Being a third culture kid | Growing up in Brunei

[dropcap]I [/dropcap] hadn’t really thought about the term Third Culture Kid until my bestie tweeted me about it earlier. I had heard of this term before, read a book and several articles on it too, but that was it. What is a Third Culture Kid? The rough definition is someone who spends the majority of their developmental years in a culture outside of their parent’s. For me- I grew up in Brunei, a small country in Borneo,  to an English dad and a Malaysian mum. The reason we lived in Brunei- a country neither of them were from- is because of my Dad’s job.

We were expats, and for years that’s what I thought people like us were called.  I hated being asked where I was from because it always entailed an overly detailed answer and made me feel ridiculously awkward. I couldn’t say Brunei, because that’s not where I’m from, although it most certainly is what I will always think of as home. I didn’t spend enough time living in England or Malaysia, even though that’s where my heritage lies, to call that home either. Ask me where I’m from today though, and I’ll just say London, out of ease.

There’s an excellent video about TCK’s called Neither Here Nor There – all the people featured in it have the same problem. When asked, you can see the awkwardness start to creep into their eyes and the ummm’s and uhhhh’s as they mentally scramble for the simplest answer. I know dudes, that’s me too.

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For the briefest time, I came back to school in England when I was 11. I went from a sheltered, hippy dippy existence in the tropical, sunny climes of Brunei to….Staffordshire, England. It smelt like Marmite. The clouds were always grey. Teachers were mean to kids. Kids were mean, full stop. I genuinely may as well have been an alien- my new classmates would ask me where I learnt to speak English. I didn’t understand the question- same place as you? Eventually returning to Brunei was like breathing again- it was so good to be ‘home’.

Now that my family and I have long since left Brunei, I’ve been so lucky to have so many friends that I grew up with at some point or other living in London. We seem to cling together, maybe out of the fact that home is where the heart is- we can’t physically return home but we have it in each other. We slip in and out of accents- a strange hybrid of English/American/ and Chinese slang.

There is a funny page on Buzzfeed- 31 Signs You’re A Third Culture Kid that rings pretty true…  So, whilst I claim to have adopted London as my home, truthfully neither here nor there is- my heart is split into many different places! I wouldn’t want it any other way.

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Author: Angela Shek

just a clueless mama in East London

14 thoughts on “Being a third culture kid | Growing up in Brunei”

  1. This was an interesting read, as I had friends who lived in Brunei for years, then came 'back' over here, so it was good to see your perspective!Personally I think it gives you a unique look on the world, and you've definitely see a lot more than many people.Beautiful pics too!Hmm maybe…


  2. But you're “from” Brunei, my Dear. I have your Brunei birth certificate to prove it ;-)Those 27 years of Brunei passed in a flash. oh, how I mss my beloved Brunei Darussalam Brunei Haven of Peace indeed!


  3. I love this post! If I live out the rest of my days here in London that will be my children! But I can understand the dread of having to explain your heritage. Outside of the northeast of the USA (where I'm actually from) no one seems to have heard of the Cape Verde islands (where my fam is from) so I always had to get into a detailed geography lesson. At some point in college my roommate started giving the lecture herself just to save me my breath!I love your blog & I plan to be back soon 🙂


  4. Hi Brittany! I feel your pain! No one ever heard of Brunei either so there was always a “oh it's near Malaysia and Singapore” detour when explaining. I bet they wished they had never asked 😉


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