How understanding your authentic self can help you answer ‘where are you from’ as a third culture kid

The question ‘where are you from’ can be a real pain to answer, but by understanding my consistent self better, I was able to nip the infamous question in the bud once and for all — and you can, too.

I’m the epitome of a third culture kid: someone who was raised in a culture other than that of their parents or the culture of their country of nationality. I’ve had the pleasure of having lived in Sweden, France, United Arab Emirates (Dubai), United States (Chicago), and the United Kingdom (London).

I was also born into a family of third culture kids. My dad is as Swedish as they come but my mom is a mix of French and Norwegian and lived in the Russia, United States (Seattle), and Denmark as a child.

Because of this, family reunions are often loud and multilingual. My mom and aunt are both skilled in jumping from one language to another (it’s really impressive). The rest of us communicate in what we refer to as ‘Scandinavian’ and that works great, too.

But the one who’s probably the most confused during these reunions is probably my husband. As an American, he tries his best to pick up the Swedish language but since we speak English in our relationship the best place to do so is during the reunions. Last time he told me he had learnt some new Swedish words: “hvad så?” “morgenmad” “peber”… Well, that’s all Danish, bless him!

I consider my international lifestyle a blessing. I have the understanding and cultural experiences that allows me to bridge the gap between cultures around the world, to be empathetic, and to always find connections to people.

It has also helped me in a professional setting since my international upbringing has taught me how react to changing environments in a calm and confident way, and how to connect with my team quickly and easily.

But being a ‘citizen of the world’ has also caused me a lot of angst around my own personal identity and a loss of community. Friends, family, and homes are scattered around the world and I, therefore, struggle to find belonging through traditional demographic definitions.

The question where are you from can definitely get my heart racing. In Sweden, I’m ‘not Swedish enough’ and in the US, I’m probably ‘from Switzerland’. Believe it or not, but in the UK, I often get asked if I’m American.

I often hear that, because the answer to where are you from can sound ‘so pretentious’ when answered by a third culture kid, many people in this situation become introverts, even if they’re extroverts, because that simple question is, well, not so simple to answer after all.

I became somewhat obsessed with wanting to find a short-hand definition to my identity so I studied sociology and communications. In sociology, I hoped to find an answer to why demographic definitions are so important to our identity, and by studying communications I hoped it would provide me with insight into how companies are able to tell a story that summarised who they are in a short, concise, and engaging way.

I learnt a lot during my college years but I can’t say that it brought me closer to a slogan-version response to the where are you from question.

Two years later, I was introduced to a life coach. Through our sessions and homework assignments, she made me realise that my sense of nationality (or lack thereof) didn’t matter as much if I found my authentic self. She helped me see that the home I’d been searching for was within me this whole time. I just needed some guidance to find it.

Picture this: If you’re a third culture kid, do you divide your life into chapters based on where you lived, when? Do you camouflage yourself to better fit in in your new community? Do you sometimes wonder which version of you is the real version of you?

I’m going to assume that the answer is ‘yes’. So no wonder the question where are you from becomes so hard to answer. Your ‘self’ is cemented in different cultures around the world so if you choose to identify with one culture over another, then you may be neglecting another important piece of who you are.

Instead, consider the pieces of your ‘self’ that have stayed consistent throughout. The pieces that are so deeply rooted in you, you’d feel naked and wrong without them.

By identifying these pieces, otherwise known as our values — family, authenticity, community — and our armour — kind, energetic, ambitious — we start to unveil our authentic self. And when we start to unveil our authentic self, our confidence in who we are starts to grow. We start to establish a home within ourselves rather than in demographic definitions. And when that starts to happen, then world, watch out, because then we’re freaking unstoppable!

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Founder of the Do-Re-Me goal-setting method. Transformational Life Coach. Digital Storyteller @byfounders. Believer in Santa Claus.

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Caroline Frantl Larsson

Caroline Frantl Larsson

Founder of the Do-Re-Me goal-setting method. Transformational Life Coach. Digital Storyteller @byfounders. Believer in Santa Claus.

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