HuffPost TCK piece: My thoughts and reflections

Rarely do I come across an article that strikes such a deep chord with me, or a writer whose life story so closely mirrors mine. Ms. Miki Naganuma’s piece on her experiences and identity as a third culture kid evoked many feelings and memories in me, so I thought I’d share some of them here, in quote-and-comment format.

 

「すごく日本語上手ですね」(だって日本人やし)

→ I get this too. And I react in the same way (albeit in standard Japanese) in my mind. Like, I’m a bilingual Japanese person, so by definition I can speak Japanese.

I’ve also had people get super impressed or surprised upon seeing me reading a Japanese novel, and when I knew a certain Japanese city or prefecture they had mentioned. I don’t take offense or anything, but evidently there are people who don’t expect me to do or know these things.

 

「純粋な日本人の方ですか?」(そうです)

→ I get asked this question a lot too. And even when I reply in the affirmative, some people still don’t buy it.

 

「素敵!格好いいですね!」 (何が?)

→ 何が? is exactly how I feel when I hear this, or any other variation of sugoi. I don’t consider myself sugoi; it’s not like I ran the 100-meter race in 8.2 seconds, or performed brain surgery on a tree shrew with my eyes closed. All I did was grow up in a different environment than most; I’m just different. I have never said or thought that I was better or more special than others because of my background. Better at certain skills, yes, but we all have our strengths and weaknesses, right? Being raised abroad doesn’t make me sugoi as far as I’m concerned.

 

現地校へ通い出し、辛いと言うより正直訳が分からなかった。

→ I was kind of in the same boat; after moving abroad to Singapore as a fourth grader, everything was new to me. You’re just a nine-year-old kid, and all of a sudden you find yourself in a completely English-speaking environment at school (which in my case was an international school). You don’t speak a word of English, and you can’t understand what everyone is saying. Looking back, that sounds a little daunting. But I don’t remember ever feeling scared or homesick. I was probably just too young to know any better; the transition likely would have been more challenging had I moved abroad later in life. When you’re nine, you aren’t afraid of anything. At least I wasn’t. Life was different after my move, but I just took it as it came.

 

早く日本に帰りたいとばかり思っていたのを覚えている。

→ I can safely say I never felt this way during my childhood. Not one bit. I do remember some of my Japanese classmates at my international school becoming homesick, though, and me being unable to comprehend why they were homesick. I might even have needled them about it (what a jerk!), which I regret.

And years later, I would finally understand that feeling, because I got “homesick” myself—but for the U.S, not Japan. During my first few years back in Japan (after graduating from college in California), which were pretty rough to say the least, I missed my stateside friends and the life I had left behind, and I badly wanted to go back. That’s about the only time in my life that I have felt homesick—though I don’t call it homesickness myself, because the U.S. isn’t home to me. But at the very least, I could understand what it felt like.

 

小中学生時代は英語が第二言語ばかりの生徒が集まるESL(English as Second Language)という特別なクラスで英語を学んでいた。私はこのクラスが大嫌いだった。

→ I started out in ESL as well. I personally liked it. Being with other kids who were in a similar situation as me helped me fit in and make friends, and I loved the multinational environment. There were kids from literally all over the world—Bulgaria, Brazil, Australia, Norway, Taiwan, you name it. I didn’t feel out of place at all, because we were all different.

I liked the ESL approach as a form of language education too, because it was very hands-on and it enabled me to immerse myself in the language from an early age. The ESL label didn’t hurt my pride, because I knew I wasn’t a native speaker and I was indeed studying English as my second language.

 

自分の日本人アイデンティティを避けたがるようになった。

→ I went through this phase too, though it wasn’t so much about trying to be “less Japanese” as trying to be “more global”. As a student at an international school abroad, I was eager to become part of the global, multicultural environment around me. I didn’t want to hang out only with Japanese classmates and talk in Japanese all day and read Japanese comics during recess (which, by the way, is what 99% of Japanese kids at my international school did)—no offense, to each their own, but that MO made no sense to me. I mean, if I’m living abroad, I might as well make the most of my opportunity to experience the world, right? Going to an international school and “being Japanese” the whole time was, to me, the equivalent of visiting Yosemite National Park on a gorgeous summer day and playing video games all day in your cabin. There was no way I was doing that. I wanted to get to know and become friends with classmates from various countries, which entailed speaking in a language we could all understand (English) and holding values we could all share. And doing those things effectively meant becoming “more global” and “less Japanese”. I distinctly remember once being told I wasn’t very Japanese, and taking it as a compliment because that meant I was succeeding in becoming more global. So, it wasn’t that I had anything against Japan; this shift in identity was part of my natural gravitation toward a “world citizen” (国際人) mindset.

Now, wasn’t there a way to be both Japanese and global? Did it really have to be a choice? Those are valid questions, because there are Japanese bilinguals who clearly were able to achieve a better balance of the two than myself. But if there was a way, I didn’t know it or follow it.

 

中でも一番私が影響を受けたのは、大学にある「日本人生徒会」を通して出会えた「変な日本人」仲間のみんな。

→ My university had a Japanese student group too, but I didn’t join it. The thought of mingling with fellow Japanese students felt foreign to me after years of not doing so, and the idea of ethnically themed student organizations in general didn’t fit my worldview. I believed in ignoring borders, not celebrating them. Joining the Japanese club would almost have felt as if I was turning my back on my friends, who were of various races and nationalities. So, I never participated in the Japanese club’s events. But, in hindsight, I think I could have benefited from joining the club, and I think it wouldn’t necessarily have meant a betrayal of my friends or beliefs. If I could go back in time, I would at least give it a try.

 

「あ、一緒だ!変な人こんなに沢山いるんだ。自分ひとりじゃないし結構普通かも」と思えた瞬間だった。

→ This sentence hit home the most for me. For much of my adult life so far I’ve felt alone psychologically, because it’s so hard to relate to others or to ever feel at home. I’m not very Japanese, not very Singaporean or American, and not even like most returnees for that matter (because most Japanese returnees are very Japanese). It was my own doing for the most part, but I have a unique, rootless, global identity, and I’ve found it hard to find people who share a similar background and perspectives. I really miss being around people I can relate to (my immediate reaction to this piece was, “If only I could find this kind of group too!”); the feeling described in this sentence is precisely what I want and need in my life right now. So, if there are any “weird people” out there who are reading this and feel the same way, give me a holler! :-)

 

変な日本人でも自分が日本国民であるという事を自覚し、誇りに思えるようになった。

→ I share the same sentiments, in that I am a Japanese citizen after all and I’m proud of my roots. I was born in Yokohama to a Japanese family, so I consider my Japanese nationality my birthright. No amount of becoming Americanized or globalized is going to change that.

 

将来何処に住もうが、私はこれからも2ヵ国の真ん中を生きていく。

→ So too will I. The TCK identity is deeply ingrained in me, and at this point I am who I am, wherever I may end up.

 

しかしTCKという国境線を越えたアイデンティティを見つけて以来、知らぬ間に多文化や異文化を通して身につけてきた語学力、共感力、コミュニケーション力、グローバルな価値観や視点が実は素晴らしいものではないかと気づき始めた。

→ Being a TCK is a double-edged sword. There are challenges unique to TCKs, but there are positives too, as outlined in this essay. Life as a TCK can be hard at times, but at the end of the day all I can do is try to make the most of my positives and deal with the negatives. Don’t we all?