Growing up as a TCK (Third Culture Kid)
Editor’s Note: Adrienne Benson is a Communications Specialist with ME&A working on Feed the Future Global Program Evaluation for Effectiveness and Learning (PEEL). She just published her first novel, “The Brightest Sun.”
My father was career USAID, and that took us to sub-Saharan Africa, where we lived for ten years. I was a TCK, or third culture kid, someone who lives outside their passport country because of their parents’ job. Unlike immigrants, TCKs are always expected to go “home” and to identify with that home culture. They live in the center of the Venn Diagram where passport culture overlaps host country culture. I’m fascinated by that in-between space.
I always knew I wanted to bring my memories of Africa to the page. As a writer, I write everything. That’s how I get things off my chest. Isabelle Allende said: “nostalgia is the vice of the expatriate.” If she’s right, then writing the book was my version of rehab—it allowed me to let go of that vice, took the ache of nostalgia away. It also gave me a map to trace the way my childhood informed my adult self.
The struggles the characters in my latest novel, “The Brightest Sun,” face is really the universal struggle to define—to define yourself as a mother or daughter, husband or wife, to define yourself in relation to where you live, and to define your place in the world—literally and figuratively. It’s that struggle, ultimately, that I undertook when I came “home” at 16 to a place I hardly knew, and it’s that struggle that inspired the book. My parents (unlike the ones in the book!) are wonderful, kind people. I dedicated the book to them, since without their sense of adventure I wouldn’t have had the childhood I did. But I also dedicated it to TCKs, all the placeless kids whose home is everywhere and nowhere. After all, they are my people. More information about the book and my childhood is on my website, www.adriennebenson.com