4 people, 1 concept…
Victor de Wulf.
“I feel more european”
For Victor de Wulf student of second year in civil engineering, no country will be evoked , not even Belgium as you might think looking at his purple passport ‘’ I’ve never spent more than two weeks there since the day me and my family left, it was in 1997’’. Belgium is therefore for Victor as for many third culture kids before him a passport country, in the sense that any possible affiliation is restricted to a piece of paper. Victor himself will confirm it later on ‘’ I’m always confused when people ask me where I’m from , I never know what to say, so I choose the easiest but it get worse when people ask, ‘Oh, which part of Belgium? What should I say? This is what is indicated on my passport…and to be honest I feel completely alien to this culture, I don’t know the cities, nor the politicians, nor anything else’’ . ‘’ I think that I’d be more able to talk about England or Holland than Belgium’’ he adds. Yet if you get to see Victor, at first you wouldn’t notice anything strange at all : tall blond-haired with blue eyes, talking fluently French, English and Dutch – there is nothing to say that Victor doesn’t belong to any of these countries, apart from the fact that he doesn’t know the slang perfectly. Small details that to be honest, no one will really pay attention to. Victor belongs therefore to what we will call a hidden migrant, as he has the physical traits of the majority ethnic group, consequently his difference is, for most people, invisible. ‘’I’ve been used to move every 5 years, it has been my routine until I arrived here ‘’ he tells me ‘’because of my dad who’s working in the energy sector, they are in Morocco now’’. And to the question ‘’where is home?’’ he will reply after a long hesitation ‘’ my home is where my family is’’. A statement that many people in this situation will say, for sure. Because, failing to have a country, a settled home which implies childhood friends, neighbors and souvenirs they could possibly rely on, family is the most stable thing they have. Because, beyond all these moves, the family remains , transporting the warmth of the family home. And on a rational perspective by ‘’home’’ society most of the time means ‘’your parents’’. If you ask an international student where he plans to go for the vacations, implicitly you include his parents in the transaction, and not Lana and Cathy some random friends.
I won’t deny it, Victor’s aptitude for languages impressed me quite a lot, even more when we realise that it has been the fruit of a meticulous work ‘’ At home, we used to talk different languages at the same time when having dinner ‘’ he says ‘’, to my mum I had to talk in French and to my father in Dutch. We stopped in the end but it remains – lately I even found a video of me and my brother talking Dutch in the garden’’ Not really the kind of traditional family dinner you will think of, but it’s in this expatriate culture that Victor has been raised, and the one that prevailed over the other.
”Moving from the French system to the English one hasn’t been easy at all, kids can be very mean”
When people see someone travelling a lot, they tend to think that things get easier with time, which is not completely wrong somewhere, but culture clash although undesirable is also another aspect of the adventure. A point which reminds us once again how interlinked are territory and culture. Victor will evoke it later ‘ moving from the French system to the English one hasn’t been easy at all, people were laughing at my English sometimes, because of my mistakes, children can be really rude sometimes’’
But as the proverb says ‘’ no pain no gain’’ and all of this didn’t prevent Victor from studying in an international high school in The Hague (Holland) or successfully passing the International Bacalaureat (IB), before ending here in England. Why? Because nowadays English is the language he is the more comfortable with. A student in civil engineering , his head is full of projects: ‘ I would love to start my own company,’ he confess. And to the question, ‘’Where do you see yourself in 5 years?’’ he replies: ‘’China (a bit random), South America (new challenges?), or maybe London but if so, I would really love to have a job where I have the possibility to travel, I have no idea of what life is without moving…’’
We are no longer in the era of monarchies where once arrived to her new royal court, the princess has to renounce her own traditions in order to adopt new ones. We are in a world in full transition, where a melting pot is an integral part of the landscape. Accordingly, kids that come out from these mixes inherit their two parents’ cultural inheritance in different degrees. Something interesting there is how these mixes give birth to a third culture kid, and without necessarily changing the country. I had the opportunity to meet a girl whose story was near to this profile.
‘’When I’m in Belgium, I feel more Swedish, and it’s the contrary when I’m in Sweden’’
Like Victor, Lisa has been immersed during the major part of her life in an expatriate culture ‘’ at home there is no culture that prevails more than the other, or at last not the Belgian one, I don’t even know the national anthem’’ she told me before pursuing ‘’but, symbolically, the Swedish culture inspired me more, ‘’I really love their celebrations ‘’ she says ‘’ especially the St Lucia on December 13th, as the sun sets around 2pm in Sweden during winter, people walk in the streets with candles to give some lights in the dark and guide’’.
