Painting Pictures: An Open Letter To My Third Culture Kid Identity

Home/Expat Thoughts, Third Culture Kids/Painting Pictures: An Open Letter To My Third Culture Kid Identity

Painting Pictures: An Open Letter To My Third Culture Kid Identity

painting1Today’s Painting Pictures post is brought to you by the lovely Mary Bassey. Mary is a Twitter and blog friend with great hair and a fabulous sense of humor. Here she shares with you, and her TCK identity, about the process of discovering there is a name for all those experiences, for all that depth and joy and pain and confusion, about finding out who she is. And about settling down into it. I love the freshness of her journey and her vulnerability in sharing the process.


An Open Letter to my Third Culture Kid Identity

Dear Third Culture Kid (TCK) Identity,

It’s almost like you have been stalking me for the past 20 years of my life. And I just realized that you existed 7 months ago. Way to go on concealing your identity for two decades! That’s actually very impressive…and makes me feel a bit confused. And frustrated. And weird, especially since you’ve been stalking me. Yet I have chosen to embrace you anyway. This is actually a bit concerning considering that my parents taught me not to talk to strangers. And here I am, doing the exact opposite of that. I blame you for my rebellion.

I blame you for a lot of things, actually.

You’ve made me do really strange things, TCK Identity, even when I didn’t know who you were. For instance, that blasted “From” section on Facebook never seemed to stay the same. For a few months, it would be Ilorin, Nigeria because that’s where I was born. Then, it would be Calabar, Nigeria because my Nigerian culture suggests that my hometown is my Father’s hometown. Other times, it’d be Canada. Or Kentucky. Or California. And then it would be blank out of frustration because you made the task of saying where I was from more difficult than it needed to be. And as if that internal conflict wasn’t enough, Facebook would mock me, asking me in that blank from section, “Where did you grow up?” So, I entered all of those aforementioned places BECAUSE I GREW UP IN ALL OF THEM, DANGIT! Facebook would not let me enter where I grew up. I repeat: Facebook would not let me enter where I grew up.

So there you have it, folks; Facebook discriminates against TCKs (please don’t take that statement seriously). But because I do not have the time or energy to lead a revolution and express my grievances against such a sad part of my Facebook experience, I answered Facebook’s, “Where are you from” question with “Elephant Island, Antarctica.” Again, I blame you, TCK identity.

I also blame you for my reaction when people tell me to “say something in African”.

You’re the reason why I feel slightly un-American because of my Nigerian and Canadian identities. You’re also the reason I feel like an outsider every time I visit Nigeria because of my Western identities.

IMG_0599Me trying not to look like a foreigner and/or heathen by covering my head in church with my Aunt’s sparkly hat.

You’re the reason for my sudden interest in Australia and Australian culture. You’re the reason I fantasize about living and schooling there after my undergraduate education. I’m possibly the only non-Aussie in Southern California who has been keeping up with The Voice Australia (don’t tell me who goes on to the final round; I’m trying to catch up).

You’re the reason why I vent to my first culture kid friends about how much easier they have it since they don’t have to deal with cultures that are so opposite from each other. All they could do was feel sorry for me.

You’re the reason why their feeling sorry for me was not cutting it for me. I desired to be understood, not pitied.

Then I met you.

I signed up for that “Anthropology for Everyday Life” having no idea it was a clever nickname for “Cultural Anthropology.” I had no idea that the last day of class would leave me in tears because I finally understood the inner struggle I was having with my cultures.

Dr. Ayers, my professor, said I was a third culture kid. 

It was at that moment I knew that there was a name for you.

Sure enough, I Googled that term and videos of other TCKs came up. I’m surprised I didn’t suffer whiplash at that moment because I found myself nodding to the experiences I had been saying all of my life. Except this time, those experiences weren’t being spoken by me. They were being spoken by other TCKs.

About a week after that instance, I ran into Rachel’s blog, Djibouti Jones, my first encounter with a blog mentioning TCKs. As I explored more, I discovered that there are more people who are expats and TCKs. And more. And even more.

Whoa, TCK identity. We are going way too fast. We need to take it slow. The amount of TCKs and expats I have met through social media is too overwhelming for me.

