Saturday, September 24, 2016

Third Culture Kid spotlight: Teresa L.

I found some of my old research survey answers from 2004 when I began my TCK research journey that started as part of my Senior project dance production "Third Culture Kids" that was part presentation, half documentary film, half dance, and based on the books written about TCKs, expats, and these survey answers by TCKs around the world. I'm unearthing them because our complicated stories need to be heard. 

1. What is your name?

2. Where were you born?

3. What is your heritage?
My mother is born in Finland to Finnish parents, my father is born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and a Polish father.

4. Where have you lived & how long at each place?
I've lived in Sweden from birth to age 3, from age 3 to age 6 in Maryland, US, from age 6 to age 17 in Sweden, from age 17 to age 18 in Beijing, China, from age 18 to present in Illinois, US, for college and now for graduate education.

5. What is your definition of "home" and how is it different from those around you?
I have several definitions of home, really. Depending on what level of experience with identities that do not depend on some perceived essential quality I perceive in who I am talking to, I use different definitions.

One definition is somewhere that I have lived or live now as well as where my parents live now, considered as facts unattached to emotions or identification. This is the most shallow definition that I use with people who have never lived abroad, for example. This definition is designed to be consistent with how non-TCKs see the world.

Another definition is somewhere I have lived or live now as well as where my parents live now that I did not/do not dislike. This is a definition designed to let people understand me a little bit better if I make the judgement that they might have enough understanding to do so. It is a list only linked by very strong negative emotion to fact.

My most true emotional definition of "home" that I only use to myself is somewhere I feel comfortable and relaxed, somewhere I belong by identification. It is different from others around me that it is for me completely subjectively defined, whereas for most others I meet it is a function of a combination of birth and how long you've stayed somewhere, in other words, facts about your life. As I have found this difference impossible to overcome by explanation, I do not use this definition to other people.

6. Where do you consider "home" and why?
According to the most shallow definition, my homes are Ludvika, Sweden; Frostburg, MD; Beijing, China, Galesburg, IL, Chongqing, China, and Champaign-Urbana, IL.

According to the second definition, my homes are the same as above but without Ludvika, Sweden.

To me, home can be rather delocalized. If I feel comfortable and like I fit in, I feel like I'm in a home. Right now, I am home in Champaign-Urbana. If I go to visit my parents, I go home. I just go from one home to another. Home is not so much a singular place as a set of circumstances and conditions under which you can be happy. Those can be in place in many different places.

If a territory must be named, it would be Beijing, because it is clear to everyone that I live in the third culture there, and it is a major international city that can sustain the cosmopolitan way of life that makes me feel at home. Beijing is a city that is increasingly owned by internationally oriented people as described in "Whose City Is It? Globalization and the Formation of New Claims" (Saskia Sassen, in The Globalization Reader, ed. Lechner and Boli, originally in Globalization and its Discontents (The New Press, 1998), and so although I am clearly a foreigner, it is my place. Also, because I am a clear foreigner, it is clear to everyone that I cannot be expected to conform to and know all of the intricacies of Chinese culture. In Sweden, I was expected to fully conform to social norms that I did not know very well, and this resulted in very painful ostracation and acute cultural marginality. Knowing that this can never happen in China helps make me comfortable there. Beijing also 'took me in' at a time in my life when I was very mentally broken down from this cultural marginalization and let me be whatever mix of cultures I wanted. For these reasons, Sweden is not one of my homes.

7. Do you have interests in the following:
foreign languages Y
international relations Y
travelling Y
international politics Y
different cultures of the world.  Y
If so, do you think your background has helped you develop these interests?
Yes. All of the above seem to me like the sort of thing that one ought to have interest in for one's own good. It's just good, sound, practicality.

8. What are your thoughts on globalization? Current political situation?
I am an Affirmative Global, as described by James N. Rosenau in his book Distant Proximities: Dynamics Beyond Globalization (pp 121-137). I feel very connected to places that are far away physically and have a relative lack of interest for what is going on locally, unless it has wide impolications. I consider the global level of consideration to be the most important for everyone, even people who profess a lack of interest in it. I believe that globalization can bring prosperity to more people than ever before in history. That potential makes it an ethical obligation to try to harness the economical power of globalization in such a way that the world as a whole benefits as much as possible. This may mean in some cases moderating the forces of capitalism, but more often than not this will involve nation-building and construction of infrastructure along with letting market forces generate revenue. I also think that cultural globalization has potential to increase the capacity of people everywhere to empathise with others. This sort of identification could contribute significantly to peace and stability.

Not that I see any way to opt out of globalization in the first place. Economics gives the first push, and the rest follows from there. In lack of alternative economic systems to capitalism, there isn't much any country can do to stay out in the long run.

Recently, I have become aware of just how much the changes globalization have brought are resented and create unrest in people's minds even in Western countries. The sharpness of this backlash has taken me completely by surprise - in accordance with Rosenau's characterization, I do have to note, I should have had warning - and I am having a lot of trouble understanding it. It is also causing trouble for some parts of my identity. The following is from my journal:

The group of people I have trouble identifying with and who feel alien to me are people who hate others on a group basis, be it 'turks', "liberals", or foreigners. That sort of hate breeds so much..... I hesitate to say evil in principle since I don't believe in absolute good and evil, but in lack of a better word I'll say evil and trust you know what I mean. Bad things happen to good people when hate becomes common, no matter why there is hate. Even though I may not be the direct target of the hate, we are all in danger as a society when hate starts spreading, along the lines of both of our concern with recent dubious internments. That's why it makes me feel so queasy when people from one of my countries hate, because I've already blanket identified with them (because we share at least some general culture), and that means that I've blanket identified with people who scare me, and so I feel both like a part of me sickens me and like I've been betrayed!

I find the extent of this backlash troubling and am searching for a suggestion on how to handle it.

The current political situation in the United States is making it very difficult for me to feel American. It is also very difficult for me at times to understand what has happened and is happening after 9/11. It just seems so unreal to me that the US  would issue such objectionable foreign policy. And what is even more incomprehensible to me is how someone who started a war, unprovoked, based on false allegiations and insinuations in defiance of most of the rest of the world including the UN, could possibly make "moral values" part of their running platform and WIN. In my version of reality of Western countries, one of the things that politicians never, ever do is start a war. Never, ever, ever, ever. Even talk of such things is suspect. I could type for hours about the current US political situation, but it is very exhausting to think it all over. We seem to be living in 'interesting times.'

9. How are your thoughts on world affairs different from those around you?
I find that my concerns are very different from those around me in that I am concerned about the world as a whole, not just about the interests of one country or even continent. The intense focus on the US here really bothers me, because it's not good for the country and it's not good for the world. I seem to be looking for win-win situations where regular Americans are looking for America-win-at-any-cost situations. Some element of this thinking is present everywhere, but due to its size, I believe that it is very manifest in the US. Similar trends can be seen in China, a country of comparable size. I consider myself a global citizen, not only because my concept of home is deterritorialized but also because I think it's the only really ethical thing to do. If people are all created equal, then I must apply ethical thought to all people in the world, not just the ones in one particular country.

10. Do you plan on incorporating a large amount of travel with your career?
Yes. I do not think I would be happy only being in one place for the rest of my life. I am actually hoping to expatriate using some company, because it is often much easier to have a company take care of arrangements and I will already have a job when I get there.

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