Gender & Identity, Life

Being a third-culture kid isn’t as cool as you think

We’re not considered locals in the countries we were raised in, and we’re too foreign to be considered local in the countries whose citizens we identify as.

This is my fourth year of living in Dubai. I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, but I’m a Pakistani by passport.

I’m a third-culture kid.

Anyone who’s part of the expatriate community in the Middle East can probably relate to this, because we make up a quite significant number of the population. No matter how hard we try, there is no individual culture that we can completely identify with. We’re not considered locals in the countries we were raised in, and we’re too foreign to be considered local in the countries whose citizens we identify as. So who are we?

We’re a mix of everything: the families we’ve grown up with, the friends that have been a consistent factor in our lives, and the culture and environment we’ve been raised in. We’ve had a unique exposure that most who haven’t travelled or lived in other places have missed out on. We get the best of so many different cultures, because the more interactions we’ve had with different people, the more we’ve knowingly or unknowingly adopted from them. But the best part is that we are way more tolerant, because diverse communities have been a major part of our lives.

During my freshmen year in Texas, I always had a difficult time answering the question, “where are you from?”

When I said Pakistani, I was questioned about how living there was like. I could of course answer that question by talking about my summer experiences from every time we’d fly back to Pakistan, but, that wouldn’t completely resonate with them. Because, for some people the idea of spending summer vacations in a country does not entitle you to call that place your own. If I said I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia, they’d ask me why I didn’t call myself a Saudi. It took details and quite some time to explain how residents and citizens are quite different from what they are in the U.S.

The more tougher questions that have come my way, though, have not been from people asking out of curiosity, they’ve been from people who question the basis of my patriotism if I speak about Pakistan. Do you really need to explain attachment to a place? We don’t have control over where we’re born, or where our parents chose to raise us. So why are we put on trial for factors outside of our control? So what is home for me?

For me it’s Dubai, it’s Saudi, and it’s also Pakistan. I love living in Dubai because the multicultural environment here is just amazing! You don’t just have expatriates here, you have a large number of third-culture hybrids here!

And by hybrids, I mean people with parents from different countries. It’s genuinely eye-opening and just so fascinating to hear about people’s unique backgrounds.

I guess part of being submerged in such an diverse surrounding also makes you question your identity, because who do you identify as? I choose to self-identify as a global citizen, because I cannot pinpoint to just one place and say that’s where I’m from, because I’m not. That’s too one-dimensional, and third-culture is probably the furthest thing from that.

I don’t know where I’ll be living after I graduate, and what place I will grow to call home. I know that most places I’ve been to might not in the orthodox sense be considered as global, but if you’re in Dubai, or any part of the Middle East for that matter, you should be able to relate to the stigma involved with this.

Maybe that’s why you should forget countries and cities, and be plain ol’ cheesy.

If you’re asked where your home is, say home is where the heart is.