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Growing up as a Third-Culture Kid in Luxembourg

Growing up as a Third-Culture Kid in Luxembourg

8 min. 11.08.2017 From our online archive
The Wort's Johanna Lindberg talks about where she calls home and the challenges of growing up as a 'foreigner' in the country where she was raised.

The Wort's Johanna Lindberg talks about where she calls home and the challenges of growing up as a 'foreigner' in the country where she was raised.

The concept of the Third-Culture Kid is one that is very familiar to Luxembourg. In fact, it is a concept a very big part of the population can identify with. A Third-Culture Kid (TCK) is someone raised in a culture other than that of his or her parents, or the country given on the child's passport, which is the case for many in Luxembourg. For many, being a TCK is either a privilege or a burden, but for me it has been both.

Out of the 590,667 people in Luxembourg, 281,497 are foreigners, and many of them have had to uproot their spouses and children to move there. Foreigners have children who are born in a country that is not their parents' home but, one day, may become theirs.

In Luxembourg, we have the European School, the International School, St George's, the French school Lycée Vauban ... and the list goes on. All of these schools are there to accommodate TCKs. It is safe to say TCKs never feel alone in Luxembourg.

When you tell someone you were born in one country, lived in two others and ended up in Luxembourg, no one looks at you in the strange way they do in other countries. In Luxembourg, for TCKs, it is actually more surprising to hear that someone is actually Luxembourgish than it is to hear that someone has lived in four different countries.

Of course, not all grow up in that international environment surrounded by other TCKs. Some grow up in the Luxembourgish school system, as 'insiders' instead of 'outsiders', which is exactly what one should do if the goal is to integrate fully into the society in which one lives.

Where is home?

This is a question many TCKs struggle with because home might have been different places at different times, or even more than one place. For me, that has always been the easy one. I was born and raised in Luxembourg – even though I have a Swedish passport and lived in Sweden for five years, Luxembourg will always be home.

On the other hand, for my sister, home is where our parents are, which is currently Luxembourg but might not be in the future. Either way, this is a question one really never has to qualify. Your home is your home, no matter if you were born there or if it is the country stated on your passport.

The tricky one is "Where are you from?". It is a question most TCKs find themselves having to qualify. Many have five different answers at the ready, depending on who is doing the asking. It depends mainly on where you are when you're asked the question.

Emma Lundstedt – originally from Sweden but born and raised in Luxembourg and one of the foreigners who went to a local school – says she is from Sweden when someone in Luxembourg asks her where she is from. But she says she is from Luxembourg when someone in Sweden asks her. For Anna Lauer, it is the same – half Luxembourgish, half Swedish, also born and raised in Luxembourg but now studying in Sweden. When she lived in Luxembourg, she used to tell people she was from Sweden, but, after having moved to Sweden, her answer to that question has changed. 

I do the same, but it gets even trickier when someone in England, where I am  studying, asks me. I don't want to say I'm Swedish, but then neither do I feel I have the right to say I'm Luxembourgish. I find myself having to justify my answer to that question very often. When someone asks you in a crowded bar and you have to yell the answer into the other person's ear, you often can't be bothered to tell the full truth and so instead provide a simplified answer – I am Swedish – hoping they don't ask where in Sweden you're from.

Many TCKs feel like they come from the country they grew up in, even though it isn't their country of origin, but find themselves having to demonstrate or prove they actually are from there when asked by a native. Perhaps that has to do with an 'us' and 'them' mentality, the fact there are insiders and outsiders in every country, although I never saw Luxembourg that way.

As if it weren't bad enough feeling like, according to some people, you do not belong in the country you live in, you feel like you are a foreigner in your own country as well. Anna stopped saying she was Swedish the moment she came to Sweden to study because she realised she was not. She feels more and more Luxembourgish the older she gets – strangely enough, that is after moving away from Luxembourg. But perhaps moving away from a country is what makes you realise it is home because nowhere will ever quite be the same as the country you grew up in. At least, that is how I feel.

Politics, patriotism and values

Politics is an interesting thing to look at when it comes to TCKs. When you are born in one country, live in another and are a citizen somewhere completely different, it might be difficult to determine where you should or want to be politically involved.

Some see it like Matthew Capocci, half American, half Italian, born and raised in Luxembourg. He is politically active in whatever country he is a citizen, which, for him, is the US and Italy (soon to be Luxembourg as well). This is a very rational approach.

Others see it like Anna. She thinks about politics with the future in mind, and the future for her is in Luxembourg. She therefore focuses on Luxembourgish politics, even though she is a citizen in both Luxembourg and Sweden.

And then there are people like me. I am a Swedish citizen, but, the more I think about it, I want to be politically involved in Luxembourg because, just like Anna, this is where I see my future. Now I just have to tackle my Luxembourg citizenship application and start doing instead of talking.

Patriotism is a funny concept to me. If anything, it is the only real culture shock I had when I moved to England. TCKs often spend their early years in a country that isn't their country of origin and perhaps, therefore, don't naturally create that patriotic bond. That doesn't mean they aren't patriotic at all, but perhaps would just never call themselves 'patriots'. And the country they are patriotic for varies between the country they grew up in and their country of origin.

Strangely enough, out of the people I have mentioned, it was only Emma, who was very well integrated into Luxembourgish society and went to a local school, who said she was probably more patriotic about her country of origin, Sweden. The others, who grew up in an international environment in Luxembourg, said that, if anything, they were more patriotic about Luxembourg, which is where they grew up.

Most people expect the issue of 'values' to be especially confusing because of the difference between the values in one's country of origin and those of the country where one lives, but, in my eyes, it's quite simple. Values are something instilled from home. People have different values all over the world, but that isn't specifically because of the country they live in.

Does the environment one grows up in influence values more than one's parents? I don't think so. I think values depend much more on the people who raised you than the country you live in. Perhaps that is why Emma, who was basically seen as another Luxembourger to her peers, ends up defending Sweden more than Luxembourg because she has grown up with Swedish values and feels the need to defend her roots.


Speaking about being seen as a Luxembourger, TCKs usually aren't. A sign saying "Lëtzebuergesch Sprooch = Integratioun" was put up outside the European School a couple of years ago. Hint hint.

But I think the sentiment is completely correct – that is what always stopped me from calling myself a Luxembourger. Although I feel like one, I don't speak the language yet, not unlike Matthew, who feels accepted in Luxembourgish society but not integrated. Only the language can do that. For Anna, Luxembourgish is what makes her feel like she is integrated into society despite having gone to the European School.


National identity might be one of the trickiest things for a TCK. My conclusion, though, after having spent most of my life in a country that isn't my parents' or technically my country of origin, is that my identity is not my nationality and my home is not the country that issued my passport.

The thing is that nationality and identity are two completely separate things – they do not necessarily depend on each other. Your environment and upbringing are what make you you, not the country stated on your passport.

I am definitely no expert, but growing up as a Third-Culture Kid in Luxembourg has made me think in a very different way than I would have had I grown up in Sweden, or any other place for that matter. Luxembourg has become my home, and even though we were supposed to leave, we never did, which is what happens to a lot of people here. My plan is to learn the language and keep working on becoming an 'insider'.

(Johanna Lindberg,, +352 49 93 728)