“Where are you from?” An Anxiety-Inducing Question


When someone asks, “where are you from?” most people find this to be a welcoming question. It reminds them of home, of a specific place, of blissful, smile-inducing memories that warm them as they enthusiastically respond.

For Third Culture/Expat Kids, this question produces a free-flow pool of anxiety. When you ask someone who has lived an unconventional lifestyle – that is, between worlds, time zones, natural disasters, combat zones, cultures, religions – where they are from, that seemingly harmless question produces a complicated web in their brains as they struggle to answer. Why? Because, “Where are you from?” could mean any of the following (at least, to us):   

  • Where were you born?
  • What is your heritage?
  • What is your nationality according to your passport?
  • What other places encompass your identity?
  • What is your ethnicity?
  • What is your race?
  • Where have you lived?
  • Where is your family currently located?
  • What is the specific location that you were in for the longest period of time?
  • What is the specific location of the place that feels most like home?
  • How do you define “home?”

In a split-second, a TCK has to figure out which one to answer. Often, when I was asked this question by my peers, I froze. My response would be, “Uh, what do you mean?” They would eye me, confused and slightly judgmental, as if it couldn’t possibly be that hard to formulate an answer to such a simple question. So, what do you do in that circumstance? I personally make it a point to run through my entire lineage (born in Queens, New York, childhood in Nairobi, Kenya, puberty in New Delhi India, adolescence in Jakarta, Indonesia, the second half of high school and university in North Carolina) almost as though I was pinpointing red dots on a map of the world. My brain has seen it as such since I was young, and now, at twenty-two, not much has changed. This visual is a complete history, because the question cannot simply be answered in a few short words.

“Where are you from?”



To even attempt to write about where I am from and who I aspire to be is only going to scratch the surface of who I am. I can, however, bring you back to the moment that my five-year-old self realized who I wanted to grow up to be. I was in kindergarten, living in New Delhi, India. It was International Day at the American Embassy School (AES) and I had to choose one country to represent where I was from for the day. However, I struggled with this concept. Coming from a bicultural household and having already lived on three continents at the age of five, it is not surprising that I didn’t know how to pick where I was from. I felt as though I was a part of every country and culture I had been exposed to and because of this, I represented every country I felt connected to in a very unconventional manner. I felt like I represented the United Nations. This is one of the most significant moments in my life and this one decision I made at the age of five exemplifies the person I wish to be. For the entirety of my life, I have been trying to grasp an identity and I have come to terms that I am from everywhere, yet nowhere at the same time. The world is my home. The people you surround yourself with are what ultimately makes a home a home, thus resulting in the identity problem I have faced my entire life. What home is home, when you have had lived in seven houses over the last twenty years. And that one moment when I was five years old was a subconscious self-realization that identity would be my biggest obstacle in life. This obstacle would also shape the platform that I needed to help mold me into the tolerant and opened-minded person that I ultimately aspire to be.