Life between the ivory tower and a cardboard box

Life

I am a Third Culture Kid and Advocate

I think I’ve always known I was a TCK.  I have always had some degree of awareness of how unique (not superior) my background is, and I have been lucky to be surrounded by supportive family and friends who accept me for who I am.  It is the best thing any person can ask for.

Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky.  Many TCKs get by without understanding their own emotions and experiences and with very little or no support from family and peers.  Unfortunately, many Adult TCKs (ATCKs) have told stories about discovering a name for their identity much later in life, after years of experiencing depression and isolation.   Many younger TCKs do not receive the support needed to weather the complex layers of change they encounter during their formative years.  Many TCKs feel lost and feel they do not belong anywhere.  More than anything, they need people who understand them and a support system that can address their needs and can help them find acceptance.

Since the use online social networks became more ubiquitous, more avenues for connecting people of similar interests and backgrounds have cropped up.  Among these were groups dedicated to third culture kids, connecting global nomads to one another regardless of physical distance.  As conversations unfolded, so did the rumblings of something larger: a shared dedication to realizing a world where there is an acceptance of a diversity that runs deeper than race, nationality, ethnicity, linguistic background, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation, and encompasses an infinite spectrum of experiences and identities.

TCKID Pledge Page blog size

From here, individuals in the TCK community began a more organized approach to fulfill this vision.  One of the organizations at the forefront of this movement is TCKID, a non-profit community organization founded by Brice Royer and dedicated to connecting TCKs to each other and to resources that address TCKs’ unique needs. Some of the projects that have been implemented include weekly chats with TCK volunteers, organizing local TCKID groups in numerous cities across North America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, and a TCK research arm. Future projects are in the works.

As these plans are underway, TCKID faces many of the same challenges growing organizations face. Fundamentally, TCKID needs the support of its community members and allies to continue building on its vision and providing the support system that is so important to TCKs.

We are asking anyone who identifies as a TCK, who grew up feeling torn between cultures, who had to say goodbye too many times to loved ones who kept coming and going, who has friends no matter where they go, or anyone with a loved one who identifies this way, to pledge their support.  In doing so, TCKs everywhere will always have a resource to turn to and can be a step closer to building a diverse and understanding community.

I signed the pledge, because I believe that supporting third culture kids is a form of social justice and is tantamount to supporting all individuals with postmodern identities, beyond traditional definitions of identity. I want to work to build a community where all cultural identities and expressions are accepted. I also want to continue supporting others like myself. After living extensively in four countries through my formative and adult years, I understand how it feels to feel connected to different cultural contexts and still feel isolated. I want to provide an open mind and a listening ear and provide a sense of understanding. I am also very excited to see what the TCK community can accomplish together.

TCKs are a diverse and vibrant community, and I am proud to identify as one. I will continue advocating for TCKs and the vision they represent.

Read I am a Third Culture Kid: Being “The Foreigner”
Read am a Third Culture Kid: Introduction


I am a Third Culture Kid: My Top 10 Pet Peeves (Part 1)

Argh!Let’s not lie. Everybody has a secret list of things that annoy the hell out of them, many of which are related to the things they are passionate about. Some of my book-worm friends hate it when people fold the corners of the pages. Other friends hate it when fellow movie-goers feel the need to give running commentary while the film is playing. I personally do not enjoy getting CDs that don’t have the clear strip on the side. They’re petty and illogical, but they’re there. They don’t necessarily make us bad people, but they make up the character and idiosyncrasies of every individual.

Naturally, I have pet peeves that are related to my experiences as a TCK. Because all of them are deeply connected to the experience of travel and living in multiple places, I realize that they come in danger of sounding snobby and elitist, especially to those who have not had as much experience with traveling. However, I’m not here to make some ground-breaking insight or social analysis. I may even be guilty of committing some of these myself. I just write to talk about my perspective for others to learn about. If it makes you re-examine some of your previous beliefs and knowledge, then more power to you. If not, here’s hoping you get a good laugh out of it.

And without further ado, here are my Top 10 TCK-Related Pet Peeves.

