By Rubani Sethi and Amornrat Sidhu
Rubani Sethi and Amornrat Sidhu reveal that while our experiences might be real, we have been using the wrong term to describe them all along. They highlight the definitions that more appropriately apply to Thai-Indians, the typical Thai-Indian cross-cultural experience, and what a few members of the community feel about where they belong.
How can I come from a country? How can a human being come from a concept?”
— TAIYE SELASI
“I’m a third-culture kid.” We often use this phrase even if we are no longer children. These moments usually come when we can relate to a particular culture, way of thinking, or lifestyle, without fully belonging to it. This is usually because we feel an affinity for at least one other culture or belief system as well. Being a mashup of them all subtly shapes our identity, experiences, and sense of belonging.
Most Thai-Indians have been incorrectly labelling themselves as third-culture kids (TCKs). Traditional TCKs are born and raised in their host country, yet do not hold citizenship of that country. Most of us do hold Thai passports and so do our parents, so we don’t qualify.
We can, however, be labelled as educational cross-cultural kids (ECCKs). (There is a term for us after all!) ECCKs are those who attended an international school, interacted with people of different cultures on a daily basis, studied in an international environment, and then went home to an environment that promoted their home country values and language.
THE TYPICAL THAI-INDIAN MASH-UP
Sonia lives with her family. Her grandparents were born and educated in India, and her parents were born in Thailand, but educated in boarding school in India. They came back to Bangkok where they completed their further studies, then made a living and raised a family.
Sonia was born and raised in Thailand, and went to an international school. Her English-medium education promoted Western values where she was encouraged to question everything and stand up for herself. She mingled with people of many different cultures, which further influenced her way of thinking. Sonia went home to a family that spoke in Punjabi, Hindi, or Urdu, and promoted a different set of values. This sometimes caused conflict, because the way her friends and teachers lived or behaved resonated more with her than her parents’ and grandparents’ way of thinking. Other times, she felt tension with her friends of other cultures, because she was more comfortable with certain values her parents promoted. Often, she was caught in the middle of these many worlds.
WHAT RESEARCH SAYS
In Rubani Sethi’s research for her thesis, she found three strong themes between third-culture kids in Thailand that overlap with our Thai-Indian ECCKs’ experiences:
There is often a need to label our identity. Are we Thai or Indian? Why is our English so good? Why is our Thai so good? How round is our roti? How can you call yourself Indian if you crave kaprao over daal? We acknowledge and value all our different cultural identities, and view ourselves as ‘international people’.
There is a broadened perspective, an open-mindedness, which leads us to feel connected to many different cultures. We appreciate diversity, and we fit into various situations with ease.
A SENSE OF BELONGING
There is a downside to feeling connected to many different cultures. Where do we belong? Where do we come from? Where is home? There may also be regrets regarding learning and acquiring various languages. Languages can make someone feel like they belong, and not knowing a language can have the opposite effect.
While every ECCK’s experience is unique, the above themes resound with many of us on various levels. It goes beyond education. Thus, Rubani Sethi suggests that the umbrella term of ‘cross-cultural kids’ may more rightly suit us. We are a cross of many cultures, and those have long-term and personal consequences.
A few Thai-Indians answer some questions:
WHERE DO YOU COME FROM?
This question is tough to answer! When someone asks me where I am from, I usually say my ethnicity is Indian, but I was born and raised in Thailand. Growing up, my family also lived in Japan for over twenty years. From this exposure to different cultures, I feel like I am a mix of these three cultures: Indian, Thai, and a little bit of Japanese.
WHERE DO YOU BELONG?
I feel as though my heart will always belong in Thailand because that is where my loved ones are, and where I grew up. Today, my home and family are in Guam. It is a gift to belong to so many places… we know what truly matters in life and are very adaptable.
–Rasmeet Anansongvit Sachdej
WHERE DO YOU COME FROM?
This is a common question, which should be followed by a simple answer. However, for me, I struggle to answer it. I was born and raised in Thailand, but I am of Indian ethnicity. I went to an international school. Hence, it is hard to define where I come from because I belong to each of these cultures.
WHERE DO YOU BELONG?
An intriguing question, as I still have time to figure out what to do with my life. Having to belong feels restricting. I don’t plan to ever belong to a certain image, person, or path; I’d rather explore every potential aspect of myself.
As seen from a few members of our Thai-Indian community, these seemingly basic queries are tricky. Whether it is to justify a look, an accent, a language, a food preference or a lifestyle, these questions are often met with long, stuttering explanations.
In her TED Talk, British-American writer and photographer Taiye Selasi addresses the same question of “Where do you come from?” In other words, “Where is home?” She suggests that individuals should be considered ‘multi-locals’, and instead be asked, “Where are you a local?” This accounts for those that feel at home where they were born, but also perhaps where they went to school, and also where they relocated to for work. The question itself expects many answers, and that is essentially the beauty of it.