Olivia Charlet- Dating As A Third Culture Kid

Tayo Rockson: Can you map out your third culture/ nomadic experience and tell us why you moved so much?

Olivia Charlet: Sure! So my dad is French and my mom is Belgian, but I was born in Tokyo, Japan. I then lived in Dusseldorf, Johannesburg, Vienna, and Hamburg. We moved so much because of my dad’s job. He works in a large French international company. Every couple of years, a new contract would come up in another country, and they would ask him if he was up for the move. He very often took the opportunity to discover a new city and take on a new role ! 

TR: Where is home for you?

OC: I would say that home for me is wherever my sister, brother or parents live. So for instance when I go back to Hamburg, Germany where my parents currently live and have been living now for 10 years, I feel that’s home. And not because of the country. Although I speak German, and know the city well because I lived there for 2 years, I don’t feel connected to the country. I think it’s too little time to have spent there to really as if there’s a link between it and me. But because my parent’s house is in Hamburg, it brings back memories.  Of having breakfast at this small blue table in the kitchen.  Of sitting on the huge blue couches (we still have from Tokyo!) to watch a film or the French news at 8pm.  It’s also everything they have kept throughout the years. Like the Japanese dolls. These small African statues made of wood. Ha, my parents have this huge giraffe in the living room that they bought in Johannesburg! It’s moved with us the whole way through! Sounds strange, but again, it’s something that brings back wonderful memories of cities and countries we have lived in.

TR: Favorite country you enjoyed living in the most and why?

OC: I wouldn’t say I have a favourite country. I would say that I don’t remember enough of Japan as I was only there until the age of 4 so I wouldn’t be able to properly rank them. Also, it is also hard to define which is my favourite because I was a toddler in Dusseldorf, a child in Johannesburg, a teenager in Vienna, and a young adult in Hamburg.  This means that I was going through completely different things whilst in those places. Ironically, that also made it amazing. For instance, in Joburg, it was wonderful being a child there because we had a huge garden and pool! Therefore, I had the chance to run around with my brother outside, play in the tree house, spend countless hours in the pool as a kid, play football, and have the wonderful weather. For a kid, it was bliss! However, I think it would have been harder in teenage years as there was practically no public transportation so your parents would have had to drive you everywhere. Whereas, I moved to Vienna as a teenager. And that was perfect because the underground worked so well there! And the nightlife was really fun. They had plenty of gorgeous café terraces. Ideal for teens! We didn’t have that huge garden or pool, but at that stage of my life, it didn’t mean as much to me.  So it would be difficult to really rank the countries I’ve lived in for that reason.

TR:  How do you think TCKs will influence the world in the future especially with globalization in general?

OC: That’s a good question. I think it’s hard to determine that because I think it sometimes has more to do with personality. It’s true that if you’re a TCK, you most likely speak multiple languages, you are often comfortable meeting new people, and you often have a heightened level of emotional intelligence.  And that’s simply because, as a TCK, you are constantly being forced out of your comfort zone when you change schools every couple years. You had to be good at adapting. At making new friends. At figuring people out quickly so that you could reintegrate and understand the customs in each new place. However, I still think it has a lot to do with personality. I think you can still be shy or not have much drive and ambition. Just because you’re a TCK doesn’t mean you’re hoping to change the world. Maybe you’re happy living your life simply. You might not feel the need to influence a large number of people.  Everyone’s life purpose is different, I think. So I think it depends more on who you are, the personality you have, and what you want to accomplish in your life. I don’t necessarily believe that being a TCK means you will have more influence. I think it has more to do with the amount of grit and drive you have.

TR: When did you realize that you were multicultural?

OC: Until the age of 18, I don’t think it had really dawned on me. And the reason for that is that we went to international schools throughout. And the majority of students had also moved around and were also TCKs.  I think I started realizing it when I moved to Boston for university.  Little by little, I would meet people who would constantly say, “What? You’re not American?”.  And I would have to explain why I have a misleading American accent. This type of reaction would remind me that not everyone had had the opportunity we’d had to travel and live in different cultures and countries. 

TR: When did you get to the point where you became comfortable with who you are?

OC: I’d have to say it was a couple years after starting my first job in London, probably around 24.  At that time, I started to work on building long-term relationships with friends.  I was also building a network of people through work and through the football team I played with on the weekends.  It must also have been just age. I think every year, you learn more about yourself. You challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone. And you learn to realise that everyone is so different. And that’s ok.  I think it’s also changing your focus to what you want to do with your life. And often, we are so bogged down by what we think others would do. Or what are parents would like us to do. And instead, it should really be a choice we make ourselves. What are we passionate about? What do we love doing? And even if it means not having the same status or not doing what everyone had thought we would do. That’s ok. And it will mean living such a more rewarding life!

TR: What is one piece of advice you can give to a TCK?

OC: I would say that if you don’t feel comfortable with the people you are friends with, try making new friends by joining clubs and teams that you are interested in. If you like playing volleyball or football, you could join a local sports team.  Or if you have an interest in non-profit groups, why not join a charity or a volunteering group you care about.  The reason I say this is that there are so many people out there. It would be sad to not feel like you’re fitting in just because you stuck with people who didn’t get you. Who didn’t understand what you were about. As a TCK, it might take a bit more time to find those people who are willing to take the time to get to know why are the way we are. And we have to find people we won’t get bored of! As we can often get quite restless. Get out there, and see who else is out there. You might end up meeting your new best friend at that next event you attend. It’s all about being proactive in your social life. 

