By Isabella Key
Existing in a time where 30% of Australian residents are bilingual and multiculturalism is the norm, why do a certain group of individuals remain in a grey area? The rise of third culture kids* (TCKs); namely individuals who have been raised in countries that differ from their original nationalities, has been monumental. However, there remains little discussion regarding the experiences of these individuals upon returning and readjusting to life in their home countries (the countries of their nationalities). How do these individuals who often associate strongly with the culture they were raised in, react and adjust to a situation where they return to a country and everyone around them assumes they are culturally similar?
Having left Australia when I was 2 months old, and raised in Hong Kong for 18 years, I was extremely fortunate to have been able to gain a broad cultural perspective first hand. I associated strongly with both Australian and Hong Kong practices and cultural norms, as my parents raised me in a way that was more in line with Australian methods. Despite constantly partaking in interactions and activities that general Australian individuals did not have, I neglected to think about the ways in which my circumstances were altering my perspective and making me far less traditionally “Australian”. Upon returning to Australia for university, I experienced a sense of cultural displacement that I didn’t think was possible. I mean I looked Australian and I was Australian!
What perplexed me the most was other Australians reactions to me. I found it difficult to navigate situations where no one understood that I wasn’t actually Australian, that I had developed a different perspective. The cultural differences in Australia affected me strongly and I found myself impacted in small ways such as when I was questioned about taking my shoes off at friends’ houses, as well as in more serious scenarios such as feeling a sense of intimidation around Caucasians – this is a trait common to many Asians who migrate to Australia for the first time. Feelings of intimidation often stem from a lack of cultural assimilation, particularly regarding the highly extraverted nature of Australian individuals in contrast to the more reserved attitude taken in various Asian cultures upon introductions. Instances like these forced me to consider the fact that in my year group in high school I was one of 6 full Caucasians, and that was normal to me.
I was confronted by the fact that I had been so naïve as to assume that 18 years in Hong Kong wouldn’t affect me in a truly palpable way. Additionally, with Chinese students in my classes perceiving me as Australian, I felt left in an awkward spot where I wasn’t able to identify with any culture without a fear of being singled out. I came to realize that people in Australia (and all over the world) hold strong cultural views and are often in danger of participating in unconscious stereotyping and bias.
With an ever increasing multi-cultural population within Australia, and more children than ever growing up overseas, it is becoming more and more important to provide a platform for conversation around multiculturalism. The amazing opportunities and experiences diversity allows should always be embraced and sensitivity towards all cultural backgrounds and the adjustments people have to make should be supported and encouraged! Efforts should be made to better incorporate TCKs into Australian society, whether that be by offering and advertising open discussion forums or societies where individuals can meet and discuss their experiences, or merely by incorporating a greater element of cultural understanding into school curriculums. Finally, in my opinion it’s the steps taken at home that have the greatest impact, and the importance of parents pushing their children to interact and befriend people from different backgrounds cannot be emphasized enough, because multiculturalism is always a plus.
*The term Third Culture Kid (TCK) refers to individuals who are raised in a culture other than their parents for a significant portion of their early life.