Sunday, January 20, 2019

Third Culture Kid spotlight: Meet Daniel

Its always a pleasure to meet other third culture kids around the world. Daniel is an active member of the TCKid communities on social media and that is how I got to know this globe-trotting TCK (aren't we all global nomads!?) 

What is your name?


Where were you born?

Houston, Texas, USA

What is your heritage?

Both my parents were Vietnamese, and moved to the US essentially as a result of the war, and met there. 

Where have you lived and how long at each place?

Houston, Texas for 3ish years (as a baby though) 
Jakarta, Indonesia for 14 years
Ann Arbor, Michigan for 2 years
Switzerland for about 3.5 years, though alternating between Zürich and Wallis
Fort Lauderdale, Florida for 2 years
Took a few months back in Switzerland, but in Biel. 
Took a little under a year off for backpacking around Asia, of which most of it was spent in Penang, Malaysia. 
Back in Zürich, Switzerland for the past 5 years. 

What is your definition of "home" and how is it different from those around you?

Home for me really depends on the people around me, because places can change. It's not so cut and dry, though. Places are important too, and ultimately home comes from that combination of places that you feel comfortable in, with people you like having around you that help you feel at home. And yes, this can be more than one place. 

Where do you consider "home" and why?

Right now it's Zürich. In contrast to the rest of my adult life, I've lived here consistently for a long time now. It's been long enough to make friends, to become familiar with my surroundings, to acclimatise. It's the kind of consistency I haven't had for a long time, but to be honest it's still tempered by knowing I'm still legally a foreigner here. So while it feels like home, there's a very good chance it can't be home. We'll see. 

I felt more or less at home when I worked in Fort Lauderdale, because of working and the people I had around me. I did realise that as time went on those people largely changed by moving around, and with it the sense of home got lost. In that case, it was very dependent on people. By contrast, Penang felt quite home-like when I was there, though I didn't have many friends there at the time, so it was more tied to the place. 

So basically... it depends. 

Do you have interests in the following: foreign languages, international relations, travelling, international politics, different cultures of the world, etc...  Yes/No If so, do you think your background has helped you develop these interests?

Very much to all of these. I grew up interested in history, which became an interest in politics. While my experience wasn't necessary to create these interests, it definitely helped. Growing up in an Indonesia which was under a dictatorship and transitioned to a more-or-less functioning democracy has, honestly, defined my political perspective and interests. Travelling and being able to compare, first hand, didn't places, cultures, and political systems, has given me a perspective that others I meet still can only learn from media. 

What are your thoughts on globalization? Current political situation?

The reason I had the life I did was because my dad worked for an international company. It has, mostly, been the reason we moved around between the US, Indonesia, and Switzerland. So it's safe to say that we have been beneficiaries of globalisation in a much more tangible way than most can claim. It's likely, however, that the expatriate lifestyle, at least through those means, is probably fading. Developing countries can't really justify bringing foreigners over and giving them the expatriate life. 

One of the benefits of being this kind of TCK though, is that you get to see both sides of globalisation. You get to see how it can make developing countries grow, like Indonesia, you get to see how it can make countries rich, like Switzerland, and you get to see the backlash against it, like in the US. It sort of becomes difficult to look at it in the local terms most people do. 

How are your thoughts on world affairs different from those around you?

This has really varied depending on my company. There's a popular perception that Europeans are more globally aware than Americans, and it sort of correlates, but awareness doesn't necessarily equal wisdom. I have met blind idealists, pragmatic cynics, and everything in between. It's pretty good overall, since at least there's awareness and interest. I can't quite say the same in some other places I've lived. But there are different kinds of ignorance you can find just about anywhere, as well as different kinds of awareness. I find that the best approach is just to look at everyone with an open mind and to listen first and form impressions as you accumulate information, not before. 

Do you plan on incorporating a large amount of travel with your career?

I hope to, but it really depends on how my career works out. And where that ends up being. 

