“No, Central Europe”: Being a Third Culture Kid at College

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“You’re going to meet students from all walks of life,” your parents say as they prepare you for your first semester at college.

Not my parents. They said, “You’re going to be the kid from the ‘all walks of life’ speech parents give.”

I enter orientation with the same emotions everyone else has: nervous, scared about not fitting in. But the difference between the girl standing in front of me in line playing on her phone and myself is that I flew almost 5,000 miles from Prague, Czech Republic, to Tallahassee to begin summer session at Florida State University. Yes, my passport and learner’s permit say that I am American. No, I do not consider myself to be just “American.” I prefer a more sophisticated term like, “cultured” or “experienced.” But to give it the politically correct term, I am a “Third Culture Kid” or a “TCK” for short, meaning I was raised outside my parent’s culture.

In the middle of my sophomore year in high school, my family packed up our house to plant our new life in Prague. Here, I experienced a different way of life, one that was built on a history, and remembered her history. While most students attending American high schools learned about WWII and Communism in a history book, I was visiting places in Prague and Krakow with my school, learning hands-on about the history and events that took place on the very streets I was walking. As an active ambassador for my school, I traveled to Russia, Egypt, and Hungary for Choral Festivals, Habitat for Humanity, and Model United Nations.

While making friends is possibly the most nerve-racking aspect for the average freshman, it’s the least of my worries. I constantly met new people, so making friends is no hard task for me. What I’m worried about is how many times I’ll be correcting people when they say, “Ohhh Czech Republic… that’s in Eastern Europe right?” To which I’ll conceal my anger with a smile and say, “No, Central Europe.” Or what about the cultural customs colliding? Greeting someone with a hug and three alternating cheeks kisses is considered “inappropriate” here, but it’s a habit. How do I break that? I settle myself by remembering that I know how to make friends– I’ve adjusted to a new culture before I can do it again. Right? There’s nothing really to worry about.

My Orientation Leader says, “Its time to introduce yourselves. Tell everyone your name, major, where you’re from and something unique about you.” Anxiety floods my mind. The third question had me asking myself, “Am I from Ponte Vedra or Prague?” I identify with both cultures, how do I choose? And that last question, what’s unique about me? I could say I’m a TCK but living two and a half years in another country, amongst other students that have too lived across the globe, has led me to believe that being a TCK is about as average as bringing a PB&J for lunch everyday.

I look up to see my orientation leader staring at me, signaling it’s my turn. I say with confidence, “Hi everyone, my name is Arianna Theofan, I’m a Theatre Major, I’m from…” stumbling a bit, “Prague, and I earned my Black Belt in Karate.”

I hear a kid from across the room say, “Hey, I’m from Oklahoma, too!” It hits me; no one knows where I’m from.

I reply, “Oh, no. I mean Praha, Czech Republic.” Now every eye is a cannon ball hitting me. I realize living abroad isn’t normal. In fact, it’s actually very extraordinary. I’ve experienced the world and her history. I can see that communicating what I’ve experienced in Czech culture to people who haven’t heard of it, let alone can find her on a map, is going to be a challenge.

The day before summer classes, and there’s another round of icebreakers and get-to-know you time in my dorm. More prepared for my turn, I say with complete reassurance, “I’m Arianna Theofan. I’m a theatre major. I’m from the Prague, Czech Republic and I ate pigeon while in Egypt.” At first, the girls are all starring with a blank expression until one girl says, “Oh, like Eastern Europe?”

To which I say, “No, Central”.

After meeting everyone in my dorm, I try to leave. One girl follows me and asks, “Hey, you’re from Prague right?” I nodded my head and she replied with, “What was it like living in a communist country?” Is she serious? Or is she making fun of my home? She looked at me confused and said, “It’s still communist right?”

I reply, “Not since 1989 when the Velvet Revolution took place.”

Quickly I learn that this girl isn’t being offensive but rather trying to impress me by knowing something, even though she’s wrong. My knowledge about another culture can be intimidating, but taking the opportunity to teach people about one of my homes is going to be something I’ll love. I’m passionate about the culture and what makes it so special. Living in Prague helped me grow and I have every intention of moving back.

I don’t identify myself as an American, nor do I identify myself as Czech. I am Czech and American.

Arianna Theofan is a senior at Florida State University studying Editing, Writing and Media. She is a member of Alpha Gamma Delta, Tallahassee Community Choir and FSU Women's Glee. In her spare time she practices aerial acrobatics.

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