Third Culture Kids: Birthplace and Belonging

My Australian husband and I, (an American), met, got married and our two boys were born in Shenyang, China. Then 4 years ago we made the decision to move to Australia. 20140326_101820

We moved when our children were 7 years old and 6 years old. Previous to moving to Australia they had only ever been to Australia on vacations. Home was China.
When we lived in China the children answered the question, “Where are you from?”, by saying, “I was born in China and I am from America and Australia.” Confusing but the best answer we could come up with.
Moving to Australia posed a problem because how could they answer that question in a way that would explain why they had American accents but had never lived in America? None of the answers we came up must have really been all that great because the boys refused to use them. So many times I saw or heard of one of my children confusing someone else’s child by saying they were Chinese.
China 1Other than this our settling process was wonderful. Sometimes we had trouble keeping up with the differences in the Australian schooling system but they were making friends and we were all adjusting.
The children still mentioned wanting to go back to China and missing friends but that was normal and very healthy. We talked through these times as a family. We made a choice not to take the children back to China for at least 2 years to allow us all to settle into our new home.
A few weeks ago we were able to take our entire family back to Shenyang for a week. The boys were able to visit their old school, spend lots of time with friends, see the sites and eat food we had missed for 4 years. Before going we talked about the trip a lot, about what it meant.
We made sure  talk about what they most wanted to see and  to do and what they really missed. Even though some of the answers,(room service?), could have seemed silly we tried to take everything into account and do the best we could to see and do those things that meant a lot to the boys. While in20140326_102525 China we took time to talk with the boys and adjusted the schedule more, where needed, for them.
Before the trip, we as parents  thought that this would be a good chance for the boys to realise that China was not the same as when we left. We had imagined, in short, that this trip would help them to understand that the picture they had in their minds as “China” was something that had changed in the 4 years they had been gone.
Well, we were very wrong. TCKs, (Third Culture Kids), are very resilient and it turns out, adjust well to small changes and that is how they saw the changes to the place where they had been born. A lot of friends were still there and there were new friends. TCKs, it turns out, are also amazingly welcoming to those they accept as one of their own. Yes, some places were gone but the new places were cool and fun. So the last day of the trip there were tears as they realised it was time to get on the air-plane to go, “home”. They were going to miss people and places all over again.
 Darren, (my husband), and I were left wondering if we had actually done the right  thing or not. We talked over the whole process with the boys again but you cannot take away the sadness of missing a place just by talking or hugging.
Thankfully the story has a happy ending though. Somewhere during the very long plane ride from Shenyang to Perth, Australia our boys had time to think it all through. Wh288_16188737851_5952_nen the plane landed in Perth they said, “We are really happy to be back… Perth is home.”
This does not mean that the process is over for us. One of the interesting things to come out of this trip is that we have needed to explain citizenship to the boys again. Questions like: Why aren’t we Chinese, we were born there? Are we 50% American and 50% Australian?
We have had explain that China does not allow citizenship by birthplace but only by descent and that by descent they are 100% American and Australian. We have also had to try and explain that if they were born in another country with different laws they might have been able to add another country to that.
They both still answer the question, “Where are you from?” in different ways. My favourite answer at this point is ,” I was born in China and my mother is American and my father is Australian.”, because you cannot tell a person what their citizenship is, they have to claim it for themselves. This is why we will continue to speak Chinese, h10623_150072367851_6213502_nave scrolls in our home, eat Chinese food and travel with them back to China, because they claim China and that is a good thing.
The trip also brought up some interesting questions for us and our society to answer. One of my close friends mentioned that her country has citizenship laws that state that only the first generation child can be a citizen by descent. The next generation must be born in the passport country or become a child of a country they are born in. What does this mean though for children born to two parents who are citizens by descent and have a child born in a country like China that does not count you as a citizen simply by being born there? Are we ready for those children because I truly believe they are coming. One of my other friends responded to this question by saying that these children would be the test case and that governments would have to deal with it sooner or later. Very true.
I would love to tie this up and say that this is how you help TCKs be happy20140326_103427 and love all the countries that they are from and feel like the country they live in is home but home for a TCK is wherever all the people they love are and all the people they love are spread out all over the world so there is no easy answer. I think we can only keep talking with them and I think accept that your children are not from where you are  from just because you call that country home. Your children will be from wherever they choose to be from and your family will be happiest when you can all accept that.
Are you looking for more information about TCKs? Try one of these links;  TCKID,  Interations, or Denizen.