Thank you Daniel! Follow his ongoing TCK journey through social media:


If you would like to be featured on this series please drop me an email at

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Third culture kid identity: Just breathe

Breathing heavy and short. My heart and mind races a mile a minute because I've gotten ahead of myself again. So many tasks...
Friends, family, colleagues around the world will be so disappointed or upset with me. 
Its not the end of the world.

TCKs and non-TCKs feel the pressure as we get more connected online, isolated physically, and disconnected with what is in front of them. 



Its been a whirlwind summer of working really hard on my cookbook that I forget how much it is affecting me and those I hold so dear. I'm sorry... 

Outside/Inside. Looking through that window glass. 

Running. Do you stop to smell the flowers? 

Hold me dear tenderly - for I know not what I'm saying because I'm exhausted. 

Stop. Pause. Breathe. 

One day, we will all laugh how absurd. 

Its not the end of the world. 
This world needs more empathy, tolerance, love, human connection, touch, space, kindness. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

TCK Identity: I am a walking exotic complication

The wind makes me feel so free and happy. Helsingborg, Sweden. Oct 2017.

To understand a third culture kid is to dissect a Kue Lapis (thousand layer cake) or a millefeuille. Or if you love wine as much as I do, a heavily textured aged wine. There are so many layers to a person who identifies as having grown up as a TCK. I am no different. But perhaps it does get a bit complicated from the historical point of view.
Some people have told me that I am exotic. What does the word exotic mean?

  1. 1. 
    originating in or characteristic of a distant foreign country.

    "exotic birds"


  1. 1. 
    an exotic plant or animal.

    "he planted exotics in the sheltered garden"

In most instances, when someone tells me that I am exotic, I want to punch them in the face because I am not an animal or a person to be stared at like exotic animals in a zoo or fetishised. Lets start with the complications...
My name...
My name gives no indication to my ethnicity, nationality, or birthplace (yes ALL three represent different countries).
My cultural belonging and accent is also associated with a country that is neither of the above because I grew up in International Schools. But also one of my previous homes. I have multiple around the world.
My parents grew up straddling different cultures, countries, racism, and multilingual households. Bless them. Yes, it gets complicated.
My ethnicity or heritage if you were to get into the nuances of history has had tumultuous bouts of racial riots, racism, hierarchy, segregation, ridicule, nomadism, immigration, to put it simply: complication.
The sum of all these parts are just the starting point of how textural and "exotic" complex being that I started with.

But I am not special. At least I do not think I am.

I just have whole load of very different stories that most people who have "sown and grown in one place" (Alex Graham James poem from the TCK "bible" of Third Culture Kids). I am different. And difference in society gets marginalised, bullied, put on a pedestal, exoticsized, fetishised, "model minority", martyr, etc. I am different when I am in places where I look different than most. I am different when I am in places where I look like I should belong. Over the years, I have embraced this difference but most have not.

So no, TCKs shouldn't be placed in the "special" category. We have different stories but we also have similar stories of growing up, coming to terms with dealing with adolescence, growing pains, going to university, living on your own, working, settling into a routine schedule, etc. It doesn't matter where one lives. The point is that we are all human and we are just trying to exist in this world together.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Third Culture Kid Spotlight: Meet Jenny!

This global citizen and adult third culture kid is truly remarkable. Meet Jenny!

What is your name? 
Jenny Vera Sorn Jensen

Where were you born?
Bangkok, Thailand

What is your heritage?
and Native American

Where have you lived and how long at each place?
Merrill, Wisconsin 2 years
Mumbai, India 3 years,
Mahe, Seychelles 3 years,
Istanbul, Turkey 2 years,
Bangkok, Thailand 3.5 years,
New Delhi India 3 years,
Green Bay Wisconsin, USA 2.5
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, USA 2.5
Silver Spring, Maryland, Washington, DC, and Burke, Virginia USA 3 years,
Raleigh North Carolina, USA 15 years,
Atlanta, Georgia USA, 1 year

What is your definition of 'home' and how is it different from those around you?
I discovered while I was in college, that home was a very different concept for me versus my peers. This came to light when a good friend of mine was sad and upset that her parents were selling her childhood home.  To her home was that house, she had the same bedroom from birth till she went to college. I could not wrap my head around that concept. To me home was where ever I happen to be, it’s not structure, not really a place even, just where I am.

