Culture, Gender & Identity, Life

I’m a third culture kid and it makes me feel culturally homeless

The pain of being a third culture kid is recognizing that you don't fit in.

“You will never be completely at home again because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”— Miriam Adeney

Grihya…the Hindi word for accommodation.

In 1998, my mom and I moved from Aligarh, India to the United Arab Emirates. I remember her telling me we left just before my first birthday in September. So, my maternal side of the family made it a point to celebrate before we left home. It was bittersweet; since it was my first and last birthday celebrated there. 

Later, after arriving in the U.A.E., the three of us, my mom, dad and I, lived in a single apartment. Here, I spoke my first words, got my first bicycle and watched a lot of Pokémon. But as summer holidays approached each year I’d say goodbye (temporarily) to the U.A.E. and fly back to India.

Ghar…the Hindi word for home.

My first ghar was up a broad street narrowed by endless shops in Aligarh, India. I got used to the cacophony of Aligarh’s streets quite well. Somehow found my place among the countless people marching up and down its rough roads. Vaguely, I remember standing in the balcony of my Nani’s (maternal grandmother) house and watching various vendors pass by. I didn’t care for most, except one, the man carrying pink and blue clouds of cotton candy.

Acquiring cotton candy happened in one of three ways. One, either I rushed down steep stairs with money to buy it. Second, I stood on the balcony and called out for someone to buy it for me. Third, someone from my family was already buying the candy for me before I made it to the balcony. 

Today, the taste of cotton candy still connects me to Aligarh. In this way, I’ll always have access to my first home even if I don’t get to visit often. Thinking about all this compelled me to further consider what home meant to me. I have two homes. The difference between “Ghar” and “Grihya” is severe. Both words are similar but worlds apart. The thing is that Dubai is home but not fully, not like Aligarh. And Aligarh is home but not fully, not like Dubai. I find myself pulled to both places but never enough to fully want to stay. 

Places unlike words, sadly, aren’t interchangeable. In the U.A.E., I grew up with different cultures surrounding me. From Arabic, Hindi, to Malayalam, an array of languages fill the air. The concept of a native language doesn’t work when you grow up such diversity. I do have a mother tongue, Hindi, but don’t speak it as much as English.

Beghar… the Hindi word for homeless

So when the time comes to fill in my first language on documents I go back and forth between choosing to write Hindi or English; eventually choosing Hindi. Cause no matter how much I lack in speaking Hindi or how good I am at English. Hindi is always going to be the first language that introduced me to the world. Its alphabet is still with me even though I’m not fluent.

 My identity shifts with the backdrop. Which is hard to explain to someone who has a stable home and identity. In fact, being in transit is being at home for people like me. Cause home isn’t just four walls and a roof, it’s an emotional thread that keeps you grounded, something you can come back to regardless of how lost you felt being among the others.

But the thing is, I don’t fully know what I lost either. I haven’t lived in India enough to grasp what it means to be a local there. And I am not from the UAE to live like a local. Culturally speaking I feel lost, homeless. Though despite all this, I am loved and I love. I have memories I wouldn’t give up for anything. And if anything growing up with more than one home has taught me is you never fully belong anywhere but to yourself.