TCK is the acronym for Third Culture Kid, which is a term that refers to children who were raised in a culture outside of their parents’ culture for a significant part of their developmental years. I’m a TCK, or I guess I’m a TCA, (Third Culture Adult), having been born and raised in the Middle East and Southeast Asia until I was 15 by American parents. As an international school teacher being a former TCK has given me the ability to empathise with my students on a level that my peers who were not TCK’s can’t. As an artist my convoluted background has definitely made it’s mark on my style and subject matter. I’m a typical white, American, brunette on the outside so it often strikes people as strange that I paint Indonesian and Chinese symbols and subjects in my autobiographical works. It can come across to some that I’m appropriating these cultural symbols in a way that’s contrived and disingenuous but the truth is that I feel very genuinely connected to them.
This case of mistaken identity reminds me of a time after I moved to the USA when I was watching the movie ‘The Joy Luck Club’ with a Korean American friend of mine. She looked very Korean but had been born and raised in Colorado. As we were watching the movie together during the scenes that were very traditional Chinese I would comment that it made me feel home sick and during scenes that were shots of mountains and wooded areas of the US she would say the same. To an outsider this must have looked strange but to us it made total sense. The Asian girl belonged in the mountains of Colorado and the American girl belonged in the markets of Southeast Asia.
Up until a couple of years ago I had never thought about writing an art unit inspired by this concept but that changed after listening to a conversation between a few of my 6th graders. It started with the dreaded question every TCK hates, “Where are you from”? One student simply asked another this question and it turned into a twenty minute long aside in the class that I was happy to let happen. It spurred a conversation that opened the eyes of the students in the class who were not TCK’s, (mainly Thai students who were attending the school in Thailand), and allowed the TCK’s to ‘come out’. The students started asking each other questions about their lives and family backgrounds, started identifying common experiences and feeling and new budding friendships followed. It was a great moment to witness and inspired me explore the theme with the same group of students the following school year in art class and to do some research to find works by practicing TCK artists, (see photos).
Above is an excellent TEDTalk video that addresses the main theme of the unit.
The unit I wrote was called:
‘What Makes a Home’
Key Concept: Identity
Related Concepts: Expression and Interpretation
Global Context: Identities and Relationships
Statement of Inquiry: Home is a word that is defined differently by each individual.
The students explored the inquiry questions through several activities, (maybe too many in my opinion, so I have included below the activities that I would actually use again and have omitted the ones that I thought weren’t as successful; full disclosure!), such as an artist study of an artist who focused on representations of their home, a life size body tracing and conceptual illustration of a TCK kid completed in groups, and plaster/foam board house sculptures decorated mixed-media illustrations as their culminating, individual works. The house sculptures were meant to take the universal symbol of a house as home and add their own twist and interpretation of what that means to them after having explored the concept for several weeks. I was pleased with how engaged the students were with the activities, going introspective is always a safe bet with middle schoolers but I could see it being a hit with high school aged students as well as long as the activities were appropriately challenging. This is a unit I will revisit when I’m teaching again, I would love to take the house sculpture to grander scale and have the students work together in groups of 4-5 to create home structures using materials such as bamboo, cardboard and scrap wood that the viewer can actually enter and engage with. As installation pieces I think the work could be seen by more people in the school community and the whole point is to start conversations about TCKism and how we can support and celebrate them in the international school community.