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Cultural Disconnect and its Harmful Impact – Part 3 of 3

Culture is a tool that binds us. It transcends boundaries. Through tradition, language and family, culture is passed down. Culture can be defined in a million different ways because it means different things to everyone. Merriam-Webster defines it as “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group.” Culture surrounds us and provides us with the tools needed to connect. Even though culture is tied to people and shared history, it’s also tied to the land. Many who reside in lands not their own can suffer from a cultural disconnect.

Few people are as separated from culture, family, and language as some Cross-Cultural Kids (CCK) and Third-Culture Kids (TCK). To be a Cross-Cultural Kid one must have had meaningful interactions with two or more cultures for a significant period of time during childhood. Third-Culture Kids are people who spent their developmental years globally mobile and often outside of their parent’s passport culture. CCKs and TCKs are culturally mobile as they straddle different cultures. While this allows them to have meaningful experiences, it can also hinder their sense of belonging and lead to a cultural disconnect.

Importance of Culture

Image of monks moving through square
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Allen-Fulton has completed extensive research around society for a “Modern Survival Guide, saying “Culture is important because it creates assumptions about how the world operates and those assumptions, in turn, drive a huge piece of our behavior. It creates the world in which we think we live.” 

A report published by the Ontario Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism, and Culture Industries details the importance of culture. They note how culture not only benefits the individual but also society.  Individuals who are attached to culture have better health and well-being, improved learning, and valuable skills. Society benefits from a culture because it contributes to job creation. It also contributes to tourism and it helps in family and community planning.

Culture is incredibly important to the well-being of not only an individual but also a society. When an individual is not tied to culture it is detrimental, they experience a cultural disconnect.

Cultural Disconnect

Image of world map
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When one experiences and interacts with multiple cultures, it can be hard to stay connected to your “home culture.” Third-Culture kids and Cross-Cultural Kids can be exposed to many different cultures without feeling connected to any, even their own.

TCKs can live in a variety of places. It is understandable to assume they may not be able to stay connected to all the cultures they interact with as they travel the world. Ruth Van Reken, co-author of one of the first books written about the TCK and CCK experience is well aware of their potential struggles. Van Reken writes about how TCKs may suffer from a lack of cultural balance as a result of the cultural disconnect. 

“Ironically, for many TCKs this “home culture” may be one of the places they feel most out of cultural balance. Although they will likely learn the basic language, values, and traditions of this culture from their parents even when living in another land, TCKs often remain unaware of what is hidden in the unseen layer of what is presumably their own culture. They have not lived there long enough to understand the nuances of how life operates by both seen and unseen cultural norms and social media alone does not fully communicate such things.”

From Van Reken’s book “Third-Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing Up Among Worlds”.

Impact of Disconnect

image of women standing in front of Taj Mahal. Meant to demonstrate feeling small in face of culture
Image labeled for reuse. Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Shelly Maas, a student at Colorado State University, is a Third-Culture Kid (TCK). Maas is the daughter of an international salesman. She has lived in Saudi Arabia, Morocco, China, Japan, South Africa, and Canada. 

Maas is originally from Canada but she was not exposed to the Canadian culture for most of her childhood. She was exposed to so many cultures that she forgot how to connect to her own. She greatly struggled as a result of her cultural disconnect. Maas doesn’t feel connected to her “home culture.” As a result, she feels like she is missing a part of herself. 

“I remember  I used to go to Canada for summers when my parents had time. My mother would always tell me that we were going home. I could never understand what she was talking about. Canada wasn’t my home even though I desperately wanted it to be, I knew nothing about Canada. I did not know how to interact with people, I didn’t know how to do the most basic stuff. The culture was completely foreign to me. I felt like I had so many different cultures in my head so I could never get a grasp on it. Even now, I don’t look forward to going back to Canada. It’s not my culture and it’s not my home but it should be. It’s like a part of me is missing and I don’t know how to get it back.”

Shelly Maas on how cultural disconnect has impacted her.

Series

Culture is not the only thing that Cross-Cultural Kids like Shelly Maas are disconnected from. They are also disconnected from language and family, two other incredibly important instruments in society. To read about the disconnect TCKs face check out the articles in the series.  Language Disconnect and its Harmful Impact and Familial Disconnect and its Harmful Impact.

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