The Third Culture Generation

Updated: Jan 24, 2020

We are all third-culture kids in the millennial society. The term ‘third-culture kid’ is used to describe the youth who are a product of their birth culture and their adopted culture. However, regardless of our background, we all identify with our own individual culture and national identity. The hybridisation of culture is normalised today, exemplified in the importance placed on diversity in the media and internet discourse. If anything, the understanding of your own roots and origins is encouraged just as much as the appreciation

of foreign cultures. Safe to say culture is very much fluid for the Gen Z batch.

The stigma attached to third-culture kids involves identity crises and an obligation to explain where your accent comes from. The difficulty of answering the question ‘where are you from’ versus ‘where do you feel like you’re from’ is one we know all too well. However, these days it is a question that we all ask ourselves about our identity regardless of what our childhood experiences were.

Culture is part of identity. But what is identity itself? It has many factors, but perhaps the focus on defining ourselves is due to the human desire to belong. Cultural and national identity is concrete - an external outset rather than internal perception, it is how you navigate the family space. Individual identity is adopted – our passions, hobbies, thoughts, fashion – these in itself are drawn from different cultures and traditions, especially so in today’s world. In the end, the true definition of the self is what you’ve drawn from your experiences of culture and how you choose to adopt them, rather than the experience itself. In essence the same concept is behind third-culture kids – there is a third-culture kid in all of us.

Culture is fluid. In constructing the individual identity, we adopt aspects of other cultures instead of using it as a point of differentiation. As a result, lines are often blurred in tricky outcomes e.g. the problematic debate on cultural appropriation. Geographical fact weighs in on how we see the self while identity, belonging, family and home are all connected and hold emotional weight. Like Gertrude stein, a prominent figure on the topic of national identity, argues we are more aware of our cultural differences when away from our native home, due to the physical or aesthetic differences that present themselves all the more prominent in foreign countries.

Needless to say, culture is a choice – something we are consciously creating for ourselves. Travels and experiences are normalised to the millennial generation. Integration is just as much encouraged as understanding. The question of where you belong is no longer as simple as where you were born. In the end we are a third-culture generation – we choose where we belong, we choose how we present ourselves, we choose our culture.

by Rachel Leong