Publication on Identity Formation

Identity and The Need to Belong: 

Understanding Identity Formation and Place in the lives of Global Nomads


A revised version of this thesis has been published by Baywood Publishing Company Inc.Journal: Illness, Crisis, & LossIssue: Volume 16, Number 2 / 2008Pages: 137 – 151

Title: Identity and the Need to Belong: Understanding Identity Formation and Place in the Lives of Global Nomads

By: Beate Killguss


This article is based on a review of the literature and websites, which examine the lives of global nomads, covering emotional and relational issues such as sense of belonging, identity and the nature of relationships formed. This article makes extensive use of direct quotes from sources published by global nomads about their personal experience and insights on being a global nomad. In addition, quotes are drawn from a larger study on this topic that was conducted by this author (Killguss, 2002).

Keywords:Sense of belonging, identity, global nomads, culture, marginality

…But where to? I have no map of experience before me… Aside from the endless variety of apparels, and swimming pools and cars, I don’t know what goods this continent has to offer. I don’t know what one can love here, what one can take into oneself as home – and later, when the dams of envy burst open again, I am most jealous of those who, in America, have had a sense of place. – Eva Hoffmann

Losing one’s place, both literally and in terms of belonging and feeling rooted, is challenging at best, debilitating and destructive at worst. How does constant shifting between cultural boundaries change a person, reinvent a person? How does one keep one’s centre amidst a single or repetitive loss of place? Who is a person with this absence of being rooted in one place?

Whether you have grown up between several cultures and countries, or have been an exile or an immigrant, the question of belonging and identity, of how one functions and feels oneself to be the person one knew before crossing cultures, faces each of us, to a greater or lesser extent. There may be no book that ‘can fully convey to you the wonders, growing pains and ultimate freedom implicit in immersion in an unfamiliar culture, no canned advice that can immunize you to the shock that commonly accompanies discovery of and adaptation to other humanscapes (sic), lifestyles, and mindsets.’ (G.W Shames, 1997,p.1)

Nonetheless, in an ever-increasingly mobile world where people are confronted with the crossing of cultures on a regular basis, the question of identity and belonging demands intensified attention. The aim of this essay is to discuss the need for a growing recognition of the identity challenges in the life of the bicultural and/or multicultural person. Socially, politically and personally, it remains a challenge for those who seek to understand the process of integration in which the ‘foreigner’ or multicultural person finds himself or herself, while at the same time acknowledging their diverse selves and background. Primarily, the discussion will centre on the identity of the multicultural person, by confronting parochial views and the need to categorize, as well as understanding marginality and dealing with it. Ultimately, in the final section it will be argued that, in allowing one’s own identity to be shaped and one’s cultural myopia challenged by the person who is ‘other’ than what fits into our cultural category, we will move towards civilizing this planet a little further.

People Without Categories

I am not a dark-skinned white-girl… -Beryl Hammonds , My Human “Self” Being a Journal for a Black Woman

It has been said that a person without a category is a most wretched creature. It is more reassuring if we can place people into neat and recognizable slots. It is far more difficult to deal with someone ‘without the decipherable markings of the socially relevant ‘facts’ of place of origin, race or ethnicity, language, religion, social class, age, and gender.’ (H.N Seelye & J.Wassilewski, 1996, p.25)

Jeannine Kantara, founder of the ‘Initiative Schwarze Deutsche’ (Black-Germans Initiative) in an article entitled ‘Schwarz und Deutsch’ (‘Black and German’), attempts to address those who seem to think this is a rather incongruous combination. She writes about her struggle to be accepted as a German in Germany. She writes: ‘genealogy is important here. It not only helps to determine who ‘belongs’ here but also who will eventually ‘go back home’. When people ask me where I am really from, or say “surely there is something exotic in there somewhere”, there is little interest in my actual person, rather it stems from the need to categorize.’

