Thursday, June 9, 2022


 I was very fortunate to present with Dr. Jessica Sanfilippo-Schulz in a talk for the World Food Programme's Family Liaison Outreach Community (FLOCK).  Our work was on TCK and CCK memoirs.

Here are some of the books I spoke about and some I would have spoken about if I had had more time:

I started with Salman Rushdie's Imaginary Homelands (1981), which is essays not memoir per se.  The titular essay, "Imaginary Homelands" has some lovely lines about geographic and temporal distance meaning that what is remembered as "home" is actually fictional.  Rushdie is not strictly TCK, though definitely multiply displaced (India, Pakistan, The UK, years in hiding from the fatwa, the United States).

I paired him with Michael Ondaatje's family history Running in the Family (1982)--for Ondaatje, trying to piece memories together requires collaboration.  Ondaatje is TCK (former Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, UK, Canada).

Akwaeke Emezi's memoir Dear Senthuran (2021) considers the result of multiple moves (nothing and no one seems real after a while).  Here (as in their autobiographical novel Freshwater), Emezi is interested in the psychology of ogbanje.  Their work makes me feel as though my brain is melting . . . a good thing in small doses.  Emezi is Malaysian/ Sri Lankan/Nigerian/ American.

Jane Alison's 2009 memoir is . . . astonishing.  It concerns an American and an Australian diplomatic family in which there is a partner (for Alison, a parent) swap.  Alison is Australian/American and her bio sometimes refers to her as "raised in the foreign service" which is interesting shorthand for a TCK upbringing.

Heidi Sand-Hart's Home Keeps Moving (2010) is a memoir of being raised a missionary kid in England, India and Norway.  She explicitly engages with TCK vocabulary, unlike the other authors I mention.  She is also the only one of the authors I have mentioned so far who is not also a successful novelist.  It shows in the prose style, which is more rawly confessional.

I threw in some novels too, because of how they catch autobiographical detail.  Yann Martel's The High Mountains of Portugal (2016) which I found peripatetically charming, and which features a mis- matched relationship between a chimpanzee and an Iberian rhinoceros.  I have written about this before.

I have written about Ondaatje's The Cat's Table academically.  I used it in the FLOCK talk because details about the Oronsay, and the protagonist's age when sailing alone on it from Ceylon to England are so exactly depictions of Ondaatje's own past.

I have never written on Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi.    Her work would pair very well with Yann Martel's, actually.  Call Me Zebra (2018) is rife with TCK and CCK themes.  Oloomi has other novels too.

I ended with some words from Pico Iyer (card-carrying TCK).  His Global Soul (2000) is iconic in writing about travel and dislocation.  

And finally, Aminatta Forna's The Devil that Danced on Water (2002).  I suspect her very recent The Window Seat would have excellent material too.

Ideally, especially for the World Food Programme audience, I would have liked to consider a couple of TCK travel narratives, perhaps jumping off from the award winning blogs listed on this site and my own work from years ago on that topic.  Something I have yet to investigate is TCKs in international aid writing memoirs.  I know those must exist, but haven't put the work into hunting them down yet.  I can recommend non-TCK Jessica Alexander's Chasing Chaos: My Decade In and Out of Humanitarian Aid (2013) as an interesting starting point in that genre.

And what about Ottessa Moshfegh's amazing Homesick for Another World (2012).  Short stories.  Love them.  Why have I not written about them yet?

In the FLOCK talk, I plugged my own book.  Here it is:

It deals with seventeen TCK fiction writers, and has a good bibliography (c. 2013).

Gerald Durrell My Family and Other Animals was one of my favorite books when I was ten. 

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Glossary (& Resources) to accompany Antje M. Rauwerda’s FIGT Research Network Talk, June 4, 2021.


