A third-culture kid (TCK / 3CK) or trans-culture kid is "someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more cultures other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture."


Sunday, June 5, 2011

How To Be A Canadian

As we returned to Chile after our Christmas - New Year vacations, we were only a few months away from our six year anniversary of having left Ottawa. As a child, the concept of time takes on  much different importance than it does when you are an adult. Canada felt like a past life. After two and a half years, to the untrained eye, my brother and I had become Chilean. The adaptation process was so successful, we shared our hobbies, our passion for cuisine, our expressions and our socio-political concerns were the same as the locals. We were no longer the Canadian strangers arriving from Venezuela. My parents were proud of the overall result and how comfortable we had become with every aspect of our lives in transit. They did however share a concern that would eventually affect us, which was our inevitable departure in the not too distant future. The fear was interrupting once more our stability and sense of belonging and whether the new transition entailed negative repercussions on their children. Some diplomatic children cannot manage dramatic changes positively once they reach a certain age and value their stability, an important operational parameter in a child's programming. Being Canadian was, in fact, a foreign concept for my brother and I as we possessed an artificial understanding of our country.

Maman, Brian and I at Salto Laja, VII Region, Chile.

Canada played a major role in terms of my identity and was a synonym for home. I was “The Canadian” in school. Usually home is a place one returns after school, work or hanging out with friends. I had not lived at home in fact for almost six years, enough to have forgotten what life in suburban Ottawa was about. Every year included a brief visit to the family in Ontario during the holiday season. Toronto had generally served as our point of entry, which included a short stay at my Uncle John and Aunt Amy's house in Etobicoke. This was a special time for me to reconnect with them as I began to associate Canada with them. The magic of the white Christmas further contributed to a feeling of living in a dream. Canada was spending time with Uncle John and Aunt Amy in my perspective. I loved crossing the large automatic doors leading out of customs and immigration anxious to see my uncle waiting to greet us. My grandparents lived in Kingston, about 3 hours northeast of Toronto and the drive up to see them seemed eternal but had a great payoff. Generally, Christmas Day was where we all gathered at my Aunt Margaret and Uncle Rick's home in Grimsby, approximately one hour south of Toronto. There Brian and I had our annual opportunity to spend time with our cousins, Emily, Stef and Katie. They were younger but the age gap never was an obstacle for playing together and being a family for a quick moment. We always welcomed the season together with perhaps the biggest turkeys available on the market. I still remember that moist, fresh taste of an oven cooked turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy. I always loved that unique flavour, but being all together for the festive season made the meal taste even better.

The more frequent exposure to my country came through events organized for the Canadian community, where children were invited and occasional appearances at the Embassy downtown on Av. Bernardo O’Higgins and Ahumada. When Brian and I had time off school, my Maman would bring us along to visit Dad at the office, something we always looked forward to. Great places to eat downtown Santiago. Every time we went to his workplace, our presence was acknowledged and we were received in a courteous environment. My father's colleagues noticed we were in the premises and came around to have a quick chat with Brian and I, asking how school was going. They were lovely people and our family away from home. My father's boss, the Ambassador Michael Mace, was an extremely gracious man and he and his wife developed a strong relationship with my parents during the posting. They included us in many of their get-togethers and enjoyed having us around as we reminded them of their children when they were younger. Their son and daughter were residing in Canada, probably attending university at the time. Outside of that world, I met Canadian aid workers involved in development projects, business executives from Scotiabank engaged in acquisitions with Banco Sud Americano and mining professionals all hailing from the Great White North. I was proud to see the role my fellow nationals were undertaking in Chile, especially through development aid projects to improve the quality of life for underprivileged members of society. My Maman insisted the exposure to these events helped develop excellent social skills and early awareness of our country in an international setting. I admit, this upbringing is an excellent advantage as these skills cannot be mastered in a classroom where topics are restricted to theoretical discussions. Brian and I received a Social Science Degree and an MBA through early first hand experience. 

One quiet summer weekend shortly after our Polynesian adventure, Brian and I were called in to the family room while we were playing in the backyard. Dad was sitting on the couch in front of the television and my first reaction was wondering what movie we were going to watch together. My parents decided it was important to enrich our knowledge of Canada, as our school curriculum did not include the basics. They figured that upon our eventual return to Ottawa, this would facilitate yet again another transition. I am not sure what my brother thought, but I could not imagine myself leaving Santiago. Dad brought out a large book he had stashed away among his LP records and began to explain the content. I remember the book contained many images and seemed similar to an encyclopedia but with more illustrations. This was particularly useful to me, especially as I had undergone several years of language immersion yet I had never written or read English at this pivotal point in my life. There were numerous depictions of key moments in Canadian history. Events included the discovery of Newfoundland by the Vikings, early European explorers, French and English settlers, major battles such as the war of 1812 and one of my favourites, the flags of each province and their respective capital. After a few of these weekends, we would be sufficiently versed to pass a citizenship exam with flying colours, if the case were to apply. It was deeply interesting and motivating for me to learn more about my country..

Visiting a Canadian aid development project in Chiloé, Chile

It can be a difficult task for parents when living abroad temporarily to create a stable long-term environment for their children. Kids tend to become self-involved and dependant on the familiar. Kids being kids. Change usually is accompanied by a sense of overwhelming fear due to the unknown road ahead. As they experience new events on a daily basis, a complete overhaul of life can be scary and in some cases traumatic. Some expatriate children I met down the road of life become bitter, and even myself, had gone on strike when I first moved to Ottawa from Brasilia. It is a challenge to adapt to a new setting especially when you live here and now without considering tomorrow could be a far different story. Even the past, Venezuela, seemed far away. I enjoyed variety, encountering different cultures, languages, traditions, customs, and I responded to these rich differences with outmost respect. I also valued my sense of belonging. My parents managed to do an outstanding job ensuring we adapted through their love and support. I knew I was Canadian but I had developed a strong Chilean identity, leading me to think Chile was my permanent home. If life was good, why did we need to change that? The idea of leaving felt absurd and could not understand it. Although Brian and I were told we would return to Ottawa eventually, there was a bittersweet feeling of seeing yet another chapter coming to a close.

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