Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Here we are, after generations of privilege (from the teaching trenches)

writes for Denizen "my forever state cannot be running away, or wishing away, or whiling my thoughts away from here. And the “away” is slowly turning into a “here.”"  My freshmen students found this when I asked them to "poke around" several TCK sites to try and figure out what preoccupied TCKs.  They liked it.  They liked its insistence on being Here now.  They liked the idea of not running perpetually.

My freshmen students are not TCKs.  In fact, as a group, they have been openly hostile to studying third culture.  Of Jane Alison's Natives and Exotics they said "It's privileged brats whining about having no home" and " So they've said a lot of goodbyes, so what?"
Tough moments those, in the game of responding academically rather than personally.  Today's redirect in teaching Native and Exotics will involve pointing out that Alice, the TCK daughter of diplomats, repeatedly comments on not wanting to be in the position she is in.  Also, she sees and overhears her parents talking about foreign involvement in Ecuador, and her reiteration of their conversations critiques her step father Hal in particular.  So, the parents in the novel are neocolonists, but their TCK daughter is critical of such positioning.  And of course there are complications too: Alice's great great grandfather was one of Australia's colonial settlers, putting him on the negative side of colonial history.  However, he only ever left Scotland because of violent oppression at the hands of the English (who murdered his parents), putting him on a colonial-moral highground as unfortunate dispossessed.

Of course TCK IS privileged, "expatriate" is privileged. (Students at this nice liberal arts college?  Also privileged, by the way).  But maybe the thing is TCKs know their privilege and feel guilty about it? They are required to follow their parents, but I think they see more than their parents do about neocolonialism and  the exploitation that goes into comfy lives abroad.

In my senior seminar we have been reading Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, and recent conversations have revolved around how the surviving daughters (Adah, Leah, Rachel) grow up to become: a medical doctor, an impoverished wife in the DRC, and a hotelier for expats, respectively.

Putting the Seniors and their thoughts and the Freshmen and their thoughts together makes me think that Kingsolver is trying to answer the question "What to do when you recognize your TCK privilege?"  She presents us three options: become a doctor as Adah does (to eradicate diseases endemic to the less fortunate in less developed countries), marry your host country as Leah does (commit to it, give up your privilege, relinquish your right to vitamins and disposable diapers and live an unprivileged life) or reconcile yourself to being an expat, as Rachel does (living henceforth amidst expats and neocolonialists like herself).

Of the three Kingsolver presents, Rachel's choice (expat hotelier) is perhaps the least hypocritical.  Leah's choice seems smug, paternalist, as does Adah's.  Rachel, malapropist savante, simply  lives where she is, who she is, how she is.  She is a more honest Here.

This gives me pause, it makes me think.  TCKness should be able to be Here.  Not to exploit, or neo-colonize.  But to acknowledge, accept, and be honest about what TCKness is. Is it Disadvantaged?  On the whole, no (and it's a lie to pretend to it if you are not).
Must it become AID? Guh.  We know better the ways in which AID can sometimes equal paternalist condescension.
Is it foreign amongst other foreigners.  Often, yes.  Is that so very bad?  Perhaps.  But at least it is honest.  At least it knows.

This week a group of TCKs at my college had a skype life-coaching session with Kilian Kroell, and it was fantastic.  "Where do you go to the dentist?" he asked, revealing that for many of us home is where the dentist is!  He too emphasized Here, being here.  And then making concrete plans based on what one values.  He suggests perhaps worrying less about where one fits in and more about what one values.

Here.  What do we value, us TCKs?  Not neocolonial privilege, not condescension in the international sphere.  But what?

PS.  On a personal-political note:  Writing Out Of Limbo linked this  Wall Street Journal article today "Please Don't Call My Child a Third Culture Kid" .  It's a timely addendum to my piece as it rejects the term TCK because of the privilege the term connotes.  (It also has a quotation from a TCK who thinks Fourth Culture Kid, for TCKs of colour, is a good idea: I kinda like that).

Here, and pardon my gut, is a thought: generally TCK IS privileged.  I don't think we should or ought to dissemble.  I don't WANT to be on the "side" of the exploiters, the neocolonial, the problematic expat.  No one does.  Teaching in Baltimore (Freddie Gray died here), I don't want to be white either.  I cannot simply say, however, "I don't like to be called white because it's privileged"; I have to accept that I have privilege and decide what I want to do about that.  I feel the same about TCKness.  I don't want the privilege it connotes, but honestly I think I need to own it, and decide what I want to do with it.

 PPS  Rachel Cason has intelligent and thoughtful responses to both the necessity of the term TCK and the problems of conflating it with privilege (which I do above *ahem*!  My bad.  Always learning.)  Cason's work is in the post "Third Culture Kids – a nonsense label?"  Check out the rest of her blog too.


  1. Thanks Antje! I used to live down the street from Goucher and have many friends still in Balto. :) I have to say that I know so many TCKs who are NOT overly privileged, and at the same time, when they grew up in developing countries their standard of living may have seemed very high, in comparison, only to return to their passport countries to find that they were considered poor. Actually, that is part of my story after living in Kenya and returning to the US... I do accept the privileges of growing up mobile and exposed to so much that stretched and opened my world and for that I am grateful- but there was also a price to pay. That is the unavoidable 'AND' of TCK life. Thanks for sharing. PS. Do you have Ted Dekker's books? I've enjoyed him. (Indonesia TCK)

    1. Hi Michael! Thanks for writing. I think getting non-tcks to see the "unavoidable AND" as you put it is one of the trickiest parts of writing about and publicizing this field. Balto is an interesting place to be. Goucher is drumming up a TCK club, and has more and more TCK events each year. Perhaps we can lure you back here at some point? I have read Ted Dekker! Apparently he was at the same school in Papua as William Paul Young (The Shack) AND academic writer/pilot TCK Larry Lake.

  2. I just found this per chance. Thanks for referencing my essay. I guess it's about traversing our privileged upbringing and at the same time dealing with the dizzying feelings of "homelessness".

    1. Thanks Mareike! Sorry it took me a while to see your comment :)