On February 19th 2003, my family and I got on a plane to Shanghai, expecting to return to The Netherlands in three years time. 12 years ago I became a TCK (Third Culture Kid). 12 years on, none of us have returned to The Netherlands permanently. We might not have realized it at the time, but we embarked on a journey that would change us all.
I was 8 at the time and not happy to get on that plane. I didn’t want to leave the only city I had ever called home behind. This city housed my friends, school, room, and most importantly, memories. In my mind, I was being forced to move to a country without knowing a single word of the native language, and barely any English. The only thing I knew about China was based on Mulan and a kids fact book my parents got me a few weeks before we left.
I don’t really remember much about my first few weeks in China. I know I wasn’t happy, and that I was a nightmare for my parents to deal with. I was lost in severe culture shock and just wanted to go back to The Netherlands. I remember that my newly bought bike was stolen within the first week I got it. I know that we went to the Shanghai zoo and that I was confused as to why people were feeding the animals plastic wrappers. I know that the only class I enjoyed at school was math, as it was taught by a Dutch teacher who explained things to me in my native tongue. I know that I was overwhelmed by the mass amount of people living in Shanghai. And I know that I was annoyed whenever someone wanted to touch my blonde hair for “good luck”. Keep in mind that I was young, and that I didn’t view any of these things as unique experiences not to be taken for granted. Instead, for the first few weeks, I viewed Shanghai as a place I wanted to leave as soon as possible.
Fast forward a few months and I was a completely different kid. My English had vastly improved, I had started learning Chinese, I had made some close friends, I joined a football team, our house had been transformed into a home, and I was starting to view Shanghai as a fun place to live. I was no longer desperate to move back to The Netherlands.
Three years passed in Shanghai, and we stayed for another two. Then we moved to Beijing for three years. And then to Hanoi for two. My parents and brother stayed in Hanoi while I moved abroad on my own for the first time to Cardiff. While I started to make myself at home here, my family moved to Singapore, the other place in the world that I call home.
12 years ago my life changed tremendously, and only for the better. It was hard, and I’m not going to lie, I’ve despised my parents in the past for taking me on this journey with them. But looking back, I’m only grateful that my parents decided to take this leap in life, knowing now that it must have been just as hard for them as it was for me. Coincidentally this anniversary is on the same day as Chinese New Year this year, so 新年快乐 to the country that changed my life forever.