Bridging My Two Worlds
I was born in Japan. I loved going to school with my friends, especially eating the delicious food together in the canteen and the ritual of cleaning the rooms ourselves. I lived in a big city – Tokyo, so naturally I would visit Disneyland with my family and friends on the weekends; I thought life would continue like this forever. But I was wrong.
I was 7 when my parents decided to live in another country. They moved to France and took me with them. I was too little to even understand where France was, and I was amazed by the fact that my country wasn’t the only one in this world. Let me tell you, I was not happy. I had to go to a local French school, where I had no way of communicating with any of my classmates. My teacher spoke English, but I did not, which left no means of communication between us. On my first day of school, I knew how to say four words: Bonjour (hello), merci (thank you), au revoir (goodbye) and toilette (toilet). It didn’t help that we lived in the countryside, where I was the only Asian for miles around.
I adapted quickly to the environment, but life never became easier. On the day I turned 8, I invited my French friends to my house for my birthday party. It was a happy celebration, but an overwhelming challenge for my 8 year-old self. I had to be brave and ask my friends to take off their shoes before they entered my house, because that’s what Japanese people do. When it was my turn to go to my friend’s birthday party, I was horrified to find her dad taking a nap on his bed with his shoes on!
As I walked down the street, older students from my school would yell out, calling me Chinese. I didn’t really understand it at first, so it was okay. As I grew older, I heard it more and more, but I never got used to people identifying me “Chinese” or “Asian”. It felt like they were casting me out of their culture. I was an outsider, and I wasn’t welcome in their world.
I wanted to get rid of the features that made me look Asian. Maybe having blue eyes or blond hair like my friends could make me a member of the inner circle. But appearances cannot be changed so easily.
So, I worked very hard to soak myself in the South-Western French culture despite my looks. And I did! My behavior became very localized. People even say my French has a strong South West accent. But no matter how hard I tried, I never seemed to perfectly fit in. This constant mental dilemma was spinning in my mind my whole childhood.
Eventually, I did proudly proclaim myself as Japanese. This gave me a comfort zone and protected me. But even though I embraced my Japanese heritage, my desire to assimilate into French culture grew bigger and bigger, occupying more and more space in my cultural identity. I slowly started losing my inherited Japanese self and I suffered a serious identity crisis.
This is why, after “living abroad” for 10 years, I decided to come back to Japan. I thought that I could finally live a simpler life being a part of just one culture. At long last I could escape from being a third culture kid and be “normal”. But I was wrong again. People didn’t accept me as Japanese here anymore. In the place I had believed was my true home, people considered me an outsider. There was nowhere I perfectly fit. I realized, no matter where I go, I will always be considered a third culture kid.
And if that was the case, then so be it. Why not celebrate myself in all my third culture kid glory? Why not be surrounded by French friends, and eat Sushi with them? Why not proudly present myself as a French person when Japanese people find it odd when I kiss my friends living in Tokyo on the cheeks? No matter what, I will accept the parts of the cultures that belong to me and bring them together, that’s what is truly meaningful about having a multicultural experience.
I had been looking at the proverbial glass as half empty, and now it was time to discover it was actually half full! As a TCK, I am lucky enough to possess two of these half-full glasses. One French, and one Japanese. I am able to drink from both of these whenever I like, and flavor one with the other.
I have had my own unique experiences, qualities that made me different, but I also knew that there were others like me out there. So, I started working with a museum, translating and creating content in French. I am now the French content creator for Sumida Hokusai Museum, located in Tokyo, Japan. The museum currently hosts the permanent exhibition in various languages but not French, even though the nationality that visits most frequently is French! This project truly is the perfect opportunity to bridge my two worlds. I thought my identity crises were crippling me, but instead they made me grow and want to teach others about the benefits of being cross-cultural.
I was recently able to deliver my challenges in a TEDx speech, which I called “Third culture kid? NO, no, no! Bridging Kids”. I introduced this new term to describe TCKs, one that shows what we can really do. It’s also an inclusive phrase that accepts thousands of kids out there like me, who embrace more than one culture in themselves. We are Bridging Kids. Children and adults who close gaps between cultures and feel at home everywhere.
My name, Yui (結) , means to connect in Japanese, so perhaps because of that I have always wanted to connect people and bring cultures together. Your name may not hold the same meaning, but you can still become a “Bridging Kid”. Both TCKs and non-TCKs can become “Bridging Kids” through their actions.
It doesn’t matter when you start embracing multiple cultures, it just matters that you do.
If, like me, you are also struggling with the challenges life as a third culture kid can bring, always remember that you have been given a unique opportunity to live in more than one world. If you embrace all the cultures that belong to you, like I did, you will be able to bridge cultures too, and eventually, help change the world for the better.