The recently released White Paper on Population set off a storm of comment and feedback, a lot of it around citizens, immigrants and foreign talent. Consider some other perspectives – those of first generation Singaporeans, of those who have not taken citizenship but nonetheless consider Singapore home, and of many children who have grown up in Singapore but may not spend their entire adult life here despite the fact that Singapore resides in their hearts and minds.
Many children in Singapore – citizens, permanent residents and expatriates – belong to a new generation defined as ‘TCK’s or third culture kids’. According to Dr. Ruth Hill Useem who first coined the term, a third culture kid is a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside their parents’ culture. The third culture kid builds relationships to all the cultures, while not having full ownership in any.
This growing category (today’s children, tomorrow’s adult population) is a direct result of immigration and professional relocations. ‘Population’ has become a shifting and complex assemblage of people; many belonging to different parts of the world. An unarguable result of globalization is that spaces of one kind or the other will always exist and will need to be filled – either temporarily, permanently, or somewhere in-between.
So newcomers move in and settle down for a year, for a decade, for a lifetime. They come and are welcomed because they have something definite to contribute; they fill a space that requires a particular skill or strength.
A pragmatic approach understands that today’s world needs communities that can produce and deliver just as much – or maybe more – than countries, so that community over country – in itself, can become a definition of citizenship.
Consider the concept of ‘global citizenship’; one which transcends geographical boundaries, where responsibilities, privileges, obligations and duties are not defined by the colour of a passport or by birthright.
The principal of a school, in one of his communications to parents, explained his view of global citizenship : a complex and demanding concept. In essence it seems to me to be a long-term commitment …”
He described it as a concept that rests on a moral and ethical disposition, and the ability of individuals to understand their relative responsibilities within different communities.
He went further : global citizenship is motivated by local interests – love of family, communal fairness, self-interest – as well as global interests – a sense of universal equality, of care for fellow humans, of human rights and human dignity. By definition, at the very core lies participatory action, doing something.
The growing numbers of mobile, third culture kids around the world have something unique to contribute to the country they choose to live in. Because these children appear to share some very typical characteristics : they are mobile, politically astute, speak more than one language, establish relationships quickly, have mature social skills, are culturally astute/cross-culturally enriched, less prejudiced, adapt quickly to unfamiliar countries, people and situations, are more welcoming of newcomers, are educational achievers, live more in the present and for the moment, make great culture bridges and are excellent observers of other people.
Their experience teaches them that participatory action and commitment is the bedrock of citizenship, global or otherwise, and “… they bring a deep knowledge from within and a special ability to compare international and local issues. They are the future cross-culturalists and hopefully future politicians, diplomats, multi-nationals, government employees and educators. TCK’s have a deep understanding of human rights …” *
Should not the focus be on what kind of people are going to make up the population seventeen years from now ? One thing is clear : it will be a hybrid society. So the current flood of arguments and debates may be moot, given that today’s opinions quite likely miscalculate tomorrow’s reality.
One viewpoint – perhaps a tad idealistic – is that whether citizen, immigrant, professional mercenary or third culture kid, if people’s understanding of their world and their actions are defined by their sense of responsibility, far more positive action will be generated than any conventionally understood concept of ‘citizenship’.
* Third Culture Kids by Lesley Lewis – http://wanjennifer.tripod.com/