12 Things No One Told You About People Who Grew Up Abroad

Have you ever dreamed about moving abroad? To a place more exotic and exciting, where you can live an adventurous lifestyle? You’ve probably met someone who grew up in a different country to where they live now, but I bet there are things about them you have never realised. I am one of these people.

I was born in Denmark and have a Danish passport, but I lived part of my life in Thailand and moved to England when I was 18. I moved to Thailand when I was 10 and sadly I didn’t get an elephant to ride to school on (sorry to disappoint you) nor did I eat bugs everyday for breakfast. But I did become a cultural mess: I look more western than most people with pale skin, blonde hair and green eyes but I quickly adapted to the Asian culture and their values really resonate with me. People like me are often called third culture kids and the stories we have are pretty cool.

Growing up in different parts of the world is incredible and I met people from all over and had a pretty amazing childhood, but one thing you have to understand is that my childhood wasn’t incredibly exciting to me: I’ve never tried anything else. I wish I could tell you crazy stories about eating snakes and running from crocodiles, but I’ve never done that (though I have seen others eat snakes and experienced earthquakes and tsunamis).

But as everything else in life, there are also two sides to this story and there are some things you probably didn’t know about us third culture kids.

Have you ever dreamed about moving abroad? To a place more exotic and exciting, where you can live an adventurous lifestyle? You’ve probably met someone who grew up in a different country to where they live now, but I bet there are things about them you have never realised. I am one of these people.

I was born in Denmark and have a Danish passport, but I lived part of my life in Thailand and moved to England when I was 18. I moved to Thailand when I was 10 and sadly I didn’t get an elephant to ride to school on (sorry to disappoint you) nor did I eat bugs everyday for breakfast. But I did become a cultural mess: I look more western than most people with pale skin, blonde hair and green eyes but I quickly adapted to the Asian culture and their values really resonate with me. People like me are often called third culture kids and the stories we have are pretty cool.

Growing up in different parts of the world is incredible and I met people from all over and had a pretty amazing childhood, but one thing you have to understand is that my childhood wasn’t incredibly exciting to me: I’ve never tried anything else. I wish I could tell you crazy stories about eating snakes and running from crocodiles, but I’ve never done that (though I have seen others eat snakes and experienced earthquakes and tsunamis).

But as everything else in life, there are also two sides to this story and there are some things you probably didn’t know about us third culture kids.

1. We are and will always be seen as a foreigner, even in our ‘home’ country

Home is nowhere and everywhere for us, yet we are seen as foreigners everywhere we go. I once went into a Danish bakery, in Denmark and spoke Danish. All I was greeted with was “Sorry what?” in English. So much for that Danish passport and the blonde hair. Unless we learn to be really good at impersonating locals, we will always be seen as an outsider.

2. A simple question like “where are you from?” becomes one of the hardest to answer

There’s more than one possible answer and we might tell a little white lie to avoid going through the whole history of our upbringing, that’s allowed right? Chances are we haven’t figured out where which is our home yet and will continue to change the answer until they have found the one that fits them.

3. We are more culturally confused than you’ll ever be able understand

Do you shake hands, do you avoid touching, do you kiss on one cheek or maybe both when you meet someone new? All this is flying through our heads when we meet someone new. We will probably be polite and greet you back in the way you greet us, but we will feel uncomfortable doing it. We adapt to your culture, but no one adapts to ours. Growing up in a county where you never touch when greeting someone, getting kissed on the cheek is a step too far, but we are too polite to do anything about it. Or we might end up doing some awkward high five or wave.

4We make friends easily but it takes a long time for us to fully let people in

Third culture kids usually have a lot of friends but only a few close ones. As someone who moved around a lot, we adapt easily and get along with almost everyone (there’s always exceptions) but we are also used to people close to us leaving. So if you want to get close so someone who grew up apart, give it some time and let them peel back one layer at a time.

5. No one will ever understand where our accent is from

Also known as the ‘international school accent’ among expats, you might think it sounds American or Canadian, but trust me, it doesn’t. Chances are you have heard the accent before and wondered where it was from, but you probably didn’t ask. People who grew up abroad are basically chameleons and we change our accent slightly depending on whom we are speaking to.

6. We have friends all over the world but we probably lost touch with most of them

Growing up in more than one place, we make a lot of friends from different countries but once we finished school we all went our different ways- very different ways, some went to Australia and some to Sweden. Keeping in touch with someone you don’t just bump into in the pub is quite hard and a lot of us lose contact. But those who do stay in touch (despite not seeing each other for years) will probably be friends for life and nothing can come between them or understand them.

7. We are pretty good at geography

I might not know the capital of every country nor have I been to every continent. But we know that Taiwan is not the capital of Thailand, and Scandinavia isn’t a country. We are experts at calculating time differences (we do it every time we call home or speak to a friend) and we are pretty good at knowing what the weather is like around the world.

8Travelling for over 10 hours is the least of our problems

Most people dread a flight across the world and the jetlag that follows, but for someone who spent their childhood flying for at least 10 hours every holiday, an airport and plane is basically our second home. It’s a pretty useful ability; we can sleep anywhere and know our way through most major airports. We know how to pack light and will never forget our passport. And with all the time we’ve spent on long haul flights, we know which airline serves the most alcohol.

9We probably switch between languages without knowing, and sometimes mix them up

I had an old flatmate who was the same cultural mix as me, and we would literally get three languages into one sentence. Don’t ask me how and don’t try to keep up with us. Two languages is a minimum, some speak more. We can swear in at least 5 languages and they have probably on many occasions mixed them up without knowing. Tough life, I know.

 10. We are experts when it comes to saying goodbye

I had an old flatmate who was the same cultural mix as me, and we would literally get three languages into one sentence. Don’t ask me how and don’t try to keep up with us. Two languages is a minimum, some speak more. We can swear in at least 5 languages and they have probably on many occasions mixed them up without knowing. Tough life, I know.

 10. We are experts when it comes to saying goodbye

I guess you can say we are all a bunch of hippies- we are basically citizens of the world, so why wouldn’t we be? We have seen a lot of things, people with flies in their eyes and children happy to play with rocks and we know that we are lucky to have water, electricity and even a bed. I know people in Thailand who have a bicycle as a water pump and sleep on the floor. That doesn’t mean we don’t take it for granted most of the time, but we know we could be worse off.

12. Our childhood consisted of some pretty awesome food

In Vietnam they eat dogs. France serves snails. Some places have booze with snakes in them and we’ve seen it all. I’ve had bugs with chocolate and my brother eats crispy worms like they are biscuits. We had mangos and coconuts in our garden and call us food snobs, but we will forever think packaged food is lame and boring.

I’m not going to lie to you, it was pretty cool growing up in different countries and I’m sure a lot of people would agree. But it’s hard not to envy those who have their childhood friends nearby and are able to go home to their parents on the weekend without having to book a flight in advance. I did get to play with an elephant, so it was all worth it.

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