Hi! My name is Victoria – and this is my story of being a third culture kid.
Born and bred in Adelaide to migrant parents – my father from Greece and my mother from the Philippines – I have always been surrounded by multiculturalism. I was baptized as both Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic, the predominant religion in the Philippines, and attended a Catholic primary school on weekdays and Greek school on Saturdays. It was wonderful – although confusing at times – to be connected to so many different experiences. And so began my life-long journey: one of curiosity, an appreciation for other cultures, and of defining who I was in a multicultural Australia.
From a young age, I was fortunate enough to visit both of my parents’ home countries multiple times. Being exposed to environments that were far different to what I knew in Australia was a real eye-opener for me. I recall a lengthy flight to Greece, followed by a shaky four-hour bus ride from the capital, Athens, to a small village. Here, donkeys were used to transport goods; siestas in the afternoon meant that the village shut down; and when everything reopened in the evening, I would stroll by the local kafenios and watch the men weave a string of beads, known as a komboloi, through their hands. This was a world untouched by technology and modern disruptions. I had brought my CD Walkman with me, but I was far more interested in observing a lifestyle that was foreign to me.
Life in the Philippines was very much the same – different. Before planes and speedboats, trips to my mother’s province were via an overnight open-air ship, where I’d liberally apply mosquito repellant and prop my feet up on the railing while soaking in the tropical air. My grandparents’ home had calamansi trees out the front – a citrus fruit, native to South East Asia, that was just the right size for my small hand to wrap around, pluck from the tree, and squeeze into a fresh juice. There was a sense of simplicity with life: of running outside to play in the rain, of falling asleep to the sound of the ever-present house lizards, and of admiring the water buffalo chilling in the backyard.
None of these experiences are the norm in Australia. And yet, to me, they felt normal. These are mere snippets of who I am; how my parents grew up, how people in their countries live; how people who share the same ethnicity as me go about their daily lives. I’m thankful everyday for all that Australia has to offer. Yet I couldn’t shake the question: what would my life had been like if I wasn’t born in Australia? If my father never left Greece, my mother never left the Philippines – I certainly would not be a third-culture kid, but would I be the same person I am now?
By the time I was a teenager, I knew that not everywhere was like Australia – that not everyone was like me. The experiences I’d had and the things I’d seen were ingrained in me. I wanted to share this feeling; to connect with people over our similarities in being different. I didn’t want to turn a blind eye to the world that existed outside of my daily norm. I began volunteering for activities with a global focus; my aim was to learn more about the world and the people around me.
When I was 20-years-old, I embarked on my first solo trip overseas – a one-month study tour to France. This was simultaneously the most terrifying, yet liberating experience of my life. You know that feeling when you’re learning to ride a bike, and the training wheels come off for the first time? That was me – except the training wheels were the trips I’d taken with my parents for the two decades prior, and the two remaining wheels were my feet awkwardly shuffling around through a small town on the other side of the world, ordering anything on the menu that had ‘three cheeses’ on it because that was the only phrase I understood, and wondering what on earth I was doing there.
And yet, much like riding a bicycle, it gets easier. You become accustomed to it in way, and you realise that this new-found strength can take you to other places. At this point, I decided I needed to see more of the world. I set myself a goal to visit 25 countries before my 25th birthday. Traveling became almost an addiction. Regardless of where I went, I was always the same little girl that had visited Greece, visited the Philippines, and returned home in awe of the world. I made friends from all over the globe; I spent time at local hangouts, and I adventured to places I had never been. All the while, I felt this was a direct result of my upbringing – my open-mindedness, my appreciation for other cultures and my desire to escape the bubble of what I thought I knew from growing up in Adelaide. I eventually made it to my 25th country, just four weeks before my 25th birthday.
When I wasn’t travelling, I fueled my curiosity in other ways. I began volunteering for a popular community event, the Kodomo no Hi Japan Festival, as a means to gain hours and experience towards my global experience program at university. What was only intended to be a short stint on the planning committee saw me return each year for six years, before eventually taking on the role of Festival Coordinator. I had a life-long interest in Japan, which was also the first country off my bucket list after I overcame the initial hurdle of travelling solo. Through this volunteer experience, I found the Japan Australia Friendship Association (JAFA). I was drawn to the welcoming and inclusivity of the organization – there was no expectation to be of a certain background or speak a certain language. I’m not from one cultural background, and I haven’t travelled to just one place – so I’ve always felt open to being involved in activities outside of the expected ‘norm’. I currently hold the position of Secretary, and, much like my travels, I’m always looking to expand my knowledge and connect with new people. I’ve developed a love (and a bit of a knack!) for creating events and contributing to South Australia’s multiculturalism.
I feel very fortunate that Adelaide is such an inclusive community, otherwise I would not be able to build strong ties with my cultural heritage. When cravings hit, I know where to find the best Greek coffee or my favourite Filipino cakes. I know that there are cultural events and festivals to attend throughout the year, and during Christmas I can partake in the Filipino community’s Simbang Gabi mass. Aside from my own culture, I can partake in others, which gives me a wonderful opportunity to pursue my interest in Japan.
I hope to inspire others to get involved in community activities, enjoy the people around you, and challenge the norm. But really, what is the norm? Being a third-culture kid is completely normal to me, and my strength is in my difference. That’s a commonality that we all share.