Bram is only 16 years old, but when I read what he wrote about his identity, I was surprised by his clarity of mind and the simplicity of his narrative in the complex issue of identity for a TCK. The way he delves into the intricate texture of languages, places, cultures and relationships is stunning, and I warmly recommend this article to anyone, regardless of their age.
I am an accentless French man,
I am an old-fashioned expressionless Dutch boy,
I am a British man speaking in Australian and American,
I am a person with no whole language at his disposal,
But many separated ever-growing parts, I am what I am.
As the blood of my Dutch forefathers courses purely through my veins, does this make me Dutch? Or has being brought up as a third culture kid caused irreplaceable cracks in the language and understanding of my mother tongue? Does the materialistic desire to see the Dutch national team finally win the World Cup cover up these cracks? Does the forced knowledge of the Dutch language? How can I be a Dutch boy when I have spent more then 3/4’s of my life away from The Netherlands, only seeing this country as a family vacation home? Expressions and grammar were the bane of my existence during those afterschool hours of Dutch lessons, week after week, as my teachers tried to teach me my mother tongue. However as much as my teachers tried they could not teach the countless expressions and colloquialisms to the Dutch boy who left when he was 4. This essential part of the language is foreign to me. When teen-speak appears to be a foreign language compared to my old fashioned way of speaking. How can Dutch be my mother tongue?
This language written without grammatical accents on its words is like writing it soulless. Writing it wrong.
French, the language of love, or in my case, the language of my youth. As I grew up in Paris from the age of 4, it has become an essential part of whom I am. As the blood of the Dutch flows proudly through me, I sometimes ask myself if it is enriched or tainted by my love of the French language. If the world had no borders and passports for us to look at, where would our nationalism go? To the place we call home?
This is indeed the hardest question to ask a third culture kid: “where is home?” Home for me should of course be where my family resides. Yet in all honesty, I cannot bring myself to say this. Home for me resides within the proudest city on earth. In a borderless world, I would have to confess my undying love for the city of love. Parisian I am inside my heart and soul. Yet as I am pained to say, I cannot say I am French. Some crucial part of the language has been missing… As the countless hours of staring at the white board, which indicated the lessons about grammar and accents, flood back to me, I can only remember the frustration and confusion I felt for the language I now hold so dear. This language written without grammatical accents on its words is like writing it soulless. Writing it wrong. Yet this is what I do. Can I however save my pride with this language as I can be mistaken for a native? Has the fact that I speak without accent, read and comprehend without hesitation, but also write accentless become intertwined within themselves into my own version of this most beautiful language I hold so close to my heart? I am the accentless French man.
As my friends from all over the world spoke a multitude of Englishes, my accent would change constantly with them, as I tried to become the biggest copycat, to learn this most valuable language
With consideration to my language identity we come to the most important language of all. The beautiful and ever changing English. This language has been ruling unrivalled in my personal thoughts, the kingdom I call my mind.
From the age of 5 onwards my dreams are filled with the language I speak most. The language of friends, school and education. The language I learned away from its culture and origin, learning it from the mouths of my ever-willing British-speaking teachers. As my friends from all over the world spoke a multitude of Englishes, my accent would change constantly with them, as I tried to become the biggest copycat, to learn this most valuable language. Words such as: “shattered, brilliant, rubbish” became my favourite words, as I tried to show off my newfound talent in the spoken English language.
In the summer of 2012 my comfort zone got shattered, as we moved to the land of the Aussie. Words and phrases like: “no worries, she’ll be right, g’day mate and pom” started to replace the words I tried so hard to learn. Was this Australian language becoming a parasite to the purity of my English or did it need to be recognised as an addition to what I had learned before?
As my inner self reverted back to the 5 year old me, I tried desperately to copy this new version of the language I used so much to fit in with the rest
December 2014, yet again my fragile comfort zone got changed for the big leagues of the United States. Where my Australian and British accent was mocked and thrown to the trash at every given opportunity. The language I use most and speak the best of all my tongues was yet again forced to be ever growing. “Awesome”, as an example, the word used most by my classmates became a part of my ever-changing vocabulary. As my inner self reverted back to the 5 year old me, I tried desperately to copy this new version of the language I used so much to fit in with the rest. My most fluid and broadest language can however not be considered my mother tongue. The blood of neither the English, nor the French flows through me. As my Dutch blood screams to be noticed more, I realise the biggest concern I have had with this language considered my mother tongue: my fear of failing it.
This fear of failing the language considered my mother tongue personifies a small voice in the back of my head screaming for my acceptance as a Dutch person. Has my upbringing away from The Netherlands been the wall behind which I could shelter from the ‘disapproving’ looks of my Dutch family and Dutch friends? As yet again, I mutter the words: “math, physics and history” instead of “wiskunde, natuurkunde en geschiedenis” in conversations about school. Must I always switch to the natural English? How can I say Dutch is my mother tongue, when it’s not even my strongest language?
A crucial turning point occurred in July of 2016. We moved back to the country where I spent countless family vacations. Now as I most recently look back to my grandparents, I only see smiles of comprehension of my struggles and no sneers or frustration in my lack of my mother tongue.
When a toddler of three can understand my Dutch and seems to see no difference between me and my fully Dutch counterparts, or when the waiters in a restaurant never seem to notice my lack of upbringing in this country, a new sense of pride flows through me into the Dutch blood of my veins. As we moved back to my country of origin, I am starting to realize that those 12 years of Dutch private language lessons finally paid off.
This sense of pride and joy flowing through me, not felt with another language, proves I am truly a Dutch person encapsulated with the soul of a Parisian, my thoughts ruled by the English spoken kings and queens. Forever growing and yearning to be understood inside this person called Bram Burger.
I am what I am.