Growing up as a Third Culture Kid

Polyglo team member Mio Irving's experience growing up between Asia and Europe, and not having a one-answer "home"

By
Mio Irving
Updated on
January 25, 2021
5 min read

You might be wondering, what on earth is a third culture kid? Well, David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Recken illustrate the experience superbly in Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds. Essentially, a TCK is someone who spent at least part of their childhood in countries or cultures other than their own. Experiencing an entirely new culture and environment in one’s formative years can have a profound effect on the developing brain as well as one’s personal values and views.

As per the definition, I would also fall into that category. My mother is Japanese and my father is Irish, which is one of the reasons for having moved quite often growing up between Asia and Europe - but let me explain in detail.

My life has pretty much been in a state of constant uprooting and settling-in to a new home every couple of years.

I was born in the US, but have no recollection of my time there as my family moved to Tokyo after about 1 year. After 4 years in Tokyo, my family and I moved to Oxford, England where we lived for 5 years, and then my Father’s job took us back to Japan (Hiroshima) where we lived for 3 years. And no, it doesn’t stop there - we moved to Bonn, Germany after that where I graduated High School and accepted a University offer in the UK. So, my life has pretty much been in a state of constant uprooting and settling-in to a new home every couple of years.

When I explain this to people, I’m often met with a mixture of awe and confusion. Some are fascinated and want to know more, but some are so confused they don’t even know what to say. I think for some, my existence and upbringing presents itself as a challenge to their own upbringing, values, and what they know to be true. But I tend not to bother myself with the latter category of people. Honestly, I think it just makes it easier to make open-minded friends!

My Brother and I at a local festival in Hiroshima, Japan (at ages 9 and 10)

“Who am I?! Where do I belong? Am I an outcast or can I live my life normally?”

Now let’s get the most common questions out of the way: have I had an identity crisis because of this experience? Yes, growing up, I definitely did. I think that most, if not all TCK’s have a moment of “Who am I?! Where do I belong? Am I an outcast or can I live my life normally?” But my identity is something that I find myself more and more at peace with as the years go by. I find pride in my identity, and know that it makes me unique and allows me to view the world from many different lenses.

“Where would you consider home?” Is probably the trickiest question for me to answer. But everyone loves to ask that one. Truth is, I wouldn’t consider any one place I’ve lived “home”. Home to me is an amalgamation of all the places I’ve lived, found comfort and joy, and that have shaped who I am today. Home is also, as cheesy as it sounds, where my family and friends are (and let me tell you, I have friends living all over the world and they are my little pieces of “home”). Home need not be one single geographic location. Neither does it have to be the definition of who you are as a person.

“Where would you consider home?” Is probably the trickiest question for me to answer.

Me strolling through the streets of Rothenburg


I don’t view my upbringing as strange or remarkable; I lived it, and that’s my norm. Did it come with struggles? Absolutely. Having to say goodbye to friends and people that I had grown close to, and moving halfway across the world to a whole new language and culture is probably one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do. And not just once! But it has also taught me so much, and has equipped me with so many life skills that have helped me to navigate the world. It’s allowed me to be a highly flexible and adaptable individual who is very curious and appreciative of other cultures. Thanks to my unique experience, I speak Japanese and English fluently, and German at a conversational level (still working on it!).

My tastebuds and my behaviour occasionally can be quite Japanese, but my brain is almost entirely European.

Japanese food is my ultimate comfort food. Personality-wise, I am quite polite and reserved to people I don’t know well, and I’m always making sure that I’m not causing anyone any discomfort. This is quite a typically Japanese trait, and I’m often surprised when the “Japanese-ness” in me comes up unexpectedly. That said, I’m quite liberal in my thinking, and I find myself more at ease with Europe’s individualism as opposed to Japan’s collectivist mindset. Let’s just say, my tastebuds and my behaviour occasionally can be quite Japanese, but my brain is almost entirely European. Japan and the UK/Ireland are vastly different in culture and custom, but both worlds exist together harmoniously in my mind, and allow me to have a broad perspective in life.

At the end of the day, I am a citizen of the world, and I believe the future of the world lies in multiculturalism and globalism. If we were all from more than just one location in this world, and if we could consider more than just one place our proud homes, I don’t think there would be so much conflict and misunderstanding that often divides us. I have my parents to thank for such a unique upbringing, and for all the people from all over the world that I've met along the way in this crazy journey that is life.

Truth be told, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Mio's father wrote an article similar to hers about life abroad. Read it here if you want to read it from his perspective!

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Mio Irving

Polyglo's very own brand / graphic designer, working to give everything a touch of Polyglo magic.

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