Saturday, March 14, 2009

Katya's Third Culture Kid Interview: Part 2

Here is the rest of Katya's interview about being a Third Culture Kid. I highly recommend you watch Part 1 here before continuing with this one.

Differences between Russia and America 

(That People Often Can't Truly Understand Without Actually Living in Each Place)


Weather might seem like such an obvious answer, especially to those of you living in colder areas of the USA. What is harder to communicate to others "back home" in the USA is everything else that winter entails: seven months of grayness, for example. We rarely see the sun and it can be very depressing, even for kids. The pollution mixes with the snow and becomes a dark, dark brown sludge that can be very deep, varying from a snow-like consistency to looking more like water from a septic system. Then you have to walk in it for months. 

Moscow is expensive! Well, Katya's example of 1 Barbie in Russia = 10 Barbies in America isn't quite right... But three years ago, the Barbie that went along with Fairytopia did cost the equivalent $106 here, while you could have gotten it on sale in the USA for $15... The Littlest Pet Shop digital keychain games can be bought for $9 in the USA and cost $37 here... Some items are even much more expensive here than that -- but not all, however. 

In the end, what it has meant for our kids is that the little things we might get them as a reward in the USA aren't things that they could hope to get here. They don't even ask anymore, because the refrain "We can't afford that because it's sooo much more expensive here" has been engrained in their brains. It's very frustrating for them! They know that any special birthday gift they hope to receive has to have been chosen during the trip to the USA that precedes the occasion, or they won't be able to get it. This means that Natalia has to know what she'd like for her birthday in July -- and her birthday isn't until December! 

So much for kids' whims! I kind of like that, though... I have almost complete control over the kids' exposure to pop culture in the media and toys --- how many parents can say THAT in the USA? They don't even get exposure to advertising in stores since I don't usually take them with me to run errands, and their peers also have a low level of exposure -- so there's less talk at school.

At times I can really relate to the girls' frustration, though... When Katya has worked hard to save up for something that would only cost $10 in the USA, it's so frustrating to have to wait five months until she can actually buy it... The same thing happens to me when a favorite piece of clothing is ruined, the kids go through a growth spurt or I run out of craft supplies.

Katya sometimes feels quite different from peers at school when she sees that their parents will buy them clothing and toys that we won't. What she used to not grasp is that their parents might, indeed, have spent $50 on a particular item -- but we will often then spend that same amount back in the USA --- getting that item and four additional things instead. 


It's significant that Katya talked for sooo long about this one point! Traffic has been a big part of her life here, leading to many other decisions that aren't easily apparent to family and friends in the USA. For example, she would have a visceral reaction to the questions, "Why don't you have swimming lessons more often?"; "Why did you stop being a Brownie?"; "Why do you need a nanny?" (so I could keep her out of all that traffic!)... 

She used to have to be in the car to get to and from school and every other activity we did. Traffic jams were a constant and stressful part of her life (and mine!). She knew that I couldn't let her do certain activities that only lasted an hour because I would have needed to allow an hour and and half in driving time before and after in case of bad traffic -- which I couldn't do. (It would have taken too long by public transportation, too, so that wasn't an option, either).

Cars park along both sides of one-way streets, making it a "Mission Impossible" feat to get through without scraping both sides of the car in the process -- on a daily basis. She can sense my fear as I maneuver... It can often take an extra 30 minutes to find parking, too... 

When she now says, "I get to walk to school!", someone in the USA might say, "Oh, that's nice..." -- without realizing what a life-changing event this is for her!


Since Russian law requires all cars to stay on the spot, usually blocking the roads -- even for minor bumps and scratches -- she used to see at least ten accidents a week, sometimes more. Most weren't serious -- but she did see some that were bad... People here drive so badly, breaking rules, aggressively... Many simply "buy' their driver's license instead of wading through the bureaucracy entailed in obtaining one honestly... 

Poor child to be so afraid of this... (And thank God she doesn't realize the fear parents harbor about how would the ambulance to get our car -- through the traffic -- if Heaven forbid we ever needed one...) Yes, that's why our kids are hardly in the car any more! 


Here she shows how she acts as a typical cultural chameleon, having one set of feelings about the police in America and another in Russia. Those feelings aren't QUITE so separate, however... Her American indignation causes her to challenge the Russian police. If they stop me, she and her sister instantly start complaining that they need to pee or are about to throw up, putting on a masterful act about being sick. Once Natalia -- at age four -- even told the cop, in Russian, "Could you please just hurry up and take my mom's money? We're late to ballet!" The girls' beliefs are now overlapped, influencing their feelings in both countries. Katya is so appreciative when we can approach the police for help (directions, for example) in America.

Cultural Differences in Both Countries: Taboos

(Is there anything you do in one country but not in the other?)

Wearing Fur

Wow, my little Katya is a future PETA activist! She certainly got upset about her classmate's wearing real fox fur for her costume in the class play... She does understand that people have traditionally needed to wear fur in Russia -- but she knows that other alternatives now exist. 

