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, January 29, 2012

Welcome To The Jungle

My high school in Lima provided many positive opportunities for the young to expand their horizons. Among these were class trips. Of course, the parents’ wallets, in addition to the burden of high regular tuition fees, were constrained by the cost of these perks, but they were still a wonderful advantage for their kids. In Grade 10, Mr. Antonio – both a dedicated teacher and an outstanding person hailing from British Columbia – invited our parents to his classroom, where he delivered his annual presentation on the Peruvian rainforest. As head of the Science department, he organized a trip to the Manú National Park (a biosphere reserve located in Madre de Diós, Peru) with the assistance of a volunteer from the school’s staff and some outsourced wildlife professionals to serve as guides. It all sounded really promising.

A ride on the river Manú

My buddies, our parents and I sat attentively to take in the presentation.  Mr. Antonio easily sold the experience to most foreigners, saying it was a life-altering experience for their children. It was not to be an ordinary camping trip, no sir. Mother nature was the boss of this land, and her creatures enforced her doctrine. This place actually managed to survive all these years because of it virtually inaccessible landscape to this day. It is the largest National Park of its kind in Peru, covering an area of 15,000 km2. It has one of the highest levels of biodiversity of any park in the world, with an incredible number of unique plant species and an exciting number of animals. Many of these were poisonous, including some unusually large ants. Perhaps even if a puma licked you, you would have to be sent to the hospital. There were no settlements for at least 60 kms near the actual campground and the only way to get there was by boat along a river – I think the river bared the same name as the ecological preserve. 

            I was initially on the fence, as I had visited this type of habitat back in Cumaná, Venezuela in the late 80s, therefore I figured there was nothing new to see there. I was a teenager, so it was tough to impress me - like most of my peers. Afterwards, to my dismay, neither my buddies nor their parents were convinced to invest in this expedition to the rainforest. At this point, the balance was leaning increasingly toward the negative, as I was not interested to be paired up with classmates I barely knew for a good seven days or so. Remember, I was a shy kid so this was a nightmare having to talk to people outside of my regular gang. On the other hand, my parents appeared to be committed to the idea forwarded by Mr. Antonio, that this experience would change my life forever. Furthermore, I think they would have loved to make that trip with their two boys but it was not a possibility. Unfortunately for them, it really was an excursion requiring a large group of travellers, willing to spend a week in very basic living conditions. That’s what “living off the grid” really means. As you look up to the heavens, it seems you can see every star in the galaxy thanks to the lack of pollution and blinding city light and the stars return the favour by illuminating the surroundings.

             My fears became a reality once my ticket was purchased, confirming I would be travelling with people I did not know. The person I knew best was Jean-Louis Antonio, but obviously he was not my peer. A select few 10th graders left Lima by airplane arriving in Cuzco to start their excellent adventure by bus. This old Japanese steel demon drove us atop the lofty Andes Mountains through tiny isolated villages where the inhabitants reacted fearfully to the arrival of foreigners. This was really curious. Afterwards, we descended into the scorching, humid, jungle-like conditions and its uncharted territory. From the last village known to man, we then boarded a boat and rode it for about an hour to reach camp, surrounded by howler monkeys – the best kind of monkey in my books – and other wonderful beasts such as alligators, birds, insects and pumas. Especially snakes, nature’s most precious gift to humanity. We spent about 7 days in camp, with mosquito nets over our beds - the netting was always covered inside and out with huge bugs. Showers were less than basic and the river was not an alternative for hygiene as it was full of leaches.

The howler monkeys, nature's most famous tenors

The lesson learned here on this occasion is: sometimes, you think you are going to have a dreadful time but can circumstances reward your effort. I made my first Peruvian friend, Sebastián Majluf who enjoyed similar music who lent me a great Pearl Jam tape for my Walkman (love the high-tech) and I began to lose my shyness. I was obligated to mingle with others to keep my sanity. Perhaps this was due to the shared hardship regarding our temporary conditions – we all missed our usual day-to-day luxuries - but we began bonding with the last people we expected. I also became friends with girls my own age, which before, I was too timid for some unknown reason. This changed thanks to a joint American-Canadian group which transformed this interaction into something much more natural. God only knows why there is that certain awkwardness between boys and girls but I am sure it transcends cultures. They are all still dear friends to this date. It was definitely an unforgettable trip and it did change my life forever!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

This Revolution Was Not Televised

My second scholastic year brought about my political awakening, particularly regarding social development and human rights in Latin America. In my Peru/Latin American History class, the final project was to organize a group of peers and choose a subject to present to the rest of the school population in our gym. Since the course was mandatory for all Grade 10 students enrolled in the American High School Diploma, all my friends shared the same task - we were able to work together even though we did not share the same class period. What a great deal! The group consisted of the usual suspects: Glen Swanson, Alejandro Alves, Sebastian “Crack” Olivares, William Erickson and I. Terrorism was a topic we had been schooled on extensively by the events of the Japanese Embassy, the local media and CNN En Español – this used to be an excellent Latin American news channel before it became a watered down version of the US parent network – so we decided to delve in to “Terrorism in Latin America.”

