Saudi Arabia being a conservative society provides a limited variety of clothing for both men and women while in Pakistan people have the liberty to make their own choices. Those choices are pertaining to certain social limits, whereas, in United States clothing is an individual’s choice with no societal considerations. Familiarity with these significant details of cultures, as far apart as Jeddah, Lahore, and Plattsburgh play a vital role in my sense of the world. These different cultural experiences allow me to steer mindsets, aesthetics, and habits not pertaining to any single culture; therefore, I am one of the individuals whom anthropologist Ruth Hill Useem calls, “Third Culture Kids”.
David Pollack defines a Third Culture Kid (TCK) as a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK frequently builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having ownership in any. Living away from one’s homeland can be both rewarding and difficult. Due to their international experiences, TCKs gain a wealth of insight. They are tolerant of diversity and become skilled observers. They develop a degree of cultural adaptability, which acts as a primary tool for surviving the frequent changes of culture. TCKs are referred to as chameleons because they can easily switch between languages, appearance, and cultural practices to take on the characteristics needed to blend better into any new environment.
A quote from Financial Times after the inauguration of President Barack Obama talks of how he “benefited from his chameleon power to make a lot of different people feel he represents them…”
Some common characteristics TCKs often share are a deep sense of rootlessness and restlessness. Many TCKs develop a migratory instinct that controls their lives. “Here, where I am today, is temporary. But as soon as I finish schooling, get a job, or purchase a home, I’ll settle down,” Somehow the settling down never quite happens. The present is never enough- something always seems lacking. An unrealistic attachment to the past, or a persistent expectation that the next place will finally be home, can lead to the inner restlessness that keeps TCKs always moving. When many young TCKs return to their home culture, they experience a sense of marginality; not fully being a part of their home culture, and not fitting in with their peers, even though they may share the same physical appearance. Marginality can result in loneliness and difficulty in adjusting to the situation.
I was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. My parents are from Pakistan and exhibit a strong relationship with their home culture. I have a twin brother and four other siblings. We all went to school in Jeddah and moved to Pakistan in 2006 when I was in grade 9. The exposure to values and beliefs of culture other than those of my parents, formative as it is, has not just made it impossible for me to identify with any one set of cultural norms. It has also forced a critical reflectivity upon my personal and civic values. I have had the good fortune to shape my character from a much wider array of perspectives.
However, Saudi Arabia is a conservative society with dictated lifestyles and lack of freedom to explore one’s surroundings. Growing up as a third culture kid, with a twin brother was a different experience. I was never a victim of rootlessness or restlessness, which is experienced by many TCKs because I was never alone.
I had my brother’s support in all aspects of my life. He has been covering up my weaknesses since childhood. Mainly because naturally as twins we were not made to be differentiated from each other; therefore, the individual twin has an identity that is not whole and needs to be joined with their co-twin in order to complete it. He is an extrovert and adapts to new situations very easily, whereas, it takes me a while to learn and become accustomed. Moving back to Lahore, Pakistan was a big challenge for me. I was bad at Urdu language and was not able to adjust in the school system. A fear of being some alienated person amongst my peers had developed and I always complained about our migration.
Nevertheless, my twin was acclimatizing quickly and his friend’s circle was growing. I was doing badly in my classes and I was unable to cope up with Pakistani education system. These all-transitional problems gave me an identity of myself as “we” instead of “I”. I started hiding behind the strengths of my twin brother and never made an effort to develop those missing skills required to sustain as an individual. I was always referred to as a co-twin of my brother. I became dependent on him in many ways such as doing assignments, decision-making, travelling and interaction with others.
Recently I was given the opportunity to study abroad in the United States. Initially, I was reluctant to travel alone and take this huge step on my own but I managed. First few days were a challenge; I was facing trouble with socializing with people and adapting to new situations. I felt loneliness and lack of support. Managing time and doing assignments without my twin’s help was becoming difficult. I knew that I lacked this skill set since childhood but never strived to learn or apply it. This provided me with an insight to make every effort to gain an identity as “I” and overcome my weaknesses. I never realized that I possessed these skills but did not apply them. I responded quickly to these changes in myself mainly because I grew as a TCK and had that level of receptivity to such sudden changes. I could not recognize my abilities because I was never alone.