She "gets it," though, that culturally fur is acceptable here -- and that it's part of the country's practices going back centuries and centuries. I pointed out, "Honey, they were wearing fur here long before the Columbus discovered America -- and for that matter, the Native Americans wore fur, too!" She thinks that if people were educated about the matter, that attitudes could change -- the way they have in America. She won't be the one to start "enlightening" them, though; she doesn't want to stand out among her peers.

Being a Cultural Chameleon (Fitting In)

She keeps "her mounth shut" about her feelings about fur -- and about quite a bit more, I suspect... It hasn't always been that way. Last year she got in quite a spat with her roomates on the school overnight trip because she wouldn't wear slippers (a MUST here) and she wouldn't share hair elastics (as all moms in America, I've raised the girls to know you don't share hats, brushes, etc.). Luckily her teacher lived overseas and can easily diffuse tensions due to cultural differences!

While she may not voice her dissenting opinions when with her Russian peers, she certainly shares them at home and with her other expat/TCK friends. This, I think, is the key to understanding third culture kids: they have this unique experience of understanding the reasons behind the cultural practices in their different countries, and they grow up making choices about which aspects to take from each in the creation of their own identities. 

Best Parts of Growing Up in Two (or More) Cultures


Languages, obviously... As I said in "Part 1" of the interview, she thinks is natural to know many languages, and she has the mentality that she can learn any others she chooses. 


She stresses the importance of friendship because she has gone through the pain of feeling it's absence! Moving here -- having to go from having a best friend in New York to not knowing anyone here -- and not knowing the language any of the new children spoke -- was extremely hard for her. She will never take friends for granted. 

TCK's who grow up moving every few years often find it very hard to maintain those friendships, however... Each friendship was so intense at the time -- but when one has lived in six or more countries before attending college, it becomes a logistical impossibility to visit them all -- or even to keep up with regular correspondence... I'm glad we don't move continuously; I don't know how others do it!

Appreciating the Local Culture

She knows it's a priviledge to see things other kids back in America can't even imagine. She doesn't value the things a typical young American tourist here would love, however... She doesn't really talk about the circus, or walking on Red Square. What she meant by "visiting the Kremlin" was going on very detailed tours about specifics of Catherine the Great's life, learning eclectic facts about exhibits in the museum. She isn't just "visiting" Russian culture; she has Russian culture inside her in the way she loves certain poets or traditions. 

Hardest Parts of Growing Up in Two (or More) Cultures

Not Fitting in 100% in Either Culture

Not feeling completely understood by kids in either culture -- only by fellow TCKs who have the same experience. This is why I think it's important for parents who are raising their kids overseas to provide their children with ample opportunities to meet other children who have similiar experiences. It took four years, however, for Katya to finally  meet a TCK girl with whom she instantly clicked! Nevertheless, during the past four years of simply knowing other expat kids, she was aware that she wasn't the only kid going through the ups and downs of being an American kid here.

I think this point also applies to kids in in the "foreign" country who attend English-language schools. There are plenty of cultural differences in that context, too! For one, cultural values and behavior certainly differ between America, Canada, the UK and Australia... Assuming that there are so many similiarities can make it a real shock when differences pop up! Another factor is that the teachers and students in such schools have often lived in many different countries prior to ending up in the current place -- just because everyone is speaking the same language, doesn't mean that many of same issues TCKs face in local-language schools aren't also present. (It is, however, a very different experience to be surrounded by a whole school community of TCKs as opposed to perhaps being the only one in your school). 

Missing Relatives

This one is obvious... It's so hard on everyone... 

An Uncertain Sense of Time in the Future

Since we don't know when we'll be moving back to the USA, she doesn't know... When kids at school talk about a certain class trip that usually occurs in a particular grade, she doesn't know if she'll be around to go... It's hard truly having no idea about where the rest of her childhood will be spent. Her friends back home know what their middle schools and high schools look like, have driven by them many times... She doesn't know what school activities she'll get to do, since they vary so much from country to country. School sports? Not in Russia... School play? Not in Russian high schools... 

Sounding More "Grown Up" than non-TCK Peers
Some of you have commented on how "grown up" Katya seems in her videos -- how she expresses herself, etc. This is quite common among TCKs since they grow up often spending more time with adults than peers -- and in a wide variety of social situations (this is particularly true for kids who move overseas in diplomatic families). Perhaps this is why she seems more reflective/older? Trust me, though, she doesn't always come across that way!


The Expatresse said...

I can relate to the materialism thing. We can't get most of what we see advertised on TV (since we have UK programming). My kids know "That isn't sold here." Like yours, they have also seem my reaction to prices of common (at home) items like Barbies. I can confirm the $100+ Barbie.

It is sort of liberating not to feel the siren call of the advertiser . . . I don't buy nearly as many things because they are so expensive here. And every purchase is couched in "do I want to move this . . ."

Natalie said...

