Thursday, March 14, 2013

Third culture kids: Making homes wherever they go

by Alyssa Fountain, Guest Columnist

 We pretend to laugh at a joke, but have no idea what you’re talking about.  We annoy our residence hall wings by blasting music with weird sounds in weird languages. We are the ones who dress a bit … oddly. We are the ones who hesitate when you ask us where we are from. 

    We look just like you, but we are Third Culture Kids (TCK). And we are at Pacific Lutheran University.

    TCKs are kids who have spent a large amount of their life outside of the country in which they were born. 

    For me, that country is Uganda, a small nation in East Africa. My family moved there to work as missionaries at a Christian University when I was 10, and I lived there until I came to PLU.  My world is very different from yours. 

    I grew up attending traditional weddings dressed in my traditional Mushanana — Google it and you’ll find a picture of me — and knocking mangoes out of trees or watching the monkeys steal the corn from our backyard.

    However, in August I hung up my Mushanana and came to PLU for international student orientation with my head held high, completely unsure of what to expect in this semi-“foreign” culture.

    Within the first few weeks I was overwhelmed as I strove to dress to match with the PLU culture, and man, was I glad that PLU appreciates some diverse dress codes — at least people kind of liked my very interesting handcrafted jewelry and traditionally patterned dresses and skirts.

    I realized public transportation is a much calmer experience here than in Uganda — not quite as life threatening. I’m more used to motorcycle taxis or crammed and breaking down 14-person passenger vans that carry 20 people than I am to the very sane buses.

    Although I feel like I have been welcomed into PLU, there are some aspects of my new home that disturb me. A month into my time here, I had been confused and slightly horrified by “South Park,” the show some PLU friends encouraged me to embrace as part of my heritage.

    This was surprising to me, as most of the jokes, such as “suck my d---,” would have severely offended anyone in Uganda. This portrayal of what my new country was like was shocking and, in my mind, atrocious.

    At the beginning of your time in college, everyone wants to know where you are from.

    This was certainly an interesting experience.

    The reactions you get when you tell people where you are from are priceless.

    From the people who didn’t believe me to the people who just plain freaked out, I almost never failed to get a reaction. I think my favorite day was when I was sitting in the Anderson University Center and tried having a conversation.

    “Where are you from?” this person asked. When I said I was from Uganda, I saw the wave of confusion hit them.

    “Right, so, where exactly is that?” Yet again, I have to explain it’s a country in East Africa. Here we go.

    “Oh, okay, I didn’t think it sounded like any city I knew in Washington.” That’s a facepalm moment right there.

    What I have loved, though, has been all of the friends and contacts I have made here.

    The Diversity Center presents a great place for me to go, and getting to know a couple of other TCKs has been fun.

    We speak our own TCK language and act like we don’t care that we are so different.

    Then there are my awesome American friends who loved watching my joy when I saw the leaves change color — we don’t have autumn in Africa.

    As many people have found, PLU is a place where you can be yourself.

    A TCK constantly questions where their home is. Maybe it is their host country where they grew up, or their passport culture where they were born, or even their dorm room. It is a very uprooted feeling.

    Nonetheless, a wise TCK once told me that as TCKs, home is where your suitcases are. I have to say, PLU is not a bad place to have your suitcases.