Global Nomads and TCKS- 1: Colin Firth: “Exiles…see everything with two pairs of eyes”

In the following series of posts I will be offering a variety perspectives on the experience of growing up as a “Global Nomad” or “Third Culture Kid.”  I will present bits of wisdom on growing up in different cultures from such luminaries as Colin Firth, Czeslaw Milosz, Andre Aciman, Edward Said, and Eva Hoffman, and now and then, toss in a thought of my own.

First, the basic definitions of the terms used for people who grew up in countries not their own due to a parent’s job.  They come from the classic volume on the subject, Third-Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Renken (2009):

Global Nomad: “A global nomad is anyone of any nationality who has lived outside their parents’ country of origin (or their “passport country”) before adulthood because of a parent’s occupation.”  Norma McCaig coined this in 1984.  It is synonymous with “Third Culture Kid.”

Third Culture Kid (TCK): “Dr. Ruth Hill Useem and her husband John Useem, social scientists, coined the phrase third culture in the 1950s when they went to India for a year to study Americans who lived and worked there as foreign service officers, missionaries, technical aid workers, businesspeople, educators and media representatives…The Useems defined the home culture from which the adults came as the first culture.  They called the host culture where the family lived (in that case, India) the second culture.  They then identified the shared lifestyle of the expatriate community as an interstitial culture, or ‘culture between cultures’, and named it the third culture.” 

And now, here is Colin Firth talking about his global nomad childhood, spent partly in the U.S., partly in Africa, and partly in the U.K.  This is extracted from a delightful interview with presenter Mariella Frostrup on BBC 4’s “Open Book” program of December 27, 2012.  In the full half-hour long program, Firth talks about his five favorite books.

Mariella Frostrup: It’s interesting your interest in all things Italian.  I mean, obviously, you’re married to an Italian.  You live part of the year in Italy…and it seems an embrace that’s in direct contrast to the image that people have of you, which is perhaps formed from the parts you’ve been asked to play, but often of an inscrutable, buttoned up, very English character.  Is the real you, Italian, do you have, deep down, a beating heart of Latin fervor?

Colin Firth:  I wish I could say it was.  No, I’m probably every bit the chinless, stiff Brit that I seem to be, but I am an actor and we are all phonies, and we all have an ego that’s a bit fractured and confused, and I think, like a lot of people who do what I do, I’m a bit of a composite.  You know, I’m obviously very connected with this country and I seem to represent the kind of Englishman that I’m not sure really exists very often, but my father is fifth generation Indian-born.  My mother was born in India. She was raised in the United States.  She didn’t come to England until she was 16 years old.  My sister was born in Nigeria.  My brother I, I think, are a rare breed in that we were born in the UK.  I’ve lived in Nigeria and the United States.  Um, somebody said, you know, that exiles have a bit of heartache in being away from the country you live in, you know, but there’s also an immense gift because you see everything with two pairs of eyes.  You see everything from the eyes of a visitor and from the eyes of a native.  Although I do think I carry a lot of what England’s given me, I feel partly a visitor here as well…

Originally posted on Friday, February 1st, 2013

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