Where do you consider home and why?
My definition of home has not changed, it is where I happen to be. Even when I visit places I tend to call the hotel room, ‘home,’ and the place where all my things are as home base. Right now home base is Atlanta.
However, when people ask me where I am from, I tend to say Raleigh, North Carolina since I lived there for 15 years. It is much easier to say that then to explain, why I’m from everywhere and nowhere and feel like a citizen of the world. 

Do you have interests in the following: foreign languages, international relations, travelling, international politics, different cultures of the world, etc...  Yes/No If so, do you think your background has helped you develop these interests? 
Yes!! I believe my background helped foster my love and  for travelling, history, foreign languages, international politics and cultures.  I realized once I came to study in my country of passport that I was the odd duck out. Many of my peers never moved from their birth city, let alone lived outside the US.  At an early age TCK’s learn to adapt, explore and adopt languages, customs and weave those into our own fabrics. This makes us unique, since we lived in places that most people only read about, or see in movies. What some consider far flung places we use to call home base, and we saw firsthand how policies and politics play out on the world stage. We were effected. By the age of 10 I have lived through 2 coup attempts in the Seychelles Islands, and while the majority of the world does not follow what goes on in that tiny island nation- I do.  The need to know what is going on in the places I lived in is very strong. My heart has been broken many times over the violence and elections in Istanbul. To know that New Delhi is getting hotter each year due to climate change is hard to observe.  I follow my old home base cities closely, but also follow the rest of the world.

What are your thoughts on globalization? Current political situation? 
The world has gotten smaller and smaller with each passing year. I grew up in a world with no email, and received my first email address when I got to college. Now I can video chat with my cousins in Thailand through a phone. Technology is amazing! The world will continue to get smaller for better or worse, and I try to see the good that comes from that, but I am well aware of the consequences too. Politically, this world is in a mess- not just the USA and the UK,  but the whole world. I view this as the last gasp of the an old ways of thinking, and this will pass.

How are your thoughts on world affairs different from those around you?
I believe I am more interested and in tune with world affairs than most of my peers and colleagues. Most people only care about what is happening in their own surroundings, with not much attention to rest of the world. However, I have found some of my peers are interested in European politics, but that is where that interest ends.  
Do you plan on incorporating a large amount of travel with your career?
Yes yes yes! In fact I travel a lot in my current position, and I believe more travel is on the horizon and I welcome it with open arms!

Connect with Jenny on Facebook and LinkedIn

Thank you Jenny for sharing your story!! If you would like to be featured on this series please drop me an email at

Friday, April 20, 2018

FIGT conference 2018: Reconnecting and connecting with other ATCKs and Expats

Coming home to my "tribe" of people who just "get it"

In 2009, I wrote to a lady named Tina Quick (Author of The Global Nomad's Guide to University Transition and Survive and Thrive) about being an Adult Third Culture Kid. At the time, I was in the midst of resurrecting some choreography from my senior thesis production of "Third Culture Kids" to create "Chameleon, the experiences of Global Citizens" dance production and the start of this blog. She told me about a conference called Families in Global Transitions that happened annually.

A whole conference with Expat writers, researchers, and TCKs!?!!! Whoa...

Ruth Van Reken who wrote the TCK 'bible' book "Third Culture Kids" with David C. Pollock was one of the pioneers and started this conference 20 years ago.