I love jumping in the car, plugging in my ipod, and driving around, wether it be to the mall, starbucks, or to the west side of the state. It's my alone time, and I love it. I could not imagine having to spend that time on crowded roads, people bumping into my car, haveing to stop and go, stop and go. That is something I didnt realize I took for granted! I can't believe you can get pulled over like that! I think we have corrupt cops, maybe not so much. I would love to have more snow though! its always fun to get lots of that! I enjoyed the video, thanks for sharing.

Jojo, Julz, Jules said...

I agree with Natalie,
My 25 minute commute to work is MY time...I listen to talk radio,pray, think quietly. I remember sitting on a block forever just trying to turn right. I could see the building we were going to, and ended up just gettting out and walking to it.

Tickets to Moscow are less than 3hundred dollars right now..Just for anyone who might want to travel before April 30th!

Elle J said...

Katya is so well spoken and adorable with her expressions. I could see her in an American Girl film, she has that "something" about her. It was fun to see her on video versus just a photograph. What a great idea; I learned so much! You must be a very proud Mom too! :)

Tina in CT said...


Katya would LOVE to be in an American Girl film as she and her sister live and breathe American Girl dolls and really get into character with their period dolls.

Grandma Streusel

Elle J said...

Well then here is a genuine thought: with your photography and video skills, and your writing skills, and all the fabulous American Girl costumes and dolls that the girls have, and your overall creativity ... make it a family project to pitch the idea to AG that they have a "doll of the year" that is based on a Third Culture Kid, starring Katya and her sister (they could make the movie cut in my opinion). How cool would that be? I think it could really work!!

MoscowMom said...

Oooh... I *LOVE* the idea! I think I'll try! As it is, the girls are thrilled that the new Rebecca doll (launching on May 31st, from 1914) is a Jewish RUSSIAN immigrant in New York City... Katya has already allotted all allowance until then to save up for the doll...

TCK, though, could be really cool in for a girl of the year...

Tina in CT said...

Maybe little Katya could be a star! Of course, I think both she and Natalia are stars but then that goes with being their grandma.

MoscowMom said...

Hmm... They already did " Jesse", though, in 2006... She's an American girl that spends the year in Belize while her parents are there doing research. She goes on all kinds of adventures and the book includes a lot about experiencing the new culture...

She doesn't, however, LIVE there long-term and her roots are CLEARLY in America... The stories would be very different, but AG might not be interested for a while since two overseas girls back-to-back wouldn't have the same appeal as a girl with a story that kids "back home" can relate to (like "Chrissa", this year's girl-- most kids can relate to bullying...).

Annie said...

I was so glad you admitted the PLUS of so much less media stimulation and pressure to have and buy. In fact, that has always been one of the great appeals of Russia for me when I've been there. And, of course, as someone in Ivanovo said (with a disgusted scoff, I might add) "Moscow is not Russia!" It may in many ways be like any big European city, but I think that for many of the regular Russians living there it is still very much "Russia".

Frankly, I was ATTRACTED to the spare, devoid-of-belongings apartment of my Moscow friends. When they have people over it is not to give a tour like so many American people do. I was recently shown round the home of some parishioners, including the basement [sorry, "lower level"] GOLF COURSE, mentally making note to never, NEVER allow them access to so much as my ADDRESS!) In Russia I would be welcomed by my friends into their cramped and crowded little kitchen; they'd scrounge around in the other couple of rooms for a chair or simple wooden stool, and bring out the teapot with an array of unmatched cups, perhaps a bottle of vodka, and any snacks in the [single] cupboard. I'd entertain all the time and with joy if the point could just be sharing what you have! The way I tend to think of Russia is that "everyone is poor". I'm sure there are subtleties I do not understand, but things seemed very much the same in the four homes we visited (and those of our Russian friends here, for that matter).

One thing that I absolutely DETESTED about Russia, that you didn't mention is the horrible prevalence of pornography! Or is this just in the hotels? Don't let your child switch channels on the TV, that's for sure!

Whenever I've been to Moscow/Ivanovo the weather has been amazingly - precisely the same as Michigan. So, I think it is similar. Miserable gray winters and all. Children seem to agree. However, I do think Moscow may need some work on the dirty snow problem. Did you hear the piece about it on Morning Edition (I think - or All Things Considered) last week? Thought of you!

I am sure that being with other TC Kids is really valuable; I have found the same thing to apply to adopted children. I can't help but believe that my children are so much happier realizing that there are other children in their situation..and though they have many friends, their best friends do tend to be other Russian adopted children.

Tina in CT said...

Last night I remembered that Jess, the doll of the year several years ago, was a TCK.

Anonymous said...

On American Girl question - I think Belize and Moscow have very different weight in children imagination. Some American children at least may consider going to Belize for vacation. Moscow is still more remote and mysterious place for them. So, there is still a good chance, I think.

Tina in CT said...


Very good point about Belize and Moscow and very true. Sure would be wonderful if American Girl would take to the TCK idea for an American Girl living in Moscow.