x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

When the world is a global village, raise your flag high

Emirati "third-culture kids" – brought up in a society different from that of either parent – have become an important part of Emirati society, with the potential to make major contributions.

It used to be that the world was a tough place to get to. Not anymore.

Today information is at our fingertips. From the Commodore 64 to the iPad in just three decades, change is as rapid as ever. It's only a matter of time before Apple figures out ways to read our synaptic pathways; maybe they already have and are just waiting for the right moment to release an iMind device.

As fast as technology has changed, people, too, have kept up with it. The World Wide Web and the speed of global travel have given people around the globe new chances to look into other societies, and this in turn is blending cultures together.

The world as we knew it has moved towards being the previously-predicted "global village". With modern travel and open borders families were seeking out strange new cultures in a search for education, work or simply a better life.

And so "Third Culture Kids" (TCK) were born into the world.

The term was coined in the 1950s, when researchers began to study children who travel with their parents, migrating into new societies away from the home cultures of both parents. These TCKs ended up spending a significant part of their developing years in an outside culture.

The late Sheikh Zayed's vision for the UAE, which was further implemented by his son Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the president of the UAE, was of a country based on the education of its citizens. Scholarships were, and continue to be, provided for university study. From the late 1960s to the early 1980s Emiratis set out on missions to countries all over the world to bring back knowledge that was critical to the development of UAE's society. This gave these Emirati men and women the chance to give their children the opportunity to be brought up surrounded by, and to understand, a new culture.

Now some Emiratis have begun to identify themselves with the term TKC. The first and second cohorts of Emirati TKC have only recently reached the age of reflection and self-searching. I myself had only just discovered that a few friends of mine are not only referring to themselves as TKC but are also analysing much of their lives based on this idea; perhaps too much so.

It is healthy to look at life's outcomes by borrowing a few ideas from the worlds of sociology and psychiatry. But placing too much dependence on these fields of study can limit a person's growing experience. Here is an example: a friend of mine who taught English at an educational institution in the UAE told of a TKC young man who began to hide his broad knowledge of English acquired abroad to blend in with his classmates, burying the invaluable knowledge gained overseas in deference to peer pressure.

The reverse of this is that many young Emirati TKC have sought out other Emiratis with similar experiences. The groups created this way are generating exceptional blends of ideas and thoughts from many different cultures, combined with Emirati pride in this country. The result is some extraordinary artists, media experts and business professionals and an exceptional number of leaders.

It is important for the public to know, and for TKC themselves to understand, that they are a vital element of the future of the UAE. They should both stand up for recognition of their peers and be waving their flag high for all to see.

When Emiratis travelled abroad for education they not only acquired academic knowledge but also created a cadre of young Emiratis who are living on the bridges of understanding between cultures, extending the hand of peace as ambassadors. Doing this is both a blessing and a duty, one that is crucial to the development of the UAE as an advanced society.


Taryam Al Subaihi is an Emirati political and social commentator who specialises in corporate communications