The Afro-German Poet Maya Ayim poignantly sums up a similar experience of not quite fitting the right categories: Growing up in Germany I learned that my name is ‘Negro’ and that people, although they are very similar, are also very different from each other, and that I was certainly a little bit sensitive concerning these issues. Growing up in Germany I learned to regret being black, to be of mixed race, to be German, not to be German, to be African, and not to be African, to have German parents, to have African parents, to be ‘exotic’, to be a woman. (J. Kantara, Schwartz und Deutsch: Kein Widerspruch? Feuilleton, Die Zeit)

These circumstances can allow racism to develop, with the excuse that one is just curious and ‘only asking’. The people, who don’t fit the categories, are labeled, as Ayim writes, ‘just a little bit sensitive’. It is profoundly threatening to one’s own identity when one cannot categorize the ‘other’. But these categories, into which people are expected to fit, are frail, and can be removed from us without much warning. This is the experience of countless individuals who have witnessed their national boundaries destroyed by wars, and through ‘ethnic cleansing’. Who are they now? Biljana Srbljanovic, winner of the literary Ernst Toller Prize in 1999 is just one example of someone who has experienced this atrocity. After receiving her prize, she begins her speech with the following: ‘Allow me to introduce myself: I am a person whose identity has been stolen. The only thing I can say with certainty about myself is that I am a woman, I am approaching midlife and that I am an inhabitant of Europe at the crossroads of a new millennium. Now I am defined by who I am not. In fact, I am defined by the very things which I oppose.’ (B.Srbljanovic, 1999)

The discourse against categorization is one against not recognizing and accepting the difference of the other, that is, of accepting what is outside of the cultural ‘norm’. Taylor, in describing ‘the politics of difference’, states that when we are confronted with people outside of the cultural norm, what we are asked to recognize is ‘the unique identity of this individual or group, their distinctiveness from everybody else. The idea is that it is precisely this distinctness which has been ignored, glossed over and assimilated to a dominant and major identity.’ Furthermore, Taylor explains, because identity is, in part, shaped by the recognition which we receive in a given social setting, ‘nonrecognition or misrecognition can inflict harm, can be a form of oppression, imprisoning someone in a false, distorted, and reduced mode of being.’ (Taylor, 1994,p.25-73)
However, the plea to avoid categorization should not be confused with an aim to dismiss boundary maintenance. Boundary maintenance is undoubtedly what assists our definition of ourselves both as monoculturals and, equally, as a ‘hybrid-identity’. Boundaries are necessary if we want to resist an amalgamation, which leaves us with no true sense of belonging and ourselves. Essentially, they are a healthy basis for evaluation; they help us understand where one stops and the other person starts, culturally and personally. However, if these necessary boundaries are not also ‘porous’ we risk excluding those who are ‘different’:‘I think a more proper understanding of identity is that it always already includes the other.
Now, if identity always includes the other, then I think we have to think of identity as having porous boundaries. Of course you have to maintain boundaries. If you don’t maintain boundaries, then you have a large swamp in which everything is mixed up together and you don’t differentiate anything. Boundaries are good. Without boundaries there would be no discreet entities. That is why God creates, God separates. …So, boundaries are great things but they must be porous. They can’t be firm and stable so that nothing comes out and nothing comes in.’ (Volf,, p.3)

These are the fine distinctions that need to be made if we are to understand what it means to embrace or exclude people in their ‘otherness’.


Derrida has summarized well the fine balance which must be struck between belonging to a culture, whilst feeling able to maintain the distinctive ‘otherness’ of what defines oneself without, as a result, feeling ostracized from this particular culture.

“I am European, I am in no doubt a European intellectual, and I like to recall this, I like to recall it to myself, and why would I deny it? In the name of what? But I am not, nor do I feel, European in every part. That is, European through and through…. Being a part, belonging as ‘fully a part,’ should be incompatible with ‘belonging in every part’. My cultural identity, that in the name of which I speak, is not only European, it is not identical to itself, and I am not ‘cultural’ through and through, ‘cultural’ in every part.”(J. Derrida, 1992, pp.82f)

Especially for the bicultural and multicultural person the challenge of what it means to belong as ‘fully a part’ in a particular culture, while remaining faithful to their various, sometimes conflicting, cultural frames of reference requires hard work. The multicultural person cannot, and should not have to, feel that they must ‘belong in every part’ if they are to belong at all.

