Obama is a third-culture kid, something Lee Aitken observed, no studied no less, when editing the At Home Abroad feature in the International Herald Trubune.
Excerpted from “The Obama of ‘Dreams’”
By David Ignatius, Real Cear Politics, January 17, 2008
Obama makes clear in “Dreams from My Father” that he brings another valuable gift to politics, in addition to his African-American heritage. That’s his identity as what sociologists call a “third-culture kid,” whose formative years were spent living overseas. Journalist Lee Aitken, who studied the phenomenon when she was editing a special feature for expatriate families called “At Home Abroad” in the International Herald Tribune, says that Obama exemplifies many of these third-culture traits.
Third-culture kids learn how to make their way in unfamiliar surroundings. The late Ruth Hill Useem, a former Michigan State sociologist who studied them for decades, explained: “They adapt, they find niches, they take risks, they fail and pick themselves up again. … Their camouflaged exteriors and understated ways of presenting themselves hide their rich inner lives.” In surveys, more than 80 percent said they could relate to anyone, regardless of race or nationality.
It’s this voice of a seeker and adapter that you discover in Obama’s writings. Describing the years when he was still trying to find himself, “like a salmon swimming blindly upstream toward the site of his own conception,” he says he searched for an identity as a civil rights activist and organizer. “Because this community I imagined was still in the making, built on the promise that the larger American community, black, white and brown, could somehow redefine itself — I believed that it might, over time, admit the uniqueness of my own life.”