PODCAST INTERVIEW, THIRD CULTURE KID

Third Culture Kid Tim Brantingham

Tim Brantingham comes from a long line of Ohioan missionaries living in Asia (5th generation to be exact). He was born in Taiwan, returned to the US for college, lived in various cities in Asia as an expat, married an American-Japanese woman, is the father of three kids, and recently relocated from Hong Kong to Japan. He’s not only a Third Culture Kid (third culture = sitting in between home and host culture) and a Sandwich Kid, which means his parents made decisions that greatly differed from what was expected of THEM, he is also a Sandwich Parent himself, creating a unique parenting approach for his family.

This is a very special podcast episode for me as it was an opportunity to reconnect with an old friend from high school. The last time Tim and I had a heart-to-heart chat, we met up in Hong Kong in the late 90s. A decade after our high school graduation, we were both about to make big life-changing decisions about our futures. I was moving from Asia to North America and he was doing the reverse. Like many of our friends, we had not quite yet found a place to plant our roots.

Join us as we discuss how all this moving around impacted his life and how he parents. 

Like many of our friends from high school, Tim grew up in Taiwan. I first met him in grade 9. As a new student, I didn’t know him very well, but our school was small enough that we all crossed paths with each other, in the cafeteria, in classes, and in the open grassy area encircled by the U-shaped building with all our classrooms and lockers. 

In our senior year, we worked together as Class President and Vice President. I enjoyed working with him because he was (and still is) such a humble, nonjudgmental, and spirited good sport about everything. We split up duties more or less by our strengths: his being that he was spirited in front of people, easily bringing them onside, and mine being that I was overly serious at meetings and stressed about details.

When you listen to our conversation, you will appreciate Tim’s introspection and vulnerability. I like that he thinks deeply about his strengths and weaknesses and that he is willing to share his personal challenges.

We discussed:

  • How his father left generations of missionary work for “tent making,” i.e. making money in order to pay the bills.
  • How going ‘back’ to the US for college was a ‘horrendous’ transition.
  • As the first generation of not working in the church, he and his siblings were also the first generation to probably never ‘move back home’ to the US.
  • How his good friend and business partner helped him figure out how to leverage his “artsy creative” strengths into doing business and making money.
  • After 12 years of living in Hong Kong, they moved to Japan to find the roots of his half-Japanese wife.
  • Parenting for Tim and his wife is about finding balance between the privileges and downsides of expat life. 
  • Third Culture Kids are great bridge-builders. But there is a deep sense of rootlessness because we aren’t really ‘from’ anywhere, often dealing with an unresolved grief, as we are constantly saying goodbye to people.
  • The struggle in parenting, like in business, is balancing meaning, interest, and being helpful (restraining missionary impulses) with financial realities.
  • COVID has helped him rethink his priorities.

His final message to parents: “Don’t try too hard. Don’t overthink it. There is no formula. It’s okay to change course in the middle. I want the kids to see my struggle and hopefully they’ll learn from struggle.”

Tim is also Sandwich Parenting’s newly crowned inaugural guest writer! Read his first article “An Introduction to Third Culture Kids: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” here at Sandwich Parenting to learn more about this interesting term, which was originally coined by John and Ruth Useem to refer to expat kids from the United States, but now can apply to anyone who was raised in a culture that was not their parents’ original home. I relate to this identity for myself being not quite Chinese enough but not quite Western enough at the same time. Being a Third Culture Kid means that I’m ‘enough’ just as I am, making a new culture of my own!

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