Probable outfit for presentation, minus the slippers

I don’t think any group of students worked so tirelessly and passionately on a subject as we had in the history of Roosevelt’s Peru/Lat fair. We dissected Colombia, Nicaragua, Mexico and Peru – arguably some of the more experienced countries in terms of the nature of this conflict. We broke each country down into specific regions of activity attempting to understand their theatres of operation and social conditions. Glen even made a GI Joe reproduction of guerrillas and security forces in a tropical war zone. I wanted to know the original platform of these movements and compare them to current activities to ascertain any possible legitimacy. I remember burning stocks of midnight oil, researching guerrilla movements, urban terrorism and some of the big leftist leaders they swore allegiance to. I wanted to make sure my knowledge was extensive to be able to answer any possible questions that could come my way. I began to differentiate Marxists, Marxists-Leninists, Maoists, the whole nine yards. Being a good American High School student, I became a great admirer of Ernesto Guevara – better known in some circles as El Che – particularly for his passion in struggling for better conditions and welfare for all inhabitants in his beloved Latin America – not to mention his pragmatism.

I was not one who would deface an American flag or stand before the UN Security Council to denounce the spectre of Yankee imperialism. What I could tell was the difference between "people" and "politics". The latter had a way of shaping people’s lives and many people continue to overlook this today, dismissing the subject, boasting, “Politics don’t apply to me.” You have pretty much surrendered your most basic democratic right if you truly believe this statement. I didn’t buy into this from the tender age of 11. As the modern day Rome, the USA during the Cold War went to many lengths to defend its interests within their “backyard” - as they so often dubbed Latin America in our classes in Roosevelt. They supported governments (military dictatorships and other illegitimate mandates) that oppressed its citizens to live under conditions never witnessed in most contemporary industrialized nations, only to support a minuscule and all-mighty privileged national elite. Anti-Communist self-branding went a long way on your local public checking wired from the US treasury back then. In many countries, the poor had no chance of social betterment and I had a minimal bird’s eye view of their living conditions. It was heart breaking. It is true in many of these countries that the only substantial political change could have come through revolution, as the interests of the many could never be considered by the reigning few. Someone had to listen and understand that their glasshouse was not indestructible. Their political institutions were not even close to what we enjoy and take for granted in the so-called “developed” world.

The best part of the project was not only the A on the report card. I was proud of everything I learned throughout the project along with all the team effort put into our presentation. Sorry for being so corny but it will always be the truth. Our buddy Crack managed to get us an interview with the head of security in the company his father, Uncle Vince, worked for in Lima. This man had been a Peruvian military paratrooper who fought in the front lines against the Shining Path. Perhaps he could have been suffering from post-traumatic depression or anxiety, but it did not cloud his very valuable insight. He told us that most of these groups’ intentions from the get-go are noble yet they prey on the uneducated that are easy to mold into a “freedom fighter” as recruits. The example he suggested was: “If you are poor, your family is starving and some people come to you asking you if you want to be a hero for your country, feed your family by taking a machine-gun, who wouldn’t become a guerrilla?” He mentioned that fighting in these types of conflicts makes you become quite jaded and most people end up forgetting the purpose of their struggle, swearing by empty slogans and pointless violence.

Left to right: Alejandro, Me and Crack

After the many years of living in a continent I adored as my own, I felt a sense of respect for the people and a duty towards them. I had witnessed so much about this region which people back home would not even hear about on the evening news – very rarely is there anything newsworthy in the eyes of the Canadian media happening in Latin America. Not many people I knew back home could grasp what it was like to have people close to them kidnapped and held as hostages, had to have their cars routinely checked for explosives, keep armed security to protect their homes and their precious lives. I hoped that after completing my school sentence and returning to Canada, I would be able to get an excellent blend of life experience and high quality education in Political Science to one day help in strengthening institutions and human development. Latin America had so much to offer to the world and change could not be possible always through armed revolution or terrorism, but there needed to be a revolution of the global consciousness. People deserved to have a shot at making something of themselves in their own country and all rights had to be universal not to serve a few.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Teenage Growing Pains