  1. Mispronunciation. I find it absolutely jarring when I hear someone mispronounce a word that I know. This applies to both native-speakers and non-native speakers who try to inject foreign words in their vocabulary. I can’t emphasize enough the number of times I felt like driving a pencil through my eye every time I heard President George W. Bush or my high school Theory of Knowledge teacher say “nuke-you-ler” in public. Where did that extra syllable come from? Similarly, I get a sudden fit of rashes when I hear people here in the Philippines mispronounce commonly used English words like “category” (kah-TEH-go-REE) or when my principal in first grade tried to tell us that you can also say it “Wed-NES-day”. My inner Anthro major tries to remind me that pronunciation is culturally relative, just like how I used to say “CON-tribute” and “DIS-tribute” before I moved to the U.S. and changed it to “con-TRI-bute” and “dis-TRI-bute”. I will try to remember that the next time I feel like cutting a bitch when I hear someone say “EYE-raq”.
    • Does not apply to: People genuinely trying to learn another language.
  2. When entire continents are one big country. I have lost count of the number of people I met who would nonchalantly describe their overseas adventures “in Africa”, “in Central America”, or “in Europe”. As if that really tells me anything. In case no one got the memo, each of those places have many countries, with their diverse set of languages, traditions, and histories. Lumping them all together by referring to their continents or regions gives others the impression that all of its countries are exactly the same and indiscernible. Anyone who really made the most of their experience abroad and didn’t spend all of it with the expat community or getting drunk the entire time will probably have an easier time telling India and Thailand apart.
  3. Stupid stereotypes. I’m not just talking about racism, although that is a big one, too. I’m talking about the preconceived notions people project about a place based on inflated representations from the media — things like believing that everyone in the Caribbean is a pot-smoking, reggae-listening, Jah-worshipping, dreadlock-sporting rasta, or that everyone in the Middle East is an Islamic extremist who hates the U.S. The worst part is when people sincerely ask me how I could live in or have friends from such places. “Gosh, Erin,” they would say, “are your Black friends gangsters?” Or, “Wow, the Caribbean!” they would exclaim, “Did you leave by the beach? Were you friends with those rasta dudes? Yah, mon, I love Bob Marley!” And so on. I would say something about how people are just people and do not serve as caricatures of the cultures you think they represent. But that would be too much work.
  4. “Why do you speak English so well?” This is an idiotic question, usually asked by native English speakers in places where English is the national language. People who think about posing this question might as well ask, “Why do you use your brain?” Basically, you lay bare your assumption that anyone who appears to be a foreigner can’t be a native English speaker or appear competent when in foreign situations. Asking me this question is an insult to my intelligence and is an annoyance considering I’ve spoken English my entire life. Don’t ever think about asking this question to anyone, or I will hunt you down and hurt you.
    • Does not apply to: Admission officers who want to know why you want to waiver your TOEFL requirement. Because the TOEFL is an expensive waste of time.
  5. “Do you know my friend?” It’s amazing how, despite the rapidly rising global population, people still think that you know his or her friend Jack just because you come from or live in the same country. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a big fan of the idea that everyone in the world is somehow connected and have found some ridiculous connections between all the people I have ever known growing up. But I encourage everyone to drop the idea that the rest of the world lives in these large, communal villages where everybody knows each other.
    • Does not apply to: Small towns. Or if you are really powerful and important and knows a lot of people.

    (to be continued)

    Read I am a Third Culture Kid: Being “The Foreigner”


What province are you from?

Map of the PhilippinesHere in the Philippines, All Saints Day and All Souls Day have been declared working holidays. Many Filipinos are taking the time to visit cemeteries all over the country, where they can reunite with loved ones, honor the dearly departed, and find another excuse to eat good food together. I am sure it can be fun, but I never grew up with it, mostly because we were abroad.

At work, many of my colleagues had been preparing for the holiday for weeks, anticipating the time when they get to go home and see their families again. Some had asked me where I was going for the holiday, and, among these conversations, the question “What province are you from?” popped up.

For readers who aren’t familiar with the question, colloquially, the “province” basically refers to any region in the Philippines that isn’t Metro Manila. Technically, Metro Manila, or the National Capital Region, is also its own province. However, I have found that many do not consider this when using the term “province”. According to Wikipedia, the same meaning is also applied to the term “province” in France, Peru, and Romania.

Much like the question “Where are you from?”, the question “What province are you from?” seeks to gauge who you are culturally, amidst the vast diversity that exists throughout the 7,107 islands. What province you are from apparently tells others what language you speak, what kind of food you like to eat, what religion you follow, and so on.

Like the question “Where are you from?”, I generally do not have any personal problem with other people asking, “What province are you from?” I know that, generally, there is a genuine social need to answer this question. However, my problem does lie in how to answer it.

