Third Culture Kids as Superheroes

A variation on this piece was originally written for Hey it’s Johnny C and has been reposted here with permission.

By Johnny C.

When I was younger, I used to dream of having super powers. Superman, Captain Marvel, Miracle Man, Batman, Spider-Man: all of them seemed to have more to be proud of than they had to be resentful of their mixed blessings. When you can do anything you want from flying, super strength and speed, and near-invincibility, why would anyone want to be normal? Why hide their heroic identities and live dual lives as mediocre humans? They have the power to do everything and be anything at their finger tips.

It was when I realized that I was a Third Culture Kid and all the envy and scorn (often mixed together) people had was when I realized that 1) people don’t like what’s different, and 2) I was different. The envy at what was perceived to be a fun upbringing going around the world, and the scorn for what they perceived as a privilege that they never had caused them to ostracize me, alienating me and making me wonder if I was nothing but the sum total of all the negative opinions they had of me. After all, dozens of people couldn’t be wrong, perhaps there had to be some truth in what they saw which I couldn’t.

Then after years of people telling me as a teenager that I was wasting my time reading comic books, I realized that there are indeed drawbacks to having great powers. The Spider-Man live-action films of the 2000s constantly had the title protagonist be reminded that “with great power comes great responsibility” and in spite of being made to appear as a menace to society by the tabloids, he chose to still help others, because who else would be able to stand up and do the right thing? Evil succeeds when good men stand by and do nothing.

Or take the Doom Patrol, a group of individuals who find that their accidentally-acquired superpowers are more of a handicap than a gift that allows them to defend a world that views them as freaks rather than saviors.

It was from all this reflecting that I realized what the dilemma was for these meta-humans: they can have amazing superpowers to change the world at the cost of almost never being understood and accepted by others, and having very few friends to relate to and trust.

Yet amidst the constant self-loathing and angst, they continue to fight and do the right thing by choice. With great power comes great responsibility, and what do we as Third Culture Kids and global nomads have? Knowledge of the world. Knowledge is power, after all.

People may never understand us, and we will continue to encounter others who judge us with their own limited experiences and categories as we go through life, even if we weren’t Third Culture Kids.

What separates superheroes from supervillains–despite both being meta-humans–is the choices they make and values they have. On the surface, yes, they both have special talents and powers, but what they choose to do with it, whether it is saving the world, conquering the world, destroying the world, or hiding from the world, this choice of how their powers are applied is what separates and defines them as superheroes and supervillains (and talented outcasts who favor self-preservation over choosing sides in their conflicts).

By the same token, TCKs who realize what they are and what they can do can choose to be a certain breed: those who try to make the most of their experiences to live the best life they can for themselves, and those who choose to use the knowledge that they have acquired from life to help others. Neither choice indicates who is a hero or villain, since this dichotomy isn’t meant to define good and bad, but to help realize our potential, and which path suits us better.

Instead of dividing people into groups by race, nationality, social class, gender, and religion, look at the values, goals, attitudes, ambitions, and achievements of others. It is not where we came from or what we went through, but what we do with it.

After all, at the end of the day, we are all just humans, like everyone else. We are not better than them, we are just different. It is a mark of maturity and accomplishment to turn a weakness into a strength, much like one can turn a crisis into an opportunity. So it is not because of being raised to become Third Culture Kids that makes us like superheroes, but because of our choices–even for those who are not TCKs–to be the best we can be for ourselves, and eventually give back to others.

To gaze at the world that judges us, that misunderstands us, that ostracizes us, with eyes not of scorn, but compassion and love, that is what allows us to know we have evolved into superhumans, not just because of our experiences, but also in spite of them.

ABOUT JOHNNY C: Self-proclaimed “Accidental Asian-American” and Third Culture Kid, John “Johnny C” Chuidian is known to have a lot of passions, but not enough time. Growing up between Manila, Hong Kong, and California, he received his BA in International Development from UCLA in 2008, and is currently pursuing his MA at UCSD in Human Rights and Sustainable Development. You can read about his adventures, Asian-American and Third Culture Kid reflections, and more on his blog at

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