“Graduating and Growing Up With Diversity”
On my recent trip to Thailand I had the opportunity to photograph Zoe, a Class of 2022 high school graduate from the Chiang Mai International School.
Her parents are originally from India, but she has spent most of her life living in Thailand. Her experience is best described as a TCK – third culture kid – someone who spends their formative years in a country that is not their parent’s home country, yet isn’t fully immersed in the country they currently live in. TCKs are influenced by multiple cultures while growing up but they don’t identify with any one culture, rather they live “in between” cultures. TCKs often have parents who are expats, military personnel or missionaries. It’s a fascinating social phenomena that I’ve been interested in for years as my husband is a TCK. So in meeting Zoe, I could sort of relate to her story as it mirrors a bit of my husband’s.
Zoe hopes to attend university outside of Thailand and is currently waiting to hear from universities in Australia! So we did a photoshoot on the back streets of her neighbourhood to celebrate the place she calls home. Afterwards she shared with me what it’s like to grow up in Thailand and the things she is looking forward to moving forward.
Your high school experience is quite different than the typical teen since you lived in Thailand and went to an international school. Tell me a little about what it was like to be at the international school? Being at an international school means that I’ve been exposed to many different cultures. My friends come from Korea, Thailand, America, the Netherlands, Taiwan, China, Finland etc. and I have been very lucky to be able to experience a little bit of each culture. It’s made everyone in this international community learn how to be open minded and accepting of everybody and their differences. Diversity is honestly a beautiful thing to see and grow up with.
Big changes coming up for you as you’re planning to attend a university in Australia! What are you most looking forward to? I’m most looking forward to moving to an English speaking country! Not being able to speak the language has become pretty difficult and has resulted in a lot of anxiety when doing normal activities like ordering food, buying things, ordering a taxi, etc. So I hope that being in an English speaking country will help me be more confident in my day to day social interactions.
How are you preparing for the transition and what will you miss most? My parents have been helping me be a bit more independent in terms of finances and enrolling me for things like driving school. I suppose that makes me feel more like my age and not like a kid anymore. Talking to my sister about what Australia is like is more helpful because she has more experience and advice to share with me about university and dorm life.
I’ll miss my family the most. I’ve never been apart from my family for long periods of time so going to college without them around is going to be hard to adjust to. I’m lucky enough to be moving to stay with my older sister, Yindii, so I hope that will help ease the homesickness a bit.
How did you choose Australia to go for college and what you plan on studying there? My parents work for an organisation in Australia and I’ve been there many times with them for home assignment. It’s an English speaking country which is the only language I speak so I feel more confident about wanting to move there. My sister is also already studying there so it makes sense for the family to move together. I plan on studying something in the medical field because that’s where my passion is.
What is a favourite memory from high school? My favourite memory from life in Chiang Mai is just any memory that I have hanging out with my friends. It’s cheesy to say, but I’ve made some lifelong friends here that I’m so grateful for. I don’t think I would have made it through high school without them, they made everyday worth it for me, even when I really did not like school. It can be any memory from hanging out at each other’s houses, to cycling in the mountains, to even picking up trash together for community service.
You’re an Indian national living in Thailand who graduated from an American international school. How have each of those identities (Indian, Thai, American) shaped who you are today? I think growing up in many different cultures is the reason why I still don’t know who I am today. The place I call home is not where I am from, and where I am from feels foreign to me. I’m not sure exactly where I belong or if I belong anywhere at all. Wherever I go, I will always stand out but I suppose that can also be a good thing.
What is something you’d want people to know who have never been to Thailand? Thailand is not just a spot for vacationing at the beach, it’s a country rich with culture and welcoming people. The food, scenery, atmosphere, and people are all things that everybody should experience at some point of their lives. Thailand’s economy used to rely a lot on tourism but after Covid hit, many tourist hotspots have closed. I hope to see the streets of Thailand bustling with people again.
What was one of your favourite shots from the photoshoot and why? My favourite photo is the one where I am on the road in front of my house, smiling at the camera with my hand tucking hair behind my ear. I think I like that the most because I look confident in that picture, and I personally like the way that I’ve been portrayed. I often find that the way I smile in pictures isn’t photographed as it is in real life, but I like the way I am smiling in this picture and I think it looks genuine.
What advice do you have for anyone facing the last few years of high school? High school is definitely stressful in a way that many people think that this is the only time left to decide what you want to do with the rest of your life. I used to think this way too — I had my entire life planned out since 9th grade. But I’ve learned lots throughout the years; sometimes things don’t go according to plan but it’s not the end of the world. There are always always other options to consider. Some of my friends are working, some of them are taking time for themselves, some of them are studying etc. You shouldn’t have to feel the pressure of trying to figure out what you’re going to be doing the rest of your life at such a young age. Where there is a will, there is a way.
Zoe, I so enjoyed getting to know you a little bit! Though our time was brief, you were fun and engaging. I appreciate how you were up to try new things even just knowing me for such a short time. These are great qualities that will serve you well wherever you end up for uni! I hope we meet again. – Christine