By August 2, 2010 1 Comments Read More →

Hobbies can bridge cultures for TCKs

Sian Witherden, 17, shares her story of how finding a new hobby helped her to belong in The Netherlands.

Third Culture Kids, who often feel like they belong “everywhere and nowhere at the same time” are inevitably faced with the difficult problem of forging or sustaining a link with their home culture. In particular, for children who have never lived in their country of origin, feeling connected to the place that should theoretically be called “home” can be a troubling issue. Furthermore, feeling included and settled in the country you actually live in, as opposed to feeling alienated and isolated, can seem like an overwhelming challenge.

There are many ways to overcome this issue, but for me joining a dance school, which I discovered by chance worked perfectly. I came into school one morning and discovered that Emily, a girl in my class, was proudly sporting a trophy. “Where did you get that?” I asked, admiring the inscription which read First Place. “An Irish dancing competition” she replied, beaming. “Could you show me some steps?” With a little encouragement, she agreed to give me a short performance in the corridor. I was immediately reminded of Riverdance, which I had watched when I was younger, and was entranced by the precise and graceful footwork, smooth lines and energetic style. I inquired as to where she had learned to dance like that, and the very next week I attended my first dance class. As an Irish girl born and raised in the Netherlands, starting Irish dancing at the age of ten turned out to be a perfect way to embrace my Irish heritage, become more immersed in the thriving Irish community which exists in the Netherlands, and connect more with the country I live in.

Taking lessons at the Redmond School of Irish dancing (a local school in Leidschendam which also offered classes in Rotterdam and Amsterdam) enabled me to make countless new friends, but it also really helped me to bridge the gap between Ireland and the Netherlands. I found that as most of the dancers I had made friends with had both an Irish and a Dutch parent, I was able to forge a strong link with Irish culture whilst simultaneously getting to know the Netherlands better. In particular, I was surprised to find that shopping and going around The Hague with my friends from dancing was a completely different experience than with my friends from school. Not only did we visit different shops, cafes and cinemas, but I was introduced to a network of side streets and shortcuts, which I never knew existed.

Irish dancing turned out to be a far more rewarding and worthwhile experience than I ever could have anticipated. Over the years, opportunities that would have been otherwise inconceivable have opened themselves up to me, including the chance to go to international competitions across mainland Europe in places like Vienna, Milan and Munich. I loved each competition no matter what position I came in, but, of course, placing well and winning trophies was always exhilarating. Most recently, going to the World Championships at Easter of this year was an invaluable experience, one that will stay with me for a very long time.

Perhaps the opportunity that I am most grateful for was the chance to be a part of Kyra, an Irish dancing display group which performs in a variety of locations. Without a doubt, the highest point was dancing live on Dutch National Television with national celebrity Peter Van der Vorst, the Dutch Royal Correspondent and a popular TV presenter. To go from feeling almost alienated from Dutch culture, to dancing on Let’s Dance in order to raise money for KiKa, a Dutch national children’s cancer charity, made me realise just how far Irish dancing had enabled me to come.

In the early 1950s, sociologist Ruth Hill Useem coined the term “Third Culture Kids” to describe children who are unique in the sense that they integrate aspects of their birth culture (the first culture) and the new culture (the second culture), in order to create a unique “third culture.” Today, my hope is that sharing my experiences will help other Third Culture Kids to realize that one of the best ways to establish this ‘third culture’ successfully is to get involved in local communities and find a hobby, sport or pastime which embraces both cultures.

Sian Witherden, born in Leidschendam, The Netherlands, has an Irish mother and Welsh father. She attends The British School in The Netherlands.

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1 Comment on "Hobbies can bridge cultures for TCKs"

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  1. Sheryl says:

    Great insight into bridging the gap and learning how to open up a new part of your world, Sian! Thanks for writing about it.

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