In an interview with Die Zeit, the Turkish actress Idil Üdner illustrates this sense of belonging ‘as fully a part’ of where she grew up, although she does not belong ‘in every part’ as a bicultural person. She has a strong sense of belonging to the German culture she has grown up in, without denying her Turkish heritage. ‘You have spent your whole life in Berlin; you grew up here. You are German, right?’ asks the interviewer. Üdner’s response is negative: ‘No, I am not German, I am Turkish, and that is how I see it. I have a German passport. Put best I would say I am a Berliner with Turkish roots. And I love both sides. Again, the interviewer probes: ‘So, do you sometimes have this feeling of belonging in-between?’ Üdner’s reply is as one might expect from a bicultural person: ‘Yes, I mean, when I am in Turkey the first reaction is always: “but your Turkish has a German accent”, and you are instantly labeled.’ (Üdner, Idil, 1999)

As we have discussed, those without a ‘category’ are a substantial, extremely varying group of people. For the purpose of examining this subject more in depth I will be focusing predominantly on those who have grown up abroad, and hence spent a significant amount of their formative years living between several cultures, in countries other than their passport culture. Although the term itself could be debated at length, these people will be referred to as ‘TCKs’ (Third Culture Kids), MKs (Missionary Kids) ‘ATCKs’ (Adult Third Culture Kids) respectively and Global Nomads (essentially the same term for all of the above).
The Global Nomad experience

Who or what exactly is a Third Culture Kid? The term, originally coined by Dr. Ruth Hill Useem, is best described as: ‘a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parent’s home culture. The TCK builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any. While elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of a similar background.’ D.Pollock &R.van Reken, 1999,pp.19) Those TCK’s interviewed for this essay are now ATCKs and each individual does, to a greater or lesser degree, perceive other TCKs to be people with whom they could easily establish rapport. This is something many TCKs struggle with, especially with those of their passport country. Many TCKs also report feeling more at ease settling in countries that are, again, not their passport country. (D.Pollock &R.van Reken, 1999, pp.19) One is not expected to ‘fit in’ because one has the status of a ‘foreigner’. In the home country one is often expected to ‘behave Dutch’ or ‘feel Swedish’. Most of the TCKs responded positively to the question of whether or not the term TCK was helpful in defining who they are. Christine, the first interviewee, responded by saying: ‘I think the TCK community is very helpful in determining who I am. I think these terms describe a very real aspect of the global community, one that is not confined to geographical limitations.’ Others, Richard , who in his forties may find the term TCK helpful in defining himself, but finds that individual experiences of each person are too particular for him to feel as though TCKs actually ‘share’ a culture.

Of Parochialism, Rootlessness and Identity

Dr. Schaetti, having moved internationally twelve times before the age of twenty-three, elaborates on her experiences as a global nomad. As for many TCKs the question ‘Where are you from?’ calls for a lengthy answer and one which most global nomads would rather evade. Schaetti is not an exception and explains that, although she carries an American passport, she sees herself as a ‘second- generation, dual- national global nomad with a strong European influence. (‘ p.2) She summarizes why it is that global nomads struggle to be introduced by citizenship: ‘First, it doesn’t adequately describe us. It renders invisible the multiplicity of our experience. It ignores the fact that we are shaped through exposure to more than one national culture and by the experience of international mobility.’ (B.S. Schaetti,, p.3)
Furthermore, the issue of marginality, which is inevitably associated with the TCK experience, is ignored. Schaetti continues by saying ‘second, it renders invisible the work we have done to develop a strong sense of identity as cultural marginals.’ (B.S. Schaetti,, p.3)

