Hello and welcome to Wherapy’s first blog post. My name is Philip Andersson. I am the founder of Wherapy and here is my TCK story (Third Culture Kid Story).
So, What Is A Third Culture Kid?
First of all, I would like to introduce the term to you. TCK – Third Culture Kids – refers to persons who have spent a prolonged period of their formative years in a culture different to that of their birth-parents. In other words, Third Culture Kids are the children of expats.
When Third Culture Kids are grown up we refer to them as ATCKs or Adult Third Culture Kids. This is to differentiate between the problems Third Culture Kids face as adults, and those they experience at a younger age. I am an Adult Third Culture Kid currently living in my passport culture, Sweden.
Passport culture is the term we use to refer to the country of our birth parents. We choose to use this term to help non-Third Culture Kids better understand our affiliation with the different countries we have lived in. Rather than saying that I’m Swedish (because I’m definitely not Swedish), I say that my passport culture is Swedish and that I have lived in England, Hong Kong and Japan as well.
The Beginning Of My Life As A Third Culture Kid
My story begins when I was six months old. My father worked in Stockholm for a company called ABB who had chosen to relocate him to London. My parents knew that we were going to move to England before I was born so they gave me the English spelling of the name P-H-I-L-I-P rather than the customary Swedish one F-I-L-I-P.
I don’t remember much about England the first time around (we’ll get to that later) but based on stories that I have heard from my parents, the experience of living in a household that speaks Swedish whilst being part of a community that speaks English, caused me to become a very quiet child, to the extent that doctors thought that there was something wrong with me. I spoke my first words much later than other children. We lived in Raines Park until I was three years old, then we moved to Hong Kong.
Juggling Three Cultures – The Intricacies Of Being A Cross Culture Lifestyle
Hong Kong is where I became a conscious human being. It was where my first memory was formed; of a yellow bird we kept in a brown lacquer cage, of our view of the sea, the old Chinese ships sailing past, and an ornament of a parrot that was stuck to the wall next to my bunk-bed. This is also where I found the role-models in my life, the caretaker of our apartment complex, part-time philosopher and former gambling addict, Mr. Sit and a Filipino handyman and family friend called Larry.
Growing up as a Third Culture Kid is a truly unique experience, one that I will never forget. From the age of three and all through my school years, my daily life consisted the amalgamation of three cultures; my home culture, which was Swedish but not authentic Swedish, my school culture, which was British, since I attended schools that were part of the English School Foundation, as well as the societal culture, which was Hong Kong – Chinese. In the span of a few hours I would interact with all three of them. The one constant aspect of this system was that I was not (and definitely felt not) like a fully-fledged member of any of the three cultures.
Safe and Secure. SSL Encrypted.
At home it was obvious that I did not know a lot about Sweden. We spoke Swenglish. (To this very day my sister and I almost always speak English to each other.) My parents did not feel the need to teach me about the Swedish culture, since it is not customary to teach people culture. Culture is inherited but in the case of Third Culture Kids it is not fully transferred onto the children.
When non-Swedish people would ask me about various aspects of my culture, I would not be able to answer them and when I went back to Sweden I wasn’t able to join in on any discussions about popular culture without feeling like a fraud. At school I moved between groups of local students and western, predominantly British, Australian and South African, students.
A lot of my western friends had a shared culture due to colonialism. In fact, my nickname was Sweden and the identity they afforded me was that of the foreigner, or the outsider, which I took on and made my own. It was perhaps most obvious that I was not part of the societal culture. My ethnicity was not the same as theirs, and the socio-economic status that the majority of western families had in Hong Kong were not relatable to the local population either.
We were living in different worlds, which I had the authority to pass through to and from my way to school. But subconsciously, I had taken on a lot of their values. This became most apparent when I returned to my passport culture. Whenever I was in Sweden I felt defensive of Hong Kong, I adopted the identity of a Hong Konger and made others aware that I was not the same as them.
The Aimless Wandering Of A Third Culture Kid
Travelling between my passport culture and my societal culture was another aspect of my life that felt unsettling. During the summer and winter holidays we would go back to Sweden to meet up with friends and family that we had not seen for a long time. At first this was very enjoyable. I liked seeing snow in the winter and playing football on a grass lawn (not many of those in Hong Kong) during summer.
But when I got older, my social life became more important to me and the summers and winters turned into a sort of purgatory. My life was on hold for those months and relationships that were blossoming in the weeks prior, be they romantic or friendly, were not easy to get going again once I came back, and there didn’t feel like there was much point trying to get to know people in Sweden because I only had so many months or weeks left before I would return to Hong Kong and not see them for a year.
My life as a Third Culture Kid got slightly more complicated when I was seventeen. My parents invested in a holiday home in Thailand, something which many westerners did in Hong Kong at the time. My mother moved there part time and eventually settled there and I had to fly back and forth between the two until I moved country. During my last year in Hong Kong I felt like a bubble was bursting.
As most adolescents do, I experienced a sense of animosity towards my home town and was itching to leave. Since I had attended a British school, I had chosen to move back to London. Sweden and Hong Kong were simply not viable options for me. But during the last fews months in Hong Kong, I slowly became aware of the fact that the country had rubbed off on me. Ironically, I had spent sixteen years there without knowing it.
I arrived at the University of London, in the midst of an identity crisis. My ethnicity was western and no-one would assume that I belonged to Hong Kong if I didn’t tell them so and I spent the entirety of my three years there making everyone aware of it. I felt it a part of my duty. I felt defensive of my past identity. The societal culture in the cross cultural upbringing that I had in Hong Kong had burst and I was desperately trying to maintain the balance.
Other than that, my life in London consisted of many of the same things. During the holidays, my life was on hold, I took on the identity as the foreigner, and relationships were hard. After three years, I decided it was time to move back to Asia, but I did not want to move back to Hong Kong, partly because I knew I would return to my old social circle and also because I knew that my life in Hong Kong would be very different from what I had experienced as a kid. This is an aspect of the Third Culture Kid experience that not a lot of people know about. The vast majority of Third Culture Kids have parents on expat contracts, which means that their salary is very good, they get a country club membership, a company car, and their rent and school fees are paid for. In Hong Kong the rent of a small one-bedroom apartment could be upwards of 35,000 HKD and school fees could amount to 15,000 HKD a month. To me, this was an unsustainable lifestyle. The Hong Kong that I would be returning to would be a completely different world. So I decided to move to Japan and I lived there for six years. I learnt the language and had many Japanese friends but again, my identity was as the foreigner.
Now I live in Sweden and work as a psychotherapist. But I am not Swedish – I try to remember that. I have great pride in my upbringing. I love Hong Kong, England and Japan and will always be an ATCK.
Founder & Psychotherapist