“I have always maintained, even as a schoolboy in Russia, that the nationality of a worthwhile writer is of secondary importance… The writer’s art is his real passport”.
“Where are you from?”
“I’m from New Zealand,” I answered.
“Where are you ORIGINALLY from?”
People always ask me this question because they don’t believe a girl with an Asian face is from an English-speaking country.
“What’s your name?”
“My name is Camellia.”
“What’s your REAL name?”
Again, people don’t think a girl with an Asian face has an English legal name.
Where am I from? I questioned myself.
Shall I say where I was born, or the country of my passport, or where I have lived, or the last place I’ve been, or possibly wherever feels like home?
US sociologist Dr Ruth Hill Useem coined the term Third Culture Kids (TCK) in the 1950s to describe a group of people facing the same situation as me when it comes to answering the above questions.
TCKs spent a significant part of their developmental years outside their parents’ culture. Most of them are the children of expats or multinational marriages. Barack Obama is a famous example: born in Hawaii and spent a formative part of his childhood in Indonesia as a son of an American mother and a Kenyan father.
As a person born in China, spent my adult years in New Zealand, and now living a digital nomad life in Europe, I struggled with my identity and always questioned where I belonged. I shared this feeling with people around me in the physical world, but most locals couldn’t understand that.
American novelist James Baldwin once said, “you think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, who had ever been alive.”
I echoed this quote at a young age and started reading and writing with my mother tongue Mandarin Chinese to deal with my intellectual isolation and loneliness. After moving to New Zealand in 2010, I had to start everything from scratch by writing in English at my new home with a new language.
Back then, I was too embarrassed to speak with my broken English, not to mention writing fluent essays or articles, which led to my extremely low self-esteem in applying English into my daily life.
It took me almost a decade to overcome my inner demon, who constantly sabotaged me by saying: You suck! Your English is rubbish!
And again, I went back to books to seek answers.
Fernando Pessoa, Elif Safak and Ayn Rand are all non-native English speaking writers. They set up a role model for people like me. By reading their stories and their works, I understand writing in English is a mission achievable. What I need to do is simple - according to Ernest Hemingway, “there is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed” - In my case, I just need to sit in front of my iMac and let the blood flow washing over the wireless magic keyboard.
In addition to that, I found online writing mentors like David Perrell, who created writing courses to guide me through the journey.
Although I could stay in my comfort zone to speak and write in Chinese since I’m a prolific Chinese writer with confidence, I would miss the opportunity to use English, the language of universal communication, to meet new friends and readers while living abroad.
I recently moved to a small island, Madeira. To my surprise, I have a reader there, and she welcomed me and showed me around the moment I arrived. I also met 90% of my friends from writing online, either proactively reaching them or vice versa - they found me through my works. The power of writing in public!
According to the statistics, the estimated number of TCK is approximately 220 million and will continue to grow with global mobility. In addition to TCK, many international adult migrants (281 million people living outside their country of origin in 2020) share similar multicultural identities. My stories have resonated with many of them.
Although the supply is way ahead of demand in terms of quantity in the online writing world. 7.5 million blog posts are published every day, and everyone only has 24 hours. However, most people won’t publish every day, and those who never give it up will build their audience base.
As a Chinese saying goes, a thousand miles begins with a single step. It might sound cliche to say just keep writing and publishing, and you’ll find your tribe, but that’s the truth. Nothing could beat the compound growing unless you, the only enemy of yourself, decide to quit.
I used to be an international student and a new migrant in New Zealand. So I shared my overseas studying and job hunting experiences with those on the same boat to gain my follower base. I spent loads of time on WeChat and Weibo to serve Chinese international students in the past decade by writing in public.
This year, I start to produce more English content on different channels (newsletter and podcast) to record my sovereign individual living as a bilingual writer. I’m only at the starting point, and if you are reading this, thanks for being part of the journey! Serve the person you once were is my mantra in terms of writing.
Since multicultural identity and modern loneliness are constantly haunting me, I wrote a book to share my moment of truth as a TCK; Or Third Culture Adult (TCA) is a more accurate term. When I shared my stories with the world, I gained more than I was expecting—a sense of belonging.
As mentioned before, I either reach out to people who share the same intellectual waves or my readers with similar experiences send me a message to connect. I used to feel rootlessness because I could belong to any culture, but none of the cultures would accept me as their own; I could behave and talk with people from different countries in their way, but they might still feel like I’m an alien trying to integrate into their territory.
But now, with hundreds and thousands of readers and listeners worldwide, I feel the intellectual connection with them and am also glad they could benefit from my writings and have the courage to write their own stories, especially in their own language.
You’ve already had the story materials, and your task is to work it wisely to decide when to throw away more information to your readers and listeners. The key is to keep writing no matter the language or cultural barriers.
You get so alone at times so you write, and then everything is different.