 Looking for TCK novels? Try Heidi Tunberg’s TCK Resources: 

 Or a booklist I compiled for this blog (Needs updates!):


A cluster of terms about people who have relocated (used in Literary Analysis, but also widely in other disciplines):

 • Migrant (moves temporarily, e.g. “migrant worker”)

 • Immigrant (moves permanently to a new place, often adopts citizenship in new locale) 

• Emigrant (moves from a place) 

• Diaspora (originally from the Jewish diaspora—a scattered population whose origin is elsewhere. E.g. Indian diasporic population in England, Hong Kong diasporic population in Vancouver) 

• Global (Catch-all for anything people want to imply is international in some way! 

A footnote on problems: these terms often imply racial difference and power imbalances. 

 Two heavily theorized literary terms:

 • Postcolonial. After C19 European colonialism in Africa, India, Caribbean, Australia, Canada, NZ. Texts from formerly colonized countries, often engaged with the aftermath of the colonial encounter (racism, empire, recuperating indigenous and national identities). 

• Borderland. Spanning a border (e.g. First Nations peoples whose territories span the Canada/US border or, most commonly, migrant workers whose lives straddle the Mexico/US border) 

 Terms to compare with TCK: 

 1) Hybrid 

Hybrid is something mixed. It combines elements. A CCK might be hybrid . . . But a TCK (neither/nor, not an amalgamation) might not be. 

 2) Transnational 
Steven Vertovec “Transnationalism and Identity” 
“social worlds that span more than one place” 
“Circular flows of persons, goods, information and symbols”
 “tendency towards claiming membership in more than one place.”

 Nancy L. Greene The Limits of Transnationalism 
 “Transnationalism emphasizes the back-and forth-ness of interconnected ties” 

 “Circular flows” (Vertovec) and “back- and forth-ness” (Greene) (ie repeated crossings of the same borders) are not necessarily typical of the TCK. 

 “membership in more than one place”: TCKs feel neither/nor rather than the both/and.

 Transnationalism can happen at any age . . . And you don’t even need to be a person (“goods, information and symbols”) 

 3) Interstitial, Liminal, In-Between 
 Key Theorist: Homi K. Bhabha (Location of Culture, Nation and Narration

Interstice: usually, a small gap 
Liminal: a transitional area (e.g. a hallway), a threshold, a border 
In-Between: being in between things 

For Bhabha: diasporic populations are positioned on the line itself between one thing and another. 

 TCK is neither/ nor. 
 Liminal etc. are the actual dividing line. 

 Sounds like TCK, but isn’t: 

 Third World (a.k.a. “developing countries.” Used a lot in C20. Redolent with racism and neocolonial attitudes) 

 Third World Cosmopolitanism 
A term generated by Timothy Brennan in the 1980s: Essentially involves a “third world” postcolonial author who has relocated to a major “first world” city. E.g. Salman Rushdie. 

 Third Culture 
The Emerging Third Culture by John Brockman “In 1959 C.P. Snow published a book titled The Two Cultures. On the one hand, there were the literary intellectuals; on the other, the scientists.” In 1963, Snow expanded his idea when he “optimistically suggested that a new culture, a "third culture," would emerge and close the communications gap between the literary intellectuals and the scientists.”

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

June 4 Presentation for FIGT research network


“Third Culture Kid” and the Literary World 

Date: Friday, June 4, 2021

Time: 60 minutes. 9:00am EDT (New York) / 1:00pm GMT (Accra) / 3:00pm CEST (Vienna) / 9:00pm SGT, AWST (Singapore & Perth)

Location: Online (via Zoom)

Cost: FREE. Open to all. 

Join the FIGT Research Network for a discussion on the ‘Third Culture Kid (TCK)’ concept and research with Dr. Antje Rauwerda. 

I need “TCK” in my work.  Do you need it in yours?

“TCK” catches an experience of displacement that is usually invisible in Literary Studies.

As a college professor in a Literary Studies major, I spend a lot of time thinking about authors like Michael Ondaatje, Ian McEwan and Barbara Kingsolver: each of these is a TCK, but they are marketed as Canadian, British and American.  If their novels get taught in university courses, they are grouped with the novels of other Canadian, British and American writers. Focusing on the passport nationalities of these authors in marketing and teaching leaves out a great deal about the internationalism, dislocation and other TCK experiences they share.

