TCKs and Tired Conversations

When the question is asked, “where are you from?”

Most  people give a straightforward answer. TCKs tell really long winded stories involving our parents’ career choices with boring political/historical details.

Then one of two things happen:

1) The person reacts with strong interest and curiosity and fires lots of questions. In my case, people often say,

“Oh, so you’re from Taiwan, your English is so good! I never knew people in Taiwan spoke such fluent English.”

Then, I’d have to explain that yes, lots of people in Taiwan speak good English, but I grew up in an American school environment where everyone spoke English. Local Taiwanese people speak Mandarin, or their dialect. And yes, I speak it as well, but I have better Mandarin than Taiwanese even though my parents exclusively speak Taiwanese to me growing up. Clear as mud, right? It drains me of energy to explain my complex background, often to the result of my conversation partner being more confused than informed. I end up feeling hurt, confused, and misunderstood.

Or, the other possibility,

2) The person is disinterested in my story. Their eyes glaze over and you see them subtly finger their smartphone, eager to turn the subject away from the story that IS MY LIFE. They’re either self absorbed or simply too ignorant and lazy to make the effort to hear my story. This leads me to feel hurt, confused, and misunderstood. 

In order to cope with the above two scenarios, when encountering the question, “where are you from?”, we often resort to twisting the truth, giving an alternative concise, simple answer just to avoid the longwinded story. We begin to live the closeted life, carrying the burden of a secret identity, which over time, leads to feeling hurt, confused, and misunderstood.


To sum up, TCKs bruise easily. You can’t tell, because we seem so sophisticated and culturally savvy. We know how to pack a suitcase and know all the international flying tips. We are strong and resilient to change; always ready for the next adventure. But underneath that confident demeanor is a wound inflicted by tired conversations.

We need people to give us grace. We need to figure out how to get past the tired conversations into deeper relationships where our stories no longer become “conversations”. People who have tried to wade past the complexities allow us to have a respite from all the explaining. When instead of being caught up in the exotic growing-up stories so many of us have, they are focused on who we have become. TCKs come in all different shapes and sizes, it is hard to speak, literally and figuratively, a universal language when it comes to describing us. We want to be known for our specific interests, passions and dreams.

If there is an opportunity, observe a TCK when they meet one of their kind from childhood. You will notice exuberance from seeing an old friend, yes, but also a palpable relief from the tired conversations. Theres is a liberty which comes from being understood, known.

TCKs, how do you answer the question, “where are you from?”


One thought on “TCKs and Tired Conversations

  1. So complex Cindy! Recently my son challenged me … when asked again by a Chinese taxi driver where I am from I quickly and easily said “Meiguo” and Ben said to me – “Why do you say you are American? You are not American!” And of course he is right. It’s just so much easier than trying to explain Barbados, but that my husband and children are from the USA, and doing it all in Chinese for what is no more than a few minute never to happen again interaction. Someone else (a casual Chinese acquaintance) asked recently where in the USA I am from … so do I easily and simply answer the state that my husband and I happened to be living in before we moved to China, or do I go into a more lengthy discussion expaining that actually I am not from America? Usually I am weighing the conversation and relationship and making my decision on how to answer based on that … not on the truth and who I really am! Sometimes my explanation involves having to draw a map just to show where my homeland is! Some days exciting to share, some days tiresome. And for the record, I am a CCK rather than a TCK, but identify so much with TCK’s! 🙂

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