TC Spotlight: Xavier Lee – A modern TCK
Xavier Lee is, like many modern TCKs, unsure about where to call “Home”. In his own words:
“There was always a lingering sense of feeling too familiar with a local culture to be a complete outsider. However, all the while not being local enough to be embraced as one with the locals.”
We catch up with Xavier and get him to share more of his unique insights on what it means to be Third Culture.
What is your heritage?
My mother’s side is Hong Kong Chinese and father’s side is white British. Having started life in Hong Kong I was lucky to live in a few countries around Asia, Australia and Europe, never settling down long enough in one place to establishing firm roots.
It might seem different or jarring to have never assigned one place as a home, however I’m grateful and appreciative of the childhood I went through. Looking back it feels like I saw things from a multitude of perspectives. There was always a lingering sense of feeling too familiar with a local culture to be a complete outsider. However, all the while not being local enough to be embraced as one with the locals. To name one place that sticks with me in my heart I’d have to go with Bangkok – a chaotic bustling mess of a city where I lived for 5 years attending an international school. It may have its problems but for those years, it was a visceral and momentous time in my life.
Where is “Home” to you?
“I never felt a true sense of belonging to the place, always itching and restlessly yearning for adventure abroad and a glorious return to my childhood in Asia.”
There’s no place like home, perhaps a little too literally for me. I spent 15 years in the UK. Out of all the places I’ve spent time in, it clearly shaped and molded my mindset the most. However I never felt a true sense of belonging to just one place. I’m always itching and restlessly yearning for adventure abroad and a glorious return to my childhood in Asia.
Each place I go feels like an experiential stepping stone to the next, without one prominently standing out to stake its claim as somewhere I want to call home. So I’ve come to adopt a flexible idea of where I call home. An idea, where I feel most comfortable: surrounded by friends that I love.
Do you find it difficult to make friends?
“I gravitate to people that have also lived in other countries…I’d attribute this to the sense of belonging with other people going through the experience of being an outsider.”
It’s usually not hard to make friends. Wherever I might be there are always people that are relatable and easy to get on with. Making close friends to bond with over a long time is naturally more difficult. What I’ve noticed is that I tend to make friends with certain types – no matter where. I gravitate to people that have also lived in other countries, or are not completely local to one place. I’d attribute this to the sense of belonging with other people going through the experience of being an outsider.
For example; though I’m half white, in the UK I might relate more to a complete foreigner than a local Brit, born and raised, because of mutual lived experiences that we might share.
Do you find it hard to trust people?
Generally I don’t. I firmly believe that it’s a strength of us in our collective humanity to put trust in people that we may not be very familiar with. We are social creatures and this is a trait to be admired. Since there are always many more things in common between any two people than there is in differences.
Do you see being a TCK as a strength or weakness?
“The social constructs we live in today dictate that the place, the circumstances and means, and the colour of your skin will have profound effects on the potential course of your life and the way that society and people perceive you.”
I would cautiously see being a TCK as a strength. Growing up and mixing with other cultures will naturally lead to heightened understanding and perhaps empathy with those around us no matter their background and differences. This isn’t to say that I think being TCK makes someone a better person. But most often I’ve felt that TCK’s may at least have more awareness of themselves and others around them. The social constructs we live in today dictate that the place, the circumstances and means, and the colour of your skin will have profound effects on the potential course of your life and the way that society and people perceive you. In a world more globalised and interconnected than ever, it is those with dynamic cultural awareness that may have the most holistic and well-rounded view of the world.
Do you find it hard to fit in? Ever feel lost or have an identity crisis?
“As a tall, racially ambiguous dude with long curly hair and a British accent I didn’t fit in anywhere.”
In my younger years it was definitely a struggle coming to terms with how I should identify myself, and how people viewed me. As a tall, racially ambiguous dude with long curly hair and a British accent I didn’t fit in anywhere.
“Why do I not see people I can relate to in popular media?”
A wealth of questions filled my head that I couldn’t answer with conviction. Was I White? Asian? Was I British? Do I belong here, with these people? Why do I not see people I can relate to in popular media? As time went on I came to fill out my acceptance and confidence in myself. Though these dilemmas were important, they were not the only way to define myself. Ultimately we are all individuals borne of a mixture of our parents’ genetics and the collective experiences forged in our lifetimes, whether as a TCK or not.
What do you feel when you talk to people who aren’t a TCK and shared the same experience, do you find it hard to connect?
“Without sounding aloof, sometimes perspectives can’t be reshaped without personally undergoing experiences.”
It can be hard to connect and relate to them, knowing that they never went through some of the experiences I did. Without sounding aloof, sometimes perspectives can’t be reshaped without personally undergoing experiences. Difficult conversations sometimes arise, topics like racism and privilege can make for uncomfortable times. Of course there are always exceptions, but comparably with a lot of TCK’s I feel like I don’t have to necessarily explain myself, since they also went through similar shared experiences.
What do you really want people to understand the most who are not TCK’s?
“I don’t approve of claiming that colour and differences don’t exist, rather we should seek to acknowledge and accept all our differences.”
I’d want them to understand that we all have a lot more in common than we may come to expect, and that outside cultures shouldn’t be feared for the sake of ignorance. We don’t need to be talked to as if we’re an alien race, I’m just another individual that should be treated fairly. Lastly, I don’t approve of claiming that colour and differences don’t exist, rather we should seek to acknowledge and accept all our differences.
If you have kids, how would you prefer them to live as: as a TCK or belonging to a mono-culture with a clear sense of identity?
“The world is simply too vast and interesting not to involve them with seeing what is out there.”
Pragmatically I think it’s unavoidable that an increasingly vast majority of future generations will be anything but TCK. But if I were choosing for my hypothetical kids I’d prefer them to be TCK to experience outsiders and other cultures. The world is simply too vast and interesting not to involve them with seeing what is out there. While living in the UK, I met people that had not left the countryside village they had spent their whole life growing up in, and had not met people from outside their village. This really shocked me, making me wonder how different their outlook on the world and life is. For my kids I’d want them to see the differences in people and the outside, and make the next generation get past the obstacles that divide us.