What is a migrant? An immigrant? An expat?
What am I? I was born in the UK to English parents, and in 1990, when I was five years old, we moved to California. I remember being friends with the children of local British families for a time, and then when I went to school, I made friends with my American classmates. Eventually I picked up the local accent, so my new friends would stop asking me to “say something in English” on the playground. My sisters and I must have changed subtly, slowly, immeasurably over the next decade or so; I will never forget, in the car park of a pub on the outskirts of Leeds, hearing my grandad’s friend remark, “It’s a shame you’ve all become American.”
Is it? And did we? We immigrated, we assimilated, we naturalised as citizens… all before I understood what any of that really meant. I went to university in California, began my career in San Francisco, and then in 2013, having lived 23 of my 28 years in the United States, I moved to London.
What am I? In some ways, I feel like an immigrant: it took me a full week when I arrived in London to figure out where to buy coat hangers; I don’t speak like the people around me; I’ve never seen an episode of Eastenders. But in other ways, I do feel I’ve “returned”: dark chocolate digestives are no longer a special treat to unpack from a relative’s suitcase; I can now see my extended family more than once every year or two; and there’s just something about being back in England that feels right.
What am I? I was never fully American, and I’m no longer fully British. But I have passports that say I’m a citizen of both countries. Is there a word for what I am now? I don’t claim the “expatriate” label, with all its colonial baggage
“Repatriate” isn’t quite right either (not that I’ve ever heard anyone call themselves that). What the hell am I? https://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/mar/13/white-people-expats-immigrants-migration
When I stumbled across the term Third Culture Kid, I was surprised, relieved, and deeply moved to learn that there were others out there like me, people who slipped through the cracks of traditional definitions, who couldn’t easily answer the question “where are you from?”
If this is ringing a bell for you, there are all kinds of resources out there for our community: start with David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken’s book, Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds.
They write: “A third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the third culture kid’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of the same background, other TCKs.”
The world is full of stories like mine, and yet so many of us go about our lives in isolation, thinking there can’t possibly be anyone else who understands our experience. As a theatre maker, I want to tell these stories, to share them with other third culture kids who rarely see themselves represented on stage, and to give mainstream audiences a peek into our cross-cultural lives.
Since 2014, I have been working with a team of fellow cultural hybrids in London to create Home Is Where… a verbatim theatre project with music, movement, and multimedia. We’ve interviewed dozens of third culture kids, and writer Guleraana Mir is weaving together their true stories with a fictional narrative inspired by our post-Brexit political landscape. Our cast of five actors will take on the role of a resistance movement in a futuristic dystopia, using an innovative headphone verbatim technique to tell real-life TCK stories from the interviews.
Alongside the performance at Rich Mix on 2 September, we’ve partnered with HOPE not hate to offer a free and inclusive workshop before the show, using theatre games to explore the themes of the play: identity, culture, and belonging. This is one of many events in a national Weekend of HOPE, part of the #MoreInCommon campaign.
Even if you’re nowhere near London, you can listen to the stories in our Online Oral History Library, which holds short audio clips from the 30+ third culture kids we’ve interviewed.
These are stories of incredible journeys, difficult transitions, identity crises, daring adventures, teenage rebellions, hilarious misunderstandings, horizon expansions, international friendship, and above all common humanity.
“I hate that question, ‘where are you from,’ because I was born somewhere, but actually all the other countries where I’ve lived are part of who I am.” Valerie Teller
“I just belong to this world, that’s my nationality. I’m global.” Ria Ulleri
“We have the same experience. We talk about it and it’s such a relief. To hear that your experience is not unique, and other people have felt this same way their whole lives. And so you belong in your not-belonging.” Aslam Husain
Working on Home Is Where… has brought me into a community of people whose stories span the globe, people who look different and speak different languages, who have had vastly different experiences from mine, and yet we find so much common ground. We all see the world through a wide lens, we don’t always know which team we’re cheering for at the Olympics, we have friends and family in every time zone. We feel at home in airports and train stations… and with each other. You are welcome to join us.
Amy Clare Tasker is the artistic director of Amy Clare Tasker Performance Lab, the theatre company creating Home Is Where…
You can read more about the project and creative team at http://www.amyclaretasker.com/hyphenated