TR: How do you connect with people when you are abroad?

OC: That depends. If I’m enjoying some quality time with whoever I left with, I love just cherishing those moments and focusing on them. Sometimes though, I’ll get restless and want to meet some new people so it’s all about reaching out! So for example I lived in Madrid for a month alone to learn to speak Spanish. To meet new people, I was simply really open-minded and relaxed. I walked up to people in Spanish class and asked them any old question to get the ball rolling. It’s surprisingly easy to meet new people when you want to. And often, they’re excited to meet you too. It’s just about taking that first step.

TR: What is the best thing about being a TCK ?

OC: The best thing about being a TCK is how easy it is to speak to anyone. I love that when I go to interviews, I feel incredibly comfortable chatting to people. I love that when I go to a startup event, I can spark up a conversation with anyone. I know I can find topics of conversation that will interest them simply by asking specific and subtle questions and doing active listening. 

TR: What is the worst thing about being a TCK ?
OC: The worst thing about being a TCK is that because you often make friends with people who are open-minded and love travel, they are often more likely to move away or try out a new city! Which means more goodbyes.  Also, I would love to meet more people who I’d like to be friends with. But, I find that we can be really picky because we expect a level of depth, understanding, adventure, and open-mindedness. All of these traits are hard to find in a single person. And sometimes we also give up too quickly. We can judge too quickly. We should give people more time. People can surprise you!

TR: Tell us about TCK Dating and your vision for it.

OC: Well, the idea came from me facing what I felt was a problem. I had moved to London, and I kept meeting guys at bars who even if at first they were interested, when they heard about where I was from, it’s almost as if they thought, that sounds complicated. When I did meet guys who were interested in my multi-cultural upbringing, I found them boring. And that’s not to say that they were boring people. It was just that I felt we had nothing in common. That we couldn’t really connect at a deeper level. And it was often too much small-talk. I didn’t feel that they fully understood me. I hadn’t grown up with the banter for instance that the British have. And they expected banter as that’s what British girls had! What I later realised through reading blogs, speaking to other TCKs, joining TCK Facebook groups and LinkIn groups was that we, as TCKs, were different. I guess I had always convinced myself that our childhood travels had not made us different. 

What I found out was that so often when I met a TCK online through one of these groups or meetups, I straight away connected with them. Even if the spark wasn’t romantic, there was still a spark. After a couple of minutes, there was already some sort of bond. So many TCKs told me that they just felt like they fit in with other TCKs. There was no trying. No hiding the random customs they may have picked up in different countries.  Someone once told me they could finally do all of the hand gestures while talking. They had often felt self-conscious doing this with others because it was seen as ‘unusual’.  And yet, with TCKs, it felt normal. They knew they would understand why they may have picked up a certain behaviour.

That’s when it dawned on me how important it was to create a platform that would allow TCKs to meet each other!  And, although I strongly believe that physical attraction is crucial for a romantic interest, I also think that falling is love about allowing yourself to feel vulnerable and truly opening up to someone.  How can you do that with someone who doesn’t get you? And who doesn’t want to do the work to figure you out?  With a fellow TCK, you will be understood. You will fit in. You will feel ‘normal’.  We might open the site later to non-TCKs who are eager to learn more about what it means to be a TCK and are willing to take the time to get to know what it means to have moved around so much during formative years. 

TR: How do you see the dating landscape evolving for TCKs?

OC: I think it won’t be as static as it is today. Adult Third Culture Kids are the most likely people to move for love. They have moved growing up so they’re used to change. They’re often more restless than others and have this desire to change cities often. They’re adventurous and can easily adapt to a new environment. I think that TCKs might start meeting through Facebook Groups, Twitter, Blogs, and other mediums, even if they don’t live in the same place! Travel will continue to improve so that getting to know someone who lives in another country won’t be the craziest thing anymore. I expect to see more TCKs move across the globe for love!

TR: How do you use your difference to make a difference?

OC: I think up until now, I hadn’t used it enough! I’m hoping that TCK Dating, our new online dating platform for adult Third Culture Kids will allow me to have a larger impact and use my difference to make a difference.

TR: Where can we find out more about you and what are you up to?

OC: I would love to meet new people so please reach out on Twitter @oliviacharlet.  If you are single and a TCK living in London, please sign up for free, upload a photo&video and create a profile on our dating website www.tckdating.com! We are hoping to expand to more cities if it picks up in London so make sure to follow us on twitter @TCKDatingLondon if you currently live in another city!  Make sure to follow our blog posts on WordPress to find out more about TCKs, Dating and Relationships at http://tckdating.wordpress.com/

Tayo Rockson

Tayo Rockson is a storyteller, cultural translator, and brand strategist for change-makers on a mission to use his difference to make a difference.  He is a 4x TEDx speaker, the CEO of UYD Management, and the host of the As Told by Nomads podcast. In addition to that, he's been named a "Top 40 Millennial Influencer" by New Theory magazine. His book Use Your Difference To Make A Difference is based on how to connect and communicate in a cross-cultural world.

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