Iyer describes lucidly what it feels like to be shaped into what he sees himself as: a global soul. ‘Having grown up in three cultures, none of them fully my own, I acquired very early the sense of being loosed from time as well as from space – I had no history I could feel, and I lived under the burden of no home.’ (P.Iyer, 2001, pp.23) He elaborates further about his family, that he has no relatives on the continent he inhabits, never learned a word of his mother’s or father’s language, as each came from separate parts of India and hence they had no common language save that of British India, to this day he can not really pronounce what is technically his first name. He is the son of Hindu-born Theosophists and was educated entirely in Christian schools, but has spent most of his life in Buddhist lands. Iyer, in the same vein as many TCKs and global nomads, does not feel he can legitimately call himself an exile, although many of the same feelings of loss and being uprooted accompany the global nomad throughout life. He writes that he can call himself neither an exile (who traditionally looked back to a home now lost), nor an expatriate (who is posted abroad for a living), nor a nomad (whose life patterns are guided by the seasons), nor can he especially relate to a refugee’s violent disruptions. Many global nomads do, however, experience immediate evacuation from countries during war and political unrest and especially many missionary children have witnessed first-hand violent unrest in the countries where their parents work. Overall, Iyer concludes that the term ‘global soul’ suits him best because ‘it is best characterized by the fact of falling in between categories.’ (P.Iyer, 2001,pp.24) So, who is Iyer really? The question that most global nomads are jarringly familiar with will surely be asked? In his own words he is someone whose complexion (like his name) ‘will allow him to pass as a native in Cuba, or Peru, or Indonesia, and none of them, in any case, is more foreign to me than the England where I don’t look like a native, the America where I am classified as an alien, and the India where I can’t speak a word of any of the almost two-hundred languages.’ He concludes: ‘the notion of ‘home’ is foreign and the ‘state of foreignness (sic) is the closest thing I know to home.’ (P.Iyer, 2001,pp.24)

The question ‘who am I?’ is, of course, one that resonates in a person’s psyche at one point or another, and is certainly not reserved for the TCK experience. When this question does arise the very framing of it is a culturally conditioned act and therefore subject to an equally culturally conditioned response. (G.W. Shames, 1997,pp.15) Therefore, for a global nomad to answer this question satisfactorily when confronted by it, s/he is constantly looking for the one answer that will make most sense to his or her more monocultural peers. Those that seldom step outside of their milieu and the perceptions they are accustomed to are spared the problem of giving the ‘expected’, even conditioned, response to the question of identity. The global nomad, as Iyer has demonstrated, is confronted with this ‘problem’ on a regular basis. Maalouf, a radical idealist, critiques this parochial form of self-definition and goes so far as denunciating it for facilitating the sort of atrocities we have seen in former Yugoslavia, and more recently the events of September 11th. Maalouf himself elaborates on his self-definition and, although certainly idealistic in places, he verbalizes the sentiments of the many, and ever-increasing, multicultural individuals. The rather patronizing question ‘but who do you really feel you are deep down inside?’, which often followed his explanation of who he is, used to cause Maalouf to smile to himself. It no longer does. Rather he believes it stems from a view of humanity which he considers, although widespread, highly dangerous because ‘it presupposes that ‘deep down inside’ everyone there is just one affiliation that really matters, a kind of ‘fundamental truth’ about each individual, and ‘essence’ never to change thereafter.’ (A. Maalouf, 2000,pp.2)

He vehemently defends the fact that identity is not something that can be compartmentalized. ‘So, am I half French and half Lebanese? Of course not,’ he states. Instead ‘what makes me myself rather than anyone else is the fact that I am poised between two countries, two or three languages and several cultural traditions. It is precisely this that defines my identity. Would I exist more authentically if I cut off a part of myself?’ Anyone who claims a more complex identity than what a particular group is accustomed to is marginalized and this he believes is not just by the average fanatic or xenophobe but, in fact, rather ‘because of habits of thought and expression deeply rooted in us all; because of a narrow, exclusive, bigoted, simplistic attitude that reduces identity in all its many aspects to one single affiliation, and one that is proclaimed in anger.’ (A. Maalouf, 2000,pp 22)

Although Maalouf rightly protests against a parochial view of identity, it does not take away from the reality that people will continue to feel marginalized and, in fact, sometimes come to view themselves, even positively, as cultural marginals. It is this subject and how it might be better understood to which we turn next.

