Were you aware of the term ‘Third Culture Kid’ [TCK] before now?
Raisa: I didn’t expect there would be a specific terminology for me!
Ivan: It makes sense to me. Having some friends of mixed races and after growing up in different parts of the world, I often discuss where I think I belong with friends.
Yousuf: At school, they would stare at me because I look different. So I would just get it out in the open and say, ‘Look, I’m half Filipino, half Syrian.’
Firas: But sometimes when you’re talking to people, you choose what you consider your best half.
So you sometimes tell people half-truths?
Raisa: Yeah, I think everyone does that, depending on who they’re with. When I go out, I like seeing that expression of shock on peoples’ faces. Like maybe when people look at you [she gestures to Firas], they believe you’re from Syria, but they can’t believe you’re also part Romanian. But when they look at me, they can’t believe I’m Filipino. I look like an Indian. Then when I start speaking Tagalog – aah! I love seeing that expression on people’s faces – especially Filipinos. They tend to get overexcited and try to help me out even more.
What advantages do you think TCKs have?
Raisa: Good looks! I think we’ve definitely established that! [Flips her hair and looks at the others pointedly.]
Yousuf: Languages: I speak Tagalog, Arabic and English. I was in the Philippines for 10 years. But I was popular there. They would look at me like, ‘Wow, he’s so white! His hair is light brown and he kind of looks Filipino because of the eyes and nose. He’s white – and he’s hairy! [Everyone laughs; someone shouts ‘too much information!’]
Raisa: I speak Tagalog, English, Hindi and Arabic, and I’m learning Latin.
Ivan: I’m so ashamed! I speak only French, English and Spanish.
Firas: I can speak English, Arabic and Romanian.
Do people judge you before you have a chance to show who you really are?
Firas: It depends on the culture. In my case, if I go to Syria and say I’m Romanian, they would be interested. But it depends on who I’m talking to. I went to a Romanian gathering and one guest didn’t believe I was Romanian. I told him I’m from Cluj-Napoca and showed him my ID, but he still didn’t believe me. And then I told him I’m half Romanian, half Syrian, and he just walked away.
Ivan: In France the issue comes from the colour [of my skin]. Here there’s no problem because everyone is mixed up.
Raisa: Everyone wants to be accepted. They don’t want to be looked at like they’re weird. I don’t care if people judge me, but I want to avoid the fact that they do.
Has being a TCK influenced the professional route you have followed or plan to follow?
Yousuf: I went into marketing because of the languages I speak. In fact, maybe the reason I got accepted so fast was because of the languages. Maybe it means Arabs can now finally understand what Filipinos are saying! It would be great if I could be a medium between the two cultures.
Do you think TCKs see the world differently to those brought up with one nationality?
Yousuf: I don’t know about the others, but I definitely see the world differently. When I think about how my mum or dad see everything, it’s like I’m seeing it both ways. My dad [from Syria] is conservative in a way, and my mum [from the Philippines] accepts everything. So it’s like I live in the middle.
Raisa: Our parents could put aside all the cultural differences and be together regardless of how different they are, how different their views and ideologies are, how separate their countries are. They put all of that aside and got married, and have spent a life together. When you’re born and raised in that atmosphere, you’re exposed to how cultural integration can work. I think I can relate to a lot of different people because of this.
How can TCKs help to educate people about different cultures?
Ivan: I lived in Gabon for 14 years and I went to France every summer, then vice-versa as I grew up. So I have the vision of France from a Gabon point of view and the vision of Gabon from a French point of view. When I went to high school in France, I was asked if we lived in real houses in Gabon. [Everyone laughs.] They’d ask if I went to a proper school there, whether I saw animals on the way to school. Sometimes I would agree, saying, ’Yes, I saw lions and giraffes.’ It’s not about being stupid; it’s about people relating it to what they see on TV, like Animal Planet. You have to say no, there are developed cities there, but explain it without calling them idiots. Tell people the reality. In Dubai, I was once even asked if France was a third-world country.
Firas: When you’re in the city [Romania], if you say you’re from Dubai, they’ll go, ‘Oh! Burj Al Arab. You must be rich!’ In the village, one grandmother asked me, ‘Tell me, boy, do you drink water there?’ And I said ‘sometimes’, because I didn’t know what to say. She said, ‘How do you go to school? On your own camel?’ and I started thinking of the Ferraris in Jumeirah.
Yousuf: Now that Dubai is getting a reputation, when I visit Syria and tell them I live in Dubai, people are like, ‘Woohoo! Let’s go out! Cheque’s on you, right?’
Where do you think you’ll settle? Would you choose to stay in Dubai?
Ivan: I’d choose South America, definitely.
Raisa: I’m going to New York, man! It has the kind of atmosphere I’m comfortable with, family-wise, work-wise and status-wise. I’m aiming to be a UN ambassador – I’m planning on buying the Emirates Palace for my parents! But I love to travel, love it.
Yousuf: I’d choose Syria. I wasn’t really accepted in Philippines and I went to university in Syria. When I went there I felt like I belonged. I met new people and made more friends. I like it there even though it’s not that developed as a city, but it’s fun.
Firas: I haven’t really thought about it, but I’d choose Romania until further notice. Although now I like the sound of South America…
Do you think your children will also be TCKs?
Raisa: Yes! If they don’t have four nationalities, sorry – go away! [Everyone laughs.]
Yousuf: Yes, I guess.
Ivan: Yes. But I’m not sure who I’ll marry. Maybe it will be a Gabonese girl, or a French girl, or even a Romanian…
Firas: No Syrian girl for you, Ivan?!
Following this interview, the four TCKs exchanged numbers, have been out together a few times and become friends. Bless!