Guest Post: Erin the TCK

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Erin and I reuniting for the second time ever in Hong Kong!

She fully embraced life in India, stray puppy and celebrating Holi included ;)
This is a guest post by the wonderful Erin Vignali. I missed her by a year when I moved to the Philippines my senior year. We ended up meeting because she knew a family that I knew when I lived in New Delhi and, after sitting across from one another at a reunion dinner, we hit it off immediately. Enjoy!  

And, if you are not already familiar with TCKs, here is a list of my Top Ten TCK Quirks
Before the age of 14, I had little to no awareness of how white I really was and how that lack of melanin would determine people's impressions of me for the rest of my life. I was born in my parent's childhood home of Queens, New York, but by the age of six, before I could form any lasting attachment to the culture there, my family had already moved to our first overseas home, The Netherlands. My school was extremely international and despite our diversity in culture, language, and appearance, our age coupled with our international setting made us blind to our differences. Our next two moves, Singapore and Japan, put me in American schools which led to a difficult adjustment period culturally but did allow me to physically blend in. However, for my sophomore year of high school, we moved to the Philippines and I ended up in a school which was comprised of a predominantly Filipino demographic.
My whiteness was constantly pointed out; how I didn't tan very well and how red my face got when I was hot, sunburned, embarrassed, or any number of other actions that my sensitive skin decided to display. They had fun pointing out my differences, poking fun at the white girl, telling me I blended into the white walls of our lunch room. One friend eloquently defended me by explaining that I was far too red and splotchy to blend in. Yes, thank you teenage acne. If I did something dumb or goofy, it was because I was white. Often times I felt like some animal on display, a side show freak at the circus for entertainment. I remember going to the mall one time with one of the three white girls in my year and how we sat in the food court for over an hour complaining about how hard it was being white in our school. We knew we couldn't talk to anyone else about it. Try telling a non-white person how difficult it is to be white... Think Chris Rock in "The Longest Yard", "Hey! You're white! Smile!"
Eventually, I figured out how to blend (not into the walls). I joked with them, "Haha I know. I glow!!" A line I still use here in India with my local boyfriend and friends. Thumbs up for self deprecation as a survival technique.
But regardless of how much I dealt with because of my skin colour I still had a lot of friends outside of my race, something that changed dramatically when I moved to Massachusetts for university.
Having grown up overseas since the age of 6, with most of my life spent in Asia, I was most comfortable around what I considered my "fellow" Asians. I was uncomfortable with how white my school was, I was confused by racism and the separation of students by skin colour. And to make matters worst, I was ostracised even by my white peers whom found me difficult to relate to on account of my upbringing. During orientation, an African American guest speaker encouraged students not to judge their minority peers in thinking that their race was the deciding factor in their acceptance. I look around the room, deeply confused, "That's a real thing?!"
Different student clubs were introduced to us during orientation and none caught my eye quite like the Filipino student club. I wanted nothing more than to join and I even spoke to one of the members who encouraged me to join but even his kind words couldn't get me over the fear of being judged. Throughout my time there, I tried desperately, to no avail, to befriend other Asians students. I had lived in their ancestors homes longer than they had but I still wasn't right. My Chinese American roommate took me out with her Asian friends one night for ice cream, somewhere over the course of the conversation, I found an opportunity to bring up my Asian upbringing. I imagined that my words would melt their hearts, that I too would be seen as Asian American and that they would take me into their arms with a big hug, "Come here, you honorary Asian you!!" Instead, I got an odd glare and awkward silence. Oops.
While there, one of my closest friends was a devout Christian, African American girl from the South, that had lived her entire life in the US. As a lapsed catholic, whiter-than-snow girl from Asia, you may not think we had much to talk about but the one thing that brought us close was that we were both uncomfortable around large populations of white people. Now, I wouldn't say I'm a self-hating white person but I am definitely uncomfortable around my own kind. I came from a graduating class with four white people out of a 150 something. Where I came from, I was the minority and that's how I was comfortable.
I eventually left Massachusetts, despite the few close friends I had made. I couldn't fit into a place where the non-white people wanted nothing to do with me and the white people constantly told me that I looked normal but I wasn't.
I wound up moving back to Japan, my childhood home, for a one year study abroad. I soon learned that my TCK upbringing and my international friends as a child were a far cry from real life in Japan. The first year there, I stayed with a host family and befriended some more study abroads from the main campus in Philadelphia, three of whom were African American. Thinking I had blurred the lines of separation that kept our races apart in the US, I was truly enjoying my new life in my old home. Then one afternoon, as we were hanging out in the cafeteria, the three girls spotted some African American guys they wanted to chat with. One girl turned to the others and said, "Should we take snow bunny with us?" Gestured at me and laughed. Ironically, this girl's mother was white. I remained friends with one of the girls but separated from the rest and searched for new friends. I finally found a good group, almost all of whom came from mixed ethnicity backgrounds and had gone to international schools their whole life. A semester later, I decided to matriculate as a full time student and began apartment hunting.
When I finally found an apartment that would accept a foreign tenant, my agent scheduled a meeting with my landlord. Before going, I put on a conservative outfit, took the cross off my neck and bought thick foundation to cover the tattoo on my foot. I desperately tried to eliminate anything that he could possibly judge me by. While in the lift, my agent turned to me and said, with no more hesitation than you would say your own name, "Please say this to your landlord [Japanese phrase]. It means, "I am a good foreigner."" When we arrived at my landlord's apartment, his wife answered the door. Before letting us in some chatter went back and forth between her and my agent. They were discussing, of all things, whether or not a foreigner like me would be able to understand the extremely complicated garbage system in Japan (despite the highly detailed, colour coded, English translation they give you prior to moving in). To make matters worse, when we were finally allowed into the apartment, my landlord gave me a long lecture concerning his complex views of foreigners. By the time his speech was over, I learned that he was a proud racist who really liked Americans but hated Australians, New Zealanders, and a few others I can't remember. He never said why.
In the four years I lived there, I dealt with the many nuances of Japanese life that kept foreigners from being viewed as equal. There were protests and rallies for limiting our rights. More than once a complete stranger cursed me out for being a foreigner. My Japanese textbook featured a skit of a foreigner getting refused service by a real estate agent solely because of their nationality. Japan was such a big part of my childhood but as an adult, I felt more and more that I was unwanted. It was as if a part of my identity was being torn from me.

