Where do you call home?

Published 24 January 2012 / By COMPAS Communications

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By: Ida Persson, Events and PR Officer

This is a question I’ve spent most of my life being both surprised by being asked, usually after having revealed part of my background to someone, and equally surprised by the slightly suspicious reaction to my reply.

I answer in a slightly garbled fashion… “Well, growing up it was wherever we were living, so really wherever my parents were. But I guess now I could just say Sweden, but not really, I don’t live there. I have some family there. I live in Oxford, but I wouldn’t call that home as such. Eventually I guess home will be wherever I settle, however you define ‘settle’ and if one ever really does. So, not really anywhere. At the moment. But I’d like, were I to die now, to be buried in Sweden. You know?”

Often they don’t know.

This Christmas, I travelled to spend the holiday with my family. Currently working in a University department that studies in detail the phenomenon I have spent my life taking for granted as part of every day life – migration- I looked on our little gathering in a slightly different way.

It’s a kid’s life
Due to my father’s profession I have spent my life moving to a new country approximately every three years. With my four siblings and my parents we were a tight band, settling in easily and I think I speak for all of us when I say that we fully appreciate the experiences it gave us.

“Don’t you feel uprooted?” is another popular question. “No”, I reply, and usually counter with, “Don’t you feel static?” in an unnecessarily defensive manner. I don’t feel ‘uprooted’. It’s the old story of not really being able to miss something you never had – in this case, growing up in the same place, going to school with the same people all one’s life. My ‘roots’ are mobile and adaptable. And I wouldn’t change my experiences for all the tea in China.

How and when else would I have seen the places I saw, met the people I met, learned the languages I learned, and experienced the cultures I experienced? In total I have lived in 7 countries (some of them twice, and in several places in some of the countries) and attended about 12 schools and 2 universities. Without our perpetual (if, admittedly, privileged) migration this would not have happened and I would have been, probably, quite a different person today.

It wasn’t until quite recently I learned that I have been labelled. Apparently I’m a “third culture kid”. In conversation I heard the phrase “TCK’s like you often……”.

“I’m sorry, TC…what”

“Third culture kids”

“I’m sorry…. what?”

And apparently, according to American sociologist David C. Pollock, “a Third Culture Kid (TCK) is a person who has spent a significant part of [their] developmental years outside the parents' culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture may be assimilated into the TCK's life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background.”

As much as I hesitate to say it (due to a reluctance to have my upbringing defined as a sociological phenomenon), that definition is pretty spot on……

Seeing my family this Christmas demonstrated just how much our migratory pattern has influenced us all and brought us together during the holidays in a manner quite demonstrative of the benefits of migration. By benefits here, I mean the manner in which it has opened the world up to us in a way that has given us choice, freedom and understanding.

That’s a whole lot o’ airports….
I travelled from Oxford to Anna Maria Island, Florida, U.S.A this Christmas. We travelled there as it was the easiest place for everyone to gather, and my American grandmother lives there so we had a base.

My American grandmother is the woman whose family my father lived when he was an exchange student from Sweden to the US in 1969. My parents and younger brother arrived from Costa Rica, where they are currently living (and where I once did a Masters degree at University). One of my sisters travelled down from Virginia, where she lives with her husband and 4 month old half-American half-Swedish son (who I just met for the first time, yay!). My other sister was unable to join us from Stockholm, where she lives. My oldest brother travelled from the Channel Island Jersey.

While in Florida I was also able to see a good friend from Maryland, living in South Carolina, who drove down to see me. We became friends while both studying in Costa Rica.

I also had the opportunity to see a friend who I had not seen in about 22 years, when we were children together in school in Uruguay.

Home is where the migration pattern leads you…
That’s a lot of cultures in one single place. And yes, I relate to them all. Academically, I may not own any of them, but I own my relationship to them and to my family and friends whose migration patterns shape not only them but me and my every day – how I interact with them, when I interact with them, thinking about them etc. In the very same way that someone who has not migrated is shaped by their lack of movement and as a consequence their different experiences. But they are also shaped by those people they come into contact with who have migrated to their street/town/country, whether they know them personally, know of them, know someone who knows them, don’t know them at all.

I’m now 30 and migration remains very much a habit, a learned behaviour. I feel the need to experience a new place every so often and I very much look forward to learning to relate to that new place.

So while for some migrants home may be one’s new place of residence, for others it may always be the country they had to or chose to leave behind, and for some it mat be that final destination that they haven’t reached yet.

What's home to you?