I thought I would use today’s blog post as an opportunity to explore the many ways in which Adult Third Culture Kids react when they return to their passport culture. For those of you who do not know, the term passport culture refers to the country where your parents were born. The repatriation process can be very difficult for Third Culture Kids or Adult Third Culture Kids. The problems experienced during the repatriation process stems from a loss of identity. Not only does the Third Culture Kid lose access to friends and acquaintances, as well as stimuli associated with the host culture such as radio programs, smells, cuisines, languages, sounds, the mannerisms of its people when leaving their adopted home country, they find themselves in the precarious situation of appearing like they should know everything about their passport culture whilst, in reality, having minimal experience and knowledge of that culture.
Ironically, a good way of relating the experience of repatriation is by using the famous expression; If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. If an ethnically British ATCK returns to his passport culture after having grown up in Nigeria and Venezuela, having had attended a British School in those countries, there would be nothing to illustrate that the person is not from Britain. He or she would look British, be able to navigate British culture the same way as non-TCKs, and speak in a British accent. So where is the problem you may ask? – What if the person doesn’t feel British on the inside? What if the person only knows the superficial aspects of the British culture but is less versed in the more intricate parts and is therefore constantly feeling self-conscious about making a mistake and appearing strange? This is how hidden immigrants feel.
A hidden immigrant is a person who looks like they belong to the culture they are in but think differently from it. The hardware is the same, but the software is different. The interesting thing is to see how differently these hidden immigrants react in their passport culture. In Pollock et al, (p. 75) there is a description of four different types of hidden immigrants.
The Chameleon – Those who hide the fact that they have lived abroad and try their utmost to assimilate to their passport culture.
The Screamer – Those who make it a point to show and tell everyone of their experience as a TCK and constantly reinforce the commitment they have to their host culture(s).
The Wallflower – Those who find a non-identity and sit on the sideline quietly observing their passport culture and actively avoid engaging with it.
The Adapter – Those who simply are. They don’t try to conform or rebel against the passport culture and simply go with the flow.
I intend to write individual blog posts on each type in the future and also analyse how they can cause problems in cognitive thought processes. But for now, I simply wanted to start a discussion. I, for one, can tell you that I am a screamer even though I do my utmost to not be. The fact that I am ethnically Swedish and look nothing like a Hong Konger or a Japanese person makes me feel as if my return to my passport culture has erased my past. There is nothing to show that I come from or have ever lived in Hong Kong or Japan. Everyone who I meet naturally assumes I am Swedish and there is no way to point out the fact that I am not if I don’t bring it up myself.
The simple truth is I will forever be a boiled egg… white on the outside, yellow on the inside.
Stay tuned to this site for a future blog post wherein I describe, in detail, my experience of being a hidden immigrant in Sweden.
Founder of Cross Culture Therapy