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Introversion & The Third Cultural Identity

“Why are you so quiet?”

Two things have happened with the rise of transnational jobs: globalisation has become a subject of study, and a hybrid tribe of people known as expatriates have raised a generation of children who no longer know where to call home. It’s difficult to explain where you’re from if in your adolescence you’ve moved countries and schools more than five times. What does citizenship then mean to you?

The current refugee crisis has demonstrated how our global society responds to those who flee from their native land: with frigidity and great hostility. The status of a refugee is dubious and dangerous to many people. A person who is fleeing is illegal and therefore dangerous: as if someone entering a new nation for which they hold no passport means they are an alien, and do not deserve the same respect as ‘true’ citizens.

As if they are not human.

Nations and borders are the norm, and they are not easily compromised even in the face of an emergency. Yet, whom better than those who try and explain to others that despite the citizenship bestowed upon them, they have grown up in different lands and hence do not identify entirely with the country that is meant to be their “home,” can empathise with the experience of refugees? These third-cultural kids may be nationalistic and patriotic, or simply indifferent, for they have understood that countries and nations function on the idea that a certain group of people obey and uphold the idea of both nation-state and citizenship.

For a third culture child, it seems over time, especially when one is placed in starkly different situations constantly, that needing to act according to those whom one is around leads to neurotic or voyeuristic tendencies. One suddenly becomes aware of the vastly different realities that coexist, and finding a sense of unity or connection to this prismatic external world becomes a survival necessity. These kids adapt and accept the realities hurled at them by their parents and grow up as expatriates, learning how to answer with great tact the question,

“Where are you from?”

However, that doesn’t mean they are saved from any alienation, confusion or dissonance with their surroundings, or even detachment from the world. Growing up as an expatriate nomad involves understanding that the world is rapidly changing, and that there are people, i.e. actual refugees, who do not share the privileges they have. They are escaping, just as expatriates did, but they are not protected like expatriates are.

It leads to an important question: as terrorism and fundamentalist forces, war, and economic injustice continues to drive people out of their countries either due to lack of choice, or for a desire to have a better life, how relevant are nation states today? Can we really continue, in the face of environmental disaster, food shortages and rising populations, to maintain the idea of nationality? Would it be madness to suggest alternatives, to find new solutions that don’t leave people feeling like actual aliens?

“Why don’t you speak?”

For a third-cultural child who has experienced both the privileges of a functioning social democratic state, and seen the worst forms of visible poverty it’s difficult to articulate what they feel they know: that the world has been, and continues to be unjust. Not all third-cultural children may feel this strongly, but on some level they do all understand what it’s like to say, “So my parents are from X, but I grew up in Y, so I’m a bit of X, but maybe more Y – I certainly feel at home in Y, but I also felt at home in Z. Sometimes I miss A and B as well, but then again I didn’t live there for long.”

Maybe you tend to say less and less. Perhaps the best way to respond to racist, bigoted, or simply ignorant people who will continue to perpetuate intolerance and hatred, to justify war and value other-ing, or not acknowledge their complicity or participation in the suffering of others, is to say nothing at all. Perhaps it’s not an illness to become introverted when feeling so isolated.

If one man’s truth is another man’s injustice, and those two men will never be in the same room together, their hypothetical interaction is best left unheard, and unrecorded. It’s outcomes best left unimagined. Perhaps this justifies introversion: a seemingly deranged hyper-awareness to what is likely to happen combined with a deeply tired resignation to it all.


Article by Tanisha
Edited by Rohini Srinivasan

Featured image by Thuy Tien Nyugen

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