Third Culture Kids — How Pinoy Are They?
By Rav de Castro
For most of us, the concept of home is a very simple thing—it’s our permanent address where everyone we know lives. It’s the place where we grew up alongside our families, relatives, and friends. But for some, home is a complex map of different cities with different cultures.
For third culture kids, the concept of home takes on different meanings. Having parents with different backgrounds and having lived in more than one country most of their lives, third culture kids spent a significant part of their developmental years assimilating in different cultures. This impacts how they build relationships and how they form their values and world-view.
We interviewed third culture kids with Filipino blood from different parts of the world, and we asked them about how Filipino culture was intertwined with their daily lives. We also asked them about how they see the world, and whether they deem themselves fit to be called Pinoys.
‘Bababa ba?’ ‘Bababa.’
The beauty of the Filipino language is that it is pretty easy to learn. Being highly phonetic, Filipino parents of third culture kids were able to pass on the language to their kids easily, who are now mostly polyglots in their own right.
Take Marie Chantal Marauta, for example. This eighteen-year old Milan-born half-Filipino half-Italian is fluent in four languages. When she was just learning how to talk, her mom refrained from teaching her Filipino to keep her from getting confused as she was already speaking English and Italian. But when they moved to Dubai, she became immersed in a diverse community where she met many third culture kids with Filipino backgrounds. She learned how to speak Filipino from her friends, and for her, it was an easy language to learn. Having Filipino blood in her veins also helped.
Marie Chantal went to an international school, and this is where she learned how to speak French. She considers having the ability to switch to a different language when needed gives her an edge among her peers, especially those who did not have the same upbringing as her.
For Sophia Isabel Vergeire, growing up with parents who are both from the Philippines means she is as Pinoy as they come—even if she grew up in the States. She certainly looks like one, for starters. She has a golden brown skin that her friends think make her look even more beautiful, and she has a cheerful demeanor that you usually see among Filipinos. Her middle school posse is mostly made of fellow Pinoys, and she enjoys their openness and genuine friendliness.
Even if she calls herself a ‘Cali girl’ and speaks with a ‘Cali girl’ accent, Sophia knows how to speak Filipino. She takes comfort in the fact that knowing how to speak a second language somewhat gives her a form of respite. She can mumble things in Filipino without her American friends having any idea of what she just said.
Not all third culture kids are fluent in Filipino though. But having at least one parent who speaks the language gives them a well-trained ear for picking Filipino words and phrases. Most of them understand Filipino even if they can’t fluently speak the language.
Keeping Filipino traditions alive abroad
Many third culture kids observe Filipino traditions religiously. Most Filipino parents who live in other countries choose to spend their holidays the Filipino way. This relieves their homesickness, and passing on the customs and traditions that they grew up with to their kids is their way of preserving their heritage. It is not a surprise to find third culture kids making ‘mano’ to their grandparents, and call them ‘Lolo’ and ‘Lola.’
Pia Bianca Parroco grew up in a very Filipino household in Dubai. Her family welcomes Christmas day with a festive Noche Buena, and their Holy Week is spent in quiet reflections and devotional prayers. They also love being close to their extended families, and they oftentimes hold videoke parties. She may only be nine years old, but her sense of affinity with Filipino traditions is strong.
For some, being a third culture kids means having two sets of cultures. After moving to Abu Dhabi when he was a kid after spending his earlier years in Sweden, Charles William Marelid grew up immersed in two varying cultures. For him, it’s east meets west. In Abu Dhabi, he got exposed to many Filipino traditions after his family joined the vast Filipino community in the city. This brought him nearer his Filipino roots.
On the other hand, there are third culture kids who never had the opportunity to get acquainted with their Filipino background. For instance, Half-Pakistani and half-Filipino Faryal Mansoor spent all her life in Dubai, and was only able to visit the Philippines once, when she was a toddler. Having not much recollection of her visit, she relies on the Internet to keep herself updated on her mother’s country.
But despite her lack of familiarity with Filipino traditions, just hearing stories about the Philippines instills in her a sense of longing and loyalty to her mom’s country—her other home. She may not have spent a lot of time in the Philippines and she may not speak Filipino fluently, she says that at heart, she’s purely Pinoy.
Fresh off the melting pot
Third culture kids owe it to themselves to discover their heritage. Many of them say that in order for them to get to know themselves better, they need to have knowledge of their home culture.
This holds true for Angelia Benjamin, a nineteen-year-old British-Filipino teen living in Dubai. Growing up as a ‘global baby,’ she became naturally inquisitive on her background. Her mother did not religiously practice Filipino customs and traditions at home, but Angela was persistent to know about it. She grew up asking questions, and her mother raised her with a basic understanding of what being a Filipino is.
She considers herself more British than Filipino, especially because she went to a British school. But she is always curious about the Philippines, and she particularly loves the fact that her mother’s hometown has the best beaches in the world. She also loves Filipino food, a staple in their household. Her palate is definitely more Filipino than British.