One thing I still remember vividly of this discussion is how Lisa was switching constantly from English to French ‘’Some people do not like it when I do this but I can’t help it, I feel more at my ease in English (…) I’m not very good at French slang, ‘’ she confess, ‘’a couple of years ago I didn’t even know the meaning of cop (in French) it’s such a shame’’. Something quite surprising when we know that Lisa lived in a French- talking country her whole life, but which makes sense once again, when we learn that she received an Anglophone education ‘’ I’ve learned English at school, Flemish too and I actually talk to my sister exclusively in English, to my mum in French and my father Swedish’’. Morning schizophrenia, don’t bother, it’s just me. Listening to this kind of story is quite instructive in a certain way. Lisa’s story clearly shows that living in a same country and having the same nationality isn’t as significant as it used to be before. In the normal course of things, people create ties with the country they’re living in, by this I include its culture, its places, its flaws, etc. but cultural intermingling has completely changed things. And this is not the only factor responsible for such changes, the implementation of foreign schools spreading around other ideals and values can have a significant impact on an individual’s identity and their feeling of belonging. Childhood intervenes there as an important step in our personal building, as this is the time our personalities get constructed mainly by mimicry by copying our entourage. A task that can become really complicated when people around you don’t have one but many identities at the same time. Lisa will tell it on her own. ‘’I’ve been quite marked by the American educational system, and quite often people ask if I’m not from there, but I think that living in England has strengthened my Belgium identity’’.
“I wonder sometimes what would have been my life if I was secured in one and only one culture, but to be honest, I don’t regret anything because I think that people like us are the future’’
And to the question ‘’where do you see yourself in 5 years’’ Lisa will stay vague without evoking a precise place. ‘’I see me working in the music industry, maybe in a company like Spotify and apple music, I love the art community, and this is one aspects which is missing in my course,’’ she adds, a bit disappointed. ‘’ I don’t have any particular destination in mind, surely in a big town such as Singapore, New York or in Australia, my little sister is actually doing her gap year there’’.
Travelling is not a word that scares her ‘’ I don’t think that I ever spend one Christmas in Belgium, we are always abroad, in South Africa, Vietnam, Laos etc. …”
’’ Settle down? ‘’ Well if I had my life over again, perhaps I would have love to be more settled in one place and one culture, I guess we feel more protected in this way but I’m also conscious of my chance, not everyone can travel on this basis as I do. Also, this kind profile is very much in demand in industry, because of its flexibility and besides, we are not many today, but in a few decades it will be quite common because people like us are the future, this is what the world aspires to with globalization’’…
It’s during a discussion with Victoria that the term third culture kid was first presented to me. At this time, I was far from thinking that a term could even describe this mind-set. By mind-set, I speak there of all these feelings and sensations that this experience implies.
I’ve been lucky this day to discover an interesting person with a long experience behind her: I can still see us in this coffee bar, me desperately trying to repeat in chronological order her different ‘’ homes’’. But you know, there are little things about a third culture kid, ask them where they lived equals sometimes a long barren spell, where you remember only the beginning and the very end.
In brief, Victoria is a second year student in politics and international relations, born in Madrid, her mother is French and her dad half-English half-Colombian. She grew up successively in Spain, Greece, France, Dubai and Chili before ending up here in England. I warned you guys, even reading it Is a little marathon. But to come back to what I was talking about, this famous day the term third culture kid came out in our discussion as we were desperately trying to figure out where was home.
Victoria was actually confiding to me that it was impossible for her to say one unique place: ‘’If people ask where I’m from I would say France and Chile. Chile because my parents are there at the moment, and France because I lived there, I have the nationality and this is the culture which prevailed at home despite our constant move but I don’t think that saying this will completely define who I am’’. One statement that should not really surprise you after reading all these profiles, and I have to highlight one detail if you guys have been attentive since the beginning. If you pay attention to her answers, England hasn’t been cited at all, yet with her blue passport, all seems to indicate that in 2014 Victoria finally got back home.
