The Religious Identity of Third Culture Kids

Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

Embracing my religion has always been a struggle for me because I was embarrassed of being differentI am a Third-Culture Kid (TCK), which is a way of identifying kids who are raised in a culture different from their nationality. I was born in Glenview, Illinois, but have grown up in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.  I have spent the past 8 years in an international school and while that has allowed me to gain a unique perspective on the world and the way identity and religion relate to each other, it has sometimes left me to question my place and identity. 

When I was younger, I faced internal conflicts about my identity.  My grandparents immigrated to the United States from India in the 1970s, and they provided my parents with a better life with assimilation into American culture at the expense of our cultural and religious identity.  As my parents grew up and started their own family, religion was not a large part of our life as it was something that differentiated us from other American kids.  My father is Jain and my mother is Hindu and they did the best they could to have my sister attend our Hindu temple and Sunday School when I was in elementary school. 

However, these practices were soon lost when I moved to Dubai at the age of eight. I felt completely lost navigating a new country, culture, school, and people.  I was immediately classified by my classmates in Dubai as too American for the Indians and too Indian for the Americans.  I never felt so alone because I never thought of myself as different, but here I was singled out for just being me.  Even though geographically, we were closer to our country of origin (India), I had never felt further away from my identity.  As I grew into a young adult, religion became a topic of conversation amongst my friends and I was teased for “not being a good Hindu or Jain.”  While these little jokes seemed non-quintessential, I was really affected by these words and it left a feeling of hollowness within me.  In Dubai, I also experienced the Holy Month of Ramadan and had friends who were praying and fasting and were so comfortable practicing and embracing their religion.  I often pondered: why not me?  As I grew older and had conversations with my peers, I realized that this issue is more common than I realized.  There are so many third culture kids that feel unfamiliar with their own identity and their religion.  

This juxtaposition of beliefs and the sense of not belonging has allowed me to understand how complex the internal struggle is for many people. When I was young, I often did prayers, but I did not always understand the meanings in Sanskrit.  Now, I am more focused on the spiritual aspect of religion and looking at it as a way of life.  This really changed my mindset as I have become a more calm and happy person due to my beliefs in God. 

Even though I was not brought up to follow all of the rituals or practice the scripture of Hinduism and Jainism perfectly, I have been able to establish a comfort with knowing who I am and what I believe which I think is one of the most important things when learning about one’s self.

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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.