Imagine you were born in France, but soon after your birth your family moved to Kenya where you grew up visiting an American school. After graduating from high school in Nairobi, you moved to the USA to study Business. Right now, you are working for an international company in China and your Chinese mother and French father couldn’t be any prouder.
You would be living your busy life happily, if people wouldn’t interrupt you all the time with this one question:
“Where are you from?”
How would you answer?
Exactly. I would say “From Mars” too.
Turns out, more people come from Mars nowadays than ever before. Indeed, The International Migration Report of 2017 (released by the United Nations) highlighted that there are approximately 258 million people who are residing in a country different from their country of birth.
That’s seven times the population of Canada.
While these people still constitute only a small percentage of the world’s total population, it seems that this trend of moving and migrating is not going to decrease any time soon. The question that arises, therefore, is whether we really want to hear 258 million people answering they come from Mars.
So how could we possibly bridge the gap between the burning question of origin and changing demographics due to high mobility?
There are three options lying ahead of us.
- We could eliminate “Where are you from?” altogether.
This method doesn’t seem realistic, however, because categorization belongs to basic human nature. It is surely a dangerous act since we can easily fall into the trap of generalization. Still, we humans seem to carry this strange demand for organizing the world around us.
- We could invent a word to describe all these international migrants, a category that would capture their complex experiences.
In this respect “Martian” wouldn’t necessarily be the term to recommend. But another phrase called “TCK” (Third Culture Kid), created by sociologists Ruth Hill Useem and John Useem, aims to reflect the richness and transcultural nature of some of these identities. Since TCK refers to the international experiences of kids and youth, the abbreviation they’ve come up with to compensate older generations is “ATCK” (Adult Third Culture Kid). Yes, you are not the only one raising eyebrows. The efficiency of these expressions is rightly disputable. Not to mention the fact that barely anyone is familiar with these terms, not even TCKs (or ATCKs) themselves.
- We could re-evaluate the query itself.
Why do we stick to a question that is based on the unrealistic presupposition that everyone was born, lives their whole life and dies in the exact same place? Surely, categorization would be much easier this way. But what if we asked something more specific and that way minimised the risk of confusion around this unclear notion of origin. Like “Where were you born?” or “Where do you live?” Easy and yet inclusive.
Or let’s just stick to the term Martian. Honestly, don’t we all sometimes feel like we come from another planet?
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