Growing up as a Third Culture Kid

I grew up in Hong Kong to a Chinese family. If people asked, I was born and raised in Hong Kong. By ethnic background, I’m Chinese. By nationality, I’m British. I spoke both Cantonese (a dialect of Chinese) and English growing up, but I am more literate and can converse in English better. Although I spent 23 years of my life in Hong Kong, I have an accent when I speak Cantonese and am often mistaken as a child who grew up overseas.

Do I consider myself Chinese? I like to tell people I’m Hong Kong Chinese. Why? Because like so many of my friends, I’m a Third Culture Kid.


So Where’s Home? A Film About Third Culture Kid Identity

The film, So Where’s Home? A Film About Third Culture Kid Identity by Adrian Bautista, interviews different adults to give their accounts of what it’s like for children growing up in a culture different from what they identify with. It might seem like you should have been born in one country and moved around to another one to be called a Third Culture Kid (or TCK), but at it’s root is this: Third Culture Kids are called this because they were raised one way, feel like they associate with another, but don’t really belong to either.


Source: Buzzfeed

It might seem a little difficult to wrap your mind around the concept, but for those of us who had to grow up in a country with people we couldn’t really identify with, in addition to experiencing the turmoil of being a teenager, we’ve also got the added confusion of where we actually belong. Technically because I am Chinese, born to Chinese parents and was raised in Hong Kong, I should identify with being Chinese.

Even though I look Chinese, I don’t feel that I am. My friends and I affectionately refer to ourselves as a ‘banana’: yellow skinned on the outside, but white on the inside. I grew up learning to read and write Cantonese (or traditional Chinese) however my entire education was conducted in English and spent 15 years of my life (between kindergarten and high school) in international schools where I spent most of my time with friends from different cultures. My passport tells me I’m British, but for the first 23 years of my life, I’d never even spent any length of time living in the UK.

When speaking to my friends, we have trouble sticking to just one language and end up speaking Chinglish (a mixture of English and Cantonese). I even do this with my family where I’ll start speaking in Cantonese, but when I get angry I switch to English with some Cantonese words. I don’t necessarily fit into any set group of friends at school because they were born and raised overseas and identify with the culture of a particular country, but neither did I fit in with the local Hong Kong Chinese friends I met because we didn’t have the same interests and experienced language barriers with slang. I was the ‘prized friend’ for local Chinese classmates because they could show their friends they could communicate with a native-English friend.


Source: Spin, Strangeness and Charm

I love learning new languages and studied GCSE French before studying Italian for 3 years in University and spent 5 weeks there for summer school and travelling the country. My next goal is to try and learn Portuguese.

A reunion for me is trying to see friends I haven’t seen since high school whenever I get a chance to go back to Hong Kong. It’s not always easy to try and co-ordinate holidays with friends who work different jobs in different countries which means it can be difficult to try and be back at the same time.

Ever since I first arrived in Edinburgh in 2008, new friends I met asked if I was American (because of my accent). When I explained I was from Hong Kong, a lot were surprised I didn’t speak English with a Chinese accent. To make this story even more interesting, I had a mixed English-American accent growing up until high school when I adopted the American accent after listening to and watching American bands and TV. Now I speak with a somewhat Scottish accent.

My family are in Hong Kong (my brother’s in London), however I’ve made Edinburgh my home. After all, my OH and the kitties are now part of my family here. My close friends are here, in the US, Australia, Hong Kong and in Europe. I miss Asian food when I’m here (especially good – and ever accessible – hazelnut bubble tea from Chatime!) and Scottish food (and the accent) when I’m there. I think ‘I dinnae ken’ when I see the acronyms ‘IDK’ used, but when I say ‘aye’ here, I revert back to saying ‘yeah’ when I’m speaking to friends outside of Scotland and harden my consonants to become more understandable. My accent changes depending on where I spend my time and who with (I started to revert to the English accent once after spending a week with my cousins in the South).


Source: Thought Catalog

Having to convert between currencies was a daily task before purchasing anything, to see if it was worth the price (before prices soared, 50p for a pint of milk here in Edinburgh could have gotten me a 2 pint bottle from Hong Kong for the same price!). To try and explain what prices are like between Edinburgh and Hong Kong, I’m often having to switch between currencies to put my point across (£1 is approximately HK$13).

By the time I was 5, I had already been to China (although I was too young to remember) and Canada. In high school, I also travelled to London, France, Germany, Belgium, Thailand, the US and again to Canada. After that, I’ve also been to Japan, Pakistan, the Netherlands and again to Germany. Now I’m finally fulfilling the nationality criteria of being British (or Scottish?) for having lived in the UK for 6 years come September. Being in airports and different countries don’t bother me, I welcome the chance to experience new cultures and their traditions. The only thing that bothers me is not being able to communicate in a language they speak.

I grew up in Hong Kong to Chinese parents and my passport tells me I’m a British citizen. I’ve been living in Edinburgh for the past few years and speak like a Scottish, but because of the way I look, I don’t blend in (I’m constantly stopped by Chinese people who speak to me in Mandarin – I don’t even speak the language – looking for directions) and am still learning the slang people use in this country. So answer me this question:


Adrian Bautista

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2 thoughts on “Growing up as a Third Culture Kid

  1. This is so relatable! I was born in Holland, where I lived for 4 years before moving to Aruba. After 15 years on Aruba I moved back to Holland, but to a different city then where my relatives live. Then, an internship in Suriname. After that I moved again, although this time it was only one city over from where I lived in Holland. I always laugh when people ask me where I’m from and ask them if they want to hear the long or the short version. The above is the long version, when people say short I tend to say Aruba but then I always have to explain because I don’t look like an Aruban and they don’t understand. I feel very strongly that I am not “from” any of these places. To me, home really is where the heart is, you carry it within you wherever you go and can therefore rebuild and create it wherever you land. I feel so blessed to have been raised this way because like the girl says on the film: it’s easier to connect to people from all walks of life and to find a sense of comfort regardless of where you are. I would definitely recommend this lifestyle and the freedom it creates to anyone! Great post, thanks for sharing! X

    1. Thanks for sharing your story 🙂 I definitely feel like I’m able to have a more open mind when it comes to experiencing other cultures and meeting new people and although it was difficult growing up when you’re trying to understand your place in the world as ateen, I’ve come to accept my unique upbringing and appreciate all aspects of who I am and what I’ve learned 🙂 x

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