Are You My Grandma? - Observations from a TCK

by Jo Clifford
Posted on 1st February 2007

Arriving at Heathrow airport at 6 o'clock in the morning and being swooped up in a hug by a grandmother I hardly know.... Walking in Maasailand scrub and seeing an antelope grazing five metres away from me.... Sitting in an aeroplane, waving goodbye to friends I might never see again....rushing home for break time because today we have fried flying ants as a treat...Seeing the sunrise as we climb to the peak of Mount Meru (4500m)....being ill with amoebic dysentery again...seeing brightly coloured fish and corals while snorkelling in Mombasa...flying my Dad's plane ...translating for my parents from German into English...knowing God is in control no matter what happens.

These are just some of the memories of growing up as a Third Culture Kid. People going abroad often ask me, whether I think taking your child abroad is a good thing. Or in other words is the life of a TCK 'Deprived or Privileged'? My answer to that is, You are asking the wrong question! Wherever you grow up in the world there are benefits and challenges. Growing up as a TCK has its own benefits and challenges. The second half of my answer is that I have never met a TCK who wishes they had grown up differently.

Growing up in Tanzania, I didn't realise that I was any different from any other British child, I knew I could speak some other languages and I lived in a different place...but I was still the same as the other children wasn't I? It was when I returned to the UK to study at university, I discovered that maybe I wasn't as British as I thought...

Arriving in sunny Bangor for my first day at university I had no idea what challenges I would face...
First thing I had to learn was how to go shopping regularly. Where I had lived, there hadn't been much to spend your pocket money on...In the end I paid everything in cash in order to get an understanding for money and how much everything cost.
Secondly came the winter...the art of keeping warm for so many months is still something I am learning. I spent my first winter wearing six layers on my top half and leggings under my jeans...
Being different and thinking differently was also a benefit at university, where difference is celebrated.
It did take me a year to learn how to use the coke machines. I had managed to skilfully avoid using them until a friend asked me to get a coke for her. Thankfully she was very understanding when I came back and asked if she could show me how to do it.

I have now been in the UK for nearly ten years and have adapted to the British lifestyle (mostly) and don't feel quite so alien as I did when I first arrived. It is only occasionally that I get tripped up by a lack of knowledge of the British culture.
However when no one is about I will often turn on my African music, turn up the heating and relax. I now live and work in a multicultural environment here in the UK, where all my cross-cultural skills and languages are used and maybe I don't stick out as much.

I was different in Africa because of the colour of my skin, I am different here, because the way I think, and the most comfortable place for me is straddling cultures. This is not a better place or worse place...it is just different.

Jo Clifford began the Xenos ministry geared to supporting TCKs of all ages on home leave or permanent return to the UK and probably best known for their regular TCK weekend camps. Jo is a TCK herself having grown up in Africa. Visit the Xenos website at www.xenosmk.org