I sent in my conference proposal to showcase my simple documentary film "I am a TCK" which would later be used as the backdrop and catalyst for the dance production and proposed to perform my short solo as an excerpt and do a little movement improvisation workshop with the large "jewelry" chains that TCK Jewelry designer, Natalia Krasnodebska created specifically for Chameleon based on her own TCK experiences.

Chameleon Project- TCK Arts in the Community from Alaine Handa on Vimeo.

Little did I know that my proposal would get accepted into the conference in 2010! That was such a busy year for Chameleon with the premiere at University Settlement, Capital Fringe Festival, International Childrens' Festival, and multiple excerpts performed in smaller festivals in the NYC Tri-State area. I received my first grant from Singapore International Foundation...the list goes on and then receiving a scholarship for me to attend and present at FIGT 2010 in Houston.

THAT was 8 years ago... life was so different.

The subsequent years of 2011 and 2012 rode on the hurricane of 2010.

Then I moved to the other side of the world halfway through 2012. It was tumultuous and dramatic.

My life changed so dramatically.

Ok, I can do this... I thought. I've lived here before. Why is it so hard? Reverse culture shock hit me hard. I felt really lost. Life events happened that changed the course of my life in a dramatic way and it took me a long time to find my feet again.

A really long time...

6 years later, I found myself at FIGT 2018 conference in The Hague.

I missed "the tribe" and reconnecting with all the faces and friends whom I've stayed in contact with over the years via Facebook and email really left me glassy-eyed. They "get it". Words cannot express what a wonderful group of ATCKs, Expats, writers, researchers, trainers, coaches, educators that comprise the family at FIGT are. The organisation and the conference has grown tremendously and more people are coming in droves.

For a group of Global Citizens its hard to navigate the cultural landscape of the world sometimes. People will judge you and label you a certain way that will often make you feel misunderstood. Returning to FIGT after all those years was refreshing for me and talking to people about their experiences and my experiences was like therapy.

There were some familiar faces and they welcomed me with open arms. The new faces were plenty and inspiring. The sessions I chose were really hard to sit through because they hit so close to my heart. I really needed space to recover.

I caught myself crying in a corner a few times.

Pull it together Alaine....

My co-presentation about telling stories with Olga was very technical and we gave clear examples how one can tell our stories: the good, bad, ugly about growing up as a TCK and living around the world as an expat.

A shout out (and many hugs) to Isabelle Min, Arnie Krogh, Katarina Holm-Didio, Eva Laszlo-Herbert, Amanda Bates, Olga Mecking, Tina Quick, Ruth Van Reken, Judy Rickatson, Kaye Rickatson, Kira Miller, Alice Wu, Kristine Racina, Marilyn Gardner, and so many more... I miss the tribe!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Third Culture Kid Spotlight: Lisa

A fascinating woman who I've come to know through the TCK networks and has lived all over the world. Meet Lisa! 

1. What is your name? 
Risa but I go by Lisa (it does make a difference! Read more about it here:

2. Where were you born? 

Tokyo, Japan

3. What is your heritage? 

100% Japanese 

4. Where have you lived and how long at each place?

Tokyo, Japan: 8 months
Sao Paolo, Brazil: 2 years
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 2 years
Seattle, WA, USA: 4 years
Bronx, NY, USA: 3 years
Mexico City, Mexico: 9 years
Pullman, WA, USA: 4 years
Seattle, WA: 6 years
Farmington, NM, USA: almost 3 years

5. What is your definition of "home" and how is it different from those around you? 
My definition of 'home' has changed these last couple of years. It used to be that 'home' is wherever my parents lived. My parents continuously kept the inside of our houses the same wherever we lived, so it never felt different.  Sure, the outside and layout of our houses/apartment were different depending on which country we lived in, but the inside never changed.  After moving out of my parents' house, living on my own, I've slowly shifted the definition of home to where I feel I can make it on my own.  Many TCKs I know can't pinpoint one location as home, and I can agree.  "Home" is not a location, it's more of a state of mind, or feeling.