First, even without the third culture kid aspect of my life, I have a problem answering the question, simply because I never lived anywhere in the country outside of Metro Manila. When I say this to people like my co-workers, many are genuinely surprised, as they themselves grew up outside of the city and only came here for school and work. The province is still considered “home”. To assuage their surprise and curiosity (and possibly any thoughts of my being a “city brat”), I just tell them I grew up abroad, and somehow that makes it more understandable.

Second, I often find myself answering the question by telling other people where my parents are from. However, I still don’t think this says anything about me. I have visited my dad’s hometown in Bicol and my mom’s family in Quezon many times. The most time I had ever spent outside of the metro and its connected suburbs (where my high school is located) was about three weeks or a month in Bicol. However, I don’t really feel like any of these places have influenced or define me. I don’t speak Bikolano, and even my mom’s Tagalog is different when she is with her family. I am also not knowledgeable about the way of life in both places. So, I feel like I’m just telling a half-truth when I answer the question “What province are you from?” in this manner.

Nonetheless, it still appears to be very useful when I tell other people what provinces my parents are from. Last week, I took a cab home with a particularly chatty driver. He told me he was from Bicol, and I ended up telling him that my dad was, too. Even though I told him that I didn’t speak any Bikolano, he was still very excited and proceeded to tell me about all the other Bikolano people he met here in the city. He told me that the cab he drove was operated by a fellow Bikolano, who basically gave him a lot of flexibility with the cab, even telling him that he could own a cab of his own one day. He told me about another passenger he once had, whose father was also from Bicol, and she said that, even though she also didn’t speak any Bikolano, she knew she was a true Bikolana because she really liked spicy food. We then had a good laugh and started a conversation about spicy food, including the famous Bicol Express. Provincial affinity is clearly still very important to many people here.

While I cannot relate to it, I have always wondered what it would have been like to grow up in the province. My mom likes to tell me outrageous stories from her hometown that somehow always involve faeries, duendes, or creepy neighbors standing outside of your window waiting for you to die. Many of the old folks from that area still believe in many of these stories, and will talk about them matter-of-factly at family gatherings. My dad’s side of the family also had a family reunion a few years ago, and I didn’t know most people and lost track of how I was related to everyone. Despite my own very culturally rich upbringing throughout the world, in a way, I feel like I have missed out on something just as valuable and, in a way, that is a part of who I am.

I will never be comfortable with telling people about what province I am “from”. However, I may consider looking for some ghosts or stopping by the cemetery in my dad’s hometown someday to light a few candles and perhaps enjoy some barbecue.


From The Archives: Moving (Pt. 1)

This past weekend, I found my old personal diary from the 5th and 6th grade. 1994 was the year I moved back to the Philippines from Grenada, and I wrote my thoughts about it throughout the year. I will also write about other moves in future installments.

Check out the mid-90s pop culture references!

Balikbayan BoxMay 6, 1994

This morning my dad said we are going back to the Philippines . . . I don’t want to. Everything I love is in Grenada. I told [my friend] and she said maybe I could stay with her. I’m trying not to cry right now. I don’t want to leave . . . I hope my dad is telling a lie. Grenada is my country and no one can change that. Period.

September 29, 1994

. . . Well, [my friend] came again today. I told him we were going back to the Philippines for good. I don’t know how he feels, but I don’t LIKE WHAT IS GOING ON HERE. Oh well, my life is already ruined anyway.

October 5, 1994

My dad got reservations today. We’re leaving 7:30 A.M on BWIA next week. I think my life is ruined. I really try to look in the bright side. In the Philippines, I get to go to SM and go shopping. I’ll get new clothes. But they don’t sell cool stuff like what they wear here in Grenada. Oh well. Gotta tell everyone now.

October 8, 1994

I feel so sad about leaving soon. I love Grenada. We have to donate our children’s puppet show to the school. But my dad promised me we will get another one. I will get new clothes in the Philippines. I don’t want to wear a uniform [to school]. I look gross.

October 12, 1994

Well, I feel much better now about my trip. We went by [our family friends’] and they want me to go to Megamall and all sorts of places. I ♥ Megamall. Oh yeah, they also have German, French, Chinese, and Japanese schools.

October 13, 1994

Oh I’m going to cry! Today was definitely the best day of my life. [Our family friend] made my cake for class. It was beautiful and delicious. The secondary class ♥ it . . . My whole class gave me a card. It was so wonderful. I don’t wanna leave. I could just cry just now.

October 14, 1994

I’m in Miami now. In the Everglades Hotel. I miss Grenada already.