Cultural Marginality

As a radically marginal person, you have two choices: to be intimidated by every situation, every social stratum, or to confront them all with the same leveling vision, the same brash and stubborn spirit. -Eva Hoffmann
While undertaking research for this essay over thirty ATCK’s were interviewed and it is significant that almost each of these ATCKs responded ardently when asked whether they feel drawn to those who are also marginalized in their society. This does, perhaps, raise the question posed by Dr.Grove, who asks: Are TCKs uniquely suited to play a pivotal role in the global age? Or will they remain somewhat perpetual outsiders destined to a life on the fringe? (G.W. Shames, 1997, pp. 35) I propose that TCKs, to some extent, will do both. They will be cultural marginals, and this is not something that carries negative valence in this context. But, equally, they have the potential to play a pivotal role as multicultural people in furthering understanding between cultures. There is in each global nomad this potential to be either torchbearer or alien, and it is partly in finding a way to resolve this conflict between two (or several) ‘cultural voices’ that compete for attention that they will be one or the other. A global nomad’s unique perspective and demonstrated flexibility throughout a lifetime of moving will serve them well in a diverse and rapidly changing world. Marginality needs to be channeled constructively if TCKs are to rise above the pitfalls of rootlessness and anomie (M.R. Paige, 1993 pp.1150)

Most importantly, however, in allowing oneself to be a cultural marginal especially the TCK is freed from the need to ‘fit into’ the cultural category of, for example, their passport country. In approaching TCKs by acknowledging that they may prefer to be seen as marginal, the process of adjusting in a new culture would be considerably less threatening for them. However, there are different approaches to being a marginal and Bennett proposes two possible responses: the encapsulated marginal and the constructive marginal.

Encapsulated Marginality

This refers to people who are ‘buffeted by conflicting cultural loyalties’ and feel isolated in their marginality. They may be very unsure of who they are and hence also find it difficult to make decisions, define their boundaries and identify personal truths. (Bennett,, p.2) The result of this will often lead to a strong sense of alienation, powerlessness and the feeling that life is devoid of meaning. Essentially, the marginal person is likely to pass through this process before becoming a ‘constructive marginal’. Furthermore, the encapsulated marginal tends to experience himself or herself as immensely isolated, to the extent that they can envision no peer group to whom they can otherwise relate. This state is what Bennett has termed ‘terminal uniqueness’ for it seems irresolvable to the encapsulated marginal. (M.R. Paige, 1993, pp.115) Furthermore they ‘may report feeling inauthentic all the time, as if any engagement with society is simply role playing, and there is no way ever to feel at home.’ In order to try and assimilate into the society in which global nomads find themselves, those who respond as encapsulated marginals may give up their international selves completely. Others, in turn, may exacerbate this, as one global nomad recounts: ‘my fiancé warned me to give up all this ‘international stuff’ if I really wanted to marry her.

Detachment or complete assimilation, on the surface, will often also occur simply because it is too strenuous to feel constantly pulled by conflicting loyalties and identities. Often, this will not be apparent to surrounding peers, as most multiculturals are adept at being a ‘chameleon’ in their varying social strata. Hoffmann eloquently portrays the isolation of this experience:
My detachment would serve me even better if it were entirely genuine. It isn’t. Underneath my careful trained serenity, there is a caldron of seething lost loves and a rage at that loss. And there is – for all that – a longing for a less strenuous way to maintain my identity and my pride. I want to gather experience with both my hands, not only with my soul. Essential humanity is all very well, but we need the colors of our time and the shelter of a specific place. I cannot always be out on the heath – we exist in actual houses – in communities, in clothes – and occasionally at some garden party amidst meaningless chat… (E. Hoffmann, 1989,pp.40)

The identity of the encapsulated marginal has experienced disjunction from constantly shifting frames of reference and the intensity of this experience will normally depend on a number of factors including, for example, previous experience with cultural shifts, existing support systems, personality traits and what can be termed ‘culture distance’ (the degree of similarities between internalized cultures). (M.R. Paige, 1993, pp.114) Because this person has difficulty controlling the shifts between the worldviews of at least two cultures, Park suggests the person ‘learns to look upon the world in which he was born and bred with something of the detachment of a stranger.’ (Park, 1928 pp.888) It is this constant disjunction, as Jung suggests, which may lead to a disunion within the person and may cause them to give up, and to lapse into identity with their surroundings. (Jung, 1965 pp.342-343) It may be that the second culture applies such pressure to conform to unfamiliar roles in order to achieve acceptance or success. Real integration or success may therefore continually be thwarted in the context of an oppressive second culture.

