A TCK’s Point of View

Posted: 23rd November 2013 by admin in Uncategorized

Note: You can see this post with its pictures at Cross Cultural TCK


I speak English, Arabic, Spanish and French. In Dubai, nobody seemed to think it was at all special. With friends who were so culturally mixed where one spoke French, Dutch, English and Arabic, another who spoke Farsi and Italian, and another Czech and Arabic, my linguistic ability was not out of the ordinary. In fact if you know any Lebanese or Moroccans, you would know that even the combination of my particular set of languages isn’t anything special.

When I moved to England after Dubai, I got asked “Are you Canadian?” a lot! When I would tell them where I was from, they would immediately comment on how well I spoke English! People were surprised that a person from a non-English-speaking background would speak the language so fluently, even native-like. I have had this experience in Australia too. When I told my friends at the gym that I was going to Argentina to visit my family for Christmas, they were surprised “We thought you were Canadian!” And then this is usually followed by “You speak English so well!”
In Argentina, I was usually mistaken for a [insert South American country] when I spoke Spanish, but in Spain it was the opposite. “Are you Argentinian?” was a usual reaction to my accent.


In Canada, the Quebecois told me I sounded too snobby with my ‘posh French’, when that was the French I learned at school. In France, I was told I had a slight Quebecois accent – after 3 years there, I adopted it I suppose. My Belgian friends said I had a ‘news reporters’ French – no dialect, very neutral and clear pronunciation. Speaking of Canada, Montrealers always asked me if I was from Ottawa!


In Lebanon I was perceived to be Syrian when I spoke Arabic, and in Syria I was perceived to be Lebanese.


And on the subject of Arabic, in Australia I’ve come across yet another new and interesting experience.


On a couple of occasions when I’ve met Arabs in Perth, I was told their surprise at how good my Arabic was! Apparently, when you hear my very North American English you don’t expect a very native Arabic dialect to come out of my mouth!


I recently visited the Lebanese Bakery in Perth for the first time. At the check out counter, I struck up a conversation with the cashier, who also spoke some Arabic. She was so friendly and commented, “You speak Arabic so well!”


“I’m Lebanese!” I told her. She had already made that assumption but was still impressed with my Arabic skills. So then I said “No, I mean, I really am (as in, not just by heritage), I grew up in the Middle East, so of course I speak Arabic”. That somehow went over her head. We switched back and forth between English and Arabic. I told her a little bit about my family, where we had come from, how we’d just immigrated to Perth. “Your accent is so authentic” she kept saying, as if still in disbelief. I stopped trying to explain myself at that point


I feel that my experiences on the language front alone are such a great example of life as a TCK. You are from everywhere and nowhere at the same time. You’re not quite from country A or country B, but country A thinks you’re from country B and country B thinks you’re from country A, or potentially even country C!
It’s easy to say that it’s a great position to be in, because you do feel like you can get along with just about anyone. And you do feel like you can adapt everywhere, are more flexible perhaps and you feel so lucky that you have had that incredible international life. At the same time it’s sad, but not just for the obvious reasons (the moving, the changes, the instability). If the whole world was one big ball of TCKs, I wouldn’t feel so alone in my opinions or interactions. It’s just that the world isn’t there yet. In fact, it’s nowhere near there. We are still branded by the passport we carry, the way we look, the accents we have or the languages we speak.

In that sense, I feel very alone. My TCK friends are scattered all over the world, none of them in Australia. I’ve met a lot of Third Culture ‘Adults’ through my son’s international school, and they are some of the most awesome people whom I’ve been fortunate to come across, but you can’t escape those cultural references that are sometimes made by a group of people from a particular country; they understand each other and have a natural sense of kinship. That’s not to say they don’t like you!

As a TCK in Perth, Western Australia (which apparently is the world’s second most isolated city?) I feel very alone.  I don’t feel like I belong to any particular group and the fact is, I probably never will on this side of Australia (unless there’s a TCK group in Perth that I don’t know about, that is over the age of 30!)

However, I do thrive on learning about different cultures and there’s no end to that in this part of the world, and within the group of international friends that I’ve made here.

So, although there is the loneliness, I will choose to focus on the daily interactions, enriching myself with them and maybe one day, my Third Culture Adult friends and I will have that special bond from a time shared on this Australian continent. Because we all know that our time in WA is limited and soon they will move on to their next posting, as TCKs normally do.

Change is hard, but when change is consistent, then at least that’s a constant state in itself! Here’s to constant changes… and to new languages, new friends and new experiences always!

Signing out,
The Argentine, The Spaniard, The Lebanese, The Syrian, The Canadian, The Quebecois, The French…. [Happiness is being able to keep adding to this list]

  1. Anonymous says:

    No matter how advanced the technologies might be i think nothing will replace being physically there with someone!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Adela? Yo soy la hija de Jose! Sos la hija de Matilda no???