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Think Global, Act Local: Third Culture Kid

The question “where are you from?” is not simple. I can’t say I am from Asia because my home culture was more western.

Sky Purdin talks about culture

Photo by Hillary Ehlen

By Sky Purdin

Beloved Readers:

It was exactly three years ago that I was fortunate to meet Sky for a community project we collaborated on together. For those of us fortunate to have met her in person, you know that Sky has mastered the art of active listening: listening to someone so attentively while suspending any forming thoughts or answer in your brain or interrupting with comments/advice, so that the person speaking can fully open up and say what’s on their mind. This is one thing I have always struggled when engaging with people, but Sky has shown me by her own habits that active listening is effective. 

Sky is a wonder woman that has impacted so many lives in this Fargo-Moorhead community without needing any praise for what she does. That shows how noble her values are. She has championed so many community projects with new Americans and constantly is looking at ways of making the residents of the FM area more connected across demographics and a myriad of backgrounds.     

Also, she speaks Thai, Lao, English, and Finnish! She has lived in Asia, Europe, and the United States, amazing right?

Usually, I feel special when I say places I have lived in and languages I speak, but around a global citizen and polyglot like Sky, I no longer feel so exotic! 

Dr. Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Sky epitomizes this quote for those of us that are blessed to count her as a friend. She truly knows how to make you feel understood, heard, cared for and foremost, feel connected and know that you belong to this community. 

Until our humble paths cross again,

Namaste!

Alex Cyusa

A Third Culture Kid is someone who spent a significant portion of their developmental years in a country other than their passport country. In my case, I have two passports (USA and Finland), but I spent 17 years of my childhood in Southeast Asia in the countries of Thailand and Laos. My family is bi-lingual and is a mix of two cultures. I was just three months old when I moved to Thailand with my parents and I came to the US for college at age 18. Who I am is very much shaped by the experiences I had growing up. I interacted with several Southeast Asian cultures and can speak Thai and Lao like a native speaker. The climate was tropical. We ate spicy food and rice daily. I did a part of my education in Finnish and the other part in English. We visited between the home countries every couple of years, which kept me connected with my roots but also left me with an understanding that I wasn’t really American or Finnish.

The question “where are you from?” is not simple. I can’t say I am from Asia because my home culture was more western. In Finland and America, I often feel out of place, even if I appear to blend in. I have come to learn what it means to embrace the different sides to my identity and to be a global citizen. The answer to “where are you from?” can at times be confusing to navigate. Each time I am asked this question, I have to decide what to answer. Do I have time to go into a long story about my past? Will they care? What will come of this interaction?

Most people expect the place you are from to define you to some degree. To be honest, I cannot fully claim any of these countries to be my true home. I am a part of all of them. My worldview is shaped by the places and people I have interacted with throughout my life. I find myself at the crossroads of these places. I never fully felt at home anywhere because I am not a product of just one culture. Over time, I have learned to define my home by the people I choose to surround myself with.

When people say “where are you from?” they are typically looking to find some kind of connection or common ground. But when I hear this question, I am hearing “who are you?” instead. Why is this? It probably has something to do with the fact that where I come from is a much more complicated question for me. At times “where I’m from” has left me feeling like I have no real home…a basic that seems to connect you and give you common ground to identify with those around you. When people look at me, they usually see another North Dakotan with blue eyes, blond hair and a German heritage from a family that has lived here for generations. While my father is from North Dakota, my mother is from Finland, and I didn’t grow up here. My identity is tied in with this simple question “where are you from?” because of where I grew up.

The answer to “where are you from?” can at times be confusing to navigate. Each time I am asked this question, I have to decide what to answer.

I returned to Fargo after graduate school in Finland and entered into the professional workforce here. Here, I got reconnected with the Fargo-Moorhead community that I had glimpsed into years before while sandbagging with strangers during the 2009 Red River flood. I saw how engaged this community was in including everyone. No one treated me as an outsider because of where I grew up. Here, I was just myself.

I look around and see that there are people from all different walks of life in the world here. In Fargo, we can all be ourselves and be accepted, whether we have lived in North Dakota for generations or have moved from across the world to call this place our home. In Fargo, the culture is open and finds joy in mutual learning. It is a place where strangers share life’s joys and challenges and the sight of mixed ages and backgrounds laughing together impresses those watching.

This strong sense of community brings me joy and tells me that I, a “TCK,” or Third Culture Kid, am now home. Some people feel at home when they are comfortable, stable and have a good future. I came to realize I was home after being soaking wet from sweat, freezing and covered with mud. It was 2009 and I was a freshman at Minnesota State University Moorhead when the flood stopped everything and the community came together to save dozens of homes by sandbagging. We were shoveling sand into bags, passing them in an assembly line and stacking them around houses. During these long hours of witnessing strangers helping each other, I learned the true atmosphere of this community and was inspired. If there was a place I wanted to call home, it would be a place like Fargo-Moorhead…a place where strangers become family.

If we want to be a community where strangers become family, we all have a part to play.  Be mindful of how you treat people you encounter and let’s work to keep Fargo-Moorhead a place that people are proud to call “home.”

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Alexandre Cyusa

Written by Alexandre Cyusa

Alexandre Cyusa came to the FM area in the fall of 2010 to attend Concordia College. Originally from Kigali, Rwanda, Cyusa has lived in Switzerland, Ethiopia, Guinea and France. His traveling experiences have helped him in making this world a smaller and simpler place to live in. He currently works for Folkways and is interested in community development and nurturing global citizenship.

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