Eight years ago I was living just outside Beijing during the 2008 Olympics. I went into the city at least once a week so I had the fun experience of crossing checkpoints and showing my passport every single time I made the 1+ hour trip. Despite this, I loved being there during the Games, especially attending several Paralympic events. But the best part was the international atmosphere.
I had many friends from different countries and the Olympics was such a fun time to celebrate our different cultural identities and heritages together! I watched the opening ceremony on a big projector screen with probably a hundred other expats, about a 15 minute drive from the huge stadium itself. When things were slow we took turns singing our national anthems – so many interesting songs I’d never heard before! And strangely enough, one of the most exciting parts of the night was watching the teams march into the stadium. Most countries got a cheer, because there would be someone from that country or who had lived in that country or who had a close friend or family member from there or living there. It was a tangible display of the global interconnectedness we experienced as an expat community.
I know a lot of TCKs who love the Olympics because it is a chance to celebrate all the countries to which they feel an affinity. The countries they have lived in, the countries they have visited, the countries of which they are citizens and the countries their friends and loved ones are connected to. It is particularly special when countries which are smaller and generally rate less of a mention in international media get their moment in the spotlight.
I see the team from Guyana and think “I have friends from there!”
I see the team from Laos and think “my friend lives there!”
I see the team from Liberia and think “my friend grew up there!”
I see the team from Vanuatu and I think “I’ve spent time there!”
The beauty of the Third Culture is that it is made up of people from many different countries, cultures, languages, and backgrounds. The Olympics is a rare time when TCKs see something that looks like their world right there on the TV. Not only that, but it is seen and recognised by many people around them.
At its best (when we put corruption, organisational failures and our own cynicism aside) the Olympics brings together people from many countries and honours them all. For a few weeks every four years, the people of the Third Culture get to share their multi-country connections and celebrate people from different countries.
I hope you are enjoying the Olympics, no matter where you are, and no matter what team(s) you are cheering for!