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I always though that cultural identity was a bit of a beat-up but after spending time in Australia after SARS it was a lesson worth learning.

First some background. I lived in Hong Kong during the SARS outbreak and, because we have young children and I am asthmatic we, along with many other expats, left for the duration.

Fearful of being the person who brought SARS to Australia we wore our N95 masks on the plane, rented an small apartment and stayed in quarantine for 2 weeks. Once we knew we had passed the danger period for being infectious (or infected), I enrolled the children in a local school until we understood the situation better back in Hong Kong.

It was a fun time.

The children's spelling changed from "dragon", "Chinese" ,"dim sum" and "Tsim Sha Tsui" to "kookaburra", "emu" and "aborigine".

Instead of learning about Tung Chee Hwa, they learnt about John Howard. They ate meat pies rather than dumplings. And they learnt what it was like to be an Australian child living in Australia instead of a Western child living in Asia.

The best thing though was that they found an identity. And the identity was that they recognised that they weren't Australians living in Australia, or Chinese living in Hong Kong. Instead they were expats. They recognised that they were part of a vibrant, multicultural group of friends. They socialised with people from every walk of life. Wing Fai, Oliver, Vishaan and On were their peers and they were part of this dynamic and fluid group. It stopped them wanting something that we, as parents, couldn't provide.

When we returned I found a book called Third Culture kid which helped them give a name to who this phenomenon. Now, when they meet some for the first time they introduce themselves as third culture kids ""We were born in Australia but we don't live in Australia and we are different to the Australians who live there. We're not Chinese even though we live in Hong Kong and our sister was born there and we celebrate Chinese festivals and have a kitchen god. We're something special."

And that a good thing to thing to believe!

Dr Amanda O has been an expatriate most of her life.

Culture shock. Just one of the things you can experience while living overseas. Contact HSBC Bank International at www.offshore.hsbc.com or
www.offshore.hsbc.com/1/2/international/how-can-we-help-you for information about the financial opportunities that you can also experience whilst living and working abroad.


Posted 15Sep05