‘I AM A PROUD THIRD CULTURE KID’

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Lavisha Kapoor was born in Thailand, a country not far away from India, her roots. Her parents, who hail from Lucknow, moved to Thailand few decades ago following her father’s corporate career with the Aditya Birla Group. India is home for the Kapoors but Thailand is where work brought them. After completing her high school in Thailand, Lavisha came to Australia in 2006 to study both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Business Administration. Thirteen years into Australia and Lavisha is a citizen while also enjoying the citizenship of Thailand and as an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI). Today, like any third culture kid (TCK), Lavisha has had the enriching experience of three cultures – India, Thailand and Australia. This January, Lavisha was selected to represent Australia in the Know India Programme (KIP), a flagship program run by the Indian Minister of External Affairs to encourage Indian youths from around the world to enhance their awareness of India’s heritage and contemporary issues (more on that below). An events manager in Melbourne, Lavisha talks about issues of identity and what it means to be a third culture kid in Australia. What has your third culture experience been like so far? I grew up in Bangkok in an Indian neighbourhood, which helped me stay connected to my Indian roots. There are common points in every culture and at the same time they are different in their own ways. So I grew up eating Thai food for lunch and Indian food for dinner. I grew up speaking all three languages, Hindi (at home), English (in school) and Thai (everywhere else). Studying in an international school, I had friends from all backgrounds and nationalities. This sometimes was a challenge as I was not able to compare myself directly to my fellow students because though we were in the same school, our backgrounds were very different. Where do you consider home? This is always a tricky question and there is never a right or wrong answer to this because of various reasons. I have spent 18 years of my life in Thailand and almost the same amount of years in Australia, so you end up feeling that you can fit in nowhere and everywhere. When I am in Australia and I go to visit my parents in Thailand, I say I am going home to see my parents. But when I am in Thailand and am returning to Australia after a holiday, I say I am going home to Australia. In my opinion, developing a sense of home is both an internal and an external discovery. Home isn’t a place; it’s a feeling – the concept of home doesn’t mean the same thing to a TCK. Home is where you feel loved, cared for, connected, safe and understood. It is a sense of belonging to an environment – both internal and external. The more present and engaged you are with both yourself and the environment around you, the more comfortable you will feel. Thus a sense of home can be developed anywhere you currently are or anywhere you go. For this reason, I always kept myself in touch with the Indian and Thai community in Melbourne. To answer your question, I feel home in these spaces. I am currently in Australia, so this is home. But Thailand is also home! And so is India as that is and will always remain the Motherland! Tell us about the Know India Programme and your takeaways? I had been part of the program in 2005 and this year for its 50th program I was invited to represent Australia. Being a first-generation Thai Indian and a first-generation Australian Indian I wanted to learn how to motivate Indians living overseas to reconnect with their roots, and how we can create avenues for young Indians to better understand their culture in order to create stronger ties with their motherland. As a third culture kid, what are some of the challenges you faced/face? Third culture kids can struggle with personal identity. As a TCK, I have moved between cultures before I have had the opportunity to develop both my personal and cultural identity. The first culture is the culture of the country from which my parents originated – India. The second culture refers to the culture in which my family currently resides and where I grew up in – Thailand. And the third culture is the culture in which I currently reside – Australia Like most TCK, I too am adept at building relationships with other cultures and faced confusion in possessing a cultural identity of my own in the early years. Some of the challenges growing up included building my own identity. Am I Indian, Thai or Australian? This question has been asked to me many times by others and myself. The answer to that is: I belong to all three countries. There are often conflict between the three cultures and differences in values. But to feel a sense of belonging, I have learnt to adapt to elements of all three cultures in developing my identity as Lavisha Kapoor – a proud Third Culture Kid. Some of the interesting challenges I face are: explaining my international accent. Those who listen to my accent in order to figure out where I am from will definitely struggle. My accent will resemble an American one at most times, but there is the mother tongue influence given that Hindi is what I regularly speak at home. Growing up with my immediate family in Thailand, far from the rest of my relatives, Christmas and summer holidays were usually spent together on trips visiting them. However, since I have been living in Australia, these holidays become even more of a struggle to plan. With my family spread across Thailand, India and America and friends on almost every continent, when I have a few days off work it is almost impossible to decide what to do and who to see. Some of the interesting questions I have dealt with: “So you grew up in Thailand, did you ride an elephant to school?” “You’re from Thailand but you don’t look Thai” “Your English is really good considering you grew up in Thailand!”. Having dual citizenship and multiple passports can actually be beneficial, especially in countries that require visas, which allows me to miss those long queues at airport immigration. But the struggle is real when I need to remember which passport I booked my flight with, where it is and what the new visa requirements are to get back home. Do you feel a sense of rootlessness and restlessness at times? No, I don’t feel a sense of rootlessness. I am very content and at peace with where I am and who I am. I have learnt to adapt to elements of all three cultures in developing my unique identity as a world citizen. Yes, I do feel a sense of restlessness though. When I am in Bangkok, I feel I miss Melbourne and my friends. And when I am in Melbourne, I feel I miss Bangkok and my family. What part of cultures is woven into your being? Australia is a nation of endless opportunities, it provides equal rights and is accepting of others no matter what country they may have immigrated from. The independent woman that I am is because of the nature of being Australian. It is in the very fabric of the Australian society that has allowed me to develop my identity, career and life in a country which I now call home. My identity before being and Australian or Thai, will always be Indian. My appearance, spiritual beliefs, cultural values, religious side of me will always be very proudly Indian. Thailand is considered the “Land of Smiles”. I believe the friendly side of me comes from the Thai culture. How do you think third culture kids fair in the work space and global market scene? Third culture kids are more aware of various cultures and sensitivities. They are cultural bridges and can be invaluable mentors, such as myself being a mentor at RMIT University to international students (especially from India). I feel I can relate to them and be able to provide hands on advice. Third culture kids make friends quickly and have a better capacity to function effectively across national, ethnic and organisational cultures. Third culture kids are often bilingual – I speak Thai, Hindi and English. What advice would you give TCKs in general? Be proud of who you are and your uniqueness. I’d suggest become actively involved in the world around you. Take the necessary time to fully process each and every experience and each and every person you meet along the way to build your unique identity as a TCK. Be involved in local community – culturally, socially or spiritually or in any way you can. Take one step at a time towards exploring your sense of home and identity wherever you go. It can definitely be overwhelming at times to be confused of who you are. Always remember that every element of your being has a very important part to play in building you, so accept, embrace and celebrate you! Embrace Multiculturalism. The song “I am Australian” makes a lot of sense. “We are one, but we are many. And from all lands on Earth we come. We share a dream and sing with one voice. I am. You are. We are Australian.” Let your multiculturalism be your strength, not your weakness because that is what makes you unique.