For some of these kids, calling themselves ‘100% Filipino’ just doesn’t sound right. They were borne of multi-cultural parents and raised in diverse communities, and their affinity to their varying backgrounds is strong.
Paolo Gabriel has visited the Philippines for five times, and he became very much aware of its charms. But he also got exposed to its problems, such as poverty. His Filipino blood makes him empathic, and he hopes that one day, he can do something to help.
Growing up in Dubai, Paolo considers himself to be about two-fifths Filipino. This makes him see himself as slightly different from Filipinos who grew up and live in the Philippines. He lives in a culturally diverse country, and he is aware that many of his peers are like him—their backgrounds are a hodge podge of different cultures, traditions, values, and beliefs. He takes the beauty out of that, and considers himself much more adaptable than most.
Just like Paolo, Eldrick Yuji Los Banos, does not consider himself 100% Filipino. He had the opportunity to visit the Philippines every year, but he also recognizes the fact that he was raised in a melting pot of cultures, which makes him a multi-cultural individual, or a ‘global baby,’ as he puts it.
Colby Stott-Briggs, aged ten, thinks the same way. He was raised in a very modern and open society, a far cry from the religious hometown of his mother. He did not practice Filipino traditions growing up, and the extent of his knowledge of his Filipino roots are only acquired from the stories and values handed down to him by his mother.
The best of many worlds
For third culture kids, the best thing about having multi-cultural roots and multi-national affinities is their exposure to a myriad of practices and perspectives that make up their personalities. They are able to easily make friends with people of other cultures, and they easily learn how these cultures deal with the human experience. They are also very emphatic; they see the world through multiple lenses that give them a keen awareness of how similar they are with other kids.
Nevertheless, being a third culture kid comes at a price. Being brought up in two or more different cultures, third culture kids find it hard to feel that they truly belong in any of them. Sometimes, their differences make them see themselves as outsiders in their own backyard, and as a result, they find it hard to call the Philippines home.
These kids, although young, sound wise beyond their years. While they rave about the food and the beaches of their parents’ hometown, they also have something to say about the different kind of life that they witnessed during their visits to the Philippines. They talked about the traffic and the pollution in the city, and they also talked about the issues with poverty. But most importantly, they talked about their gratefulness for their parents for giving them a better life, and about how they wish they could help their fellow Filipinos live better lives.
These kids are still in school, and they are gearing up towards giving their lives meaning. Let us hope that despite the distance and despite the differences, they will still prove to us and to themselves that as Filipino third culture kids, they are still the pag-asa ng bayan.
Meet our respondents
Though being a Third Culture Kid is something I am incredibly proud of, the one question that always bugs my mind is: where is home? The flip side of having this kind of lifestyle is that, I have never completely gelled into that of my native countries. Whenever I return to Italy or the Philippines, I always feel like a bit of an outsider. Though I speak Italian fluently, I’ll get stuck on a word or phrase and start speaking English, French or Tagalog, prompting Italians to look at me as if I’m crazy. Similarly, during my three years in Manila, random people I encountered would make fun of my Americanized accent. Still, despite my moments of identity crisis, being a third culture kid is an incredible privilege, and I wouldn’t have wanted my life any other way!
– Chantal Marauta, 18 years old
The best thing about being a Third Culture Kid is that it has given me greater access to several parts of the world, as my background is quite unique. I have increased chances of exploration and travel and it’s also a great conversation starter! What is the worst thing? Nothing!
– Angelia Benjamin, 19 years old
To grow up enriched in two cultures and great heritage from my parents and live and adapt in another international culture different from my parents’ is the best thing about being a third culture kid.
– Charles William Marelid, 16 years old
Being a third culture kid is a very nice thing to be as I get to experience two completely different cultures and live differently to most people. So far I have not seen any disadvantage to being a third culture kid though I don’t understand Tagalog. My eldest brother, according to my mum, failed in Pilipino class. I will not fail Pilipino class because I am in a British school.
– Colby Stott-Briggs, 10 years old
Being a third culture kid, or as I like to call it, a “global baby”, we are exposed to a myriad of practices and perspectives. We’re able to easily make friends of other cultures and to learn how these cultures deal with the human experience. I think what makes us better off as people is empathy: being able to see the world through multiple lenses and how similar we all are. As a global baby, we face this diversity daily and have many opportunities to exercise this empathy.
– Eldrick Yuji Los Baňos, 17 years old
The best thing about being a third culture kid is that it enhances the interpersonal and intercultural skills and it makes us more adaptive and tolerant of people of diverse nationalities. Not to mention the exotic genes.