As we grow older, we tend to evolve in our reasoning, uncovering the world through a series of questions and answers. Children usually ask their elders, as they do not have a previous record – or as they say in the professional world, they lack experience. When they undergo their transformation to adulthood, in that awkward stage known as adolescence, teens are still looking for answers, but this time they are trying to make sense of the world that surrounds them without asking questions. Among the more common behaviour is to develop an anger of some kind, perhaps as the days where mommy and daddy took charge when things get tough are numbered. Who wouldn't be when it appeared imminent that your cartoons will be changed for desk work? The GI Joe collection gets smaller and smaller while you focus on getting the grade and engaging in after-school activities that will make you attractive to a post-secondary institution.

Do you have what it takes for university?

I had a world of questions myself by the time we were living in Lima. Brian and I had accepted the fact we were nomads but clinked on that imaginary and artificial Canadian identity. Our love and loyalty to our country carried us through the tough moments, knowing we would soon return and things would be better. Our trips to Ontario were our chance to reconnect with what was familiar. Of course, not living in a country does not give you a proper perspective on day-to-day reality and this leads you into a whole new world of trouble: assumptions. This is one of the more prejudicial conditions in the human mind as we associate the unknown with the closest tangible concepts we can conceive in our mind. Generally, assumptions occur when there is no person to ask who has previous knowledge on the subject we desperately seek or simply because we are not listening. Many problems come about due to assumptions. When in doubt, ask. A university professor once told my class, there is no such thing as a dumb question and I think he was on to something.

The Japanese Embassy hostage crisis converged with our school vacations and activities, so I faced something of a depression. Most of my friends in school were from abroad and many of them returned to their home countries, leaving me to face significant boredom for a foreseen two months. My father was forced to stay as support to the ambassador, hoping all Canadians and other dignitaries came out alive and Maman was holding down the fort, giving all her support to our leader. Shortly after, in an act of divine intervention, they decided to send us off for a few weeks to Toronto with Uncle John and Kingston with Grandad. This was truly heaven sent. This was also the first time my brother and I traveled alone internationally and had a chance to understand the responsibilities both as travelers and representatives of our country. Although Brian was the older one of the two – and still is, never seemed to close the gap on the age thing – every person of authority questioned me, thinking I was the senior of the two as I was taller and therefore, looked older than him. At first, I felt somewhat uncomfortable, expecting I just had to sit back and let him deal with everything, but after being put on the spot so many times, I began to make sense of the whole bureaucracy of international travel.

The highlight of this trip was definitely Toronto, our point of arrival and departure. Although at first uncomfortable in greater part to our Canada Customs and Border Services agents who are trained to treat even an infant baby as a suspect for terrorist attacks on the mighty frozen tundra, the balance was positive. I remember the agent all high and mighty, telling a 14 year old and a 17 year old that they did not have any diplomatic rights in Canada and gave us a great welcome by searching through all our luggage as if we were bootleggers in times of prohibition. Uncle John was at the civilian end ready to take us to his home. It was always such a great feeling to see him, our Canadian father. As we sat in his car, he asked us if we liked basketball and had two tickets for us to see the Toronto Raptors take on the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Toronto franchise was surviving its inaugural season quite well, thanks to Damon Stoudamire (often referred to as Mighty Mouse due to his amazing skill while being one of the shorter players in the NBA standing at 5’10”). Then, he provided Brian and I with the best tips for public transit usage and must-see landmarks during the weekday while he and Aunt Amy were at work. It was great for our independence and for discovering the beauty of Canada’s largest city.

Stoudamire taking on the New York Knicks

Most parents have their work cut out raising children particularly when they are in those defiant teenage years. I salute you mothers and fathers out there as I am sure it is not an easy job. At this point, the offspring are still pushing limits, trying to get away with all sorts of naughty behaviour, fooling around with alcohol, chasing boys and girls, all while claiming they are adults. In some cultures, these times are more difficult as “grown-up” responsibilities transition at a slower pace into the lives of the rebellious. In the case of transcultural kids, although some may be more rebellious than others, they are generally mellower. Sure there are some exceptions as in every rule, especially as influences and peer pressure are major factors at play, but the balance is in their favour. Although they are still exploring and understanding the same issues as their age group, they have been forced to constantly adapt to new environments and circumstances. They have been challenged on a regular basis, having to change their friends, homes, countries, customs, and religions. Their nuclear family means everything. Their issues are somewhat deeper and it is easier to relate to mature adults, explaining their ease in interaction with people from an older age group.

Photos courtesy of EducaEdu and Kicks On Cards