When the single “No Roots” by Alice Merton came out in 2017, it reached number two on the alternative charts.
For Third Culture Kids (TCKs) and other culturally mobile individuals, the title suggests a feeling with which they may be familiar.
Merton and her nomadic childhood
Merton wrote the song in response to her nomadic childhood. She was born in Canada and then moved to Germany at the age of 13. Later, she moved to the United States.
While her family moved around due to her dad’s job in the mining industry, she also recognizes that her parents were “restless people” and didn’t want to stay in one place for too long.
The move from Canada to Germany was the hardest for her because she had to leave her friends and she didn’t speak German or understand the culture.
“Your brain development totally depends on who you are surrounded by and what interactions you have,” said Julia Tegethoff, who is studying neuroscience at Colorado State University. “Every day they are reinforced.”
Although moving to different cultures might not affect the anatomical structures of the brain, the psyche can be changed forever.
Your brain development totally depends on who you are surrounded by and what interactions you have.
“When you hit age 10 or 12, your brain undergoes a huge re-growth and pruning process,” Tegethoff said. “If someone was going to be in a place where they were surrounded by another culture it can have big effects on whether or not they develop depression or anxiety. What you practice at that age is what is kept in the limbic reward system.”
The limbic system, or the reward system of the brain, determines what makes you happy. Cells and pathways based on the outside environment will be kept and be transformed into strong pathways.
“At a preteen age, everything in your brain is changing and preparing for what is going to be used for the rest of your life,” Tegethoff said. “Going through a really huge change could leave a teenager forever self-conscious.”
Merton dove into music. “No Roots” was her first hit single and people were receptive to the idea behind the song. It brought mainstream attention to a feeling that globally mobile people face daily.
“At some point I would like to find a home,” said Merton in an interview with the Red Light District Show. “Not going to be a certain place that I feel at home at. For now, I’m quite happy to just be a nomad.”
Merton embraces her past in a way that others can relate. Beyond her song’s notoriety, Merton is given a platform to talk about her TCK past. She acknowledges the pain that came from it but also can see the fame and attention she is receiving from her talents along with her ability to ask new questions about a globally mobile population.