The Benefits Of Reading As A Third Culture Kid
I don’t think it’s an understatement to say that books have played a large role in making me the person I am today. Books have been especially important to me as a Third Culture Kid (TCK). In brief, a TCK, also known as a cultural chameleon, is a person who has spent a large part of their formative years outside their home culture. The term “third” refers to the fact that the individual does not relate to the parents culture (first culture) or the host culture (second culture), and instead feels the need to create a third culture. There are of course many advantages associated with being a TCK but it’s not always easy to be one. We as a group definitely have special needs that are, unfortunately not commonly recognized. Identity development is one of the issues that TCKs face; feeling like we have no roots and without any clear sense of belonging means that cultivating an identity is very difficult. On top of that, there is always a transitional interruption when moving between places, which results in stress and also social marginalization.
I made the rare move of being from the Third World, growing up in the First World and returning to the Third World as a pre-teen. Talk about extreme culture shock, and at such a pivotal point in my development too! It was not a move I made happily. Luckily I was able to take home most of my books. Books definitely had a very stabilizing effect on my life and I shudder to think of how I would have coped without them.
Quite a few people I’ve talked to about my love of literature have been surprised by how important I think fiction is. Perhaps they feel that I’m exaggerating because many of them don’t see the benefits in reading fiction in particular. They prefer non-fiction because they want to focus on reading things that enrich their lives, advance them in the job market and so on. To me it’s quite a tragedy that some people really don’t see the benefit of reading fiction. I can think of lots, especially from my experiences as a TCK.
Books helped me learn more about my culture and my surroundings. I was supposed to know all about a culture I had never lived in, but I didn’t. Reading African novels and short stories really helped me fill in some of the gaps. Suddenly I was reading books where characters were named Zione and Dalitso instead of Scott and Debbie. Towns and cities in the books changed from London and Cardiff to Zomba and Chichiri. The flowers went from daisies and honeysuckle to frangipani and jacaranda. It was definitely a big change and an exciting one for me.Books comforted me when I was homesick. The UK was my first home, the only home I really knew, and the place where I had had my first memories. Reading books that were set in the UK helped me to maintain my connection to that place while I felt I still needed to (until I had become more or less socialized into my home culture). Books written by Enid Blyton, Roald Dahl, Robert Louis Stevenson and Jill Murphy were special favourites. Historical fiction based on my favourite Scottish heroes Mary Queen of Scots, William Wallace and Robert the Bruce made me feel less ashamed of not knowing any African history. And as long as I received one of the British comic annuals that came out every Christmas (Oor Wullie, Dandy, Beano etc.), I was happy.
Books were about revelation. Realizing the unfortunate fact that despite being a black African I was quite the outsider due to my British mentality, and feeling embarrassed that my European and North American high school teachers knew more about my culture than I did, I felt the desire to change that fact. For the first time, I was reading African books and I was fascinated. The three books that stood out to me where Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Mariama Ba’s So Long A Journey, and Peter Abraham’s Tell Freedom . Finally I was learning more about my continent.
Books encouraged confidence. TCKs are often thought of as being a bit weird, and they may overwhelm people around them at times with their worldliness and their ways of thinking and being. For young people it’s so easy to just conform and suppress one’s true self in order to allow others to feel comfortable around you. Reading books about other unique people who stayed true to their selves is another thing I got out of my reading. My heroines were definitely Pippi Longstocking and Anne of Green Gables.
I think that being a TCK attracted me to science fiction and fantasy novels. I suspect this is because TCKs feel the need to create a third culture, an alien culture. I felt very comfortable amidst the goings-on in Narnia (Lewis), the Foundation world (Asimov) and Middle Earth (Tolkien), and in the lands up the Faraway Tree (Enid Blyton). It made me feel, as Anna Quindlen remarked in her book, How Reading Changed My Life, “I am not alone. I am surrounded by words that tell me who I am, why I feel what I feel.”
So here I am years after I made that first big move and years after I made that second move to Canada. I still stand by the opinion that fiction-reading is rewarding and has helped me to understand myself and the world around me.
Rowena is a soon-to-be grad school student who is curious about the world and those in it. Her passions include multiculturalism and diversity issues, social activism, literature, music and travel. Rowena can be found at her blog, on Twitter and on GoodReads.
I'm grateful to Rowena for guest posting and, thus, allowing me to spend more time writing Magic Within, Book II of the Magic All Around series (Due out November 17th!)
May you have a joyful day!