October 16, 1994

I’m in the Philippines and I’m crying. I wanna go back to Grenada . . . “Always” [by Erasure] is No. 1 in the Philippines, [my brother] said. The little Tagalog speaker.

October 17, 1994

Today I had my exam [at my new school]. It was pretty easy. I slept a lot during the afternoon. I finished Super Street Fighter 2 and Clay Fighter. It was pretty fun. I wanna go back to Grenada still. But I’m starting to get used to this place. I really like 94.7 radio station. It has a lot of the stuff I know. Well, nothing else to write.

October 20, 1994

Today was my first day at [my new school]. I made a lot of friends.

October 25, 1994

Today we had computer class again. I think typing is so hard. Anyway, nobody sat with me for lunch today. I think those girls hate me.

November 2, 1994

Today was OK. Dad and I went to Megamall and went around. I wanted to buy an Ace of Base video but they didn’t have it. Well, Goonies is on TV and I was sent to bed. I don’t want to. Well, I’m starting to think less about Grenada. (Oh my god.) Gotta go.

January 10, 1995

Today was another bad day too. I get a C+ for my health. I never felt so retarded in my life. If those people from Grenada heard that, they would call me retarded and all kinda thing. I learned some Chinese characters today and they make me see how unartistic I am. My life is breaking up again.

January 11, 1995

Today is the last day of school of the week. We are stuck with a whole bunch of homework for the weekend. I’m not really that excited about the science fair. I don’t feel like going to school anymore. It doesn’t seem worth it anymore. I don’t care if I end up retarded. What I really need is a break from myself and my life. I want to have a vacation. A long one. I don’t want to come back.

February 13, 1995

Today I got a letter from Grenada! It is from my class! They have not changed . . . [They say] nothing has been going on in Grenada. Oh I ♥ those letters so much.

February 22, 1995

Today was just like a normal school day. But they gave me a new name and call me Granada Bomb because I told them about Grenada. That is really silly.

March 1, 1995

. . . Today [these girls] were fighting about me. “Oh Erin, sit with me!” I sat with [my friend] instead. It’s good that I did. I’m in a new club called Friends 4 Ever . . . I ♥ this week.


Scene in the City: Elections

In honor of the coming Barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) elections this Monday, October 29, today I give you not just one, not even two, but three short videos I took last weekend, of campaign activities going on while I was doing field work in the metro. They aren’t fabulous quality or anything (two were taken with my digital camera, while one was taken with my cell phone), but they do the job.

This first video features just one minute out of a five minute parade of cars that passed in front of our site, all of whom sported posters and balloons, while supporters wore pink T-shirts to promote their favorite candidate.

This second video is a another, more flamboyant parade that happened some time after the first video, featuring loud sirens and high school students playing the drums to attract the attention of potential voters.

The third video (obviously the one taken with my cell phone) shows a candidate appropriating a Britney Spears song to tell voters why she is the right person for the job. Her first name is Baby, which may explain the song choice.

Scenes like these have been going on all over the city and the country, including my own neighborhood, in anticipation of Monday’s elections. In addition to the entourages and the loud music, there are also posters and banners lining the walls, phone lines, and, soon, the bins, gutters, and burning piles of trash in every street all over the Philippines.

While all of this fanfare was going on, I couldn’t help but wonder: What would make me choose any of these candidates? Each parade had several candidates trailing one another, all featuring the same pink balloons, the same pink T-shirts, and the same smiling, waving, hard-hat sporting candidate hoisted at the back of the same pick-up truck. You have to possess basic reading skills to be able to tell each candidate apart. As far as I could tell, there was nothing that made a candidate stand out. This is exacerbated by the fact that I have no recollection of any running candidate taking the time to talk to voters about the issues. I haven’t been employed that long, so I would have been around in case someone came by or announced a forum to discuss barangay issues. Even my mom, who is currently not employed and little more knowledgeable about what goes on around here, has no idea who any of the candidates are and does not intend to vote on Monday. It is a little disappointing and frustrating to be faced with the responsibility to vote for someone when you have no idea what they can do for you.

I also find it disingenuous how candidates seem to think that making noise, wasting paper, and covering pop songs somehow makes them worthier of my vote. That doesn’t really tell me anything, except maybe who you are friends with and how creative you can get by inserting your name into a Top 40 hit. It is also insulting to voters, who deserve to know what they are getting into, instead of being manipulated by people who are supposed to serve them.

