The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Third Culture Kid

The anxiety that preludes the first day of college can only be intensified if someone does not know the campus – nor the country.

Reminiscing my first week at SMU, I recall not knowing where Hughes-Trigg Center was, what ‘Mac’s place’ is, or how long it actually takes to walk from the dorms to Fondren Science Center.

On top of that, I was unfamiliar with what side of the road people drive on, the iconic fast food chains I saw outside the SMU campus, and the “y’all” contraction.”

That all-too-familiar “fish out of the water” experience was happening to me yet again.

Having lived in different countries for most of my life, I had no true idea of American culture and consequently experienced culture shock.

As I went through the freshmen regimen at SMU, going to AARO and every other mandatory assembly, I was hopeful to meet more TCKs like me.

Dr. Ruth Van Reken, author of Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds, defines a third culture kid as “a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture.”

This results in a TCK building “relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.”

As I met a plethora of people during that first week of socials, assemblies and club meetings, I came to find that TCKs are not as easy to come across as they were in my past.

I found international private schools to be normal growing up, having childhood best friends that were Dutch, German and Japanese when living in Amsterdam. When I later moved to Singapore, I befriended Australians, Koreans, and many other cultures.

But American culture was new to me.

I had trouble figuring out what “Newport Beach, California”, “Tampa, Florida,” or even “Plano, Texas” was like; and based on some people’s reactions, I could tell they didn’t know what or where Singapore was.

I struggled. The first semester I had emotional withdrawal symptoms of my expatriate life. I missed the tropical weather I lived in when fall came, I missed being able to hop in a cab whenever I needed a ride, and I missed being legal at the age of 18 instead of waiting to be 21.

I became narrow-minded in some sense, feeling as if I didn’t truly belong at SMU.

No one could understand TCK issues, like being the new kid multiple times. No one could understand having a huge group around you yet feeling alone because you’ll never get the whole conversation. No one could understand the difference between having a hometown where you born, but not having a “home.”

But time was my friend.

Time allowed me to assimilate. With time, I opened up and met people from different places within America and I learned about their culture growing up. And with time, people began to comprehend what Singapore is like and accept what I am like.

And when I least expected it, I ran into other international students and TCKs. I befriended people from Sweden, Hong Kong, Russia and more.

The international community at SMU was more prevalent than I had thought – 13% of the student population is from 97 different countries, while the other 87% being from all across America, I befriended both parties by meeting them halfway.

My friends showed me In-N-Out, Canes and Sprinkles, how to properly dress up cowboy boots, and even helped me learn how to drive. As they introduced me to some American ways, I reciprocated by showing them different genres of music and food that I’ve experienced where I lived.

I learned how to be open to a new surrounding (although there was some resistance at first) and adjust to American culture, but without losing my international roots. There will always be a place for Holland and Singapore in my heart, but I have made Dallas my new home.

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