The Power of Creating Community as a Third Culture Kid

Yarub Al-Ahmad

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Photographer: Matheus Bertelli

If you are reading this, then the chances are that you are a “cultural misfit” or a “third culture kid” like me. That, I believe, puts us in the same boat even though we may not know each other. 

My hope is that during the few minutes it takes you to read through our one sided conversation today, you would see the thing I am trying to put a spotlight on: The grey area between two cultures, in a new light. 

As a cultural misfit, I find myself often thrown into the very confusing, unfamiliar grey space of no man’s land between the east and the west, both of which live in me. This clash of identities is best put in the words of Ijeoma Umebinyuo: 

“So, here you are
too foreign for home
too foreign for here.
Never enough for both.” 

If you identify with this then you know how painful it is to live life in between. To never really feel whole. Immigrants throughout history have grieved this in so many languages and songs and cries for community. 

In both my grief of loss and my hope for the future, the question I keep asking myself in all of this is: How do we make the grey area in between two cultures our home? How do we make it a place of authenticity, of wholesomeness, and of community? This is needed and I believe it is possible!

How do we make the grey area in between two cultures our home?

YARuB AL-AHMAD ON redifing home AS A THIRD CULTURE KID.

I come from a tribal community that follows old ways of life. The most important rule is: you stick close to the tribe. All these years, the changes in the lands and people around, has not changed  the way my people view their community. Now what does that mean for me as a young man living in Europe? As a third culture kid, I am no longer surrounded by people who look like me, speak like me and eat what I eat. And chances are you aren’t either. However, what I still have in me is the passion for tribe, for community, and for connection. I choose to live my life in a way that honors the generations of people before me that created and sustained a community, and understood its importance for our wellbeing. Even if the people around me now are very different, I believe everyone longs for connection deep within. In a world where I can be anything, I want to be a friend. 

In a world where I can be anything, I want to be a friend. 

Yarub al-ahmad on the importance of connection as a third culture kid.

For me to be able to be a friend, I ask myself these questions almost on daily basis, and I invite you to ask yourself too: 

1- What am I bringing into my world? 

As rich as our cultures are, We cannot hold onto every aspect of them today. As cultural misfits, we do not live in the same places where our ancestors created those traditions, nor do we live the same way they did. No doubt, there are many harmful things for us and for others around us that we can bring from our cultures. But there are so many more beautiful things. I encourage you to think about 1 thing from your culture that would make it easier for you and for others around you to connect. That can be as simple as inviting them for 2ahwe! (A cup of coffee) 

2-How do I honor myself in my way of life as well as my ancestors? 

Now this is a big one, because life here – wherever “here” might be for you- requires a level of compromising some core values that our parents/cultures hold. These compromises may be based on religion, 3eib culture (Shame culture), or any “non questionable” value. The truth is it takes many hard conversations with ourselves and with our loved ones to make sense of this.

As third culture kids, there are some things that are always going to be hard for us to see eye to eye with our parents (and hence our extended families), maybe this is one of them. However, my hope is that we would be able to see that ultimately we are the ones living our lives and experiencing our emotions. As bad as we might want to take care of other people’s feelings, we can only really be responsible for ourselves. I hope we see that we owe it to ourselves and to the people who gave so much for us to be “here” to live in a way that makes us happy, free, and whole…and I hope that you are able to do this in a way that holds honor for your loved ones as you discover this grey road. 

3- What am I taking in from this other world? 

This is another tricky one.- It is the other side of the coin. Sometimes our mixed identity throws things at us that we do not want to accept- things that do not feel true to ourselves and the way we want to do life. We also owe it to ourselves here to refuse what we want to refuse. There is goodness in choosing to refuse and accept with grace at heart, and holding space for connection beyond differences. Because at the end of the day, two different humans are still two humans that have so much in common- even if the person in front of you is very different from you, They still have hopes and dreams and fears and insecurities. Just like you, just like all of us. 

Being in the grey place gives us so much opportunity to connect with people, and to make the world a little warmer and more colorful. God knows the world can use some of both. 

My hope is that you ask yourself, as a third culture kid, those questions with me, and that you are able to create a reality in which the grey place becomes a home where you can live free and whole- a life of dignity and respect and honor- Because you deserve that. 

I leave you with the words of Jalaluddin Rumi:

“Somewhere beyond right and wrong, there is a garden. I will meet you there.”

By Yarub. 

IG: @yarob_o.b

For more on third culture identity, check out Maisaloon’s pieces on how does it feel to be growing up as third culture kid in the west, and mixed values third culture kids usually face.

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