What It's Like to Be a Third Culture Kid

Op-ed

Behind each beautiful immigration narrative, stands one of struggle. There is a story inside each student who came to the USA at a young age; one that hasn't surfaced into this world until a few years back. Being a third culture kid can simultaneously be a blessing and a curse. This status, despite its disadvantages, also promotes individuality and makes one unique.

Being a third culture kid isn't cool, it isn't a trend, and indeed it isn't a fun ride. The term 'third culture' defines someone who was raised in a culture different from their parents. These families typically move to give their children a better life- one that was not possible somewhere else. My parents' decision to live in the United States was something I will be forever grateful for. They blessed me with new opportunities that I would not have had elsewhere. Because of their actions, I am here today to tell the true tale of these unheard individuals. Not Arab enough, and not American enough; a third culture person will always be stuck between two communities.

Home vs. school

For more than ten years, I've struggled and nobody recognized it. I had to fit in both communities- all the time. None of my teachers, friends, or parents noticed that I secretly battled everything alone. I lied to fit in. At school, I felt vulnerable and helpless, but why? My parents moved to give me a better life, one free of discrimination, but for some reason I did not have the life they imagined. This became evident on the playground when kids would not play with me because of my hijab. From a young age, I was a fiery personality, willing to take the whole world on at once. My school and family did not react well to my impulsivity. I was often told to shut up and calm down, for my opinion did not matter. Looking back now, I realize that many of my problems stemmed from my torn identity. I did not know who I was and neither did anyone else. Unfortunately, no one was equipped to deal with third culture children, thus negatively affecting me.

Home life

To my family, my future is already decided. Regardless of any success in my career, I am expected to eventually throw all of it away. That's what everyone believes; I am destined to be a mother and wife. And yes, I'd love to have children, but doing so would sacrifice my freedom and reputation. A homemaker will never be respected in my community; she must follow her husband's ruling, and his power would extend to every aspect of her life. I cannot have a man control me. If Islam was practiced correctly, women would be equal to men. We would even have a feminist community. Instead, we follow cultural practices that don't make sense. I was told I was to marry my cousin, but I refused. I desired a true love story, similar to the ones I grew up watching on television. I fought against my family's wishes and got what I wanted; I didn’t marry him., but at what cost? My mental health worsened, I developed commitment issues, and I lost every piece of the relationship I once had with my father.

Religion was a huge contributor to my trauma: did I even want to be Muslim? I wished I wasn't as a child, for I saw how they treated women. They confine me to the mere role as a housewife. Fortunately, the little nine-year-old did not know it was only culture, not religion. In public, wearing a hijab was a deal-breaker. I spent years trying to get rid of it; I would take it off at school, in hopes of being accepted by my peers. Despite my desperate attempts to gain public approval, I faced rejection from both communities. Being a third culture kid means you'll never be close enough to your parents. You'll never get taught what religion really is, in the eyes of your family. One day, thankfully, you'll decide to introduce yourself and become your own person. I can say that I became a Muslim one-year ago; when I decided to teach myself more about its teachings. Since then, I've been in love with the pure aspects of my religion- the ones that remain untouched by society.

Taking care of siblings, filling out paperwork, and being my parent's emotional support system is hard. When I say I need a break, it is met with backlash. My mother incessantly says, “I used to do this and this for my mother. I said nothing. I didn't talk back. I curse the day I brought you to America.” Yes, I've realized my mom does not like when I speak my own opinion. She does not understand why a girl would not want to be a submissive wife. I speak out for other girls like myself. Girls who were married off, then raped by their husbands. I am doing this for girls who get no say in their education. I am doing this for girls who will grow up, and would remain unaware of our struggles.

Our parents are stuck in the cycle of abuse, and can't break it. I am no therapist to say what you should do, but you have to give yourself a break. Most likely they, too, are suffering from PTSD, Parentification, and might have a mental illness.

School

I read a lot, approximately 300 books in one school year. I got awards for it and was praised by everyone around me. A gifted child who was an immigrant too! You stereotypically imagine an immigrant child to struggle with English, right? Kids hated me because I was able to learn English in three months; however, my siblings struggled. That caused a split between us, but now we have moved past it.

Being a gifted child meant I comprehended everything quickly. I understood the women's struggles in my community and the prevalent racism in our society. These injustices forced me to speak out. Every time I did, though, my teachers said it was inappropriate for school and responded with busy work. They were obviously not used to children wanting to speak out against the problems they were exposed to. That's why I'm outspoken now; I do not shut up when I see injustice. Those voices in my head find no rest.

Bullying became one of the biggest problems in my school life, but I learned to ignore it. By high school, it vanished because I kept to myself. I didn't listen to kids; instead, I found people online and became friends with them. We bonded over the same comfort characters, shows, and movies!

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/355502964333560254/

Do not assume what a child is going through; these children can be ten times more mature than you. They have seen what nobody before them has seen or dealt with. Stay kind and forgiving; keep open-minded — it won't hurt you.

This article is for every kid out there who had a hard time growing up — the one who couldn't speak up against their parents, and the ones who did. The ones who carried all the responsibilities and those who didn't. All of you are valid.

Did you enjoy reading Baydaa Alshatee's article? Let your friends know by using any of the sharing options below.

Baydaa Alshatee

Baydaa Alshatee has been working in The Teen Magazine since July 2020, and is studying Journalism at EVCC.