Global identity: Living in the old and the new

“Interested in everything, committed to nothing.” – Gregory David Roberts from his novel Shantaram.

This statement really speaks to me when I contemplate how personal identity is shifting in the world given globalization. The terms global identity and the global nomad have entered our vocabulary as a result of the shrinking of our planet into a global village. Transatlantic travel, once an exciting journey to some far away land, now for many feels merely like an extended car ride. Our perception of the world and the way we belong in it is changing as global citizens increasingly encounter constant contact with a blend of cultures.

My esteemed colleagues at USC, Maria Pozo Humphreys and Elizabeth Kebschull have been working with global nomads for the past several years. The following includes information they have shared in their presentations on the topic of intercultural identity, or I sqaured.

In their book Third Culture Kids, Pollock and Van Reken discuss the concept of a third culture kid (TCK) as those individuals who spend the developmental period of their life in countries outside of their own. For instance, military, diplomats, corporate executives among many others often find themselves living in several different countries over a period of a few years. Their children end up learning how to adapt to new contexts, learn new languages and become savvy to the world in a way that children who stay localized are lacking. However, it comes with its drawbacks – Pollock and Van Reken state (2001):

A Third Culture Kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ culture. The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership of any.

The trade-off appears to be that TCK have a hard time with feeling that they belong anywhere. After seeing so much, meeting new people, making friends just to leave them, the tendency is that change becomes the norm and thus, it becomes more difficult to be committed  – to places and people. I would argue that this dynamic is no longer excluded to TCK but anyone who finds themselves living abroad for an extended period of time. No matter where you are in the world, you find yourself missing someone, someplace or something that feels like home.

This is not a novel phenomenon but is a contemporary issue in the field of psychology. Those who find themselves constantly living in the midst of several different cultures (thereby giving the term multicultural added dimension) may find themselves finding difficulty committing, connecting with others intimately, and may find themselves feeling lonely seemingly more often than their peers with less travel experience (Klemens and Bikos, 2009). Understanding yourself in a deeper way is more complex and cannot possibly be addressed in a blog post. However, there are ways to feel more integrated with all the parts of you that you have left across the globe. Try this exercise at home:

Try: Write about your experience in each country. There is vast therapeutic value in writing or journaling. It provides an opportunity for the writer to reflect on his/her experiences, emotions, thoughts and behaviors during that phase of life. Reflecting on your life through writing will force you to give your memories coherence.  You may be surprised at what you learn from yourself.

One thought on “Global identity: Living in the old and the new

  1. Jessica says:

    I felt like you were writing this post for me, although it has been my choice to keep moving around and was definitely not imposed upon me by my parents. If they had their way I would be back in northern California! I agree with you that journaling is very therapeutic. Thanks for the insight!

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