– Faryal Mansoor, 20 years old
The best part about being a third culture kid is that you’re exposed to a variety of cultures (and with that, food, people, mentalities, customs and trends), and that you can interact with them and get along as we are all part of a multicultural society. You can have a lot of different friends and view different aspects of life in different ways through them as well. With all of that, you can become a lot more open minded and wiser when it comes to addressing the world you live in. The worst part is simply that you lose connection to your motherland and speaking in your native language is a challenge.
– Paolo Gabriel Benitez, 18 years old
The best thing about being a third culture kid is having multinational or multicultural exposures which helped me become more adaptable. The worst thing is having the feeling of being a stranger in my own country and being unable to speak or understand the language.
– Pia Bianca Olivido Parroco, 9 years old
The best thing about being a third culture kid is learning to speak a second language and the ability to keep secrets from anyone who doesn’t know how to speak Tagalog. I cannot think of any worse stuff.
– Sophia Isabel M. Vergeire, 13 years old
Filipino Third Culture Kids: Perspectives of TCKs in an Increasingly Xenophobic World
by Marie Chantal Marauta
Recent years have seen a steady increase in media coverage on Third Culture Kids, otherwise known as TCKs. These are kids who spent most, if not all, of their formative years being raised in a culture that was completely different from that of either of their parents. As a result, most TCKs end up no longer truly identifying withone specific country or culture. Sure, when they are abroad, they can easily – and confidently – answer the question “where are you from?” with the name of their parents’ home country (or countries). But once TCKs set foot in these aforementioned “home countries”, this confidence slowly withers away. For many TCKs who are of mixed ethnicities, other people’s questioning stares and the general assumption that they are tourists is what reminds them that they do not fully belong. Couple this with the ambiguous accent undoubtedly acquired thanks to years of attending an international school abroad, and they realize just how different they are to people they consider their compatriots. This struggle is exemplified by Tina Wang, a teenager of Chinese descent born in Finland and raised in Singapore. “Although I’m Finnish by nationality, the assumptions made by others purely based on my Asian ethnicity has definitely affected my conviction of being a ‘real Finn’” she says. And even if a TCK doesn’t look physically different, the changes, even subtle, in their accents when speaking their native language are enough to warrant quizzical looks or laughter.
Still, the alienation from one’s own country doesn’t stop there. A TCK’s taste in clothes, music, movies or what they perceive as “cool” behavior is most of the time a far cry from that of kids of their same age in their home town. For example, while a Filipino TCK raised in Italy grows up assuming that greeting friends with a kiss on both cheeks is standard practice, they get heavily judged for initiating this same behavior when back in the Philippines.
Sometimes, a TCK’s “difference” is applauded, and even celebrated, by people who are in awe of how “exotic” and worldly they are. But, in times in which certain populations are getting increasingly more xenophobic (for reasons too vast to discuss in this article), being different can be frustrating. So how do TCKs define themselves?
Similar strong patriotism for a country he now considers his own is felt by Louis Wei, a nineteen-year-old student and musician who identifies as Chinese-Canadian. “I’ve been fiercely protective of being a Canadian for as long as I can remember,” he states, attributing his love for Canada to the fact that it is a “mosaic” of different cultures, and so, “no matter how different I was, Canada always had a place for me.” Wei further claims that though his personal values do not align with typical Chinese values, he still considers himself “definitely Chinese,” showing how, though he is fiercely loyal to his acquired home town, he still feels tied to his roots.
Filipino Third Culture Kid: Perspectives of TCKs in an Increasingly Xenophobic World
While TCKs such as Yan and Wei have found their “home” on the other side of the world, some TCKs feel less grounded in a specific country, as exemplified by Felix Merk, a citizen of both Germany and Finland who was born in Sweden and currently lives in the U.S. “Drawing lines [defining my identity] is a bit easier since I have a slight accent in English and so people pre-draw them for me. Yet, outside the U.S., people usually presume I’m American…which isn’t entirely inaccurate,” he says, showing how he is perceived differently depending on where in the world he is. Merk goes on to state how for him, “home” is not an entire country or culture, but instead it is where he grew up, and where his parents and siblings are. It is “specific people, specific houses, specific towns and cities” that, cheesy as it may sound, hold his heart more than an entire nation could.
The utmost struggle of a TCK is stated by Jack Karafotas, a teenager who is German and American but grew up in the Czech Republic, who states: “Whenever I am in a country where I may consider myself from, I always feel foreign.” He continues, saying that he “only [identifies] as certain nationalities when [he’s] asked to do so,” in order to avoid the awkwardness of saying “I don’t really identify with anywhere fully.”
As seen from the myriad of responses from TCKs worldwide, defining a TCK’s identity is a very arduous task. They have lived lives that are more complicated and exciting than your average Joe’s, and while some feel like they “belong” to their acquired home country, others still feel a little bit like an outsider wherever they go.
But in the end, does the whole question of identity truly matter? After all, states Santhanam, “what are nations, but mere borders drawn by humans? Perhaps, the answer to the question ‘Where are you from?’ is rather simple: Planet Earth.