Third-culture kids struggle with identity, search for community

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Reem Ayoub, a neuroscience junior, poses in front of the Blanton Museum on Monday, Jan. 27th, 2020.  Ayoub moved to Texas to attend UT after living in Abu Dhabi since she was 8 years old, and found the transition difficult due to the cultural differences between the two experiences.

Photo Credit: Evan L'Roy | Daily Texan Staff

Jordan Blumberg can answer the question “Where are you from?” in more than three different ways. 

“I don’t have a good answer,” said Blumberg, an electrical engineering freshman. “No one understands that (I’ve) lived all over the world, just the same way that (I) don’t understand that they’ve lived in the same place for their entire lives.”

Blumberg was born in Maryland, claims Texan residency, has lived in England, Italy, Turkey and Thailand, and graduated high school from the International School of Beijing in China. 

Blumberg is a third-culture kid. 

A third-culture kid, or TCK, is a person who grows up in a culture different than their parents’, so the term “third culture” refers to their fused identity.

The TCK subgroup is so small, the demographic isn’t officially recognized by the Office of Admissions.

Some are labeled Texans, like Blumberg, though she had to petition for it after originally being labeled as out of state. Others may be labeled international students or even out-of-state students, depending on their citizenship status. 

Reem Ayoub, a psychology junior, is another TCK. Born in Maryland to Jordanian parents, she moved to Abu Dhabi at age eight and moved back to the United States and started at UT in 2017.

Ayoub said her reintegration into the U.S. was strange because of cultural differences. She also said she struggled with adapting to students’ “America-centered perspectives.”

 

“At first, it was hard because I would get frustrated that people didn’t understand things the same way I did,” Ayoub said. 

Ayoub said adjusting to UT itself — a school rich in culture and legacy — was a difficult transition.  

“I did go to a school where we were so used to people coming and going that you never really got attached to the school,” Ayoub said. “It’s just really interesting to see that there’s so many generations that come back and are still drawn to the (UT) campus and traditions.”

Ayoub’s previous school, American Community School of Abu Dhabi, was an international school where she said she had peers from 60 different countries. She said that experience made her transition to UT, where 89.2% of the students are from Texas, more difficult.   

“I felt like people attempted to stick with their own people because all the minority groups that were here were just such a small part of the student body,” Ayoub said.  “That was really weird for me at first because I was used to just getting along with everyone, regardless of who they (were).”

Psychology sophomore Aayushi Sangani is a third-culture kid born in India, but she moved to Dubai at the age of one. She never lived in the U.S. until she came to UT.

In hopes of finding other TCKs with similar experiences, Ayoub and Sangani joined Planet Longhorn.

“I’ve met a lot of people (there) who are not only international, but also third-culture kids,” Sangani said.

While Ayoub said finding people to connect with helped improve her college experience, she still struggles with feeling like UT, or any one place, is her home.

“Living in neither Jordan or the U.S. (made me) kind of just feel really disconnected from both,” Ayoub said. “(Because) I never lived in Jordan, I never really felt connected to that part (of myself).”