Have we been taking it slow, though? Well, the desire to meet more TCKs and expats always increases and I go with it so I guess not. Look at you being rebellious!

I didn’t know I was a TCK until I met you in that class. And to be honest, I hate you. But I also love you. And I couldn’t imagine my life making more sense without you.

Thank you for showing me I’m not the only one going through this identity crisis. Thank you for the support group of TCKs and expats I have encountered thus far and the ones I will encounter in the future.  Thank you for giving me the courage to speak out what I have kept silent for many years and for making me feel okay for being different. You’re not too shabby, mate. Not too shabby. 🙂

Yours truly,


What would you write to your third culture kid identity? Do you remember your reaction when you first heard the term?

Official VMM BannerMary Bassey is a Nigerian-born third culture kid living in America. She is currently a fourth year Pre-med university student studying Biochemistry with hopes of participating in global healthcare.

Follow more of Mary: Blog:, Facebook:, Twitter:, Tumblr:


  1. Marilyn Gardner June 18, 2013 at 2:15 pm - Reply

    Mary – this. I’m going to reblog tomorrow. That moment of truth when you realize “I didn’t know I was a TCK until I met you in that class. And to be honest, I hate you. But I also love you. And I couldn’t imagine my life making more sense without you.” and you hate it and love it at the same time. I so get that. Yesterday I wrote on my Facebook page: …The more I hear from immigrants, refugees and third culture kids, the more convinced I become that communicating our stories is a critical piece of learning to live effectively….I love your stories, I love that you have found voice for your stories. I love that Rachel uses her space for these stories.

    • Mary Bassey June 18, 2013 at 2:53 pm - Reply

      I’m so glad that you loved this piece and that you could relate to it, Marilyn! I totally agree that sharing our stories is so important in life. I absolutely love hearing others’ stories as I feel like my perspective on life is broadened because of them. I’m thankful for the inspirations that have encouraged me to share my stories. I’m also thankful for Rachel allowing me to share on her blog. 🙂

  2. Dan Stringer June 18, 2013 at 11:51 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this, Mary (and Rachel).

    You’re exactly right about TCK identity. It’s about being understood, not pitied (or treated as a novelty). I can totally relate to those questions. “Where are you from?” “Say something in African!” The correct response is a facepalm, indeed. Or sometimes I simply smile and say, “No thanks.”

    Still, I wouldn’t trade my TCK identity for anything. It’s ok if not everyone understands it. Every person who does makes it all worth it. So keep writing!

    • Mary Bassey June 19, 2013 at 2:11 am - Reply

      Thanks so much for the encouragement and understanding, Dan! It’s such a relief that others can read this and understand where I am coming from, both literally and from the perspective of a TCK. I’m curious which African country you lived in. Oh, and it means a lot when people encourage me to keep writing so thanks again. 🙂

  3. Hollly June 19, 2013 at 4:46 am - Reply

    I have been following this TCK series in great curiosity.
    I am a military brat who married an Air Force pilot.
    I have never lived anywhere longer than 3 years. Some overseas but mostly stateside.
    I could have written this article though, with just a few twists here and there.
    I don’t ‘say anything in African’ but I am constantly being reminded that I ‘talk funny’ (I pick up accents of wherever I’m living and some words stick leaving me with a mesh of southern, northern, midwestern and western words)

    I’m sure there are major differences in TCK’s and Military Brats turned wives but so far all I see are major similarities!

    Where did I grow up? I could have listed 9 places. Where am I from? I can now list 14. Stupid Facebook ;-). I get it…I do.

    And I too have a love/hate relationship with my deep and beautiful upbringing….wherever it might have been.

    • Mary Bassey June 21, 2013 at 1:35 am - Reply

      I totally can relate with the talking funny. Till this day, I pronounce “cashews” and “pasta” like a Canadian and I switch between the Canadian and American pronunciations of many other words. And my close American friends never fail to tease me about it haha! I’m glad we could identify with that. And I honestly see way more differences between TCKs and military brats. In fact, a lot of military brats are TCKs!

  4. […] Bassey writes an open letter to her TCK […]

Leave A Comment Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.