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OF TRADITION, FOOD AND CULTURE. Bridging Cultures with food & customs.

Illustration by Diana Vega

An Adult Third Culture Kid and International Adoptee Shares how her Swedish Family Instilled a Strong Sense of Identity.

6 MINUTE READ

by Anna Svedberg

Illustration by Diana Vega

Growing up as a Third Culture Kid can be complicated enough, navigating different cultures and customs while still maintaining the common thread of identity. Add another layer, such as being an international adoptee, and you have to be both consistent and adamant in how to raise children for them to gain a healthy sense of identity while navigating the tricky waters growing up as a citizen of the world.

This is my family’s own story of how we maintained normalcy through cooking and celebrating traditional holidays together with other Scandinavian families while abroad. Staying in touch with family friends of various cultures strengthened my sense of identity and connection with both my birth culture as well as my passport culture while appreciating and respecting local customs and traditions wherever we lived.

COOKING, FOOD AND SPARKING MEMORIES

Growing up overseas, my first few memories are of my mum cooking or baking in the kitchen with my sister and I helping and tasting the goodies. Food and traditions are quite important in my family.

My mum explained to me that having adopted two beautiful girls from India, my parents were quite adamant about instilling Swedish culture and traditions in us, especially as my sister and I grew up overseas. This meant that whether we were stationed in a very traditional trade city, the desert, or the hustle and bustle of a mega Southeast Asian city. My sister and I would always have access to Swedish cinnamon rolls for any given holiday and the traditional Swedish smorgasbord for Christmas and Easter, including the world-famous savoury Swedish meatballs and cured salmon.

Since my mum loved cooking, she, of course, learned how to cook local dishes wherever we were stationed, which meant that my sister and I acquired an international palate from a very young age. If we missed our hometown from years ago, my mum would cook a meal to take my sister and me back taste-wise and it was almost like being there. I have a particular memory of my family living in the Middle East and participating in local Eid celebrations.

In those early days, mothers and children were invited to local family homes to partake in Eid festivities, which always included lots of delicious food as well as giving and receiving traditional Eid greetings. As a child, my friends and I felt honored that we were so graciously invited to strangers’ homes. The generosity I experienced while growing up overseas is something for which I will always be grateful.

Local festivals and traditions were usually widely recognized through school activities as well as in family social gatherings, so we learned from a young age to respect and enjoy the local culture and customs wherever we were stationed. By teaching children about their birth country as well as their passport country, while at the same time encouraging them to immerse themselves in local customs, children gain not only a healthy sense of self but also a respect for all cultures and walks of life — a mark of a true citizen of the world.

Also, while living in a Southeast Asian megacity, my family would celebrate the traditional Mid- Autumn Festival with other families at the beach. We would light lanterns and sending them out to sea ceremoniously at night. My parents explained that as guests in a culture, it’s important to observe and respect local culture and traditions.

A SENSE OF CONTINUITY

My mum instilled Swedish traditions by decking our homes with festival-appropriate decorations, often hand-embroidered or hand-painted. With traditional cooking, decorations, and celebrations, no matter where we were stationed in the world, my sister and I received a solid foundation of continuity in our upbringing. This practice was further strengthened as we enjoyed close ties with a network of Scandinavian families wherever we lived, with whom we could celebrate our traditions.

Regarding our Indian heritage, growing up overseas was a blessing, as it allowed my family frequent trips to see family friends in India and close school friends with Southeast Asian backgrounds. Together with my mum’s love for cooking Indian food, this enabled me to blend my Indian heritage and Swedish identity seamlessly. By teaching children about their birth country, as well as their passport country, while at the same time encouraging them to immerse themselves in local customs, children gain not only a healthy sense of self but also a respect for all cultures and walks of life — a mark of a true citizen of the world. Here are some tips for families with children growing up in a globally mobile family as TCKs and as international adoptees.

CULTURALLY FLUID CHILDREN: TIPS TO STRENGTHEN IDENTITY

  • Talk early about adoption, what it means.
  • Educate your child on their birth country and culture so they can from a young age form an understanding of their heritage
  • Also teach early on about your child’s passport country, culture, and language, so your child can easily repatriate if they would like to as an adult.
  • Show a genuine interest in the local culture to educate your child that respect for all cultures is essential to develop empathy for fellow human beings. My parents emphasized that living as an ex-pat family overseas; we were always a guest in someone’s country.
  • Foster healthy family traditions that your child can hold onto as a common thread through your international moves.
  • Surround your family with close friends — either locally or via distance — who can act as your family’s internal network, a safe constant in your child’s sometimes turbulent, globally mobile life.
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