Showing multinational pride!
After graduating university and spending some time in Hong Kong with my parents, I moved to India to return to a children's home I had volunteered with in the summer of 2008 and 2009. India is where I'm writing you from today. The racism is slightly better here. I'm thankful that I'm not Irani, a population the Indians trust even less than the average foreigner. But the judgement is still there - I'm white and white women are lose. We live apart from our families so naturally, we are not at all close to them. My pleas for them to understand that I speak to my parents everyday and that my cousins are like my brothers and sisters are either met with shock or a polite nod, partnered with a half smile.
It's a bizarre twist of the TCK life that the racism experienced overseas will never make you feel quite as lonely as not fitting in in your supposed home country. For me, growing up as a white TCK, no matter how long I dealt with the discrimination, I always held out hope for people to see me like I see myself - no race, no accent, no nationality. In September, I'll be moving to London for my Master's. I'm not sure how I will handle being around that many white people, especially English speaking ones. But I still hold out hope; hope that one day, I'll meet someone who sees me for who I truly am: Not simply an American, or white, or foreign, but Dutch, Singaporean, Japanese, Hong Kong Chinese and Indian. A TCK.

Quite possibly the cutest picture of a person on a yak ever.
If you enjoyed this guest post, please show Erin some love by leaving comments! And if you want to read about another TCK, here is a link to a guest post by my lovely friend Tara who I know from Chennai: Tara in Thailand
in General Hits: 6971 21 Comments


  • Guest
    mykel clark Friday, 28 February 2014

    you may not remember me and this might be kinda we...

    you may not remember me and this might be kinda weird but for some reason you popped in my head and thought id google you. hope your doing well. mykel clark

  • Guest
    Shannon I Tuesday, 01 October 2013

    Ah man, I feel like she wrote nearly everything I&...

    Ah man, I feel like she wrote nearly everything I've gone through, in the same order. Well, I've come to find some comfort in being in the U.S. My theory's that it all just takes time. The more time you give a place, the "easier" it gets. It's not just accepting or ignoring those things that bothered or offended you. It's understanding... and giving other people time to understand you. It also helps to keep looking. Of all the people you run into, you'll be sure to find a few keepers, and they'll lead you to more "keepers". :DBest wishes to the writer in her future endeavors!

  • Guest
    Heidi Sand-Hart Sunday, 29 September 2013

    Thanks Cecilia, hope you enjoy my book. If you wan...

    Thanks Cecilia, hope you enjoy my book. If you want a signed copy, I can sort that out for you! Just e-mail me ( Take care! ;)

  • Guest
    Naomi Friday, 27 September 2013

    Erin, you are so much more Japanese than me (anoth...

    Erin, you are so much more Japanese than me (another TCK). I cant even read Kanji, I get scared at the train stations because I feel like an idiot and I know Ill get on the wrong train, and as a Japanese TCK I am only totally comfortable speaking Japanese to other Japanese TCKs (not my own grandmother).

  • Guest
    Cecilia Haynes Thursday, 26 September 2013

    Thanks for commenting Alaine! I agree, I also feel...

    Thanks for commenting Alaine! I agree, I also feel more at ease when there is a large multicultural/expat/immigrant/open-minded local community. I think Erin is adjusting and enjoying London :)

  • Guest
    Cecilia Haynes Thursday, 26 September 2013

    Thanks for commenting! I'll pass the message a...

