It is 5 a.m. and I am sitting in a café at Frankfurt International Airport waiting for a flight that will bring me to the United States in a matter of hours. Eight hours! That is how long a healthy person sleeps at night, how long the train ride from Luxembourg to Hamburg takes, how long a typical day at school is. Eight hours and you can be on a different continent with a completely different culture.
It’s nothing new: globalization is bringing people closer together, creating more intercultural relationships and complicating the meaning of “home.” Conventionally, “home” is associated with a geographical location. But, what shapes “home” in a world that is more and more connected? What means “home” to someone who has home everywhere? How does a TCK define “home”?
The more I thought about this question, the more it drove me nuts. I had touched upon an issue that is omnipresent in the lives of most TCKs – the question about our roots, about what defines us, about where to go next.
Identifying the mechanisms that create “home” is a challenging task, and answers vary greatly on the interpretation of each individual. Many people define themselves by their culture, their country, their citizenship – it gives them a frame to work in, something that supports and guides them. Many people who have this frame are not even aware of its presence. But TCKs are highly aware because it is not there.
Some TCKs are able to carry their homes and roots in their hearts; these people are true nomads, completely unattached to a certain country or culture or set of values and ideas. To them, the world is their home. Then there are other TCKs who, in spite of having the TCK lifestyle, can name one or two specific places that they are more attached to than to other place. These are places they try to visit as often as possible and will maybe some day return back to. For some it might be a specific city, culture, language or continent. For me it is Europe, in particular the French and German culture.
Talking to my TCK friends about their “homes,” it became obvious that what they called home were perceptions of their up-bringing. Positive impressions led to connections while disappointing ones detach. Many of my friends who experienced disappointments chose a place as home they did not have these negative experiences in, often a place they lived in afterwards. On the other hand, those that made positive connections to a place during a formative part of their childhood often called it home.
Academic institutions such as schools can also be very important in shaping these impressions. People who went to a certain types of school such as international schools, are heavily influenced by the culture of these schools. I went to a school founded and organized by the European Union, and so I was exposed to a multicultural European community since I was young. Every day I went to a school where people were at least bilingual, where I took most of my classes in French or German, and some in English, and where everyone was the European version of a TCK. The school helped me build an identity – a European identity. These experiences have made a bigger impression on me than I would have ever thought.
Even TCKs who move regularly make a connection to something or somewhere. It can be the mix of culture fostered by their parents and family. Little things such as languages spoken within the family, or the presence of books, magazines, or family traditions and history can help a TCK create an identity. This is because these “home atmospheres” represent comfort and support that links to the origin culture of the family – a constant in the ever-changing world of a TCK. Needless to say, the foreign environments TCKs live in will have an impact on the identity of a TCK, but the culture lived by their family often form the building blocks.