“my parents first met on a plane, it was written”
Another memorable part of our discussion, is the meeting of her mother and father: ‘My mum was living in Paris at the very beginning, but after studying medicine she decided to swap and become a airline steward. It was actually on a plane going from Paris to Caracas that they first met, my mum was working that day, apparently she was tough on the security measures in a way that my dad didn’t really appreciate but hell, yeah, 21 years later, there I am’’ she told me with a big smile. And from this passion for the travel, is born a third culture kid, but well I think that it was quite foreseeable. Yet, having this mind-set is not given, it’s a process; not everyone end up in that situation even when going through all of this; ‘’unlike me, my little brother feels completely French’’.
When I speak about Dubai, her eyes light up. ‘’It’s one of the best experience I ever lived, this city is incredible , super international , there I have had the opportunity to meet many expatriates on the ground, it’s been really enriching’’. She says ‘’ it’s actually there that I’ve really started to speak English as I didn’t know much about Arabic’’. ‘’ I also speak Spanish ‘’ she adds ‘’ as when I was kid I used to go in Colombia every summer over two months, which allowed me to capture a bit of the Latina culture, even though they all consider me as a tourist when I go there today’’ . Something very common with third culture kids once again, once back in their supposed countries of origins, they are considered as foreigners. And to the question where do you see yourself in 5 years, her first answer will be a simple interjection ‘’ oulalalala!!’’ before evoking New York and London, and in the best of the world, somewhere where she could finally stay permanently. ‘’I would like to have my own place, and stay there for good’’, she confides in me.
And you? Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Which continent? Asia, Europe, Africa, Middle East? The furthest possible? In some place you’ve never been to? Personally, I always say Madagascar, especially during exams.
But then what if you’ve already travelled to all the continents? Where would you go? You said unlikely to happen? Well the impossible become possible when you hear Alexandra Christendal’s story. I got the opportunity to discuss it with her last month, in between two seminars on a sofa at the level 2 of the library. But let’s start from the very beginning, when hearing the name Christendal, who according to you would ever imagine that a beautiful Eurasian is hidden behind this name? No one or a few people. This detail can seem pointless, but for me it’s the evidence of a change, but more precisely of a transition. Nowadays, with cultural mix, a name although representative of someone’s history or nationality, does not define your identity or ethnicity. Alexandra will confirm later when she confides in me the people’s incapacity to guess her origins, well I can’t blame them for that, the Austrian Chinese mix wouldn’t be my first thought.
As a lot of TCK, Alexandra has been called to move frequently because of her parent’s job, notably her father’s job, a dad for whom Alexandra has a big admiration. ‘’He is the one person who inspired me the most in my life, he is a hard worker and really dedicated to his work, he is a hotel manager and it’s partially because of this that we’ve move so much’’. Move, the word seems a bit light when we knows that Alexandra moved more than 6 times ‘’ I’ve lived in Thailand, in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Vienna and now Singapore’’ she says, to resume the 3 continents. And when the question of cultural identity comes out, Alexandra’s verdict is undisputable ‘’ I think that I’m a mixt of everything, but before all else I consider myself Chinese and Austrian’’ before adding a bit disappointed ‘’ My Austrian is not very good but I adore this country, partly because I’ve lived there at a stage of my life where I was enough grown up to see the things properly, have fun. It’s a lovely city although not very big, people are quite full of solidarity’’. Solidarity, a term that will come back more than once in our discussion, and even more when Alexandra talks about her stay in Egypt, a country to which she is still very attached ‘’ the revolution of 2011 made me very sad, because contrary to what people see in the media, Egyptians are quite warm and welcoming, people there are really helpful. It makes me sick to see how media override centuries of history, because of all the things that happened lately with ISIS by putting into the same pot terrorist and a whole innocent civilization’’… After talking about amalgam, we evoke ethnicity.
”I’m proud of carrying this cultural inheritance and being able to show it to the world”
The discussion pursues its course, getting deeper, and at some point we end up talking about stereotypes and clichés. As Alexandra, contrary to Victor or even Victoria has Asian traits. Something she is actually very proud of: ‘’ I know some people would feel offended If someone make a joke on this, but it doesn’t impact on me,’’ she confides “because I feel so proud of it, this is what I am and I won’t let anyone take me down for that, I take it more as a cultural wealth than a burden’’
”One good antic : ‘’ I’ve been asked once if in Egypt, I had class? in the pyramid ‘’(NO JOKE)
-Where do you see yourself in 5 years ?