    Thanks for commenting! I'll pass the message along to Erin. It's always great "meeting" new TCKs :)

  • Guest
    Cecilia Haynes Thursday, 26 September 2013

    Thank you Alua and Seb for reaching out. I'll ...

    Thank you Alua and Seb for reaching out. I'll let Erin know you are both in her neck of the woods and in similar shoes!

  • Guest
    Cecilia Haynes Thursday, 26 September 2013

    Fellow ISMers (and awkward 20s) unite! Thanks for ...

    Fellow ISMers (and awkward 20s) unite! Thanks for reaching out, I know that it is easier to deal with those feelings of discomfort when you have a community around you.

  • Guest
    Cecilia Haynes Thursday, 26 September 2013

    Thanks for reaching out Nadia! I'll let Erin k...

    Thanks for reaching out Nadia! I'll let Erin know, I'm sure she is looking for a stronger community in London :)

  • Guest
    Cecilia Haynes Thursday, 26 September 2013

    Hey Arthur, Thank you for reaching out! It is fr...

    Hey Arthur,Thank you for reaching out! It is frustrating to be caught in the middle and unfortunately, TCKs tend to have this issue more than most. If nothing else, it is heartening to know what a vibrant and understanding TCK community we have.

  • Guest
    Cecilia Haynes Thursday, 26 September 2013

    Hey Jen, Thanks for commenting! We were rivals ;...

    Hey Jen,Thanks for commenting! We were rivals ;) (I graduated from ISM). Well, I have a friend in Bangkok who is looking for English teachers, in case you wanted to make it back. Beats the Ukrainian cold!

  • Guest
    Cecilia Haynes Thursday, 26 September 2013

    Thanks for commenting! In this world racial herita...

    Thanks for commenting! In this world racial heritage still play a huge part in social identity, and TCKs (and immigrants) primarily get caught in the middle. I'll have to look up your book! I'll let Erin know about the meetup group, I know it will help her transition!

  • Guest
    Cecilia Haynes Thursday, 26 September 2013

    So glad that you could relate! I think it is reall...

    So glad that you could relate! I think it is really important to get the stories of our TCK community our into the world and to create a visible community for people to connect to. Thanks for commenting!

  • Guest
    cirsqutri Wednesday, 25 September 2013

    I can relate to this quite a bit. Born in Raleigh,...

    I can relate to this quite a bit. Born in Raleigh, USA > Moved to Hong Kong at 4 > Back to Raleigh, USA > to Tokyo in grade 8 > Back to USA after HS > Moved to NY for 10 yrs to study and ponder life > Back to Raleigh to come to peace with my metaphysical location of origin. My advise...learning how to "Let Go" of the anxiety created by a sense of difference by recognizing that all things are truely connected but our lived / constructed social environments project a sense of difference. Connection is how things truely are. Separation is a false perception.

  • Guest
    Heidi Sand-Hart Wednesday, 25 September 2013

    Great post - I can totally relate. I'm a white...

    Great post - I can totally relate. I'm a white TCK who grew up surrounded by Indians (in the UK & India) and often called the "white Indian" due to my love of curry! However, there is a distinct line I will never be able to cross despite knowing and loving so much about the culture. I touched on this a little in my TCK book (Home Keeps Moving). Welcome to truly is a magnificently multi-cultural city and one which has offered me a sense of belonging. I hope it does the same for you. All the best,HeidiP.S. There is a great London TCK group on Facebook and there are regular meet ups so I'm sure you'll feel plugged in soon enough!

  • Guest
    Nadia Tuesday, 24 September 2013

    I just moved to Brighton from Germany from Yemen a...

    I just moved to Brighton from Germany from Yemen and I know exactly what you are talking about here. If you want to, we can have a meet up :) This really encouraged me. We're not alone :)

  • Guest
    Seb Tuesday, 24 September 2013

    Yeah, TCK myself. Also just moved to London. :)

    Yeah, TCK myself. Also just moved to London. :)

  • Guest
    Kosmonavts Tuesday, 24 September 2013

    Ahh this post hits home so hard!! I too graduated ...

    Ahh this post hits home so hard!! I too graduated from high school in the Philippines and spent some time in other countries during my childhood. I experienced so many of the same emotions during college and even now in my awkward 20s. I'm back in south east Asia and once again feeling slightly uncomfortable with my 'whiteness'. Thanks for this post, so glad to know there's someone else who can relate to these emotions.

  • Guest
    alua Tuesday, 24 September 2013

    There are a lot of nationalities in London... unle...

    There are a lot of nationalities in London... unless you live in West London, it's not particularly white at all.Plus, there are a lot of us TCKs. I'm one of them, so give me a shout :-)

  • Guest
    Colleen Adams Tuesday, 24 September 2013

    Great post. I really enjoyed this. I'm a TCK w...

    Great post. I really enjoyed this. I'm a TCK who's half American, half English, grew up near Guam, and now live in Wales! If you're ever in Cardiff, we should meet up! :)

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