About our TCKs being not-only-but-also

When this article popped up on my facebook timeline today, of a 14-year-old girl combining ballet and hip-hop in such a beautiful way, it hit me.

Her performance is a great representation of what all Third Culture Kids do every day: they try to combine all the values, beliefs, customs, traditions, languages in the best possible way, trying to make them blend in a way that others can see and recognize their beauty.

It took me more than 30 years to realize that we don’t need to “belong to”, to “fit in” (which usually is synonymous with fitting into a stiff box…). I tried to be better than “enough”, to be accepted and recognized by those I thought matter.

When our German teacher told our class that our German would “never be as good as the German of monolingual Germans, i.e. native speakers, because we were only (!) “Auslandsdeutsche” (Germans living abroad)”, I focused on the “only”. My path was paved with this kind of limiting messages, “you’re not fast enough to win that race”, “you’re not German enough”, “your articles will never be published…”, “you don’t look Italian (enough… so there must be something wrong with you)…”, “with that German name you can’t teach Italian/French…”, “you don’t know about this tradition/habit…?!” and many more. – It is impressive how much this one sentence echoed in many other contexts over the years! 

We all constantly have to prove that we are “good enough” for the job, the assignment, the task etc. but what nobody should have to fight for being “good enough” as a person.

We all work on ourselves constantly because growth and the need of change is in our nature. When I think of all the times I tried to fit into groups, belong and be fully accepted, only to find out that there will always be something missing, I can’t but feel sad to have lost so many years trying to fit in, to meet needs of others instead of focusing on what I have and how I am, and see the positive side of it all!

If I would have known 30 years ago that all we (A)TCKs have to do is to embrace the way we are, and blend the values, traditions, beliefs, habits, languages etc. we collect along our international journey into a dance like the one of this 14-year-old girl, it would have saved me many worries and struggles.

I know that teenagers long to belong, but what if they wouldn’t have to hide part of their personality in order to fit in and belong?

What if they were allowed to be the beautiful colorful beings they are?
What if instead of “you’ll never be…” they would hear people tell them “I see that you are…”?

I have published books and countless articles (and some were even in German!), I’ve taught Italian linguistics and French literature at University level. I’m a very curious, always-learning person and I love challenges. – I believe that many of the limiting messages people and situations sent me fueled my inner drive and still do. 

Parents often worry about their TCKs not having roots (they are no plants! ) or a sense of belonging and try to make them “fit in(to a box)”, the box of being [fill in the blank], belonging to an ethnic group, talking one language (or more than one) fluently, preferably with no accent (we all have some accent!), achieving certain goals, fulfilling other peoples’ expectations…

I would love to give them this one tip:

Tell your TCKs…

You don’t have to choose!
You are not “neither…nor…”, you are “not onlybut also…!”, and you are enough being a unique combination of both!
~ Ute Limacher-Riebold PhD

Find the article about Annika Verplancke here.

Please watch also my video about this topic:

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  1. Pingback: From Cultural Identity Model to Language Identity Model - Ute's International Lounge

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