The TCK experiences of the authors result in some surprising thematic similarities in their fictions, but without “TCK” as a term, there isn’t really any way for me to analyze how their novels are similar.

My discipline has highly theorized analytical terms like (im)migrant, diaspora, transnational, global, postcolonial, borderland, and liminal, but these do not capture the experience of spending one’s developmental years outside one’s passport nation.   

My presentation will first offer a brief and utilitarian description of some of the words used for internationalism in my field, with an emphasis on how they overlap with and differ from our construction of “Third Culture Kid.”  (I will provide a take-away glossary.)

Friday, February 5, 2021

Shame: The Next Frontier in Third Culture Studies

 I was recently at Transnational Literature's "Follow the Sun" Conference.  I was on a Third Culture panel (organized by Jessica Sanfilippo Schulz) with Jessica, and with Anastasia Goana (the dream team: we have paneled together before.  I hope we get to again).  "At" of course means "on zoom".  Look!  Here we are (Anastasia for the photo credit):

Zoom notwithstanding, the conference did what conferences are--at their best--supposed to do.  It stimulated thought/ exposed me to new ideas/ made me want to weep gratefully that other people out there in the world think that some of these issues are interesting too.

 I gave a paper on Third Culture and how it could function as a kind of nationality (nods to Benedict Anderson and Joanna Yoshi Grote, as well as Danau Tanu's work, which got me thinking along these lines in the first place).  I went on a bit of a tear about academia and methodological nationalism within our disciplines (which tend to be defined in terms of nation and so, even if our institutions like the hipness of "transnational" and boundary-crossing terms, these same organizations that fund our research and employment are stubbornly resistant to them). And . . . I wrapped up with some consideration of privilege, the problem of relegating host countries to mere backdrops, and shame.

Bambo Soyinka, who is sharp and articulate, and a pleasure to spend time thinking with, said of our panel as a whole that the issues of shame, denial and privilege kept surfacing.  Did they always have negative connotations, Bambo asked.

My answer was no.  In fact, I think turning to look those issues in the face is precisely where positive insights will emerge.  I want to write more about this.  I am, vaguely, beginning to cook a piece that deals with Jane Alison's The Sisters Antipodes and Sisonke Msimang's Always Another Country and the question of adult perspectives on a childhoods of comparative privilege.

In what I have so far on the question of shame, in a longer-playing article on TC Nationalism that I can't seem to get published, I quote Tanu's interview of an adult TCK dubbed "Afra"who grew up in Algeria.  That adult says of their childhood during times of political unrest, "I miss the riots."  Tanu notes that "some TCKs speak of developing countries as though their poor economic conditions or sociopolitical unrest were like adventure rides."  Oof, right?  At first, that TCK interviewee sounds like a bit of a jerk, except that what they really said had a specific intonation: "'I miss the riots,' said Afra, 'with knowing humor.'"  

Stop the train: that "knowing humor" changes everything.  'Afra" misses the riots (they miss their childhood home and its conditions), but Afra knows it is ridiculous, crazy, wrong, privileged, shameful, to say such a thing.

My contention is that the adult perspective on privileged childhood experience is something TCK scholars absolutely HAVE to deal with.  Here (from the article I haven't yet published), is why I think so:

What do you think?  Jessica Sanfilippo Schulz (who is quite the power-house in third culture literary work these days) wrote this to me in an email:

 By the way, regarding the comment about shame/guilt of last week, it is a recurrent theme in the four texts I have analysed (PhD thesis). As you illustrated, it is something that seems to occur retrospectively in adulthood. My first four chapters examine life writing written in adulthood and shame and guilt is always there, TCKs and refugees. BUT: in chapter 5 I explore life writing written by youth, and so far, I haven't come across shame and guilt much. Just at the beginning of one Vlog entry I am looking at and I am currently wondering how to tackle it / label it / explain it. I am writing the final chapter right now and will keep an eye on this theme. Another thing that I have noticed is that shame and guilt (so far the texts I have read) are only noticeable in texts by women. I haven't come across it in any of the other texts I have read by men. I therefore think that when it comes to looking at Jane Alison, you might want to compare the text with a memoir written by a man. 

