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ATCKs – Returning Home, The Emerald City At The End Of The Road?

The following article was inspired by a comment exchange I had on Facebook with Soeren Keding in relation to an article that I published entitled, Discussion: Parents as the gatekeepers of your passport culture. The article discussed the parent’s role as guardian of everything related to the child’s home culture. In it, I wrote that a lot of parent’s could, albeit unintentionally, skew the opinion the child had towards his or her home culture and that my experience had been that the parents had given the child a bad impression of what home was like. In our comment exchange, Soeren stated that he had had the opposite experience and therefore I have chosen to write about it today. (FYI – I have not talked directly to Soeren about this. Everything written in this article has come from my imagination.) By the way, if you would like to keep up to date with our articles (we write about depression, anxiety, stress, phobia as well as, Third Culture Kids and Cross Cultural Living)  and read quotes and watch mindfulness videos, please like our facebook page. Link: https://www.facebook.com/crossculturetherapy/

Before I begin, I think it would be useful to introduce the term Third Culture Kids for those of you who don’t already know it. Third Culture Kids are people who have spent a significant amount of their childhood living in a country different to that of their parent’s passport culture. An example of this would be an American having been raised in Singapore.

In our comment exchange on Facebook Soeren stated that his parents had raised the expectations he had of his passport culture and that the expectations had subsequently taken a nose-dive when he had returned to live there. This is often the case when the parent’s have a western culture as their passport culture and are living in a less-economically developed country. Pop culture from the west, such as movies and music, would have been easy to find and the child’s expectations as to how the home culture was like, would have been flavoured by them. German Film director, Wim Wenders wrote similarly of his experience of moving to America. He has mentioned in several interviews what it was like growing up in West Germany, on how his thoughts of what America was like, formed whilst playing on a pinball machine and reading comics and magazines. He also mentioned how those thoughts had made his experience of America more disappointing as the “real thing” did not match up to what he had imagined.




In many ways, I can understand this feeling and I see how it is applicable to what many Adult Third Culture Kids go through when repatriating. A lot of people I know have moved back to their former host culture a few years after repatriating, because it had been too hard to assimilate. The main reason for this may have been unreasonably high expectations. A father or a mother may have painted up a rosy picture of how their passport culture was, holding back on a lot of the bad aspects. Visiting the passport culture in the short few weeks of summer break as a child would only add to the positive image one has of the country. It is like seeing a person you only meet every so often. On those occasions they may be nice, but if you were to live together they may not be.

A lot of what has to do with it, is the lack of information about day-to-day life in the passport culture. When we hear from our parents about our passport culture, they can tell us about the big festivals or even the big occasions such as winning The Football World Cup or winning a war however many hundreds of years ago. What they don’t tell us is about is the personality traits of the people there, the way of life (when people go to work, how long the shops are open, what people do on their free time) and how long winter can be. The reason why they don’t is obvious. It doesn’t come to mind. So we can’t really blame them for it. The fact of the matter remains, the further you are away from a place, the easier it is to cherry-pick information about it. Maybe we return to our passport culture and realise that people are overly introverted, or are shocked that shops are closed on sundays and there is nothing to do, or that it is dark all hours of the day in winter etc.

Yes, returning to your passport culture can be tough and most likely, it won’t be the emerald city at the end of the road but take solace in the fact that your difficulty in fitting in there means that you were meant for somewhere else.


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