• Shweta Madhu

Life As A Citizen Of Nowhere

By the age of 18, I held in my heart parts of India, Dubai, Oman and England. So, when people ask me where I’m from, they’re either met with silence or a rambling story, depending on what kind of day I’m having. There’s a phrase for people like me; a phrase I rejected for the better part of my life – “third-culture kids”. The term was coined in the 50s to describe children who were raised in a country other than that of their parent’s or their own nationality.

It’s a decorative term for children who fit in everywhere, yet simultaneously, nowhere at all. As a TCK, I grew up feeling like both, an insider and outsider.

My cultural identity bore no resemblance to many who shared my passport. In fact, my passport was just that; a document that couldn’t possibly have described the culture I have imbibed. And, worst of all, whenever I’m asked where I’m from, I’m always met with the subsequent “no, where are you really from”. It’s no surprise I hated the term.

It wasn’t until I met other TCKs – or the cornier cousin, “global citizens” – at university, that I began to embrace the true power behind my identity. Growing up in transience wasn’t my Achilles heel but my superpower...

Many kids who grow up pining for a white picket fence learn that home, is in fact, a campervan. Home is wherever you are and whoever you’re with. We know, better than most, that something temporary isn’t of less value.

Instead, we learn to capitalise on temporality, making limited time feel like an eternity. Most of all, we embrace tolerance because out there, there are thousands of floating identities who may speak different languages but who feel the same things.

Having grown up on what was effectively international waters meant that I mark my childhood by places and moments, not age or friendship group. I was born in Oman. I flew before I could walk, taking my first steps in India. The first time I ever dove into an ocean, I was in Australia. I had my first kiss on a warm summer evening in Dubai. I drank (and threw up) for the first time in the UK. I have been surrounded, all my life, by friends from multiple cultures and countries, some unheard by many. This has been my privilege. To be educated in a racially diverse environment. To have learnt both sides of a history lesson. To harbour stories of the places I’ve been and people I’ve met. To be honest, this is more than my privilege; it’s my blessing. It’s made me, and many like myself, adaptable and culturally inspired.

Now in my young adulthood, I embrace the cultures and constant existential crises that have moulded me into who I am today. And when people ask me where I’m really from, I know just what I’ll say...

“I have many places I call home and I wouldn’t change that for the world”.

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