My response, over email:

I have just had time to read this.   Goodness.  My jaw is on the floor.  There is my hunch . . . And then you go and back it up with a bevy of actual facts!  Hmn.  Well.  Seems like there is work to do.  I really like your idea of comparing a M and F memoirist. 

I like your blog idea too.  If I do one, would it be OK with you if I cut and pasted a few of your words from below?

So, Jessica: here is the blog post you requested :)

PS to everyone.  Do you think we will ever get past defining "third culture"?  I think literary terminology should provide us with useful tools, and TC has been useful to me . . . I confess, however, that I am tired of defining it, patrolling its borders, trying to make it cohere.  Jessica's conference paper branches out more into cross-culture, and Aminatta Forna spoke eloquently in her keynote at the conference about the transnational. . .

Comments welcome.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

How did "Postcolonial" do it? On "Third Culture" as an identifying category.

The college at which I teach is not unusual in imagining courses in American Literature, which cover literary texts by "Americans" of various kinds from various eras (contemporary, Black, Queer, Historical), and in British Literature, which likewise teaches texts by "British" authors of various kinds from various eras.  This requires faith in "American" and "British" as legitimate identities.

My college, like many, also offers courses in Postcolonial Literature.

If logic follows, one should be able to argue that "Postcolonial" is a legitimate identity.  Certainly it is a legitimate category for academic analysis.  The term is vexed with critique and the notion of "postcolonial" spans multiple continents. Yet, postcolonial literature, right or wrong, flawed or no, is a viable, and identity-based subject area.  Postcolonial texts are designated according to the biography of their author.

I point this out because I wonder how theoretical writings by authors like Spivak, Bhabha and Said-- reflecting on resistance to colonialism--facilitated a Eurocentric, homogenising discipline in which all formerly colonised nations are lumped together as objects of study in Western Scholarship (I believe Chandra Talpade Mohanty writes about this in her 1986 "Under Western Eyes").

On the one hand: OMG epic problem in which academia perpetuates a "There's the West and the Rest" binary (See Niall Ferguson, 2011).
On the other: Hmn.  Strategic Essentialism, anyone?

In "Subaltern Studies: Deconstructing Historiography" Spivak argues for “a strategic use of positivist essentialism in a scrupulously visible political interest” (pg?).  According to Oxford Reference strategic essentialism is "A political tactic employed by a minority group acting on the basis of a shared identity in the public arena in the interests of unity during a struggle for equal rights. The term was coined by Spivak and has been influential in feminism, queer theory, and postcolonial theory." 

An interpretation of "postcolonial" is that its essentialism is strategic: at least it exists in the Western Academy. Flawed, and homogenizing as the term is, students at least get to take the courses (and in them, or in my versions of them at any rate, historical, national and cultural distinctions are carefully drawn and contexts painstakingly taught).  

Enter Third Culture Kids, and Third Culture Authors:

Does everyone critique the terms over and over again?  Yes (as in postcolonial studies).

But do we still use TCK?  Yes, because it is gaining some traction/recognition (as was the case for postcolonialism which gained traction in the 1980s)

Is there a single nation of origin for "Third Culture"?  No (as in postcolonial)

Is a literary-analytical model predicated on author biography a problem?  Goodness yes!  Did Foucault not argue that the author is dead?  (And yet, all our literary disciplines are predicated on a myth of origins: American, British, Postcolonial . . . why shouldn't third culture be added to that list?)

Here's my thought: strategic essentialism is "scrupulously visible", in other words, it has an objective in mind and declares, openly, the short-term elision of nuance in order to achieve that goal.

TCK is "gaining traction": but only a little. 
Any one of you who has recently had a piece of academic work rejected by a journal that has no idea what you are talking about, and/or has had to rehearse ad infinitum a definition of third culture in order to educate your audiences or potential readers, knows there's a long way to go before this term is understood in academe.

Strategically: let's use the term even though it essentializes.  While we do so we can point out its flaws and nuances (as was done in the postcolonial studies of the 1980s and 1990s).

