Where am I from? | The woes of being a third culture kid

third culture child

I am from nowhere. Not be confused with I am nowhere. Because, of course, I am somewhere. Currently, I am in England. But I am not from England. (Well, not really.) In the past, I was in The Netherlands. And I was from The Netherlands. (Well, not really.) You see, that ‘where from’ wasn’t really true. Saying I was from The Netherlands was an easy way out of a question that was never easy to begin with. I am a third culture kid. And ever since I left my adoptive country about five years ago, I have been spending way to much time asking myself where I am from.

The Netherlands used to seem like an appropriate answer. Even though my passport(s) would suggest otherwise, I have spent the majority of my life in that little country at the edge of Western Europe. It is where I was bred, after being born in a neighbouring country. And it often almost felt like home. Sure, I never understood why Dutch people love celebrating Sinterklaas so much. (For the non-Dutch people reading this, it is a version of Christmas that finds some perverted pleasure in scaring little children. For the Dutch people, please ignore my highly inaccurate depiction of Sinterklaas. It is just really not my cup of tea.) I also didn’t get many of the references about Dutch children’s books growing up. (My mother read German children’s books to me.)

There were many ways in which I wasn’t a real Dutch person and many of my Dutch friends were quick to point out my lack of Dutchness. But as long as I lived there, I felt Dutch enough to use it as my ‘where from’. Those down-to-earth people with their wicked sense of humour were my people. And even when my people would make fun of my otherness, there was still a comradery about all the ways we shared a sameness.

However, this upcoming summer will mark my five-year ‘anniversary’ of leaving The Netherlands. And both my parents have since left The Netherlands, both living in countries other than their ‘where from’ country. As a result, I have visited The Netherlands only a handful of times in the last few years. Each time the visits feel more like a holiday. And I feel more like a visitor. A foreigner. A stranger in my former home. It makes me wonder. Was The Netherlands ever really my ‘where from’ country?

After roaming around for a couple of years, I have now settled in England. It would be easy to call myself English, particularly because I have a British passport thanks to my father’s original ‘where from’. But unlike my mother’s original ‘where from’, Germany, I never visited England much as a child. (I can only recall two times.) English culture feels as alien to me as French or Italian culture would. I refuse to put milk in my tea, I don’t ever watch the rugby and I am surprised every time I stand in a perfect queue without anyone trying to skip it. (Good surprised, but still surprised.) I am definitely an outsider here.

Even though I am not stateless or houseless or family-less, I often feel homeless. When colleagues tell me about trips back ‘home home’, I envy them. Some go ‘home home’ by walking a mile up the road. Some have to take a train ride or even a flight to make it back to the place they are from. But they all have a place they belong. Some roots they can return to that nurture them and feel like a ‘fit’. When I visit either of my parents, I now end up in places that have absolutely to link to my childhood or roots. A sense of geographical belonging is completely lost on me.

Of course, it isn’t all bad. I am very lucky that both my parents are alive and in my life. Even though their locations don’t make me belong, they as people do. ‘Home is where the heart is’, goes the cliché. (I guess my hearts just keep moving around.) And let’s not forget about all the benefits of being a third culture child. Due to my slightly unconventional upbringing, I am good at blending in, starting over and understanding other people’s point of view. I have been exposed to three different ways of celebrating Christmas and effortlessly speak three languages fluently. Being a third culture child has it’s perks. There is no doubt about it.

And that is where I want to leave this post. On a positive note. Because I originally set out to write about my upbringing simply to explain all the Dutch comments on my blog. Now you know. Where I am (not) from.

I will end by sharing my favourite song on this topic. And by explaining that the picture above is from the bathroom of one of my old student homes. It was the only picture I had from a former home…

“It ain’t the bricks that call us home.”

8 Comments

  1. February 11, 2019 / 6:01 pm

    This was such an interesting read, Lizzy. I have to say, I am one of those people who does have ‘where from’ which is Lithuania and I do love my roots very much. But somedays I feel like I am one of those people who hold the whole planet as a ‘where from’. Every place I visit leaves something inside of me and thinking back, I feel like every place is a little piece of me. Somehow, I feel like I belong in all of those places. I don’t know if it even makes sense, haha. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings! x

    • Lizzyfied
      Author
      February 11, 2019 / 9:17 pm

      Uuh, I can completely relate to how you feel! I used to live in Edinburgh and really felt like I belonged there and it was my ‘where from’, even though I am not Scottish. I had a whole paragraph about it in my blog post, but decided to leave it out, as I felt it made the whole thing even more confusing. I think a sense of place is getting increasingly complicated, as we travel and move around more. I can be a bit tricky at times, but it also has a lot of benefits. 🙂

  2. February 19, 2019 / 7:47 pm

    Mooi geschreven, en super interessant! Ik werk zelf met mensen met een migratieachtergrond. Hier herken ik soms in dat bij de kinderen ook echt die mix is van verschillende culturen. Soms zijn ze aan de ene kant opgegroeid in Nederland, maar opgevoed door ouders die hier niet opgegroeid zijn. Ik kan me voorstellen dat je het gevoel hebt niet echt een thuis-thuis hebt.

    Misschien lijkt de thuis-thuis die anderen hebben ook wel mooier dan het is. Ik ken veel mensen die namelijk toch om een reden niet meer in hun thuis regio of land wonen. Omdat ze zich daar toch niet zo thuis voelen.

    In ieder geval, de positieve kanten als de talen en het aanpassingsvermogen zijn inderdaad veel waard!

    Liefs

    • Lizzyfied
      Author
      February 20, 2019 / 7:51 pm

      Ik denk dat mensen met een groter verschil in culturen hier wellicht nog meer last van hebben. Nederland, Duitsland en Engeland zijn natuurlijk niet zo heel erg verschillend op wereldniveau. En ik heb inderdaad ook een oerhollandse vriendin die zich nooit heeft thuisgevoeld in Nederland. Bedankt voor het delen van je inzichten! <3

      • February 21, 2019 / 10:09 am

        Ja dat is misschien ook zo, maar ik begrijp dat ondanks de relatieve kleine afstand er toch best veel verschillen zijn. Haha ah precies, iedereen heeft weer zijn eigen ervaring! 🙂

        • Lizzyfied
          Author
          February 24, 2019 / 9:05 am

          Zo is het maar net!

  3. February 25, 2019 / 5:20 pm

    Wonderful post.. I’m an expat, and grew up in a few different countries that mostly all feel like home but are still foreign enough when I’m gone away for too long. I don’t think the ‘where are you from’ question really means anything, though I’m often asked 🙂

    • Lizzyfied
      Author
      February 25, 2019 / 8:42 pm

      Uh, that sounds like an interesting upbringing! For me, ‘where are you from’ doesn’t mean anything either really, but I can imagine the people who ask us these questions might have a bigger sense of belonging to a place. So the question makes more sense to them. Or perhaps they just ask the question because it is a social convention. Either way, thanks for reading. Xx

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