When you have been away from home for a really long time, you develop a “third” culture. Almost a sense of “where do I really belong?” The word “third” here is used loosely to represent what a person becomes out of a combination of having lived in the original home place and a second country or several countries over a long period of time.
In a new place, in addition to gains from studies, job, career, business, family and any purpose for which the person went there, a lot new knowledge and experiences are acquired.
Ordinarily, one basic culture that is more familiar and that tends to have formed a person’s character is that of the home of origin. However, with lengthened stay elsewhere, a new culture is learned and certain ideas, values, sensibilities, perspectives, understanding and even languages are picked. As this happens, something is happening to the person; a certain change is taking place. The rate at which this change takes place is faster or slower depending on how much the person incorporates her/him self in the local culture. Some persons resist change by holding on to what they know of home. However, so long as they remain in that environment for a long time, some change eventually happens.
A new culture is being learnt. Using the biblical image, new wine is being poured into old wineskin. What emerges is a combination of both worlds; a third culture is born. In reality, there is an inner sense of understanding both sides and making sense of both for one’s self. Sympathies, appreciation, loyalties, comparisons, criticisms for and from both sides begin to develop simultaneously.
As a kid, I experienced this even without going far from home. Having parents from two different parts of the country put in me this sense of “But where do I really belong?” The family of my Igbo father and that of my Bini (Edo) mother both laid heavy claims on my siblings and I. Both families wanted us to be with them often, learn their culture and above all learn their language. The result of this was when we went to any one side, they questioned our ability to speak the language.
We were seen as children who somehow did not fully belong because of the ties we had with the other culture. Whether this was the case or not, this was what I perceived as a child. Speaking English was our way of trying to remain neutral even though in the long run I can now speak both Igbo and Bini languages. Anyone who has had such an experience may agree that you not only question where you really belong, but you also become a combined personality of both shades.
Humans survive in a place through adjusting to their environment and this is where the individual develops her/his third culture – almost like a “culture of survival”. This experience never really leaves the person. It influences all that s/he does even after returning home. Though the ill of it comes when this “third” culture is used to put others down through a proud attitude, exploiting others’ lack of knowledge and expertise, and not taking the trouble to selflessly and genuinely contribute to one’s community, society and/or country.
The “third” sense of belonging that develops can positively be used as an enrichment that helps you better yourself and better the people around you because of your wider understanding and horizon.
- Linda Ellah