Goal: to be acknowledged as a "thing" in academia?

What is our "goal"?

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Jane Alison, Co-Ordinates, Return

In The Sisters Antipodes, TCA (Third Culture Author) Jane Alison writes "Sometimes I think we all have embedded in the brain a personal space like a home we've lost that lingers in our skulls"(5). I wonder.  Do we?

It's been a long three years for me in which I have not worked much on matters third culture.  I have been engaged instead in the unraveling of my parents's lives 3,000 miles away, the sale of their house, the death of my father, and my mother's transition to a nursing home.  To distract myself from all that, I wrote a novel and have thus joined the ranks of professors with unpublished novels in their desk drawers.  That manuscript has a plot absolutely rooted in the place in which I currently live.  Everything happens within a mile of here, where I sit typing this morning.  I was also department chair, and then program chair, during a time of radical restructuring at the college at which I work.  As my program's faculty dwindled, I was called upon to teach more historical literature than ever before.  Last year, I taught no international fiction courses, but did teach, among other things, Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales and The Inferno.  I like all that other literature too, but: Who am I?  Where am I?

This spring, in order to have the same citizenships as my children, I became an American citizen. At the citizenship ceremony, I cried when I sang the American anthem because what came out was my British schoolgirl voice, the accent of Welsh-Catholic hymn singing back when I was 14: Who am I?  Where am I?

Last week I bought a house, also within a mile of where I sit now, typing.  The mortgage broker gave me a present, a framed canvas with a map of Maryland and the words "Rauwerda  Home  est'd 2019" at the top, with the house's specific co-ordinates forming a banner across the bottom.

There is no more TCK issue than "Where are you from" and no more fraught topic for TCKs or really any adult trying to anchor their identity in the ever-shifting world than "where is home?"

Here I am, then.  I have specific co-ordinates and a return to The Questions.

Over the summer I have funding to write an article about whether third culture identity can be viewed as a kind of nationalism.

In the fall I get to teach a course on contemporary international fiction and one on transnationalism.

I will dig back into this blog too.  What to do with the bloated and unusable but impressively capacious list of authors, for instance?

Reading The Sisters Antipodes  this morning, I notice that in 1965 Jane Alison "traveled by train to San Francisco, where [she] boarded the Oronsay" (17).  What a fantastic co-incidence, for this is the same ship Michael Ondaatje writes of in The Cat's Table and indeed the same ship Ondaatje himself travelled upon in his 1954 journey from Ceylon to London!  (Additional discovery thanks to Wikipedia, is that the Oronsay featured in a 1958 British Comedy called The Captain's Table: clearly Ondaatje's The Cat's Table is riffing on that).

Inhale, exhale, welcome home.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Explosive diaspora: second generation TCK-ness (a personal rather than academic post)

I had an email from my uncle today.
That's an odd thing because I am not sure I have ever met him, and if I ever did it was at least 30 years ago.

My father was Dutch, born in Indonesia in the 1930s. Also born in Indonesia in the 1930s were his older brother, a sister, and another brother.  This cohort of siblings all spent years in Japanese prisoner of war camp and remarkably (good genes!) all survived.  The youngest brother, the one who wrote me today, was born in the mid-1940s (possibly in Ethiopia, possibly in Holland: I am not sure). 

The diasporic spread of my father's generation is huge:
My father went from prison camp to years lived in Holland, Belgium, Nigeria, Canada, Wales, Canada, Singapore, Ghana, Canada.
The oldest sibling lived in Belgium.
The sister lives in Italy.
The younger brother in his cohort lived in Namibia.
The  youngest, the one who wrote me, lived in Hong Kong and is now, I think, in Holland.

The youngest wrote me (East Coast USA) to ask for my mother's address (West Coast Canada), observing of his own disconnection from his much older siblings: "our family lived all in a different part of this world and a visit around the corner was not so easy."

Not so easy indeed.  It was nice to hear from my uncle.  Despite years and geography, he writes just like my father used to.  Is that in the genes also?