Culture,  Identity

Two-Sides of the Coin: How Intercultural and Inter-generational Experiences Clash

The song ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ is one of the signature songs of the British Rock band ‘ Queen’ as well as the 2018 biopic movie about their late lead singer, Freddie Mercury.

The song is unique amongst any chart-topper as it has no chorus and comprises of several genres of music arranged into; an intro, a ballad, operatic section, hard rock and concluded with a reflective coda.

However, do you know what the title means? It is roughly translated to as an ‘artist fantasy’ according to Jill Florio the Co-Creator and Chief of Operations of RunPee.

More fascinatingly, after decades of researches, nobody knew what inspired it. Despite countless probing, neither Mercury nor his surviving bandmates ever revealed its meaning.

A popular theory was it reflected Mercury’s inner turmoil and frustrations of being ‘Different’ as a result of his homosexuality, which the society viewed unfavourably then and how he felt his existence itself was a bane due to being defined by it. This theory had been concurred by his surviving partner Jim Hutton and Tim Rice, co-creator of Jesus Christ Superstar and Evita, and a collaborator of Mercury’s who once said,

“It’s fairly obvious to me that ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was Freddie’s coming-out song.”

Ironic, isn’t it? A generation-defining masterpiece was inspired by a tragedy. However, let’s reflect on this, being labelled as a mistake and being judged for simply being yourself by strangers.

Sounds familiar? I believe a Third-Culture Kid (TCK) would share this sentiment. Humans are social beings by nature (Morgan,2015) and as Dr Karyn Hall, PhD explained, “Just like food and shelter, a sense of belonging is a human need, meaning, to be accepted as a member of a part.”

While some are fortunate enough to treasure and benefit from living a life as a Global Citizens, this tends to be appreciated in adulthood. Before getting there, life might not be all the glitz and glam that we see on social media.

With regards to the point I mention on Dr Hall’s citation, a shared issue tend to be shared by TCK is the unknown where we belong. Just as Kim Scott, author of “Radical Candor.” said

“Feelings of grief are common when you leave something you love, even if you’re moving on to something that you really want to do and it’s the right decision, change is really hard.”

With each new homes, school, country or jobs, each and every transition is a loss, that required the period of mourning, and those who overcame the challenges learnt and grew to be a wiser and more resilient individual, just as Stephen Joseph, PhD, author of What Doesn’t Kill Me Makes Me Stronger: The New Psychology of Trauma and Transformation, explained,

“Those who try to put their lives back together exactly as they remained fractured and vulnerable. Whereas those who accepted the breakage and build themselves anew become more resilient and open to new ways of living.

In my Facebook live show, Global CKtizens. We have a term called Global Vision, courtesy of my past guest. This referred to a TCK’s ability to see things in an alternate perspective, which was developed from years of seeing and experiencing the ups and downs from a culture which vastly contrasted from their own roots.

So how can this benefit us? How can what everyone regarded as our flaws be used to be of value and service to the world? Well, this is what I came up with and how to accomplish it.

The bridge to a new culture to the millennial and post-millennial generation

If you are in your ’20s to maybe early ’30s, how many times have you encountered somebody twice or thrice your age, make you feel condescended as they shared how far ahead in life they were when you are still in diapers or vice versa, how many times have you used vast age gap as a way to highlight your expertise.

I do not mean to be disrespectful but the next time you encountered such a situation, keep in mind of this image below.

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With how much technology has progressed, global information is available at one’s fingertips. This arguably created a generation with a higher level of theoretical intellect and technical savviness, as compared to past generations, popularly known as Millennials.

West (2018) the Chief Executive Officer of Business Management Platform, Project Insight (PI®) named Best Project Management Solution by Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA) believed millennials are technologically inclined, adaptable to changes and unable to stand the phrase “that’s how we always do it”.

Additionally, Jenkins (2015) a public speaker specializing in marketing, engagement and leadership training to better engage with millennial and post-millennials stated these generations seek purpose in the workplace, to feel they are part of something that would impact the world.

This desire to be a bigger part of the world is like a badge of honour to a TCK, but due to the circumstances of when we encountered others, at least in our adulthood. We would be viewed as having an exotic or unique sense, worldly or visionary.

Whereas for a millennial, expressing their individuality and opinion is socially considered a taboo and in fact their unwillingness to conform to the status quo and system gave them a stigma as entitled and lazy with poor social skills due to overreliance on technology.

Conclusion: The need to celebrate enigma and exploring the unknown

Ann Campanella once said;

“One of the benefits of being bicultural is simply the awareness that how you live is not the only way”

The effect of Globalization, a phenomenon that started in the 1990s, resulted in interaction and integration among people, companies, and governments, hence, allowing us to experience the lifestyle and culture outside of our passport or seeing it through social media.

I chose to start this entry with Bohemian Rhapsody as I feel it is an example of how far the human race has come, however, we need not wait for decades or so like the biopic movie was used to celebrate Mercury’s life, as now the media is no longer just an advertising tool but a platform that could be used to educate differences and representation.

To show how our multicultural could be the bridge to the difference in intergenerational culture, we will use an analogy from Dr. Raj Ragunathan, PhD. When he first arrived at the United States from India to pursue his doctorate, he disliked Burritos from Taco Bell. Eventually, instead of putting up with the food components such as beans or the multiple layers, he actually enjoyed them and in fact, crave them on occasions.

Two reasons for why we disliked the unknown;

  1. Our minds were programmed to initially dislike an unknown stimulation if our first exposure to them was negative, we interpret it as permanent distasteful feelings towards them.
  2. Our ego, stopped us from admitting something unfamiliar is good, as it felt like a betrayal to what is native to us.

Hence Dr Ragunathan reasoned two ways to overcome these differences, for the first issue, find common ground. Just as how some Indonesian food or Filipino shared common spices or seasoning. Whereas for the second issue, to keep note that this is for personal enjoyment and in no way, its a form of betrayal.

Lastly, in the workplace, with more than half of the workforce going to be replaced by the millennial and post-millennial generation, according to Park Communications in 2017, two other advice is engaging a TCK who has lived a somewhat similar lifestyle but labelled differently to manage these generations as they would relate better and how instead of producing drama, a solution is instead provided in popular media.


Calvin K. Widjaja

I am an advocate, speaker and educator to those of Multi-Cultural backgrounds like Third-Culture Kids and Expatriates