"I love travelling and getting to know new countries and people.“ Like in the picture in Pakistan. Photo: humedica
“Take what you get and make the best of it”
The English-Bavarian Southeast Asian tells about her life
Third Culture Kid Heidi Nicklin provides us with a deep insight into her life and tells us about how she grew up, what shaped her character and what is really important to her.
Dear Heidi, you’re half British and half German and you grew up in Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, so you spent your entire childhood in the Southeast Asian culture. But still you came to Germany at the age of 19 in order to study at university. By way of frequent, partly long-term missions in the Middle East, in Southeast Asia and Africa, your identity, which already is highly complex from a cultural point of view, was influenced by even more cultural impressions.
What was it like for you as child of English and German parents, to grow up in the oriental/Asian countries, where people certainly have a very different mentality from the one you experienced from your European parents?
As I was very young (two years old), when my parents moved to Southeast Asia, I thought it was normal that at our home we did many things differently from our neighbours.
Even our school friends mostly came from foreign countries, for example from France, the USA or Australia, and therefore things at their homes were different, too. This diversity was normal.
So you never had any problems with your cultural identity during your childhood and youth? Even though it was quite different from most of the people in your environment?
During my childhood and youth, most of my friends were like me; their parents came from other countries and us young ones just lived where we were. All of us mixed everything together and we had a lot of fun.
The only time I really head a problem was when I came to Germany with 19 years. Suddenly I could go out into the streets and I looked like everyone else, but I felt much more an outsider than in Bangkok or in Singapore – I didn’t fit in.
People recommended me to study at a small university, where I could integrate more quickly. But that’s not the way it worked. Where did I come from? I didn’t look like someone from Singapore, and due to my “overseas” English pronunciation I didn’t pass for an Englishwoman either. A large city university, such as the one in Munich, was exactly the right thing – there were other people with a similar past.
What do you think of your mixed cultural identity today? Would you rather call it a privilege or an additional obstacle, would you describe it as an enrichment or as a fact accompanied by problems and challenges?
It’s great! I wouldn’t want it to be any different! I take the best of everything and I combine it. There are advantages and disadvantages to everything in life. Take what you get and make the best of it!
After your long years in Southeast Asia, why did you after all decide to go to Germany and then to your second home Great Britain?
When I finished school in Singapore, I knew that I had to go either to Germany or to England. As my parents still were in Bangkok, I chose the country where I had persons close to me. That’s why I went to Bavaria, where I had my aunt and uncle, with whom I still get on very well.
And when the right time had come to move to England, I decided to move a little further north, to Scotland – once again, because there lived people who were close to me. It seems that my choice of location is always influenced by important persons in my life.
Which country would you refer to as your home today? The countries you grew up in, the ones your parents come from, or Great Britain where you have now been living for so many years?
My home is always the place I live in (above all, if I like it there); so now it’s Great Britain. I also know Bavaria very well and I like to think back to the time I spent there; and my identity was also shaped by my experiences in Thailand and Singapore.
I don’t have a home in the sense of a particular place. Well, you see, it’s still true that I’m half English and half German and grew up in Thailand.
Do you sometimes feel torn between two or more worlds?
No – not at all. As I’ve already said: take the best of everywhere and mix it up to something good!
Don’t you think that having so many different cultural backgrounds makes you a restless person who keeps looking for new challenges and new surroundings? Or do you rather think it’s the other way round – that your longing for a permanent home gets ever stronger?
I need a permanent place to stay, a home. But nevertheless I love travelling, getting to know new countries and people – that’s also why I studied geography. It’s definitely possible to have roots and wings all at once.
Is one’s mental closeness to one country always stronger than to others, or can you really feel at home at several places at once? And do you think one actually needs a permanent home at all?
I myself always feel closest to the country I’m currently staying in (though being a German Englishwoman in Scotland makes this somewhat more complicated) – I’m a person who lives exclusively in the present. Therefore, I’m always closest to the country where I’m spending a certain period of my life.
The first stage of my life as an adult is closely linked to Germany, and when I think back to my childhood and youth, I’m very aware of my ties to Thailand and Singapore.
I think that those who have a definite home, need it. And those who don’t have it, don’t need it, as you cannot miss something you’ve never known.