Culture,  Identity

Feeling the Culture Shock of Coming “Home”

When I picked up my freshman orientation name tag and saw my hometown printed on top right hand corner, I realized that I no longer called that place home.

As we started introducing ourselves, it almost felt wrong to say that I was from a place I no longer knew anything about all my information was at least five years out of date. I couldn’t name anything from the area except for the main shopping mall and could only give some outdated restaurant recommendations. 

This disjointed feeling continued as people started to exchange phone numbers – I didn’t even know that everyone used iMessage now and not Whatsapp or Messenger.

Strangely enough, it felt like I never left America even though it had been five years, because I attended an American school in Singapore. I took AP tests and joined school clubs just like everyone else in my orientation group. The culture shock was unexpected, because it was supposed to be American culture, my culture.

Before university, I would not have identified myself as a Third Culture Kid (TCK); I was just an American who had lived in Singapore. I realized that explaining who I am and where I’m from became more complicated when I moved back to the United States.

By the time I was 18 and starting my freshman year of college, I had lived seven years abroad – six years in Singapore and a year in France. Being at a state school, there were few TCKs and most people with an international background were those who recently immigrated to the United States. Thus, most people saw me as a Chinese-American or Asian American even though I did not.

I found that I was somehow both too Chinese and too American to be just Chinese-American.

Having heard of TCK while I was in high school, I only understood after my first year in university why the term exists. While I might not have moved around as much as other “true TCKs”, I feel in-between several different cultures: Chinese, Chinese-American, French, and Singaporean.

Not only is being TCK hard to explain, but it’s also a mark of privilege. I have lived in more places and traveled to more countries than most people I’ve met. I had these amazing opportunities, but they are not ones that I worked to get.

I didn’t want to flaunt, but I also didn’t want to hide essential parts of my identity.

What I learned throughout my college journey is that the answer is really quite simple: finding like-minded people.


Ingrid Liu

Ingrid Liu is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. A polyglot, foodie and philomath, she currently works full-time at a youth-run organization called AIESEC as a National Vice President for Korea.