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‘I’m a foreigner in my own country’ SG Mama Shares What It Means To Be A Third Culture Kid (TCK)

cherilyn in vietnam - foreigner in own country
Family LifePost Category - Family LifeFamily Life

‘Ever since I was two years old, my family relocated every two to three years….so over and over again, we had to restart, make new friends and sometimes learn a new language.’

One of the most difficult questions to answer when I first meet someone is, ‘Where are you from?’ The short answer is Singapore because that’s where I was born and that’s my one and only citizenship. But the truth is, the only thing that’s Singaporean about me is my love for the local cuisine — Laksa, Chicken Rice, Mee Soto, Mee Siam, Fish Curry, Nasi Lemak,…you name it, I probably love it!

I’m what most people call a ‘Third Culture Kid’ (TCK), which refers to someone who grew up in a country different from their and their parents’ nationality. Ever since I was two years old, my family relocated every two to three years around Asia for my dad’s job as a hotel manager in hospitality. So over and over again, we had to restart, learn to build temporary roots, make new friends and sometimes learn a new language.

Up until I was 13 years old, I enjoyed it. Every move felt like a new adventure, but when we had to move from Shenzhen, China to Seoul, South Korea, I was mad. Up until that point, spending three years in Shenzhen was the longest we had ever stayed in one country. I didn’t want to leave my friends and make new ones. I thought I had finally found my place. But of course, we still had to move, and we had to make a new home.

Read more: Tips on Belonging & Identity for Expat Children

foreigner in own country - Cherilyn and Dad in Shenyang, China

Don’t get me wrong — I’m absolutely grateful for all of the experiences we’ve had over our years of moving. They taught me to be adaptable and not take anything for granted, especially since each season seemed so short-lived. So if you ever meet me, you’ll probably find me telling you my whole life story in one sitting, because I fear that we can’t afford to waste any time.

I’ve also learned from all of the cultures I experienced. We fondly recall the kindness of Thai people, who always took extra care of women with children. From China, we cherished the extravagant Chinese New Year celebrations that always brought families together regardless of any ongoing drama. In Vietnam, I discovered the importance of having close friends who will walk with you through every season (though now they’re especially difficult to find as adults). In Korea, I admired their close knit community and always dreamed of being a part of one. Living in California taught me that it’s okay (and good even!) to slow down, relax and simply soak in the sun, wind, rain, all of it.

Read more: 6 Ways You Can Tell You Have a Third Culture Kid

But probably the most important thing I took away from all my years of uprooting and rebuilding is the importance of investing in your village — your friends and family who will always have your back.

Contrary to the popular belief in Singapore that we need to settle down, own a house and a car, and bring home a large salary to be deemed successful in life, what I’ve learned most from my nomadic childhood is that the only thing that truly matters in life is having community. Things will come and go. What’s hot and trending now will likely be forgotten about in a week or so. But your family and friends are the ones who will stick by you when the going gets tough.

foreigner own country - Cherilyn and family in Tianjin, China

It doesn’t matter where you live and how self-sufficient you think you are, we were made to live in a community. And maybe, just maybe, if we lift our eyes from our devices and reconnect with the people around us, we’d rediscover who we are and why we’re here. And when that happens, we’ll experience a joy and contentment that no one can ever take from us.

As a mother of two now, who’s finally settled in one place (at least for now!), I hope that I can build and nurture a community for my family, so that my kids remember what’s truly important in life.

 Read more: Personal stories: What it means to be a third culture kid

All images courtesy of The Gan Family

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