Today, I am so excited to have Alaine Handa to share her story as a third-culture kid! Not only is she an avid traveler, her whole life revolves around adapting in new cities and surviving in them. So without further due, let’s get started!
What is your name and where you from (or at least where you are born and/ or raised)?
My name is Alaine Handa and I was born in Singapore (but I’m not Singaporean – just a permanent resident). I had my childhood spent in Jakarta then my adolescent years in Singapore. In the summer, I spent it in Sydney, Australia or Southern California. I grew up as an expat kid or also known as a third culture kid and attended International and American schools.
Where do you currently live?
My current home base is in Singapore but I split my time between Singapore and Europe (a few different countries).
In your own words, what is a Third Culture Kid (TCK)?
A Third Culture Kid is a person who has grown up straddling different cultures all at once. First, the parent’s culture, then the host country (or countries), and the third is the global identity that the child identifies with. The third culture is always the most confusing one but also the most exciting because when one grows up as a TCK, one is taught from an early age how to be a true global citizen, absorbing all that is around them.
Which countries have you lived in?
I have lived in multiple countries: Singapore (6 months), Jakarta (7.5 years), Australia (3 months in the summers), Singapore (9 years), LA area (2.5 months in the summers), Los Angeles and surrounding counties (4.5 years), Durham (1.5 months summer), Oakland (1 month summer), New York City (7 years), Washington, DC (1 month summer), Toronto (1 month summer), Singapore (2.5 years), Edinburgh (1 month summer), Switzerland (15 months), and Brussels (3 months). Currently, I am in between Singapore and Europe.
Which countries have you traveled to?
A lot of places! I have covered many cities across Asia, Australia, North America and Europe. For my full list please see Where I’ve Been
Which city/ country that you lived in particularly stands out to you? Which one is your favourite?
New York City!! It is the city that shaped me as a person. It is the one place that I really identify with because I felt whole as a person amidst the chaotic bubble of the tri-State area. Even though its been 5 years since I moved, I still miss living in NYC. There was an energy that I haven’t felt anywhere else in the world.
What is your favourite thing being a TCK?
Meeting other TCKs! Its like meeting a long lost friend who just get it when answering the difficult question of “where are you from.”
What is your least favourite thing about being a TCK?
I feel that I am not able to identify with one culture. I hold a passport and a couple resident cards but that doesn’t represent me as a whole. I’m always a fragment of my whole self.
What do you think is the advantage/ disadvantages of TCK?
- Feeling like you can find “home” anywhere in the world. When I travel, I always ask myself “Could I live here?”
- Cultural chameleon. Because of growing up globally, you can mold yourself to adapt to living in different countries. Though it may be challenging, you know how to fit yourself in and adapt despite the challenges.
- Global perspectives. Knowing how different cultures work is an advantage in the global field.
- Always being an outsider but also knowing things about a place to almost becoming an insider.
- Not truly belonging anywhere. My entire family feel this way too because my parents and sister are also TCKs.
- Visa limitations. I’m always reminded by the limitations I have when I look at my passport at the immigration line in an airport. If I could, I would live and work in any country that I choose. However, I have been told multiple times of the restrictions I have and the hurdles I need to overcome just to live and work. I have also been told multiple times that marriage is the career option because of my passport. I am always shocked when I hear this. As a feminist, this kind of advice is like a punch to the gut because it translates as you can’t work here because we don’t like your passport and if you’re desperate, go get married. On a personal level, this type of marriage is an imbalance of power and goes against what I believe in.
How do you define the concept of ‘home?’ Do you have a place that you call ‘home?’
I define ‘home’ as the memories I have experienced. Home is not a particular place because all of the homes I’ve had are transient. Home for me is in the dance studio or on a stage. I’m happiest when I can dance my heart out without any judgement or pressure.
Do you have any advice for other TCK?
There are lots of TCKs around the world now and so many expats that understand that the concept of “home” is transient. Find your tribe of other TCKs, expats, and global citizens because they understand that the world does not exist in one small 25-40 mile radius. The TCK life can be a lonely road and can be depressing at times because there’s not many around you that understand. Each TCK’s life is unique and worth to be told because if the world can understand different countries and cultures a little better, we wouldn’t have so much racial tensions, xenophobia, racism, miscommunication, and misunderstanding.
Alaine Handa is a complicated third culture kid who has lived and traveled around the world. She has worked in performing arts, nonprofit, film & TV, hotels, events, retail, fashion, and food & beverage industries. She is a creative soul seeker who enjoys traveling, wine, food, dance, and writing. Alaine has also done research on Third Culture Kids and toured her Chameleon project to different festivals, international schools, countries, and FIGT (Families in Global Transitions) conferences to tell the stories of TCKs through dance with film, spoken word, and photography. Currently she has teamed up to create Social Zen Retreats, a transformational retreat utilizing yoga, contemporary dance, meditation, food and wine, essential oils, and creative writing.