As a result, establishing enduring goals and clear values, or strong personal attachments represents a major effort, given the conflicting pressures. This, in turn, leaves the marginalized person more isolated once again. ‘The sense of being alone with this cultural- identity struggle often causes marginal people to feel detached from all reference groups and forced to resolve these conflicts alone.’ (M.R. Paige, 1993, pp.119) In an intercultural training program referred to as ‘Perry’s scheme’ learners get beyond the confusing point of different cultural perspectives through the recognition of the inevitability of ambiguity.

Cultural marginals are helped in taking on their own responsibility to think autonomously, based on the assessment of a specific context. This stage, which is referred to as contextual relativism allows the cultural marginal random cultural-frame-of-reference shifting to become grounded in a specific context. Basically, the context is assessed and then the marginal commits themselves to a set of personal values within this context. Ultimately, ‘it requires the person to make a commitment to a value system honed from many contexts and an identity actively affirmed and based solidly on self as choice maker.'(M.R. Paige, ed.1993, pp.119)

Furthermore, in beginning to move away from a multiplistic stage of cognitive and ethical development and more towards contextual relativism, it requires the marginal person to demonstrate a flexibility of boundaries, balanced by a skill at defining them. The cultural marginal who can master this stage can become a constructive marginal, capable of constructing identity and making commitments in the face of ambiguity.
Identity theorist Dr. Schaetti found that individuals who had a strong set of values or faith growing up began a much earlier reflective process in regards to their identity than those where this was absent. (Conversation with Dr. Barbara F. Schaetti, 2002) However, many on returning from living overseas to their faith communities find that they have little or nothing in common with them. This produces a profound questioning of one’s core beliefs and value system as well as one’s various cultural frames of reference. Committing to a set of values in the face of so much ambiguity is one that probably few feel they achieve satisfactorily. Nonetheless, it is a move towards what it means to be a constructive marginal.

Constructive Marginality

Nothing here has to be the way it is; people could behave in a different manner; I could look different, flirt differently; I could be having entirely different conversations. Not any specific conversations; the other place in my mind no longer has any particularity. It just has an awareness that there is another place – another point at the base of the triangle, which renders this place relative, which locates me within that relativity itself. -Eva Hoffmann

Although constructive marginals have equally been buffeted by conflicting cultural loyalties, they have come to understand their cultural marginality. They are ‘able to form clear boundaries in the face of multiple cultural perspectives’ (M.R. Paige, 1993, pp.119) and have subsequently developed a strong sense of who they are. Yoshikawa coined a term that well describes the constructive marginal: ‘dynamic-in-betweenness.’ (Yoshikawa, 1988,pp.143) This term suggests that the global nomad is able to move powerfully and with relative ease between different cultural traditions. S/he is able to feel at home in various cultural traditions, knowing how to act appropriately in each as well as maintaining a feeling of home in each. In doing this the constructive marginal is able to maintain their multicultural self.
(Bennett, /BSIdentity.html, p.3)

The constructive marginal will usually put their multicultural experiences to good use, and in many cases global nomads will find that the knowledge and skills gained through an internationally mobile upbringing (good observation skills, linguistic abilities, flexibility, for example) will further their personal and professional goals. Furthermore, with time the constructive marginal will learn to function and commit to a frame of reference within the contextual relativism already discussed. It could be argued that this is not a stage the marginal ever fully achieves but must continue to work on throughout their lives. In an interview with Emily, she asserts that this integration of varying perspectives is not something she can do every day, despite feeling that she has, more or less successfully, integrated her varying frames of reference and experiences in a meaningful way. Hoffmann similarly describes this sense of continually trying to find her centre amidst relativism: If I want to assimilate into my generation, my time, I have to assimilate the multiple perspectives and their constant shifting. Who, among my peers, is sure of what is success and what failure?
…. Any confidently thrusting story line would be sentimentality, excess, an exaggeration, An untruth. Perhaps it is in my intolerance of those, my cherishing of uncertainty as the only truth that is, after all, the best measure of my assimilation; perhaps it is in my misfittings (sic) that I fit.
Perhaps a successful immigrant is an exaggerated version of the native. From now on, I’ll be made, like a mosaic, of fragments – and my consciousness of them. It is only in that observing consciousness that I remain, after all, an immigrant. (E. Hoffmann, 1989,pp.164)

