By Serena Ewe
Nationality wise, I have a Singaporean passport simply because I was born there. But by blood, I am half Singaporean, half Malaysian. My dad used to jokingly mention how unfair it was that my passport could not represent the other side of me; little did he know that in years to come, there wouldn’t just be two distinct sides to me, but several more.
My TCK journey began when I moved to Sakhalin, a small island in Russia at the age of 7. My dad was an engineer so logically speaking, he went where the oil was. I was enrolled in an international school for expat families and enjoyed my wonderful childhood, filled with memories of my first snowfall, first Halloween and first Christmas. My previous years before Russia were located in Sabah, a part of Malaysia (I moved there right after I was born) and as it is an Asian country, Christmas was not as festively celebrated as Chinese New Year.
Anyways, four years later, much to my horror, my dad’s work contract ended, so it was time to leave. For educational sake, my mum decided it best that we returned to Singapore and for two years I had to endure acquiring Mandarin as a new language but managed to learn it in time to complete the PSLE (primary school leaving examination). However, before entering a secondary school in Singapore, my dad who because of his job ended up in Miri (another region of Malaysia) wanted for the family to reunite, decided for us to move back to Malaysia again. Once more, there was a change of education and I was enrolled in an all Chinese speaking private school. I remembered crying on the first day of class; it was hard. Eventually, I adjusted, but sadly after four years, we moved again. It was as if there was this four-year ticking time bomb, counting down the days before I had to pack up and leave once more. This time, my dad was offered an overseas job in Muscat, Oman. Much to my resistance, he took it and suddenly I was living in my fourth country by the age of 15.
There, I took the IGCSE and subsequently IB, in an international school and discovered that self-expression was encouraged. By then, I had assimilated the “quiet, do not stand out but blend in” Asian personal (unlike my boisterous character during my Russia days) and so throughout middle and high school, I found it extremely hard to voice my thoughts in class, for fear of looking like a fool. Perhaps that had nothing to do with moving around, but instead an awkward transitioning through any teenage years, but I began to adapt again and realized how easy it was to do so. Not surprisingly, after 4 years, it was time to go; however, this time, the reason was not due to another one of my dad’s job posting but mhy time for University.
And so, by age 18, I arrived excitedly in Vancouver, Canada all by myself, away from my family for the first time. Little did I know the culture shock I would experience upon reaching there. It was one I have never experienced before. The reason wasn’t because Vancouver was anti-cultural; in fact, it was teeming with Asian immigrants from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Japan and so on. However, that was the problem. With my Asian features, I blended in, and because of that I as a TCK felt like an invisible minority. Unlike my days in the international school where Asians were not abundant, I suddenly felt bland, boring and as funny as that may sound, non-special. I grew tired of having to explain where I was from when someone else would mistake me as Korean/Japanese – and even if they thought of me as Chinese, I felt uncomfortable when I was expected me to speak in fluent Mandarin just because I look Asian. I guess it was around this time when I became fully aware of the impact TCK had on my life. It was around this time when I experienced my first identity crisis.
Throughout my undergraduate years, nostalgia for my other TCK friends would fluctuate. Although I encountered a few TCKs, it wasn’t like we became close from it. I felt lonely but slowly I grew resilient and appreciative of what I had. I knew that if I could change things, having this culturally opulent experiences was something I would still keep. Reading stories of other TCKs kept me going, as it reminded me that I wasn’t really alone in this position. Thus, as my four years of undergraduate life in Canada came to a close, I began to ponder on the new places I could go for my masters. US? Scotland? UK? Australia? Or should I continue staying in Canada? Settle down, and create more stability? I am still unsure, but I guess that is what it’s like to be TCK!