Sat, Nov 16, 2013 - Page 8 News List

Cultural nomads boost Australia

By Peter MacGregor

Watching a Taiwan Public Television Service (PTS) program on Tuesday, June 5, at 8pm I was intrigued by the discussion on children of mixed cultural backgrounds studying in Taiwan.

However, I was surprised that the discussion did not touch on the phenomenon of third-culture kids (TCK), also known as trans-culture kids or cultural nomads. Wikipedia has an excellent page on the origin and research upon the TCK and cultural nomads. TCK tends to refer to children accompanied by parents living outside their native culture, where the term “cultural nomads” broadens the terms of reference to also encompass young men and women living as international students, becoming employed and citizens within a new culture.

Over the years 1987 to 2010 I was providing international student welfare support in Melbourne and other east-coast Australian cities and regional towns. Upward of 50 percent of the hundreds of cultural nomads that my colleagues and I recruited were of Taiwanese origin, initially under my colleagues’ and my care, who were on a pathway to employment and citizenship. Few ran the full course. The stimulating forum on the evening of June 5 informally interviewed six children, high-school and university students, each with their non-Taiwanese parent.

They are children of stable mixed-culture families currently living in Taiwan, and therefore fitted the TCK category. Wikipedia has a most informative summary of the research on TCK’s collating briefly the outcomes of their formative years on the two areas of, one: “cognitive and emotional development” and two: “education and career.”

The PTS program focused on seeking out the opinions of the children and parents as to the differences between Taiwan’s and other [sic] Western cultures’ education systems and also the all-pervasive query as to how Taiwan’s education bears up in comparison.

Amongst the children, feelings were mixed, with children from Brazilian, Nigerian and American backgrounds pining for the shorter compulsory class time which leaves more freedom for self-development through sport and play, or just time with friends, while children of Italian and Singaporean background expressed appreciation of the need for longer structured learning hours in order to achieve a rigorous systematic information upload.

The non-Taiwan parents of these mixed-culture families generally recognized that in a Taiwanese school their child had to cram information at the expense of freedom to develop creative and innovative thought. They expressed the view that their children in missing out on an education system based in Western culture not only got less free time, but also less thoughtful time to pursue self-development within class.

The brief television program did not have the scope to delve into the opinion that these days methods of access rather than rote learning have become major facilitators to acquisition of useful information; nor the alternative opinion that a trained memory, by holding a greater body of knowledge, provides an exponential increase in the ability of the inquirer to undertake relevant exploration on the World Wide Web.

These academic and social issues which the impact on cultural nomads are attention-getters and ones in which I have been immersed for the past 25 years.

However, today I am more immediately curious as to the global socio-economic impact of international student programs on the cultural nomads’ extended family.

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