Finding a peer group with whom one can identify is a catalyst in the process of integration and finding one’s centre again. Bennett observes that ‘unlike the encapsulated marginal, the constructive marginal feels authentic and recognizes that one is never not at home in the world.’ (Bennett, 1977,pp. 45-52) This, she continues, may stem from having acknowledged that one does have a peer group to which you can relate. Usually this will be a group of fellow marginals with whom one has more in common than anyone else who hold the same passport as themselves. In fact for many global nomads and TCKs, it is when they first discover these terms that they finally feel they can ‘come home’ to a group of people, that there is a set of terms which defines their experience and that ‘they can finally name a community to which they fully belong, where they don’t need to explain themselves, where their experiences can be understood and celebrated.’ This statement cannot be argued with, as TCKs often testify to this fact and the case studies in the appendix indicate that it is true.

Many global nomads have certainly felt less isolated in knowing there are many others who share their experiences; it is nonetheless a pseudo-community or perhaps a cyber-community. While a cyber-community serves its purpose, and provides a forum for ‘networking’, chatting to people with similar experiences and organizing conferences, exchanging information etc., it is not sufficient as an immediate support group and community if one is feeling uprooted, isolated and marginalized.

Authenticity Anxiety

In Francophone Africa in the 1950s, a literary movement arose around the theme of authenticité. A determining question for the Francophone African poets was, ‘ In which language do I dream?’ They reasoned that it is when we are unconscious that our ‘pure self’ reveals itself, not our self in a social role. ‘In which language do I dream?’ This question can only have one answer: ‘it depends’. It depends where the dream is taking place and with whom the dreamer is talking. ‘We are left with the question that dreams do not unravel: Are we somebody outside of our social roles? Do we have a ‘self’ independent of social affirmation?’ (H.N Seelye & J.H. Wassilewski, 1996, p.101) This question is aggravated when one is shifting from one social stratum to the next. The task of accommodating many different cultures, and therefore social roles, generates a common complaint in people who find themselves living multicultural lives; they have difficulty in feeling ‘authentic.’ If one has moved repeatedly across cultural boundaries, and adapted to a variety of environments, one often questions the validity of the ‘self’, or alternatively, of one’s ‘selves’. ‘Multicultural people often suffer from ‘authenticity anxiety’. If they use language and behavior so they ‘play’ well indifferent cultural contexts, are they being their true selves?’

In an interview with Christine, she begins quite confidently asserting that she feels she knows who she is. Then she continues less sure of herself and states: ‘there are few people who see all my different sides…. I guess I don’t really know what my identity is.’ Jenny, another ATCK, concludes similarly. After stating that it isn’t a burden for her to live like a ‘chameleon’, that instead, she finds it ‘interesting to have learned to fit in with so many different people and in so many situations’, she ends by admitting: ‘I have sometimes wondered who I really am.’ Psychologist and trainer Don Hamachek has proposed that in moving forward from this question of ‘who am I?’ the multicultural or bicultural person is advised to see himself or herself as a self-in-process as opposed to a self-as-object. By this he means that, rather than standing outside themselves and evaluating what they see from a more or less detached point of view the self-as- process sees themselves more as a doer which is in an active group of processes such as thinking, perceiving and remembering. (Hamachek 1971, pp.8) The self-as-object situation is described in the following scenario. The person is pondering the serious person she feels she has become since immigrating to Canada. She concludes that the object she is observing is the real one:

Maybe you would have become more serious even in Krakow.
But you would have been different, very different.
No question.
And you prefer her, the Krakow Eva.
Yes, I prefer her. But I can’t be her. I’m losing track of her. In a few years I’ll have no idea what she would have been like.
But she’s more real anyway.
Yes, she’s the real one. (E. Hoffmann, Lost In Translation, pp.120)

Eventually, Eva will begin observing her evolving self in her various social interactions, and indeed, change her identity as she adapts.

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