Then again, what do I know. I have not had the chance to participate in Philippine politics since turning 18, due to the fact that I was away and living far from the nearest embassy. Perhaps I just don’t know enough to understand that this is how it works here, or that I’m still so out of the loop that I’m missing some of the different ways that voters are getting their information. In a way, I still feel like a foreigner here, still trying to learn even the most basic aspects of life in the Philippines. I am sincerely asking anyone out there to enlighten me on the mechanics of the upcoming elections, if you find my thoughts too uninformed or offending.

This is what I do know, though. I was also the foreigner when I was living in the U.S., but for someone who couldn’t vote, I was still fairly informed about U.S. political affairs. My social circles ran the full spectrum, from deeply involved activists and people employed by presidential campaigns, to the uninformed or otherwise apathetic. All of these people have at least heard of candidates running for office (local, state, or national), and even friends who would be considered members of the so-called Sex and the City demographic can give brief talking points or soundbites given by candidates after simply talking to friends or tuning in to the evening news for a few minutes. Basically, I thought that it was not hard to be informed about politics there, as the media does a decent job of reporting what is going on and sticking to the issues. On the other hand, I am hard-pressed to say anything truly insightful about Philippine politics, besides the occasional quip about how “corrupt” it is or maybe a comment on the usefulness of the phrase “legal gobbledygook”.

This is not meant to be biting political or social commentary, but just my reaction to some things I have seen and am truly baffled about. All I am saying is that, as a citizen and someone who does make an effort to stay informed, I don’t feel like I know enough, and I think that future and current politicians and the media in the Philippines aren’t doing a good job of informing all people about what is really going on and why they should care about it. All the rhetoric about being patriotic and doing things to uplift the fellow Filipino doesn’t mean a damn thing until people — who, by the way, are supposed to be part of this “democracy” — are properly informed and educated about the issues. Until things change, unfortunately, there is nothing all the Britney Spears songs in the world can do to help us become a more engaged and politically functional community.


I Am Employed!

I apologize for not updating for a whole week, but I have recently been gainfully employed!  I am working as part of the research team of a health NGO in Makati.  My background in Anthropology actually helped, because they needed someone familiar with ethnographic research methods.  So, Anthropology haters can suck it!

I will resume my regular updating this week.


Scene in the City: Open 25 Hours

25 HoursApparently, it pays to defy logic.

Since I came back to the Philippines, I’ve seen more than a handful of restaurants around and outside the city that claim to be “Open 25 Hours.” While it appears to be GoodAh!!!‘s motto, I have seen it on mom ‘n’ pop type carinderias along the way to the provinces as well.

I don’t get it. Does this mean to say that they are open 25 hours a day? While obviously breaking the laws of science, I also fail to see how this can work with people. Most people are quite aware that there are only 24 hours in a day, especially those of us who have had to live with deadlines or lack a decent night’s sleep. So, how does one successfully get away with advertising something so blatantly false and contrary from common knowledge?

It reminds me of how, just this morning, I was reading the side of my Langers Cranberry Grape juice bottle (as you do), and found myself won over by the charming tale of how the owners of the company grew up drinking and tasting fresh juice squeezed from “firm, juicy cranberries” by their dad, the “head juicer”, while the owners were his “official tasters”. When I switched to the other side of the juice bottle, I was very disappointed to find out that my delicious and “fresh” Cranberry Grape juice was only 27% juice and contained high fructose corn syrup. I continued to feel disappointed as I gulped down the rest of my glass and poured myself another to drink with my brand new pile of lady pills. I mean, really, if they were going to lie — badly, at that — they should have just completed the circle and sold me a crappy product. Maybe I wouldn’t have felt as bad for adding to my already chemical-ridden body.

I guess this goes to show that it doesn’t really matter what you say in your advertising, as long as it gets people to buy your product. This is no longer about how good your product is, but how well you are able to spin it nicely enough to catch people’s attention. After all, we are living in a time where a series of insurance commercials featuring cavemen can be turned into a TV sitcom. It looks like counter-intuitiveness is the way to go.

Perhaps NGOs could pick up a few lessons from the private sector. No more need to air commercials with images of rail-thin, disease-ridden, starving children in far away countries. We can stop pretending people care when they attend worldwide concerts centered around giving aid to Africa. Instead, I propose they utilize new, sexy slogans that have absolutely nothing to do with their causes, but, at the same time, promote them with their paradoxical catchiness. I already have a few ideas of my own: “I Like Big Butts and I Cannot Lie — Join National Action Against Obesity!” or “Open 25 Hours! — The Minuteman Project.”