Sentiments of a third culture kid: growing up an “Alien” in Thailand

Annella Espana writes about her feelings and expereinces growing up as a “third culture kid” in Thailand.

By | Wed 5 Jun 2019

The international schools all over Thailand are home to a plethora of confused third culture kids, or TCKs. If you don’t already know, the term “third culture kid” refers to individuals raised in a culture other than their own native country for a significant part of their early development years.

As a Filipino-born citizen raised in Thailand, I myself am a TCK. For a majority of my life, I’ve been conflicted over my cultural identity – often times struggling to give a short answer when asked that one simple question: Where are you from? There is always a level of uncertainty and doubt in my response, as if it’s me who should be asking this question to myself first. I don’t like saying that I’m Filipino, because although I look the part, I feel like just another foreigner whenever I visit my native country. On the other hand, continually going on immigration runs in the country I consider home is a constant reminder that I’m not Thai.

It wasn’t until I started college that I realised the dilemmas of the third culture kid community were real. As my group of friends graduated high school and left Thailand to finally experience the world of their passport countries, I discovered that we shared similar experiences while catching up with them individually over Skype. We all acknowledged two things: first, how different our worldviews were in comparison to non TCKs, and second, how a permanent home or address is something which is unfamiliar to us.

“I definitely do not fully fit in with the Koreans here,” says Inhye Kim. “As I grew up and spent time with friends who also had international backgrounds, I became much more comfortable communicating with globalised individuals. There’s this invisible wall lingering around me whenever I’m with my Korean friends that I can’t really explain.” Inhye has lived in Thailand since she was seven years old, and it was only a year ago that she moved away in order to pursue a college degree in Korea. “Growing up in Thailand and attending Chiang Mai International School shaped my identity; I had to adapt to multiple cultures at the same time. I feel like I’m both Thai, Korean and a bit of American- but never a complete of something.”

As I write this, I hope that other young TCKs in Thailand will embrace their unique cross-cultural upbringing. Out of every country in the world, I was fortunate enough to have grown up in Thailand; a nation so accepting and fond of people of different cultures. There’s a reason why foreigners keep coming back to this place, and a reason why there will always be an incessant population of TCKs growing up here – because every sawasdee is a welcome home with open arms.