6. Where do you consider "home" and why? 
Whenever a world event is occurring like the Olympics or World Cup, I always root for Brazil, Japan, and the US.  I suppose that's because I've lived there, and will always be my homes.

7. Do you have interests in the following: foreign languages, international relations, travelling, international politics, different cultures of the world, etc...  Yes/No If so, do you think your background has helped you develop these interests? 
Yes to all.  I think my background as a TCK really developed these interests as it's always been a part of my life and who I am as an individual. 

8. What are your thoughts on globalization? Current political situation? 
I think the term globalization has come and gone throughout the years, but the concept remains.  It's come to a point where it's so fluid within our daily lives, that not many step back to see what's really going on.  Technology at times blends the idea we may be closer to one another than we might think, but, we have a long journey ahead to really see how globalization affects us on a societal level.  We need to be aware and understand what's going on around us, not just internationally but locally--ask questions, and dig deeper to understand others' points of views.

9. How are your thoughts on world affairs different from those around you?  
Some of my thoughts are the same as Americans, and other times, slightly different.  We have all led different paths of life, so there's going to be similarities and differences.  The important part of all of this is to be able to create spaces that allows for a free form of dialogue.  

10. Do you plan on incorporating a large amount of travel with your career?  
I'd love to be in a career that allows me to travel as part of my job, but in the mean time, I will always take time to explore the unknown. 

Thank you Lisa for sharing your story!! If you would like to be featured on this series please drop me an email at

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

TCK Identity: Leaving it all behind and in search for home

As a TCK, we find ourselves changing with each new location. As a digital nomad, I live in many places at once. The luggage, trains, planes, trams, and automobiles is so much flurry that it doesn't leave me a second to grieve. A proper farewell. 

Its important to be able to have a proper farewell to the places and faces we once loved. 

When you grow up mobile, the sense of identity and home is skewed because its never a constant place. Sometimes TCKs associate their previous homes as places but some associate them to the faces. The people they forged real connections with. I think its important to be able reflect and grieve properly on those physical places and people once they are gone. 

Like a proper break up.

I met up with a TCK friend of mine recently and she was telling me about her weird break up with a man she had been dating for a while. She told me that she felt shattered because it felt like a part of her sense of home was pulled from under the rug. She found solace in the people she chose to get close to for a sense of home and normalcy. It got me to thinking about my own friendships and romantic relationships. I was in a long distance relationship with a man for a few years and recently had to make the decision to tell him that I couldn't keep flying to his town anymore. Long story short, I felt terrible but then we had a couple days of saying a proper goodbye. We visited my favorite  places in town, reminisced about all the good times we had traveling together and the first time we met halfway across the globe, they were all good memories. Memories are my home. 

I found solace in creating memories that would mark time periods of my life that I felt at home. Home is not a physical place for me but I get these questions a lot by well meaning family and friends. 

"Where do you want to settle down?"
"You need to find a permanent place to settle down."
"Just pick a place and settle down." 
"Where do you see yourself permanently?"
"Are you going to keep traveling?"
"You can't keep on traveling. You need to set down roots" 

These are all valid concerns and questions by all the people that have said them to me. To be honest, I can't answer the questions. I feel very conflicted because in my heart I have places and countries I would love to live in for a long period of time and settle for a while BUT then its a challenge to live there due to logistical, political, and visas. Believe me, I have tried to apply for jobs and live in my chosen places. I have struggled for so many years. 

My passport pulls me back in many respects and I have not been able to accept it. It has to do with something greater than just me. It becomes a power struggle of politics, privilege, and current affairs. 

But all I know is this. People and places that make me feel welcome feel like home. Sometimes there's a gut feeling that you just feel so comfortable there. Its like falling in love. I remember when I fell in love with a city. I made it my home for as long as I could until I had to leave. It broke my heart. 

Home is a feeling. A memory. And a comfort. 

I don't know where I'll be but I will know when I am home. 
It will be a place of comfort, love, support, and warmth to me.