Third Culture

04 May

Who can relate?
Most of my life hasn’t been ‘standard’, as in: most people are born in, grow up in, marry (or not marry) in, work in… identify themselves in… and eventually die in their own ‘culture’, usually in their own country, usually within their familiar limits of normalcy. They know how life works, at least, most of them do. And if they get ‘out’, they can get ‘in’ and feel at home quickly.

Unless you stay ‘out’ for too long.

Especially if you stay out too long as a CHILD. Or adolescent. Anywhere in those years, really.

You find yourself balancing between sometimes clashing cultures, as a young one this is confusing. Nothing is clear, you don’t know which limits of normalcy apply..

Language proficiency has nothing to do with cultural identity any more. How are you supposed to be equally proficient in your ‘original’ first language if you have so little exposure to it? Meanwhile people expect you to bare your soul in a language you have no feeling in, how can you say how you feel if the language doesn’t have the words for it? And why do people judge if you pick something…. because it’s the closest thing you have to the ‘first language’ experience? It has nothing to do with cultural identity….

Speaking of which… growing up between cultures you never know who you are supposed to become…. somewhere between the two definitions of ‘normalcy’. You had no choice in being in this position, yet… one side expects you to completely adapt THEIR cultural identity if you want to be accepted, the other side wants you to remain true to your own people… and anything possibly different is met with frowns and/or grief.

The reality of life in between cultures is that
– you simply can’t be both
– things are never simple
– try answering the question ‘where are you from’.
– you never really feel like you belong, not where you are now because you’re a foreigner, not where you came from because you’ve been changed by where you went to.
– you become a sort of chameleon, but you’ll never be a leaf, or a tree. Leaves and trees don’t ‘get’ that you just can’t fit into their boxes.
– you almost never have the best of both worlds, you almost never manage to ‘please all’. What you choose to identify with will offend or hurt (depending on THEIR culture’s ‘normal’ reaction to someone not wanting to be 100% like them is) someone.
– ever tried intimate conversations in your second language? you just HOPE you said the right thing because it doesn’t feel like you feel like saying.
– you cherish the moments you feel ‘at home’, because there are so few of them. Not having to ‘pretend’ or ‘adjust’… sort of like playing a role… feels great.
– now… when you grow up in between cultures, fall in love between cultures, marry (or not) between cultures…. things are complicated. I mean, how many people have to face this difficult decision: WHAT LANGUAGE DO I RAISE MY CHILDREN IN?? Tough call.
For the record:
I grew up as an Afrikaner girl, and will always be that barefoot girl. I’m formally a ‘natural’ English speaker, I learned English outside of the home, Afrikaans inside of the home. I spent over half my life more or less in Holland. I don’t remember ever really feeling at home here, the why is complicated. My beloved boyfriend is half-Spanish, half Dutch (and that’s his preferred order). I’ve done all but the first years of formal schooling in a second language… which I wasn’t even fully proficient in for a great deal of the time.
I identify myself as South-African, Afrikaans, a white African, and perhaps as a third-culture child thanks to European influences. Not Dutch, never Dutch. There’s just too much about being Dutch that isn’t compatible with being me. I suppose I really am ‘undutchable’. I don’t want to be seen as Dutch in order to be accepted, I want to be accepted as I am. That doesn’t mean I’m not benefiting from the whole inter cultural thing, it does allow me to see things in a different light. I have gained wisdom.
As far as language goes:
I have no ‘first’ language, if ‘first language’ is defined as what you think in. I think in images, concepts. I have notes in which I used 3 languages in 1 sentence. Something about bilingual children’s linguistic development: they focus on the meaning of the word rather than on the actual word I think. If I HAVE to say which is closest to me, I’d say Afrikaans and English both are the languages my soul understand and speak. I’d get further on a formal language test in English perhaps, I have grade 5 in Afrikaans, but did as much as I could in English at university.
I did that because no matter HOW you define first and second language… Dutch most definitely is my second language. Learning in English is easier. My Dutch is excellent, on a good day I even get mistaken for a native speaker. But it’s not ‘mine’. My soul doesn’t speak Dutch, it remains a cognitive thing.
Oh, and I also speak a mouthful of French and German.


As for the future: I don’t know where I will go, what I will do. I just hope that I can find a place where I feel like I belong more often, maybe feel more connected.

The Dutch aren’t a very ‘connected’ people I suppose.

I am learning Spanish.


Because one thing I know for certain:
If we are blessed with a good marriage and some healthy very much Third Culture children…
They will speak Spanish, and I want to be able to at least understand them if they speak from the heart.

Even if there’s no real ideal language for me to raise them in. Whatever I do, it’s going to create distance.


But maybe, just maybe…
We can have ‘home’ together, regardless of how it fits in the ‘outside world’. What matters is who we are, and loving one another. And maybe we can find a place where the outside world values diversity over sameness. That would make life easier… and… MUCH more interesting.

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Posted by on May 4, 2014 in Dear Diary, society


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