For a third culture kid, one of the most difficult questions to answer is: "Where are you from?" The question is confusing to answer because a third culture kid can identify with their home or host cultures.
For example, a third culture kid who has Indian parents may not think of himself as an Indian. He may look Indian but he does not feel Indian. He identifies with his host cultures and sees himself as different. When he returns to India, he has a hard time fitting in because he feels different and acts different from everyone else. He may even be bullied because of this.
Director Rahul Gandotra created a short film about a boy who was bullied because he did not identify with his home culture. The film, "The Road Home," has won a variety of awards and shortlisted for the 2012 Oscars. I asked Rahul some questions:
Trick question: Where are you from?
Rahul lets out a deep breath :)
To keep it short:
I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland. I lived in all four parts of the U.K. for the first six years of my life. Then three years in Saudi Arabia. Then seven years in a boarding school in the Himalayas. Then twelve years in the States. Then one year in Prague. And now the last eight years in London, England.
How has being a third culture kid impacted your life (positively and negatively)?
Because of the amount of moves I've made, I view the TCK experience as a double-edged sword:
On the one hand, I've been able to soak in the sights and sounds of many different cultures. I've been able to interact with all types of people from all around the world. I probably have a friend I could stay with in many parts of the world, if I ever traveled there. Moreover, your worldview is expanded and start seeing any problem from multiple points of view, which can make you a minor irritation in any debate.
On the other hand, I've had to start from the ground up in many different cultures, which can get quite tiring. I can't even tell you the number of times I've had to throw away furniture, clothes, etc. because it would have been to difficult to carry to the next country. All the while in the new country, I had to go to the nearest IKEA to buy the exact same piece of furniture I just threw out.
Most of all, while I have a worldwide, virtual community of close friends, an in-person community in the place I live somehow gets lost and takes time to rebuild when you do so much moving around. This does take an emotional toll.
How did you come up with the idea for your film?
I was writing another script about an orphaned Roma child searching for his kumpania (tribal clan) focusing on the theme "the search for home." If all went to plan, I would have shot this script in Prague. I felt I was making good progress on the script, until I got some feedback from a few people who trashed the script.
One person said to me, "You've had such an interesting life. Why don't you write about your life in Prague?" And I thought, "Huh? Where's the interesting story in that?" A few weeks went by and I woke up one morning asking myself, "Why don't I make it about me in my boarding school? But again where's the interesting story in that?"
That brain spurt transformed into, "Why don't I make it about a boy running away from a boarding school? That's better. But how would I make this about 'the search for home' if he's running away from a school? Well that wouldn't work but perhaps it could be about the 'search for identity'?"
And then I freaked out, "Are you out of your mind? How the hell are you going to shoot a film in the Himalayas with no contacts there and not enough money to do this as a master's thesis film?" I was so scared that I didn't entertain writing the script. In fact, I continued writing the other script fully believing that I would make that one work.
Then I had a lunch with an acquaintance where I shared with him the two script ideas (Roma and Himalayas) and he went all excited on me with my Himalaya idea. Literally for 30 minutes he said, "I can see it as a feature and your short will be a preview for it. That's the one you have to do."
I hadn't even thought of it as a feature before then! Anyhow, seven months later I finally gathered the courage to write a first draft. I then sent this story along with the Roma script to ten people to get their feedback. And despite the Roma script going through more drafts and thus being more refined, nine out of the ten told me: do the Himalaya script.
What is the film about?
The story is about Pico, a ten-year old British-Indian student left at a boarding school in the Himalayas. Sharing neither native culture, customs, nor language, Pico considers himself British, but is shamed by bullies who think he is in denial of being Indian. Pico concludes that relief from humiliation will only be found back home in England, and one morning in the quiet shadow of dawn, passport and plane ticket in hand, he escapes school for the New Delhi Airport. On the way, Pico encounters a taxi driver, a French backpacker, and a pair of British tourists who all make incorrect assumptions about him based on his appearance, which intensifies his frustration and forces him to face the painful truth that the world does not see him the way he sees himself.
Do you have any advice for someone who may be going through what Pico is going through in your film (please specify)?
We all have different personalities and different ways of dealing with what Pico went through. Some people will try to blend in and not make a fuss. Some people won't interact at all and completely disappear from any group. And others, like Pico, will take a stand against the world and tell them who he thinks he is.
Each method has its own positive and negative drawbacks. If you blend in, you won't be troubled by others but you'll never express a part of yourself and feel that a part of you has died. If you disappear and not interact, again you won't be bothered but you won't form any relationships. If you fight against the world, you'll at least have expressed yourself but you'll expend lots of energy getting into long discussions, fights, and teasing sessions.
My advice is to find people who have gone through the same moving around as you. They will understand you and leave you be. If you don't live in a place where there aren't others who have moved around, try to join groups or befriend people in other ways through sports, music, etc.
If at all possible, evade the question "Where are you from?" as long as possible until people get to know you. Once people bond with you, they are more likely to accept an experience or upbringing that is different than theirs.
If none of the above is applicable to your situation, then go to other avenues to help you out. Learn about your experience by reading this book (if you are old enough to understand it):
Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Amongst Worlds by Ruth Van Reken and Dave Pollock.
Visit websites like this:
And watch shows like this one:
Or short films like this:
Reach out to others on the Internet, as there are a lot of us out there via online societies like Internations or TCKid.
If all else fails, keep in mind one thing:
You will get through this time in your life and it will probably make you stronger if you have the right mind frame. Hang in there and you'll find your way.
Please provide details on where your film can be watched or bought.
The film can be watched for free here:
Thank you Rahul for answering my questions!
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