Thoughts on Being a ‘Cross-Cultural Kid’

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cross cultural kid baby

Yes, that is me in all my tiny human glory. Cross Cultural kid from the start.

Growing up, I clearly remember the first time I realized that I was a little bit different from my peers. I was in fourth grade, everyone was sitting on the floor at the front of the classroom, and people were talking about their plans for winter break, which included things like Disneyland, driving a few hours to visit family at Christmas, etc. I was going to England and Switzerland. It was then I realized that not everyone had parents who both had immigrated to the US, that not everyone had grown up eating food from around the world, that most of my peers didn’t have to think in time zones and go on such long flights to see their grandparents.

I never had a way of identifying what I was, besides different. I knew that I should be happy to be from a family that travels, a family that was so cultural and unique, but as a young teen especially, I rebelled. I wanted to be “normal”. I didn’t want friends to come over and ask what we were having for dinner before they agreed to stay, I didn’t want people to ask about my parents accents, and I definitely didn’t want to be proud of being anything other than a full-blown American after 9-11. It was hard, and although I (thankfully!) grew out of that phase, made friends who were much kinder than middle schoolers tend to be, and realized that I have my own, very screwy accent, I still never knew anyone who was really “like me”.

Or so I thought.

I first heard the term ‘Cross-Culture Kid’ a few years ago, and upon reading about it, instantly felt like it was about me. Ruth E. Van Reken, who writes about being a CCK, describes them as  “a person who has lived in—or meaningfully interacted with—two or more cultural environments for a significant period of time during developmental years.” You can read more about it here, but essentially, given the fact that I’m a first generation American, that I spent a lot of time in England as a child, and that my father’s family maintained much of the Iranian culture when they moved to the US, I’m a pretty textbook CCK.

Here are some things that definitely happened because I was a CCK, that were probably mortifying at the time, but now are pretty hilarious:

  • My favourite thing to put on toast was a mix of peanut butter with chocolate spread, which we brought back in large quantities from England every summer, because no, much to my mother’s chagrin while packing up a very heavy suitcase, Nutella was not the same and would not cut it. It was my favourite breakfast for YEARS, and I remember trying to convince so many friends how good it was. None of them agreed.
  • Spelling in general. I’ve touched briefly on how I spell things differently, because I grew up reading English books as well as American ones, so my spelling can be both the American and the British way.
  • Never being allowed to sleep over at someone else’s house. This was a big deal to 5th grade me, as slumber parties were all the rage, but this was something both my parents felt strongly about because it was so not in their culture to do so. Unless it was your cousins house, or your grandparents house, in which case, go wild! (Sidenote, I’m actually super happy about this one now that I’m an adult. Parents were definitely right.)
  • No pets inside the house. We had a tortoise growing up, but he was (obviously) outdoors and slept half the year so…
  • Trying to explain what quince was, what food things that I only knew the Persian word for was in english, cucumbers with salt, and eating pomegranates in general. (This was pre-health craze. Most kids in the US don’t eat pomegranates, even now.)
  • A much more recent one is using an ‘x’ on the end of messages to my English friends/family but not to my American friends/family. Switching constantly always means that a slip up is likely, and my most recent one was with a guy I had just started talking to on Tinder… yeah. Whoops!

I know too many reading this, you may be like, so what? For me though, having a name, an identifier, for the way  I’ve straddled cultures my whole life gave me something I didn’t know I needed. It explained all those real life things above that I used to not understand, and started a conversation both within my family and within my friends. I realized as I grew older of course how many more CCKs there were than I thought, and when I look at my closest friends, many of them fall into that group now.

Are you a CCK? What made you realize it as a kid, and were there any funny stories involved?

3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Being a ‘Cross-Cultural Kid’

  1. FlightScarlet says:

    Man can I ever relate! I didn’t have to travel to visit my grandparents growing up, but that’s because they’re the ones who immigrated — with my parents! I’m a first generation Canadian, and I too struggled (and still struggle at times) with my cultural identity. I wasn’t allowed to do sleepovers, I had basically no outside life with friends at all until I moved out. I always felt guilty eating my Indian food, for fear of making others uncomfortable. (You can read about that at http://www.flightandscarlet.com/2015/12/02/i-refuse-to-hide-my-food/ if you want — you might enjoy it!). And I always felt like I had to choose between being Indian and being Canadian. Even now I find it hard to explain to others that I am both.

    Thanks for writing this! You’ve inspired me to write something similar about my own experience. I think people who don’t experience this growing up need to hear more about it!

    • HelloMeganO says:

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and write such a lovely comment, it really means a lot to me! I just went through and read so much of your blog, your voice is beautiful and I couldn’t stop clicking onto the next post! I still find it difficult to explain to others as well, and I hope one day the entire world understands multiculturalism better. Please do let me know when you post about this, I’d love to read it!

  2. tea says:

    very recognizable post! So many lost in translation moments and friends who never understood why I ate a hot meal for lunch. Or that you had to be home at x time on Sunday because it was time to call all grandparents.

    It’s one of those things you only can talk about with other CCK’s.

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