bit of an outsider even then, due to religion. I’m not pointing fingers or blaming anyone, but religion plays a role in being a third culture kid, too.
My sister and I in traditional Arab galabeyas
I’ve always prided myself on being a “multicultural mutt”. My best friends are Hispanic, White, and Asian. My close Arab friend(s) don’t live in the United States. I’ve always liked it that way. I like that I can pick up little cultural pieces from my friends and their families. I like that I have the opportunity to dig deep and understand a culture through and through simply via constant multicultural exposure. What makes people tick? What ideologies do they have? There is no right or wrong way of thinking, eating, or living. There is simply humankind, and the way we approach life based on what we’ve learned from others and our experiences.
By chance, I was born into this third culture life. It was evident the first time I visited Egypt and Sudan that, despite my parents’ best efforts, I am very Westernized. But I think traveling has the possibility to turn anyone into a third culture
kid adult as well. Traveling shows you how people eat, learn, dance and LIVE in other parts of the world. It teaches you that around the world, people still value religion, tradition, and family life. It teaches you that cities and countries are more than what the media will ever portray. That kindness runs rampant despite horrific politics, war, and poverty. Every new city will change you, even if it’s just a tiny bit – hopefully for the better.
Whether I like it or not, the more I learn and absorb from other cultures, the more diluted I become from my own. The more I see, the more I experience, and the more I travel means the more I drift away from the many small nuances that make my identity wholly Arab. Or even wholly Arab-American. I can choose to reject the bits of the culture that I don’t like, and instead replace them with ideologies I do like. Which begs the question: where in the world is home? Where do I fit in, if anywhere? Where do I choose to live and how do I find my tribe?
My friends and family will always be my friends and family – there to support me, advise me, love me, and, hopefully, grow with me. But as I drift further and further from the grasp of what is defined as normal life, normal culture, normal rules and customs of the society in which I grew up, I ask myself – what is home? And the answer might just be – I have to create it.
Do you identify with being a third culture kid? What does home mean to you? Share in the comments below!